How a server side-hustled her way into the land of 'The Walking Dead'

Joseph Wade
Lauren Wilson

Going from waiting tables to landing an official deal with the AMC show "The Walking Dead," TV's hottest drama for five years running, seems like a dream. But chef, server, instructor and author Lauren Wilson made it happen.

Wilson got to write the newly released official cookbook for AMC's most famous show, titled, "The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide." She knocked it out in roughly three months, just in time to celebrate her 35th birthday.

But the process really began seven years ago when she decided to leave her nine-to-five marketing job to go to chef school.

Finishing her education as a chef led to writing about the food scene in Toronto. Then, like so many millennial adventurers, Wilson ended up in a tiny Brooklyn apartment where she learned to negotiate the rent-apocalypse by working multiple jobs.

Publishing her new cookbook, which is currently ranked in the top ten in sales in multiple book categories on Amazon, hasn't changed how she operates. Wilson is still a floor captain and server at Rose's Bar and Grill in Brooklyn and an instructor at Rustico Cooking in Manhattan, where she works alongside the James Beard Award-nominated author and chef Micol Negrin.

Wilson's closest analogue on the show is the sweet and sharp "Walking Dead" character Carol, who tends to fly under the radar. But Wilson has a love for zombies that the fierce Carol doesn't share. The first cookbook Wilson wrote was "The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse," and it was fueled by her early love for the undead.

Wilson blames her brother and his video games for her affection, specifically an early childhood experience with the Resident Evil franchise. She says she was entranced by the game.

A page from Wilson's "The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide," featuring a recipe for Carol's Beet and Acorn Cookies. Click to enlarge.

Wilson was a blogger serving foodies in Brooklyn when she decided to write the first book. "I was essentially writing a culinary survival guide. I barely knew how to build a fire. The book required a lot of research, interviewing experts and carrying out questionable experiments in my Brooklyn backyard. I was starting from scratch in every sense," she tells CNBC Make It. "I had no idea what went into publishing, selling or writing a cookbook. I had no connections. I had to roll up my sleeves and figure it all out."

Wilson took the proposal for her first book, which took her about a year to craft, and sought advice from Sarah Huck, the author of "Campfire Cookery: Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities for the Great Outdoors," after meeting her at an event. Huck helped Wilson make the decision to hunt down an agent. "I cold called pretty much every agent in New York City! I couldn't believe it when a handful of agents expressed interest," Wilson says.

Wilson sat down with couple of the agents that she felt would represent her the best, and the agent Wilson chose secured her a publisher.

Publication of that first book attracted the attention of Insight Editions, which owned the licensing rights to "The Walking Dead's" official cookbook. According to Wilson, she was an obvious choice: despite her relatively low profile, the success of "The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse" made her "perhaps the most qualified person on the planet to write 'The Walking Dead's' cookbook."

This guy went from a cart collector at Target to running a six-figure company by doing this
This guy went from a cart collector at Target to running a six-figure company by doing this

Once Insight Editions signed Wilson for an amount she would not disclose to CNBC Make It, she tore into the process of putting the book together. "I had three months to write 60 recipes and the rest of the content in the book. That required epic focus: I was working 10-to-12 hour days seven days a week for the entirety of those three months."

The three-month deadline was a bonus for Wilson. She claims it helped her push through her burnout from writing the first book, after which she had said she would never write another. "I found the grit and determination to push through because I also felt so utterly grateful and lucky to have this opportunity. I felt like I owed it to myself and the countless zombie nerds."

With publication of her second book, Wilson's story has just begun. She's on a whirlwind tour which includes a booking signing at New York's comic con and 'Walking Dead' parties and a stop in Atlanta for the season premiere just days after her birthday.

But this is all still just a side hustle for Wilson, who continues to run like a herd is chasing her, going from her teaching gig to her restaurant job.

To hear her tell it, she's only just begun to hustle. "Publishing this has helped me set my goals," says Wilson. "I really didn't think I would write another cookbook after 'The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse,' and now having finished writing a second cookbook, I'm already writing a third."

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