Welcome to Part 7 of my blog series Steps to Write a Cookbook. If this is the first blog post you’ve read in this series, I encourage you to go back and review the previous blog posts in the series:
This is the place where aspiring authors get antsy to write their cookbook manuscript. The good news is that the entire book manuscript isn’t necessary at this point. What you need to focus on next is writing a cookbook proposal.
What is a cookbook proposal?
A cookbook proposal is a business plan for your cookbook. In a proposal, you summarize your cookbook concept and sell yourself as the author of the cookbook. You may be lucky enough to have a publisher approach you about writing your cookbook, you may choose to self-publish your cookbook, or you may send your proposal to agents and/or a publishing house, but in any case, it’s recommended to focus now on writing a proposal. How long it takes to write a proposal depends on your motivation, your platform development, and how many recipes you have ready to include. I’ve seen aspiring author focus and write a proposal in 90 days, but a lot will depend on your ability to concentrate and prioritize the work to write the proposal.
Why write a proposal?
It’s worth the time and effort to write a cookbook proposal. A cookbook proposal provides you with:
1. A plan that organizes your concept, competition, content, audience, and marketing/promotion ideas. A proposal communicates in detail your vision for your cookbook. When shared with agents and editors you can find out if they are willing to invest time and money on the publication of your idea. It is possible to query an agent, and some editors, by only sharing your cookbook concept, but be prepared for them to request a proposal if they want to see more. In some cases, agents like to only see a cookbook summary submitted and then they help shape the proposal before submission to a publisher.
2. A snapshot of your writing style and voice, as well as a taste of your cookbook through a sample of your best recipes. Well written text and delicious recipes make a strong case for you as the author of this book. If you can write a proposal, chances are you can write a cookbook.
3. A litmus test for your commitment to writing a cookbook. Any aspiring author who can follow-through on writing a proposal shows commitment to their cookbook project.
4. A tool that forces you to think not only about your book but what you bring to the table for marketing and sales of the book. Here you define your platform and how it can help sell the book. idea.
What to include in a proposal
Agents and publishers devour well-written cookbook proposals. They want to read proposals that are unforgettable and learn about aspiring authors who have excitement and passion for a topic. The nuts and bolts of a cookbook proposal are pretty standard. Below is an outline and description of key components to include in a cookbook proposal. The page counts are estimates only, but you can see from the estimates that a proposal’s page count can be from 30 to 40 pages. The final length of the proposal depends on the length of the sample chapter.
Cover Page: (1 page)
Sometimes called the title page, this is the cover sheet for your proposal. It includes the working title for your cookbook, a subtitle if applicable, and your contact information. Create an appealing book title. Include social media information. If you submit the proposal as a PDF it’s nice to generate live links to make it easy for the agent and/or publisher to click through to your social media sites. Insert a shortened such as a bit.ly link and add a full URL as displayed here (https://bitly.com) to assist agents or editors who may only have a printed version of the proposal to visit the URLs provided.
Table of Contents: (1 page)
This is the table of contents for the cookbook proposal. It’s helpful to format in Microsoft Word (or other word-processing software) using the Outline View. With this feature, you can toggle the heading to update page numbers as the content expands or changes.
Cookbook Summary: (a short paragraph)
Also called the hook or unique selling point think of this summary as the sound bite for your cookbook. This paragraph describes your book’s focus and the launching point from where you cookbook proposal will start. To create this summary, first explain in just a few sentences your cookbook concept, what you want to teach, and who you are trying to reach (your audience). Reduce the summary down to a few sentences. This can be hard to do, but the ability to do so demonstrates sharp focus for your concept.
My first published cookbook was The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. The short cookbook summary was: The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook is a seasonal cooking journey through a Kentucky year. With twelve chapters, from January through December, The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook guides home cooks through a year of delicious recipes that use Kentucky ingredients and follow Kentucky traditions to create family and celebration meals.
Cookbook Concept Overview: (2 to 3 pages)
This section provides agents and editors with their first glimpse of your writing ability and style. Make this section compelling and put your best foot forward. Hook the agent or editor and keep them reading with a well-written cookbook concept overview. It’s been said that if this section is not well put together, an agent or editor may not read any further. That’s a hard reality, so do your best to make this section shine.
The cookbook concept overview provides a more in-depth discussion of your cookbook concept and answers the question – why you need to write this book? Your job as the author is to summarize your concept: how you thought of the idea, why your cookbook needs to be written, why the time is now, why you need to write the book, and how you plan to execute the idea. If your audience requests that you write this book, or you know they would benefit from this book, communicate this request or need here. Add links to any viral or relevant social media, blog post, or comments on a blog that sparked the idea.
Target Market: (1 to 2 pages)
This section defines who will buy your book and how will it benefit them. Use this section to discuss your audience in detail including who they are, why they will buy the book, and how it will benefit them. Add statistics about where your target market shops, what they read, websites they visit, blogs they enjoy, and how your idea takes advantage of a recent trend, if applicable.
Competition: (2 to 3 pages)
In this section provide a list of about five cookbooks published in the past few years that are competition for your cookbook. The goal of making this list is to show how your idea fits in the current publishing landscape. Include for each book on the list it’s title, author, publisher, agent, copyright date, concept, and audience. Add a few sentences about how your book will be different. Use your descriptions to display confidence about your idea and present the competition in a positive fashion. If you feel the market is untapped for your idea, and that your idea is unique, rather than say, “No one has ever written a book like this”, use this section to show the publisher that they can have access to a new market through your cookbook.
