So, you have some delicious recipes, and you want to share them with the world. Great! Hopefully, other people will think they’re just as awesome as you do. But how do you get your work out in the world? How do you write a cookbook, much less design and publish one? Let’s discuss.
How to Write a Cookbook
All great books start . . . with someone sitting down to write them. In the case of cookbooks, you have to sit down and compile your recipes, and perhaps write an engaging introduction that helps people learn more about you and your recipes. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Compile Your Recipes
Your recipes must be accurate and easy to understand. The goal of your cookbook should be to help people recreate the delicious food and/or beverages you’ve made . . . not turn their kitchens into a science experiment gone wrong.
When cooking or baking, note everything you do to ensure you don’t miss a step. Then, refine those steps into easy-to-follow instructions. Try to avoid complex sentences. Instructions must be as clear as possible. You must share all the ingredients you use with the proper measurements.
Additional considerations are as follows. . . .
You don’t have to include brand names, but if you insist on using them, you should consult a lawyer. Adding brand names may require permission from the owner to avoid trademark infringement, depending on their use. That said, including brand names in the ingredients can help ensure consistency. If your ingredients vary widely from brand to brand, it might be helpful to include which brands you used. This is especially true when creating cookbooks specifically to preserve your family recipes.
High or Low Altitude?
Take altitude into consideration. Food cooks differently at high altitudes than at sea level. It can help your readers achieve better results if you make a note somewhere in the front matter on where you prepared and tested the original recipes, as certain adjustments will need to be made depending on altitude to ensure food safety and quality.
Try to avoid slang words and phrases. The exception may be if the book has a particular theme. For instance, a cookbook sharing traditional Cajun recipes may use Cajun slang words or phrases. This helps add to the book’s atmosphere, but it can make directions unclear to those unfamiliar with the terms.
If you just have to use slang, consider including a glossary at the front or back of the book. Doing so can prevent people from leaving bad reviews. The downside is that extra pages will raise printing costs.
How you compile your recipes in your book is up to you. A common way to organize cookbooks is to group the recipes according to meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, etc.). There may be a separate section for beverages if they will factor into your cookbook.
Some cookbooks share recipes from multiple cultures and thus group the recipes first by culture and then by course. Others organize recipes according to their composition. For example, an Italian cookbook might have separate sections for dishes centered around pasta, fish, poultry, etc. A dessert cookbook may have separate sections for cakes, pies, or cookies.
Edit Your Book
Editing is important. We can’t stress its importance enough, which is why we mention it so much. Editing isn’t just about checking grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. A professional editor will also check for consistency, logical flow, and conciseness.
Many of these points are hard to catch on your own because you’re so familiar with your work. Editing contributes to a professional finished product, one people will actually take seriously and be more likely to trust.
Authors who have followed us for a while have probably read our favorite story: Years ago, we designed a chicken cookbook, a clever compilation of recipes using cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. The author explained this in the front matter, as you’d expect, but our editor noticed that the recipes themselves listed only “chicken” instead of “cooked chicken.” In this case, using an editor probably saved countless bellyaches, trips to the emergency room, and possibly lawsuits.
Design Your Book
Cookbooks are complex. We urge you to hire an experienced, qualified designer to create your cover and your interior, especially if you don’t have design experience. Why offer buyers a boring cookbook when you can sell a work of art? A professional designer will know what elements you should or shouldn’t include and how to create an aesthetically appealing design while maximizing readability.
Your trim size must be determined before your cover and interior are designed, as it impacts both processes. 8.5″ x 11″ is the standard trim size for cookbooks. 8″ x 10″ and 7″ x 10″ are also popular trim sizes. Printers differ in the availability of trim sizes, paper grades, and binding styles, as well as costs, so be sure to research your printer before design begins.
When selecting a trim size, you need to consider the amount of content you have, whether you’ll have any tables or graphs, and how many photos you’ll be including. Larger trim sizes will give your text and images more breathing room, which can help with readability. You also need to consider your margins, which will generally be between 0.5″ and 0.75″ for cookbooks.
Your book’s binding will also impact the design process. For instance, if you want your book spiralbound, this will require the designer to widen the margins on the coil side of the pages.
Most people prefer their cookbooks to lie flat when opened because this makes them easier to read and use. This will require spiral binding or “lay-flat” binding. The caveat to these binding types is that they aren’t supported by IngramSpark or Amazon KDP. More on that below.
