In a social-media landscape where short-form videos, witty voiceovers and camera-friendly personas tend to reign supreme, digital food creators have turned to a far more traditional medium to continue their success: cookbooks.
TikTok star Nadia Caterina Munno, known as “The Pasta Queen,” published her first cookbook on Nov. 8 with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books; as of Nov. 17, the book has reached the No. 5 position in the New York Times The advice, how-to, and miscellaneous category has the best selling list.
Joshua Weissman, a chef with 7 million YouTube subscribers and more than 6 millions on TikTok subscribers, has spoken out about his online fame. A Unapologetic Cookbook, This publication was published by DK in Sept. 2021 and earned a top spot at the New York Times The best-seller list was created shortly after it made its debut in the same category as cookbooks. It remained on the list for nine weeks.
Joanne Lee Molinaro, TikTok creator (@thekoreanvegan), also published her own cookbook with Penguin Random House imprint Avery. Earlier this year, she was awarded the James Beard media prize.
Though traditional publishing houses have worked with online creators for books across a variety of genres, including memoir and fiction, the rapid rise of short-form content has spurred an increase in dealmaking beyond the screen, according to agents and publishing executives who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.
“I’ve been selling a lot of cookbooks and it’s been glorious,” Brandi Bowles, a literary agent at UTA, says. “There’re several new buyers who are suddenly like, ‘Oh, we’re doing cookbooks too.’ Everyone’s trying to catch up to this runaway train.”
But it wasn’t that long ago when digital creators had a difficult time landing book deals with publishing houses. Ali Berman is the UTA head of digital talent. He recalls that Bowles arrived at the agency in 2017 as a digital talent. They faced numerous obstacles to securing book deals, especially in the space of food.
“Publishers as a whole — whether that’s traditional print publishing or video publishing — have needed to wake up to other types of creative voices,” Berman, who represents Weissman, says. “I’d pick up the phone and call Brandi and be like, ‘I’ve got a client and they want to do a cookbook,’ and she’d [say], ‘It’s going to be really hard [to get] that type of book for this space for people who are creating their own content and and programming directly to their audience.’ Cookbooks were hard, and then you cut to today, and it’s just amazing to see how the ecosystem has evolved and matured.”
For Bowles, the pandemic kickstarted a gold rush of sorts for cookbooks from digital creators as publishing executives — themselves spending more time on TikTok and other social platforms watching content during quarantines — were becoming “more comfortable” with the digital space and its rising stars.
In the past year, HarperCollins — whose library of food authors now includes YouTube star Andrew Rea (Binging With Babish) and TikTok creator Tabitha Brown alongside chefs like José Andres and Jacques Pépin and established cookbook authors like Dorie Greenspan and Mark Bittman — said 35 percent of its cookbook acquisitions have come from digital talent. (HarperCollins union member are on strike since Nov. 10 as they bargain with leadership about benefits and pay.
“It’s been somewhat gradual,” Deborah Brody, the editorial director and vp of HarperCollins’ Harvest imprint, says of the food publishing industry’s shift toward digital talent. “It definitely started 15 years ago with food bloggers, but it’s much faster now. People can build a platform much more quickly.”
Digital food creators have turned to cookbooks to expand their creativity and experiment with new recipes. “After doing video for so long, I was like, this is so different. What are you going to do to add value? I’m such a flamboyant person; I throw my hands everywhere and I’m, like, yelling all the time [in my videos]. How do I yell at people through a book?” Weissman jokes. “I liked the creative challenge and was less focused on the sales up front. I did not know how it was going to do.”
Danni Rose is a creator who shares Southern-style cooking on YouTube, TikTok and YouTube. Although she has had success publishing ebooks and keeping up with her online content, she initially was hesitant about working on a physical book. But Rose soon realized she wanted to be able to reintroduce and continue the tradition of recipe sharing for younger generations and make more space for underrepresented creators in the traditional cookbook space.
“I wanted to be able to have something for my daughter and my grandchildren to be able to go into a store, pick it up and look at it like I did with the other books that my mom introduced me to back in the day,” Rose, who is represented by UTA’s Bowles, says. “It’s about inviting more people, especially Black people, into this culinary space cookbooks that they kind of pushed out of their mind.”
Though Rose won’t stop making cooking and lifestyle videos online, she welcomes the opportunity to take on a cookbook and advance her career in a more traditional space. (Rose’s tome Danni’s Juke Joint Comfort Food It is scheduled for release in September 2023.
“If you give us something that we want to see again and eat and read, we will definitely participate in it,” she says. “This is something different for me. While we can publish an e-book that will sell well, I feel this one is more interesting. It’s going to be more challenging — it has been more challenging — and I like that.”