Do I Need an Agent? And How?

#2 in a Series of Posts About the Decisions You Need to Make If You Want to Publish A Cookbook.
By Matt and Ted, Sergeants at Cookbook Boot Camp in Charleston, SC

One of the first questions chefs typically ask us about cookbook publishing has nothing to do with writing or recipes but rather the business end: Do I need an agent? Many of these chefs have heard (from peers who’ve written cookbooks) that literary agents typically take 15 – 20 % of an author’s advance payments; and, being shrewd businesspeople, they’re thinking: Do I really want to give that up?

We always advise chefs who want to publish a cookbook nationally to get an agent. Especially if you’re new to publishing, it’s highly unlikely you have a personal rapport with a great number of the cookbook editors who are the audience for your proposal. And a good agent knows all of them — which is key, because ideally, you want your proposal seen by the largest pool of interested editors possible. Agents serve many functions: they send your proposal to the editors at publishing houses who will be the ones reading it and then deciding if they want to make an offer. They will be the ones following up with any editors they haven’t heard from — and remember, since they only get paid when you get paid, they tend to be tenacious beyond belief!

Your agent is also, if you choose well, the person most capable of steering editors’ interest in your proposal toward the best possible deal for you.

But agents remain your greatest advocate once your book is sold — as the key liaison with the publisher when points of conflict arise. A great agent will have years of experience, and other clients to use as leverage, allowing him or her to lobby hard for your interests. (And, trust us, issues will arise, not just in editorial matters, but in design, layout, cover, marketing plans, publicity strategy.)

How do I get an agent? The best way is by referral. Ask chefs whose cookbooks you admire who their agents are — and you might even solicit a personal opinion of their performance at the same time. Your goal, once you have your proposal in hand, should be to send it to a handful of agents and to meet with the ones who express interest, much in the same way your agent will send it to the widest possible net.

There are as many styles of agenting as there are agents, as you might imagine. Some are more nurturing and hand-holding, and get involved in your manuscript from an editorial perspective; others are more brass-tacks, investing a lot of time in the strategy of the deal, but pretty much let you go own way until you call upon them to assist. The best way to get a sense of what kind of agent you might want is to meet with as many as possible, and to trust your instincts: is this someone I can see myself doing business with over the long haul? In the best-scenario, this is someone you’ll be doing business with not just for book, but for two, three and four as well!

For more detailed information on agents – and the questions to ask during your agent meetings, join us at our January 2017 session of Cookbook Boot Camp. For more info, visit

In the next post in the series, number three, it’s about the idea for your cookbook: Is it about me, or the restaurant?

Click here to return to the first post in the series, “So You Want To Write A Cookbook!”