It’s not uncommon for aspiring cookbook authors to worry that their cookbook concept won’t be “good enough”. They think they’ll spend a lot of time writing a cookbook and no one except their mother will want to buy it. Along those same lines, other aspiring cookbook authors fear that even if they think they have a great idea for a cookbook someone else will publish a cookbook on the same topic before they finish theirs. When I wrote my first cookbook, I initially felt the same way and asked myself will anyone care about my topic? I even had a publisher ready to accept my manuscript and I still felt that way.
These concerns are real: fear that your cookbook concept isn’t “good enough” and fear that someone else will write the book you want to write. Even if you feel this way, it’s important that you move forward. Pick the idea you want to write about and then get going. Take action. Write your book. Now, that’s a little simplistic, but much of our fear leads us to inaction. We get stuck and we don’t act. Because I’m not an agent, or a publisher or acquisitions editor, I can’t say for sure what topic is “good enough”. But, I do know that you can work to get over your fears. Here are my suggestions for overcoming the self-doubt you may feel as you work to write your cookbook.
1. Identify your audience and learn what they want. Everyone who has a business, or a blog, or an idea for a cookbook should have a target audience in mind. That audience needs and wants certain things. Hopefully, you are in touch them, and you know what cooking information, or types of recipes, they want. Even if your audience is your family, and you want to write a family cookbook, you should know what they want. If you maintain a blog, you have a built-in following of people who like your style and the topics you blog about. They will get excited if you write a cookbook because you’ll meet their needs in this book. If you don’t already have a built-in audience then, the first step is to identify a group of people and find out what they want in a cookbook. Create a following for your work, and then these fans will embrace your cookbook concept when you develop it.
2. Solve a common kitchen-related problem. Our kitchens are fraught with mistakes waiting to happen and opportunities for us to educate our audience about food, cooking, baking, or nutrition. Maybe your audience doesn’t know how to use cast-iron cookware or how to bake at high-altitudes. Maybe they want to know more about how to use a pressure-cooker to cook economically and healthfully. Guess what? You can teach them. Take the time to select a challenge your fans can identify with and develop your book around your solution to their problem. Keep in mind that feeling better, saving money, losing/maintaining weight, and looking younger and healthier is of interest to almost anyone, so tie these ideas into your problem-solving idea.
3. Study food trends. If you recently wrote a cookbook manuscript or proposal on gluten-free baking, Paleo cooking, craft cocktails, or ancient grains, you would now have a trendy cookbook. The challenge is that the idea for any cookbook starts to take shape at least 18 to 24 months in advance. Take a look at food trends and incorporate what’s on the horizon, not what’s already for sale on the bookstore shelves. I have a board on Pinterest that captures some food trends for 2017: plant proteins, healthy fats, tea, and Instant Pots are just a few examples . Consider incorporating an up and coming trend if you’re planning to reach out to an agent or publisher to write a cookbook for 2017 or beyond.
4. Ignore the opinions of the naysayers, including the voice in your head. There are people, sometimes your inner critic, who you can never please. They tell you that you shouldn’t pursue your cookbook dream. Don’t worry about them. If you’re passionate about a topic in the kitchen, your passion may be enough to write a solid, informative cookbook. Even if the naysayers tell you not to, go ahead and move forward. Build your following. Write a cookbook proposal. Seek a publisher or consider self-publication. An aspiring cookbook author with passion and enthusiasm can go down roads with cookbook topics that seem boring and their passion and enthusiasm can make their project soar.
5. Get started even if you don’t think it’s perfect. I haven’t met very many perfect topics for a cookbook or very many perfect cookbook authors. The next time you’re in a bookstore, count the number of cookbooks on Italian food, vegetarian cooking, or cookies. These books are publishable, and they sell, because of the author’s spin on the subject and a unique way they approach the topic. You’ll never know if your idea is perfect or one that everyone is clamoring for until you try. And besides, thinking about the perfect book will get you nowhere. What you need to consider is the right book for your audience and what you can do to help them and then get started.
6. Embrace your idea. Spend the next 90 days writing your cookbook proposal. Then write a short query letter and send the proposal out to agents and publishers. They’ll know from the way you write your query and proposal if your topic is one you believe in (your passion and excitement will show) and if it’s a topic they can publish. Even if one publisher or agent says, “no” to your proposal (REJECTION) it doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea isn’t good. A “no” may only indicate that they already represent an author with the same idea or that they have a cookbook with the same concept on their list. Keep trying.
It’s no secret that generating a cookbook concept that everyone will love is impossible. In addition, there’s not a lot of new in food or cooking. So, why pursue this cookbook? Because it’s relevant to your audience and your approach and your message is important. Don’t wait too long to write your proposal or your manuscript, though. Sitting around and think about your book for too long won’t work either. Do your research and get started! You’ll be glad when you do.
Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors in the process of writing cookbooks, cookbook proposals, and building their author platform. Download her checklist “Am I Ready to Write A Cookbook?”.