How long have you and Matt been planning a cookbook?
This is honestly something I've been daydreaming about since I learned how to read; I read cookbooks like other girls read Sweet Valley High, and to this day my nightstand contains nothing but cookbooks. We've always talked about writing one in theory, but as well known as we are for our recipes and flavors, we really just didn't see a need for another cupcake book. We joked about writing a book called Robicelli's: Yes, More Fucking Cupcakes.
On top of that, the idea of just writing a bunch of recipes seemed really boring to me. I like writing to make people laugh, and three years ago "food humor" hadn't really become a thing yet. I mean, in mainstream media, people are still writing articles about Jenny Slate or Whitney Cummings from the viewpoint that they're shocked women are funny. So the thought of me going to a publisher and saying, "Hey, I want to write another book about cupcakes, but we don't use dyes and don't decorate them to look like puppies, and it's going to have a lot of French technique that most home bakers have never tried, and it's also going to be full of jokes written by a woman" sort of seemed like it would just be a gigantic waste of time.
In the meantime, I was writing the Robicelli's blog thinking no one was really reading it. Then Peter Hobbs from Nona Brooklyn emails me, saying he loves the blog and wants me to write a few articles for him. So he's really the one who sort of pushed me to stop thinking of the book theoretically. Then the part-time Nona column took off and someone from the New York Times emailed me to say that they were a fan, to keep writing. And then an editor from a major publishing house messages me on Twitter saying I need to write a book, and sends me the contact information for an agent named Melissa Sarver. I met Melissa for a blind date over matzoh ball soup at Junior's last fall. I tell her all my ridiculous ideas, waiting for her to say that I'm nuts and to just write a list of recipes and pray. She loved the concept, and the two of us hit it off like we'd known each other all our lives. We started working on the proposal the next day.
What was the process of shopping it around like?
Writing the proposal was one of the hardest things I've ever done. You send your agent 60 pages you're pretty proud of, and then you get them back with all these notes telling you that your jokes aren't funny or some of your ideas are terrible. On top of all that, I'm running our business through the holidays and being a mom to two preschoolers, so there were plenty of days where I wanted to scrap it all, hide under my bed, eat Cheetos and cry. Then a few weeks ago, she emails me and says that it's finally done and ready to go out, and I'm like "Are you sure? I mean, we can do more edits!" I had to walk away for a few days and look at it again, read my first draft and see how far not only we had come on the proposal, but how much better Melissa made me as a writer. And then you have that moment of clarity where you realize how absolutely brilliant your agent is, how she really knows what the fuck she's doing, and to just sit back and trust her.
We sent it out after Valentine's Day, and two weeks later we had a whirlwind day where Matt, Melissa and I were in cabs shooting around Manhattan for meetings with different publishers, talking about our ideas for the book, and having them tell us why we should pick them. People really loved the angle we were proposing, the recipes, the stories we were sharing. I'm still totally floored by how positive the response was. The next week we were scheduled to put the book up for auction when my agent received a call from the team over at Penguin/Viking Studio with an incredible offer. I loved the editor there when I met her, and loved not only their enthusiasm for the proposal, but how excited they were to add something new to the cookbook genre. So we accepted, and went to the Bridgeview Diner to celebrate. It seemed the most appropriate place to go—10 years ago, we'd go there for cheese fries on the way home from the bar, and now we're dining on Romanian Steak with our kids, celebrating the fact we're Bay Ridge kids who've made good.