How to Publish a Cookbook in 7 Simple Steps

Kevin Ott
Baking ingredients and utensils

Writing and publishing a cookbook can be a time-consuming, patience-testing project but if you love cooking, the process can be just as satisfying as the finished result. The following steps will guide you along the path to sharing your culinary treasures.

1. Develop a Theme

Whether it's your unique take on Southern cooking, California fusion cuisine, or dishes inspired by your grandmother, you need a focus. It should be a theme you can easily sum up in one sentence that involves your greatest strengths as a cook.

Create a Unique Selling Proposition

Everyone who tries to sell something has a unique selling proposition (USP). It's what makes your product stand out from the others competing in the same market. Once you know your theme, explore the cookbook section (online or in stores), then ask: "What unique spin on my theme can I take to make my book stand out?"

Define Your Audience

Is your audience made up of vegetarians? Maybe it's travel foodies who love Italian cuisine or fans of Cuban comfort food (i.e. Cubano sandwiches). Narrow your audience as specifically as possible.

Create the Voice and Personality of the Book

Use these aspects (USP, audience) to determine the look, voice, and personality of the cookbook and how you want your headnotes to sound in people's mind as they read.

2. Create an Outline

It's helpful to sketch an outline of your parts and chapters. Many cookbooks organize these by dish and ingredient. For example, Part 1 could be Main Dishes, and each chapter in Part 1 covers different proteins (Meat, Poultry, Vegetarian).

3. Choose Recipes

Decide which recipes will go in your cookbook. Eliminate recipes based on your theme and audience. Use your outline to assign recipes to certain chapters. Choose more recipes than you need because as you begin testing them, you will eliminate some.

4. Test Recipes

Test your recipes multiple times to ensure they work. This is also a crucial stage of the writing process. As you test each recipe, make as many notes as you can. Invite someone over to teach them how to make the recipe. With their permission, record audio or video of the session. Listen to the recording and take notes on what you told the person or the questions they asked along the way. Use this as your guide for which cooking tips to include in your recipes.

5. Write the First Draft

Now it's time to put it all together in a document. Review the general rules for formatting recipes and keep other great cookbooks nearby as models for structure. Make sure you give credit to anyone whose work you borrowed. International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) has a code of ethics (view it in their section Important Documents after you become a member).

6. Photograph Each Recipe

The next step is to photograph each recipe. You can use a guide from a professional food photographer to do it yourself or you can hire a pro if your budget has the room. Just make sure the end result is high resolution photos that make your food look amazing.

7. Publish Your Cookbook

After you've written your cookbook, edited and proofread it thoroughly, and revised it a few times, it's time to publish. Securing a traditional publisher can be a long process. It requires superhuman patience at times because the publishing industry moves about as quickly as the sloth who works at the DMV in the film Zootopia.

Write a Proposal

There are many guides to writing a proposal, and it is a complex task. However, a veteran cookbook editor once told an interviewer she always looked for two things when a proposal landed in front of her: a "unique voice" and an "audience I can identify." Keep those guiding principles in mind.

Query Agents

Send query emails to literary agents. This is a complicated art form by itself, but if you learn the basics from top literary agent blogs such as the former agent Nathan Bransford, you'll be fine. You'll need to research literary agents who accept cookbooks. Learn as much as you can about them before querying.

Create a Pitch

Memorize a one-sentence pitch about your book. Go to cooking and writing conferences, meet editors and agents, pitch in-person, and make business cards with your one-sentence pitch on the card along with your contact info.

Consider Self-Publishing

If the traditional publishing route isn't for you, there are more opportunities for self-publishing than ever before.

The Taste of the Finish Line

Whether you get your book published by a big (or small) publisher or you self-publish, it is satisfying to complete your cookbook. The process requires good planning and plenty of patience, but when people fall in love with your favorite recipes, all the hard work will be worth it.

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How to Publish a Cookbook in 7 Simple Steps