Writing cookbooks has been a rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally, and the fact that I’ve repeated the process more than once is a testimony to the fact that I believe in the process. I also know that good things happen when you write a cookbook. Examples from my experience are enhanced creditably, expanded professional opportunities to speak and teach, and heightened self-awareness related to time and energy management and procrastination, not to mention the benefit my readers receive from using my cookbooks. That in and of itself is almost reason enough!
While writing cookbooks is rewarding, such a project isn’t for the faint of heart and in most cases requires a team of dedicated professionals. The pre-publication involves you as the author and perhaps a book coach, agent, acquisitions editor, recipe tester(s), and maybe even a ghost writer. The publishing of the book requires a copy editor, designer, photographer, indexer, printer, distributor, marketer, and sales person.
As the author, you decide which publishing method best aligns with your goals – either become an independent publisher and hire the professionals to do all phases of the publishing yourself or work with a publisher who handles most of the publication tasks on your behalf.
Let’s assume you have the skills, passion, and knowledge required to write about a topic and you have your cookbook concept clearly defined. You still may wonder if you have what it takes to write a cookbook and what else you many need to consider.
Here are five questions you can ask yourself before you decide to write your own cookbook. If you have a handle on these items, then the work that follow during the pre-publication and publication phases will be easier to manage. This helps to ensure the best possible outcome of writing you own cookbook and getting it published.
1. Who am I writing my cookbook for?
Be sure you specifically know who you are writing your book for. Here are three common cookbook audiences:
Family and 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 need 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 apartment, head off to college, start their 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 their barriers 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.
Certain groups of cooks or bakers – For 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 and you feel excited and motivated 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 for your particular concept, 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. Keep them in mind when writing your cookbook or cookbook proposal.
2. Who are my competitors?
If you plan to write a family and friends cookbook this step may not be necessary, but if you intend to publish your book via either the traditional- or self-publishing route, there are two reasons to study other cookbooks:
Competitive title research – You need to research competing cookbooks to show how your book will fit into the current publishing landscape. The purpose of studying competitive books is to generate a list of cookbooks that are similar in their audience, concept, and category to the book you want to write. This list is then shared with potential agents and editors so they can visualize where your book fits in the context of other published cookbooks. It’s important to realize that the goal of the research isn’t to prove that your concept is unique and that you don’t have any competition. In fact, the opposite is true. You want to point out your competition to validate your idea and then add why it’s time for you to write a similar book for this audience and what you plan to add to the conversation regarding your perceived cookbook concept.
Inspiration and design research – The study of published cookbooks can be a source of inspiration as well. While looking at other cookbooks pay attention to what delights you – cover design, paper, fonts, interior colors, photography, recipe or text layout, trim size, or other features. Parts of other books that attract (or repel) you are clues about the type of book you may want to write.
A word of caution, don’t let the study of other cookbooks deter you from writing your cookbook. Sometimes it feels overwhelming to see so many cookbooks already published. When we see these books, we may feel doubt that we can see a cookbook project through to publication. The best remedy for this feeling is to acknowledge that there are hundreds of cookbooks published each year, but the exact book you want to write hasn’t been written yet because you haven’t written it. Your message can only be communicated in a way that you can write it. Use the study of published cookbooks to motivate you and not deter you. Work hard and commit to moving forward with your project. A common mistake during this phase is to get too caught up in research. Research makes us look busy, but the reality is that excessive research slows down progress on writing your proposal or book manuscript. Even though research is necessary, it’s important not to spend excessive amounts of time on this step. I recommend scheduling approximately three 2-hour blocks of time on your calendar over the course of two weeks. During each 2-hour block of time visit either a local bookstore, library, or perform an online search.
3. How do I want to have my cookbook published?
This answer is important, so you know the path that you are on and the next steps. Here are some common methods to get a cookbook published that you can choose from:
*Organize recipes with an app or recipe software and print my cookbook at home or in cooperation with a quick-print shop
*Operate as an independent publisher and self-publish a PDF of recipes, an eBook, or print book
*Pay a publishing company to help publish the book as a print book and eBook
*Secure a publisher (without an agent) to handle all aspect of publishing my book
*Retain an agent to help find a traditional publisher who will publish my book
The method of publication you select may be different than another cookbook author. Rather than comparison with what others are doing, I recommend you focus your energy on your reasons why you want to write a cookbook and then choose the route to the publication that best matches your goals.
4. How does my audience know me and hear me? What is my presence in the marketplace based on?
Your author platform serves to help your audience get to know you better and establishes an ongoing presence in the marketplace. It’s how they see you, hear you, and begin to develop a relation of trust with you.
Your platform forms the foundation of most of the promotional work you will do for your brand, business, and cookbook. Through the various parts of your platform, you can stay in touch with your audience and build a relationship with those who are interested in what you have to say. Every aspiring cookbook author, including those who want to self-publish their cookbook, needs to have a way to connect with their audience. Also, if you desire to have your cookbook published with the help of an agent and traditional publisher the fact that you already have an established platform makes ou more attractive as a prospective author.
One reason to define your audience early in the process of writing a cookbook is to help you determine if building a platform is necessary. For example, if your audience is your family or college-aged kids, a platform isn’t essential. But, if your audience is middle-aged professional women who suffer from heartburn, then your platform is necessary. You need to have a way to get in touch with these women. You need to be present to them somehow, and they need to be able to find you, hear you, and see you as an expert in the treatment of heartburn through food and nutrition.
5. Am I fully committed to this project?
“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. [S]He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if [s]he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” — Lawrence Clark Powell, author.
Commitment is defined as the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something. Commitment to your book project is an essential ingredient for successful completion of your book proposal, manuscript, and ultimate publication and book promotion. In the end, your willingness to commit to whatever it takes to finish your book defines the success of your book.
Commitment involves focus, concentration, the creation of a space and place to write, and development of a routine for writing. It’s also important to adjust your mindset and avoid the mid-project slump when you may feel like giving up. It’s at this time in particular that you need to remind yourself why you are embarking on this project and to focus on energy-producing emotions such as optimism, discipline, productivity, and energy.
There are obstacles to writing a cookbook. Examples include day jobs, home lives, community involvement, children, and travel demands that keep occupy our time. Other obstacles include the realization that there are agents who won’t represent you and your idea and editors that don’t want to publish your work. But at the same time don’t let this overshadow the fact that there are agents who DO want to represent you and editors who DO want to publish your work. Another obstacle is your inner voice and thoughts that leave you feeling confused, unsure, and overwhelmed. Obstacles are present with any goal. Your job is to commit to the goal and work to overcome the obstacles. For example, when you identify the obstacle, “I can’t write this book because I’m too busy with my day job”, change it to an action such as, “I will wake up one hour earlier four mornings a week to work on my project”, or “I will set aside weekend mornings and double up on my writing time”. Schedule doable goals, stick to your plan, and your obstacles become stepping stones instead of blocking the path.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, float your idea in a cookbook proposal, and search for the perfect people to help you with your project. It’s only through the risk of asking and possible rejection that you will find the perfect publishing arrangement for your book idea. And it’s only through commitment to your project that any of the work required with be completed.
Taking time to study your answers to these five questions lays the groundwork necessary before you move forward with the next steps in the cookbook writing process. Any time you invest in identifying your audience, defining your competition, choosing your route to publication, building your platform, checking your commitment will pay dividends when the project starts moving forward, and your dream of writing a cookbook is closer to becoming a reality.
Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors in the process of writing cookbooks, cookbook proposals, and building their author platform. Hungry For A Cookbook Mastermind Group forming soon, learn more here.