Do Literary Agents Consider ‘Good News’ Stories Passe’?

Since fall 2022, I’ve been pitching my book proposal to literary agents across this country. The content? Gains made by women chefs as evidenced by the sheer number  now starring on or appearing in cable TV shows and streaming platforms that include on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

No takers so far. Of the twelve pitched to, seven replied with the best positive rejections we hope for. In my years of querying, when an agent isn’t interested, few bother to reply despite what they say on their websites. Personal replies offered encouraging comments about my proposal but ended with variations of It’s not quite right for my list.

One agent told me that while the proposal had merit, she wasn’t interested in stories about ‘celebrity chefs. Then  she mentioned Chef Nancy Silverton as example of the chefs she believes made better copy than ‘celebrity chefs.’

Chef Nancy Silverton & chef pals raising $$ for WorldCentralKitchen/ Ukraine

Nancy Silverton? As in THE Nancy Silverton whose entrepreneurship WAY back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s put her company, La Brea Bakery, and all its offshoots on the culinary map? Nancy Silverton who I hope will be one of the mentor chefs featured in my collection about today’s celebrity women chefs. That Nancy Silverton? In my reply to this agent and after thanking her for taking the time to read my twenty-eight page proposal, I wrote: Don’t tell Chef Silverton she’s not a celebrity because I don’t think she’d like it.

As it happened, just days after receiving that rejection email, Chef Silverton posted on her Instagram page an event she was hosting in Mexico.Title of her post? ‘Celebrity Chefs.’ Yes, I tagged that literary agent when I posted this (below) on my Instagram page.  No, I couldn’t help myself.

Chef Nancy Silverton, Celebrity Chef

Literary agents are not always right.

They look for books they might be able to pitch to their network of editors they have access to. Why do they have access? Because together, this agent and that editor made money for their bosses. It’s just business, writers.  Successful businesses make money.

The last rejection received days ago confirmed the merits of this book but wanted it infused with statistics concerning the hard climb it takes to become a ‘visible’ woman chef. Many stories chronicling the difficulties women in culinary have faced have been published. My collection featuring women chefs and their mentors leans toward good news. Within each story, chefs detail struggles met along the way and include elder chefs who made their struggles a bit easier.

But is this collection filled with the horror stories? the kind that have made headline news over the last decade, enough to coin the term ‘toxic masculinity’ in professional kitchens? No and purposely so. The Competition section of my proposal lists many books that have told these stories, important stories about women who historically had no access to professional kitchens and/or had to tolerate unseemly behavior in the workplace in order to survive there.

My book will be read by those looking who love watching these shows and those seeking inspiration. Given the number of cooking contest shows now on many platforms, viewers looking for roadmaps for their own success, culinary or otherwise, are likely to peruse a book filled with inspirational stories about chefs who made that climb. Sure, for many it was against all odds.  But they made it!

In these fractured times, these stories are the kind we need more of and that’s the literary agent I’m looking for, a literary agent who believes good news stories are not passe’.


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