The Fate of ‘Celebrity Chefs and Mentors: Women in Culinary Profession’

My celebrity chef project is officially shelved. I’ve spent two full years that included writing the twenty-nine page proposal and then pitching to EVERY literary agent who even remotely handles food/personality profile nonfiction books. Barely a response and only from agents with fine reputations, which was not a surprise. I’ve been in this biz long enough to know that agents don’t earn an A- list status unless they follow the rules of the game, if only to say, ‘I’m sure you’ll find the right agent but unfortunately, this project is not right for me.’ Only one handful out of the 100 + query letters I pitched took time to reply.

None of my query letters were ‘boiler plate’ as in, one letter sent to all agents. What I learned from my mentors I’ve passed along to my writing conference ‘conferees’ and to my clients, each query letter must be personalized. I thoroughly studied each agent’s list and based on my research, personalized to their literary tastes. Despite my following the rules, a vast majority of literary agents did not. Nada, zero, zip was the overall response even though Celebrity Chefs and Mentors: Women in Culinary had the endorsement of several celebrity level chefs. At the top of that list? Chef Mary Sue Milliken who liked the project enough to say ‘yes’ to my invitation to write the FOREWORD. Chef Milliken and her longtime business partner Chef Susan Feniger were among the first ‘celebrity chefs’ back when their cooking show premiered in the 1990’s on the then fledgling Food Network.

Women in culinary is a cultural ‘phenomena’. If you don’t believe me, visit social media or turn on the TV. Pick a station, be it cable, streaming platform or network TV, all offer shows starring today’s celebrity chefs, both men and women. In today’s culture, women rank right up there with their male counterparts on these shows, both in numbers and in wins. This wasn’t always so but lest I paint too rosy a picture, follow Chef Mary Sue Milliken or any number of other women chefs on social media to understand that women in culinary significantly lag behind men in financial success and opportunities. It’s still an ‘ole boys’ profession when it comes to commerce that includes securing bank loans, etc. Still, women in culinary are making significant strides that I have no doubt my book, a collection of stories featuring women chefs and their mentors, would have helped. Though I pitched Celebrity Chefs and Mentors: Women in Culinary as a stand-alone book, I did – and still do — see it as a series with each book profiling women in the industry as well as the role their mentors have played; mentors that include those men chefs who had the foresight to support talent regardless of gender.

The viewing public has fallen in love with this new batch of celebrities. Thanks to these cooking shows, our view of chefs’ talents has exponentially expanded so I figured literary agents would appreciate this cultural shift too. But they haven’t. At least 100 literary agents have my book proposal in their files and I’m on the lookout for copycat books popping up. Paranoid? Perhaps but that’s also part of this cultural shift we now live in. Who do you trust? Very few.

My apologies to the several chefs I’ve contacted when I began traveling down this road to publication. I did my very best to sell Celebrity Chefs and Mentors: Women in Culinary that included penning several stories written about them that can be found on my writing platforms.

As I lick my psychic wounds over this rejection, some have asked why not choose an alternate publishing route? With a book like this, I need solid distribution that traditional publishers provide. This kind of book requires exhaustive efforts to complete. I know because I modeled it after All American Girls: The US Women’s National Soccer Team that Simon & Schuster published in 1999 and then updated in 2000. Understanding the amount of time and effort this project requires must include at least a potential of selling well. I’ve been in this biz long enough to know that believing in your story isn’t enough. This type of book needs boosting that I cannot afford to do alone.

So, with much sadness, I shelve this collection and though it’s not the first book I’ve had to shelve, this one hurts a wee bit more. American chefs that have cracked glass ceilings tend to tell compelling stories about their climb up; stories that inspire readers and in these times? Inspiration matters.

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