Steps to Write a Cookbook: Routes to Publication

Steps to Write a Cookbook: Routes to Publication

In part #1 of this blog series we focused on WHY you want to write a cookbook as well as your WHO – your target audience.

In part #2, we discussed WHAT – your cookbook concept or main topic. An ideal cookbook concept joins your audience’s needs and desires with your skills, expertise, and knowledge. If you can match what you know, and feel excited to write about, with the needs, desires, or problems of your audience, then you’re well on your way to identifying a cookbook concept. The next step is to ask yourself:

In this part #3 of this ongoing series Steps to Write A Cookbook we will identify your HOW.

HOW do you want to have your cookbook published? Here are some common answers:

  • Organize recipes with an app or recipe software and print at home or using a quick-print shop
  • Operate as an independent publisher and self-publish an ebook or print-on-demand book
  • Pay a publishing company to help publish
  • Secure a publisher without an agent
  • Retain an agent to help find a traditional publisher

These examples are all ways to get a cookbook published. 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 publication that best matches your goals.

NOTE: If you plan to sell cookbooks to the general public it’s important to build an author platform. Your audience needs to get to hear you, read your work, and get to know you. Once they know you, they are in a better position to buy your book when it’s published. Also, publishers choose to publish writers who are in touch with their target audience through their platform. Read more about platforms here.

Routes to Cookbook Publication

Software or online recipe tools
If you identified your family or a civic group as your WHO and perhaps the goal to raise money or to share recipes with your college-age children as your WHY, your cookbook concept is pretty straight-forward. Your book will contain a set of recipes and maybe some stories, genealogy, history, or photos.  For this type of cookbook, there are online tools and other software to compile your recipes. Costs for each service varies, but because the software streamlines the process it may be worth the price. Outside of online tools, word processing software, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, works well to create your book’s interior pages. For a more upscale design consider software such as Adobe Design.

If you want to use an online tool or software to compile recipes for family, your next step is to choose the software or online tool that best suits your needs. Refer to this summary of 5 Tools and Software for Writing a Family or Fundraiser Cookbook.

Self (or independent) publishing
As an independent publisher, you form a publishing company and coordinate all aspects of your cookbook publication. You are in total control of the schedule and the way the book is put together. You hire experts such as the photographer, editor, designer, indexer, printer, and book distributor. You obtain an ISBN number for book sales. You pay the freelancers for their work, as well as for the cost to print the book. As an independent publisher, you earn and keep all profits from book sales.

If you decide to self-publish your cookbook, your next step is to identify the format for your book publication  – eBook, print-on-demand, or simple pdf file. From there the book is written, edited, designed, and printed or converted into an eBook or pdf all under the umbrella of your own publishing company. 

Assisted self-publishing
Also called subsidy or hybrid publishing, this form of publishing you pay a company to produce your book. The upfront payment makes this feel like a self-publishing project, but because the company helps hire the experts to help create and print your book, it has a traditional publishing feel as well. Some subsidy publishers vet their authors with a submission process, which maintains the quality of books the publisher produces.  The services provided vary from publisher to publisher. It’s important to identify the service you want help with (such as editing, book design, or printing) and then compare companies to see which one best fits your goals. Once your book is published, you receive royalties from the book sales to help offset the fees you paid to the publisher. In terms of comparison, you generally earn less than a self-published book, but generally more than you would with a traditionally published book.

If you decide to find a subsidy publisher your next step is to research and select a company that will help produce the type of cookbook you envision and that offers the services you need help with. After you decide, enter into their submission process, if necessary, and when accepted pay them to help you publish your cookbook. 

Traditional publishing (without an agent)
In this route to publication, you search for a cookbook publisher who accepts a cookbook proposal “unsolicited” or without representation from an agent. You negotiate your own contract or hire an attorney to help you negotiate the deal. Then you write the manuscript according to the publisher’s schedule. Once the manuscript is submitted, they coordinate the work to edit, photograph, design, index, print, market, distribute, and publicize your book, or hire the experts to do these tasks. In return for their publishing your book, you give them control of the publishing schedule and share a large part of the profit from sales of the book. In exchange, the publisher pays you in an advance of royalties and/or royalties from book sales.

If you decide on this path, your next step is to write a cookbook proposal for your cookbook concept.  Then you research publishers who accept unsolicited proposals and submit your proposal to the publishing company’s acquisition editor according to their submission guidelines. If the publisher accepts your proposal, you negotiate your contract with the publishing house. Once your contract is signed, you write your cookbook manuscript and submit it to the publisher according to their publishing schedule. From there they will turn your manuscript into a book and help you with book distribution, sales, marketing, and publicity.

Agent-assisted traditional publishing
In this form of traditional publication, you first retain an agent. The agent then becomes your connection to book publishers and your ally in the publishing world. Your agent shops your cookbook idea to publishers with the goal of selling it to an editor at a publishing house. When an acquisitions editor at the publishing company likes your idea, they negotiate a contract with your agent for you to write your book. Agents are not paid upfront by authors for their negotiations. Instead, they receive a percentage (typically 15%) of all the money you make from advances and/or royalties. So, for example, for every $100 you earn from your book’s advances or royalties, the agent is paid $15, and you keep the remaining $85. The advantage of an agent is they remain committed to the project and help you communicate and negotiate with the publisher. Agents can also negotiate a larger book contract with a publisher and this translates into more profit for you and your agent. Once a contract is signed, the publisher sets the schedule. Then you write the manuscript according to the publisher’s plan. After the manuscript is submitted, the publisher coordinates the work to edit, photograph, design, index, print, market, distribute, and publicize your book, or hire the experts to do these tasks. In return for their publishing services, you give them control of the publishing schedule and profit from sales of the book. In exchange, they pay you in the form of an advance and/or as royalties off book sales.

If you decide on this traditional and agent-assisted route to publication, your next step is to start the process to retain an agent to represent you. Be prepared to submit a cookbook proposal to an agent if requested.  You can find an agent through personal introductions from other cookbook authors, by attending writing conferences, or by utilizing books such as Guide to Literary AgentsA personal introduction generally carries the most weight, but other methods of finding an agent can be successful.

HOW should you publish your cookbook? This is a question only you can answer. To the various routes to cookbook publication, download this worksheet and score your answer.

Routes to Cookbook Publication





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? 

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