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.

Opening a Commercial Kitchen for Rent

Our blog tends to focus on those seeking to rent a commercial kitchen, but here’s a switch:  what if you want to open your own commercial kitchen for rent?

In researching this topic, I found very little clear-cut information. No one has broken this down into, “10 Easy Steps to Opening a Rental Kitchen.”  Using Los Angeles as a test market, I found bits and pieces of information on the County’s environmental health website, but nothing comprehensive. I also found a number of articles that addressed various aspects of the process. Here are a few things to think about if you’re considering this endeavor:

 Licenses and Identification: This is something you can do while you’re working out all the trickier details. Your rental kitchen business will need a business license from the city where you plan to operate and most likely a DBA/ Fictitious Business Name registration from the county. Consult your accountant about tax issues and whether your business needs a federal tax ID number.

Finding a facility: This depends on what’s available in your target area. Think about startup expenses versus long-term expenses. You could find an industrial space and install a new commercial kitchen—the advantage here is that rent in industrial spaces tends to be cheap—but you’ll  have to pay for all of your systems and equipment.  Or you could find an established commercial kitchen, like a vacant restaurant space, and retrofit it as a rental kitchen—the advantage to this plan is that some of the very expensive systems and equipment may already be in place.  By the way: the kitchen in your home cannot be rented out as a commercial kitchen, unless you have a separate kitchen available–one that you don’t use for personal cooking–that you can outfit to meet commercial standards. And even then, zoning laws in your city may permit a commercial operation from your home.

Permits and codes:  Here’s where it gets tricky. Commercial food operations are regulated much more stringently than other businesses. You’ll have building codes, health department codes and fire codes to comply with.  Pay a visit to your city office and tell them what you’re trying to do BEFORE you begin so that you can collect information from all the agencies involved. You’ll have to pass inspections before you can open for business, so it’s critical that you know what’s required before you begin setting up your kitchen.

Equipment and systems for your kitchen: when you plan to outfit your kitchen, consider what is required by commercial codes as well as industry standards and your competition. Some of the standard items include:

  • Ventilation–hoods , fans, etc.
  • Fire safety–sprinklers, extinguishers, evacuation plan
  • Sanitation- dishwashers, waste and grease containment and disposal
  • Food storage: freezer, refrigerated and dry storage
  • Cooking equipment–stoves, ovens, smaller appliances
  • Food prep stations and equipment, like commercial mixers
  • Small equipment, like pots, pans, bowls and cooking tools
  • First aid supplies

Facility/ amenities: what will your clients need while they work? Restrooms and parking requirements will be dictated by your city’s building/planning codes, but consider internet access, seating areas, presentation areas—none of these are mandatory, but a could help differentiate your kitchen as a comfortable or value-added choice.

Administrative concerns: Do you need an office?  How will you coordinate schedules? How will you bill and collect rent? How will you market your kitchen? Where will you store paperwork? Depending on how you conduct your business, you may need additional space or supplies to address administrative concerns.

When your kitchen is ready for business, remember that CookItHere.com can help you find clients and help potential clients find you.