Promotion plan: (2 to 3 pages)
After you write a book, your next job is to sell the book. In this part of the proposal, you tell the agent and editor how you can help sell the book by providing ideas for sales and marketing. Describe your connections to your audience through your platform such as a blog, videos, writing outlets, social media, and media and community connections. Include ideas for promotion for local cookware shops, restaurants, specialty retail shops, bookstores, and speaking engagements. Discuss how you can help schedule events, direct or bulk book purchases, and signings. Think of locations where your book can be sold outside of tradition retail bookstores such as women’s boutiques, pet stores, hardware stores, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and other specific retail establishments.
Author background: (1 to 2 pages)
In this section, you tell the agent or editor who you are and why you are the best person to write this book. Describe your author platform in detail. Include educational experience, books you’ve written (with sales figures if possible), media experience, special skills, and other information that sells you as the author of this book. You want the agent or editor to think that you’re the perfect person to write the book. Don’t be modest or reserved here. Support your case as the expert, writer, and promoter of this cookbook.
Table of Contents: (1 page)
The first page of this section is the “snapshot” table of contents for your cookbook. The table of contents lists in order the chapters for the book. Most non-fiction books, including cookbooks, contain 10 to 12 chapters. Include on the list every chapter including the introduction, acknowledgments, foreword (if you plan to do this section and name the person you might want to write the foreword), chapter titles, index, and any other chapters you plan to include such as a glossary. Make the chapters flow in a logical order. To plan the order of my chapters I use index cards, Post-It Notes, or the corkboard feature of the software program, Scrivener, to map out chapter names and place them in their desired order. After you complete the outline, type it on one page as an overview.
Annotated table of contents with chapter summaries: (2 to 3 pages)
After the overview, use several pages to write an expanded or annotated table of contents. This includes the chapter outline as described with the addition of a description of each chapter. This description offers several paragraphs to describe what the chapter is about and how it will help the audience. Include any call-out features such as boxed text, lists, or other graphic features in the description if you plan to use them. Within each description, include a list of recipes in that chapter.
Sample Chapter with Recipes (several pages)
You are the perfect person to write this cookbook and the sample chapter is where you demonstrate this ability. The sample chapter includes text, supporting information such as a call-out or boxed text, and approximately 10 complete recipes. The recipes need to be tested and formatted using your preferred recipe style. (If you’re unsure of your recipe style, I plan to cover this topic in the next blog post.) Editors and agents do prepare recipes from proposals, so the recipes need to well written and tested. Some agents and editors prefer that the sample recipes cover the breadth of a concept, rather than all ten recipes being from one chapter. For example, if your cookbook concept is about preparing plant-based finger foods for toddlers, and the chapters include soups, entrees, and side dishes, you can include sample recipes from each chapter. chapter.
Complete Recipe List (page length varies depending on recipe county)
The next part of your proposal provides the full recipe list for your book so that the agent and/or publisher can get a feel for the variety and flavor of the book. Don’t worry if the recipes aren’t written or tested yet. This list will more than likely change a bit once the book starts to take shape, but consider this the starting point for the shape of the book.
Cookbook design features: (1 page)
Use the information you collected when you completed your bookstore, library, and online research. If you have a vision for the photography of your cookbook, include sample photos so that the agent/publisher is aware of this desire.
Attachments to proposal: (as needed)
Attach to the proposal links to articles or relevant information you didn’t include in the proposal such as videos, blog posts, or writing samples.
Tips for success when writing a proposal
*When you write your proposal, always keep agents and editors in mind. Anticipate and answer questions they would have about you as the author and your topic, platform, or book idea. You are selling your book idea to them. You want to capture their imagination with you as the author of an unforgettable concept.
*The proposal must showcase your best writing skills in all sections. Write the proposal, so it’s enjoyable to read. The agent and/or editor can discover your ability to write and deliver your cookbook concept through organized and well-written text and recipes.
*When formatting your proposal check to see if the agent and/or the publishing house requires specific style guidelines to format the proposal. If they do follow them carefully. If guidelines are not available, format the proposal in 12-point, double-spaced, easily readable font. Include a footer with page numbers and 1-inch margins. Avoid “fluffing” up a proposal with fancy binding or random food images unless you want to showcase photography or illustrations for the book.
*If writing is not your skill, partner with a collaborator on the proposal, but disclose the collaboration because it’s important not to mislead an agent and/or editor to think you wrote the proposal on your own. If you do decide to work with a collaborator on the proposal, you may want to consider working with the collaborator on the actual book manuscript as well. In this case, the proposal sells both the author and the collaborator.
*Read the proposal carefully before submission. Make sure it is clear, organized, and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Share the proposal with a trusted colleague or friend so they can read the proposal too. This is the first impression you will give to an agent and/or editor, so it’s worth the time and effort.
*Check their guidelines and submit the proposal as defined by the agent or editor. Most agents and editors accept electronic submissions while some prefer hard copies sent via snail mail. If submitted via snail mail, print the proposal on white paper, bind with a large rubber band, and include a SASE if you want the proposal returned.
Below is a checklist you can download that includes an outline of a cookbook proposal. Use it as you work through the process of writing your cookbook proposal.
Cookbook author, editor, and Culinary Dietitian Maggie Green, RDN, LD coaches first-time cookbook authors during the pre-publication phase of writing a cookbook.
Would you like to write a cookbook, but feel alone in the pre-publication phase of writing?
Are you stuck thinking about your cookbook idea or has you project fizzled?
Do you feel overwhelmed with publishing options and the recipes, photography, and publishing process?
I’ve been there. I know first-hand that there’s not a lot of support for first-time cookbook authors who don’t have an agent or a publisher yet. That’s why I started my work as a cookbook writing coach.
Here are a few resources for you as you venture into the world of cookbook writing:
An 11-point checklist that helps you answer the question, “Am I Ready to Write a Cookbook?”