Feb 22, 2017
Behind the Cookbook: Q + A with Judy Pray

Judy Pray is the executive editor of Artisan Books, and the editor of The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School. Judy’s straight-talk feedback and genteel steering was essential in writing a cookbook that we envisioned as being indispensable to home cooks. Because we appreciate her insight and value her judgement, we wanted to know more about Judy Pray. 




How did you become a book editor?
I’ve always loved books and cooking, so being a cookbook editor is a good career fit for me. I started as an editorial assistant helping an editor and worked my way up the ladder. Beginning an editorial career functions almost like an apprenticeship. You train and learn from another editor until you begin to acquire and edit books based on your own tastes and interests.


What kind of books do you work on?
Cookbooks, primarily, but I also edit design and decorating books, photography books, gift books, and all types of nonfiction that can be presented visually. What does your day to day look like? Each day is different, which is a big reason why I love my job. One day might be spent working with an author developing the direction for his book; another day might be spent on the set of a photo shoot. Some days are filled with meetings; other days I’m in my office answering emails for hours or writing long editorial notes in response to an author’s work. It might seem from the outside that an editor sits at a desk reading all day, but I’m hardly ever able to find time to read and edit in the office. The best time for that is after hours when there are no meetings or distractions.


What’s the general process of a book look like for you from start to finish?
Each book is different; some books require you to start with the words and others require you to start with the photographs and design. It depends on the nature of the book and what drives the content. For a text-heavy cookbook, once an author and I land on the premise for the book, she will begin writing one chapter or a partial chapter and give me material to respond to. After we settle on the correct voice for the book and the presentation of the information, the bulk of the writing begins. I jump in and edit the author throughout the writing process. I’m keeping an eye on the big picture — “Are we including everything that should be in this book?,” “Is it written for the right audience?”— and paying attention to the small details too — “Do we have too many fish recipes?,” “Does the order of the recipes make sense?”.

When a good deal of writing is complete and recipes have been tested, we organize photo shoots for the book and begin the design process to get the book into layout. It’s a collaborative process with the author and my role is to coordinate the author’s interactions with everyone at the publishing house: from the copyeditor to the book designer to the sales team. After the book is designed and eventually printed, I continue to work with the author as she begins to work with our publicity team on plans to promote the book. And when the book is on sale, it’s almost like the author has graduated and only needs me for occasional check-ins. But I’m still the in-house advocate for the book and I’ll continue to be the point-person for the author long after the book has been on sale.


Did Haven’s Kitchen’s book follow this same process? What challenges were puzzled out in this book?
The Haven’s Kitchen cookbook required a lot of thought and discussion from the start about the best approach to organizing the material for a beginner cook. It was a challenge to figure out the most sensible way to convey common culinary skills and the essential building blocks of cooking in book form and in 384 pages. Most cookbooks aim to teach one recipe at a time.

We wanted The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School to teach skills that could be built upon from one recipe to another, so it was essential to think it through on paper and devise a way to present the information visually as well. I think we achieved what we set out to do—each chapter is an essential lesson for the home cook. And the recipes within each chapter arm readers with an arsenal of recipes for a lifetime of good eating.


How many pages do you read in a typical day?
Lucky for me there is no typical day. In the last couple of days, I edited two chapters of a forthcoming cookbook on Basque cooking and one chapter of a book on whole food cooking. Tomorrow I’ll be working with an author who is a dog photographer and that means the entire day will be spent editing photos of puppies into book form.


What was the last book you read?
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. My day-to-day involves reading so much nonfiction that when I read for pleasure, it’s primarily fiction.


What was the last recipe you cooked?
I cook all the time. Last night it was the Zuni Café roasted chicken —or at least my version of it— with salad. I like to make it on a Sunday when I have a leftover baguette. You make croutons from a day-old baguette, flavor them with drippings from the roasted chicken, and toss them with arugula or other greens. It becomes part stuffing/part bread salad and when served with the roasted chicken, it’s the perfect comfort meal.


Where do you find inspiration and / or peace?
Any time spent outside with my dog.


What neighborhood do you live in, and what are some of your places to eat there?
I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn; I’m lucky that we have so many good restaurants in the immediate neighborhood and also that we’re walking distance to so many other neighborhoods with great restaurants too. My favorite places near home are Roman’s, for a nice dinner out; Speedy Romeo or Franny’s, for pizza; Ganso, for ramen; and Walter’s, which is the perfect place to meet friends after work.

Judy Pray is the executive editor of Artisan Books. Click here for more information on The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School.