Your cover needs to attract buyers while conveying the necessary information. People want to know why they should buy your book over all the others out there. In most cases, your cover will be your first means of pitching your book, so make it count. Be sure to research similar books on Amazon before beginning the design process. It may be tempting to design a cover that YOU like, but if all the competing books look significantly different, your book may stand out for the wrong reason.
The front cover needs an enticing background (usually an image of a recipe, or a collage of recipe images), a gripping title (we offer title consultation), and your name. If there’s enough room, adding an endorsement doesn’t hurt. For more detailed information on how to create a front cover that works, check out this info we shared with the Alliance of Independent Authors.
If someone was drawn by your book cover but still hasn’t committed to buying your product, the back cover may help seal the deal instead. On the back, you should briefly discuss the recipes included, what benefits the customer will gain by purchasing the book, and why you’re qualified to write such a book. The back cover will also include the price of your book.
The spine is also important. If your book is shelved with your spine facing outward, it’s the first thing that will grab customers. If your book is spiralbound, this could raise some issues, since the spiral binding will not share any information. Bookstores shun spiral-bound books for this reason. Some printers can manufacture a “covered spiral binding” that addresses this issue.
Color photos are almost a requirement in cookbooks. They can help entice people to try your recipes out. If your book is displayed on store shelves and people can flip through it, quality images may even be a deciding factor on if your book sells. Pictures tend to make cookbooks more aesthetically appealing by breaking up rows of text. Last but not least, images can help people visualize the result of their efforts.
Any images you include should be high-resolution and should suit the themes. This should go without saying, but the pictures used for your recipes should be of the actual food/beverages your recipes create. Put some effort into the table settings, as well. Choose dishes, flatware, napkins, and placemats that coordinate with the dish created. Thrift stores can be an inexpensive source for these items. If you want to include images in the front or back matter, there’s more flexibility. You can use stock images or illustrations in these areas to add more visual appeal.
Not all cookbooks provide an image for each recipe. Depending on the number of recipes in your book, it may not be feasible to take pictures of them all. Similarly, if you include charts or sidebars, images might not be workable on every page.
Once your interior layout is completed, don’t skip the proofreading phase. Errors are often introduced during typesetting.
How to Publish a Cookbook
If you followed our advice above, you should be walking into the publishing phase with a beautiful, marketable product. So now what? You invested all this time and money into making sure your book is ready for the spotlight. How do you get it there?
There are still many decisions ahead of you, from how many ISBNs to purchase, to what to charge for your book, to where and how to distribute your books. All of these decisions depend entirely on you, but here are some tips.
Purchasing your ISBN(s) is an important step that will actually need to be completed to put the finishing touches on your copyright page and back cover. In the US, Bowker is the only seller of ISBNs. Learn more about ISBNs with this blog post.
When pricing your book, take into consideration what your printing and distribution costs will be, not just what you’ve already spent on production. If you’re interested in making a profit, you’ll need to set the price high enough to recover the cost of your investment, yet low enough that it remains competitive.
Print-on-Demand (POD) or Offset Printing
IngramSpark and Amazon KDP are the only printers that offer print-on-demand distribution to physical and online retailers. Because of this, if you chose spiral or “lay-flat” binding, you would have to settle for offset printing instead of POD.
POD is typically preferred because it’s more cost-effective for lower quantities of books. With POD, books are printed as they’re ordered. With offset printing, a select number of books are ordered from the printer. Offset printing is usually preferred when printing large quantities of books, but only by those who are certain they’ll sell them and who have the means to deal with the inventory.
Offset printing requires the publisher (which would be you, if you self-publish) to have a place to store the inventory and the means to distribute it. Aside from your binding and other technical factors, your budget, the number of books you plan to sell, your storage capacity, and your ability to distribute your inventory are all factors that will determine which printing method is best for you.
Before your cookbook is published, you should have started spreading the word about it. Some magazines and bloggers review cookbooks, so you may be able to reach out for a review or, possibly, an interview. Social media is another place you can start discussing your book, perhaps even sharing pics of your recipes to build hype around your upcoming release.
If you’d like to learn more about how to market your cookbook, we’re here to help. Our book marketing plans are tailored to your specific needs. We can also help with all aspects of book production, from editing to design and on. If you’re looking for end-to-end production assistance, including help with setting up your title on IngramSpark and/or KDP, be sure to check out our package deal.
We’re just a click or call away if you have any questions.