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3 Things to Consider Before Making a Cookbook
Before embarking on your cookbook project, it’s a good idea to get organized, and to figure out what kind of cookbook you want to make.
- Photography: More so than other texts, cookbooks often include visual accompaniment. Beautiful pages of full-color photos are expensive, which is one reason publishers like to work with bloggers who can style and photograph their own food. Not all cookbooks need photos, however. Some of the most iconic cookbooks rely on illustrations, or words alone. Figure out what role, if any, visuals will play in your book.
- Audience: Are you turning recipe cards into a keepsake family cookbook, or selling this cookbook nationwide? Your intended audience will greatly influence how you write and publish your cookbook, whether it’s vegans, college students, or owners of pressure cookers. You’ll need to consider your audience’s cooking skill level, desires, and where they buy their food.
- Budget: Once you have a vision for what you want your cookbook to be, budget your time and resources. Do you need help to make this book? The answer is probably yes. Assemble a team of people who understand your vision and know what kind of commitment will be involved.
3 Common Types of Cookbooks
More so than any other kind of nonfiction book, cookbooks lend themselves to self-publishing. Of course, cookbook publishing is also a huge industry, and a professional publisher might be the best route for your book depending on the scope and your reach as a chef.
- Self-published: This is a cookbook made of up your own recipes, which you might give as gifts to family and friends. You can easily self-publish a cookbook online as an individual. But if having a print book is important to you, there are many options. You can print and staple together a short cookbook, zine-style. Many copy shops will also offer options for wire-bound cookbooks, and there are resources online that will print bookstore-quality softcover or hard-cover books for a fee.
- Community cookbooks are a special subset of self-published cookbook made up of recipes from multiple individuals, usually to raise money for a cause or organization. Working with a group has the advantage of a large pool of recipes and testers, and is a great way to share your recipes with a larger audience while also supporting a cause you believe in.
- Through a publishing house: If you think your cookbook has a wider audience, you may want to seek out a mainstream publishing house. Get a literary agent who can to publishers who can connect you with publishers who are interested in your cookbook. Large publishing houses don’t usually accept pitches from individuals, but you can reach out to small, local publishers without an agent as intermediary. To publish a cookbook through a publishing house, you’ll typically need a book proposal outlining your concept, audience, and budget.
How to Make a Cookbook in 9 Steps
The process of making a cookbook will depend on your publishing route, but in general you’ll need to work through the following steps:
- Concept: The first step of making a cookbook is to figure out what kind of cookbook this will be. Your cookbook can focus on a single ingredient, meal, region, or culture. It can be an educational tome for beginners, or a slapdash collection of family favorites for your relatives. If you’re looking to get your cookbook published, a book proposal is a necessary step towards getting a book deal, and can also help you pin down your concept. Learn how to write a book proposal in our complete guide here.
- Compile recipes: If you’ve been dreaming of writing a cookbook, chances are you probably already know some recipes that have to be included. Make a list of those important recipes and use that as a jumping-off point to brainstorm how your cookbook will be organized and what other recipes need to be developed. If you’re compiling a community cookbook, reach out to your community members and assemble their recipes.
- Outline: Based on your guiding concept and key recipes, make a rough table of contents. Possibly the most common way to divide a cookbook is into meals (appetizers, breakfast, lunch, dinner) but cookbooks can also be divided by season, raw ingredients (vegetables, fish, beef), cooking techniques, or some other narrative structure.
- Recipe development: Flesh out your structure by developing beyond your core recipes, if needed, and fine-tuning those recipes which need a bit more work.
- Recipe testing: Hire recipe testers, or enlist your friends and family, to test out your recipes in their home kitchens. Have them let you know what worked and didn’t work, or what was confusing.
- Write the surrounding material: Most cookbooks include some writing other than the recipes. This may include chapter introductions and blurbs for each recipe.
- Photography and layout: If your book includes photography, at some point there will be photo shoots where the food will have to be prepared and styled for camera. Traditional publishing houses will likely want to hire stylists and photographers who specialize in food photography. Once the images and text are both ready, a book designer will arrange them together and make the cover design, but you can also make your own cookbook design using software like InDesign or old-school DIY-style, with paper, scissors, and a photocopier.
- Editing: If you’re working with a publisher, there may be several rounds of back and forth as your editor works with you to fine-tune the recipes and text. The book will then be sent to a copy editor who will go through the entire cookbook looking for grammar and style issues, and indexer for finishing touches. If you’re self-publishing, give a rough draft of your book to friends and family members to proofread.
- Printing: After everything is laid out and approved, your cookbook is ready to be printed. If you’re printing your cookbook yourself, you can go to a copy shop to get it spiral bound, or send it off to a printer for more options. Learn how to make your own hardcover book with our step-by-step guide here.
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