On Publishing a Cookbook

So, you’ve been cooking for a long time, and you’ve gotten great feedback—you KNOW you’re an outstanding cook. You’re creative, and your specialty is coming up with new dishes that no one has dreamed of before. And you’ve been compiling all these great ideas in your trusty Macbook, just waiting to unleash them on the world. Are you ready to publish a cookbook?

Well…probably not.

There are many ways to publish a cookbook, from the old spiral bound index card method (made famous by fundraising church ladies with crockpots), to the new generation of online publication via recipe blogs and ebooks. But just because you can publish your recipes, doesn’t mean you should.

For the sake of this post, we’re not talking about protecting your culinary secrets—though that is an important consideration. We’re talking about protecting your professional reputation.

The truth is, cookbooks have long been among the easiest type of publications to produce, even before other self-publishing mechanisms were available to the public. Consequently, the market is glutted with poorly written, poorly produced cookbooks. You don’t want to be one of them. Putting your byline on a less-than-perfect publication makes you look like an amateur; it’s not good for your personal brand.

Here are a few things to think about before you take your recipes to press.

Begin with the end in mind. Why do you want to publish? Do you want to make money from your book? Promote your image or your business? Or are you doing it because everyone wants your recipes? The answer to that question will help you determine whether you should be blogging, releasing an ebook, or pursuing a contract with a traditional publishing house.

Learn the proper way to write a recipe. Think of how frustrating it is for you, an experienced culinary professional, to execute a poorly written or poorly organized recipe. Imagine how difficult that is for less experienced cooks. Write your recipes so that anyone can follow them. That means using proper structure, abbreviations and terminology.

Discover your unique point of view. There are so many collections of recipes, from every culinary perspective imaginable. What’s unique about yours? Does the world need another vegetarian cookbook? No, unless yours is unusually compelling, inventive, accessible, affordable—what’s your angle?

Test the waters before you invest. Blogging is a virtually free way to get your recipes out into the marketplace. If you’re thinking of publishing a cookbook, either independently or through a publishing company, develop a blog with the same premise and attempt to build a following. It’s time-consuming, but so is writing a cookbook, learning the ropes of self-publishing, or querying agents. And no matter what method of publication you ultimately pursue, the following you build through your blog will be valuable later.

Enlist help. Just because you’re a creative chef, doesn’t mean you’re a writer. Get a second set of eyes on your draft—someone who doesn’t necessarily tell you what you want to hear. Gather as much feedback as you can on your premise, your recipes and the way you choose to present them. Listen to the feedback. The experience of the reader or cook who will be using your book will determine the success of your endeavor, so be willing to adjust or modify your draft to create a more appealing and user friendly product.

For some funny and useful notes on what NOT to do when writing a cookbook, visit this post from an executive cookbook editor.

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