There are many reasons that someone wants to write a cookbook. Maybe they want to write for their family, or perhaps to showcase their restaurant’s recipes. Maybe they have a nutrition business and their clients need help cooking, or perhaps an organization they volunteer for wants to publish a cookbook to raise money. Regardless of the reason, many aspiring cookbook authors feel overwhelmed by the scope of a cookbook project.
I know how they feel. I’ve been there before with my own cookbook projects. When I work with aspiring cookbook authors they often ask me what is the first thing they should do to write a cookbook? To help answer this question I plan to create a series of blog posts to walk aspiring cookbook authors step-by-step through the process of writing a cookbook. This will include key decisions you need to make before you get started.
Before you start with your cookbook project, it’s important to be able to answer clearly two important questions:
- Who are your writing your cookbook for?
- Why do you want to write a cookbook?
Let’s take a look at these issues a bit more in-depth:
QUESTION 1: Who are you writing your cookbook for?
By answering this question, you will be better able to identify the best way to get your cookbook published. Once you identify how to publish, the steps to publication are easier to map out. Here are three common groups of people that cookbooks are written for:
Family and/or friends
I suspect that if you want to write a cookbook you’re an experienced cook or baker, and as a result have recipes to share. Your family loves your home-cooked meals, and your friends think you’re the go-to person to bring a signature casserole or cake to a party or get-together. They all want you to share your recipes, and you know this because they’re always asking you for your recipes.
You may be wondering if these reasons are compelling enough reasons to write a cookbook? Yes, it’s a good enough reason. Your audience is on the small side, but they are important. Your recipes and style of cooking for friends and family needs to be preserved. Plus, if they’ve asked for recipes, they will enjoy recreating the dishes you make when they cook for their friends, move to their own apartment, head off to college, start their own family, etc., a cookbook written for them will fill that need.
Clients or customers
If you have a nutrition-focused business, and you help your clients with weight loss, disease management, or wellness, I suspect that food preparation might be part of what you teach them. You also know their challenges when it comes to food, cooking, and nutrition. You know what motivates them to cook, and you know what their barriers are to cooking. Your cookbook can help them live a healthier lifestyle and provides a preset way to connect with them in the office.
If you own a restaurant or catering business, your customers will enjoy a book with your recipes as a souvenir of their visit, or to remember their special occasion. You can imagine your clients and customers buying your cookbook from you, your website, or an online retailer.
Specific groups of cooks or bakers
For the purposes of this audience description, let’s say that you have mastered the art of making homemade candy with a process that simplifies the process on rainy, humid days. This is a topic you have experience with and knowledge about, and you’re excited to share it with home bakers, crafters, DIYers, and those who make candy for holiday gifts. You think a cookbook would be a good way to reach your audience, so you set your sights on getting your book published by a traditional publisher. You envision your book for sale at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and other locations.
To help identify the audience for this group, write down details about the knowledge or cooking experience you want to share with them. Describe the cooks or bakers you most want to connect with. Define their age, gender, income level, and cooking experience.
After you have identified WHO you are writing your book for, it’s time to determine WHY you want to write a cookbook.
QUESTION 2: Why do you want to write a cookbook?
For a long time before I wrote my first cookbook I had the desire to share approachable recipes that used common grocery-store ingredients with a larger audience. I wanted to explore the concept of seasonal cooking with regional variations in my home state’s cuisine and share it with those who lived in my state. I also wanted to find a local publisher who could help me design and distribute the book in my area and regionally. Your answers to WHY you want to write a cookbook won’t be the same as mine. But, just like identifying WHO you want to write your book for, WHY you want to write a cookbook also guides the process of getting your cookbook project started and making decisions about how to get your cookbook published.
Here are a few examples of WHY you might want to write a cookbook:
- Teach and influence others about a topic related to cooking or baking
- Earn a lot of money off the sale of my book
- Raise funds for an organization or non-profit agency
- Say “I am author” when someone asks me what I do
- Share our family’s favorite recipes with my children, grandchildren, or friends
- Sell my cookbook “at the back of the room” after speaking engagements
- Expand my nutrition, catering, or food business
- Promote my restaurant or catering business
- Sell e-books on my website to generate a stream of income
- Check “write a cookbook” off my bucket list
Another WHY for writing a cookbook might be that you possess, and a solution to cooking or baking problem and you have a desire to share the solution. Maybe your audience doesn’t know how to bake with gluten-free baking mixes, or they always fail when they deep-fat fry Twinkies. Write down any challenges your audience might have about the topic that you are experienced with. Your cookbook on this particular topic will help the reader with the problems or challenges you have identified.
Once you identify the WHO and the WHY, the path you need to take to get a cookbook published becomes a little clearer. (I will discuss the paths to publication in future blog posts.)
To help organize your thoughts about WHO and WHY I invite you to click the yellow box below to download my Goals for Cookbook Publication worksheet.
Cookbook author, editor, and Culinary Dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors during the pre-publication phase of writing a cookbook. If you want to write a cookbook, and wonder if you’re ready, download her 11-point checklist Am I Ready to Write a Cookbook?