Why Publish a Cookbook?

Published on 06/27/2016
By Marcy Claman, Callawind Book Publishing

As I begin to write this article, I find myself in a reflective mood.  So, I’ve decided to put aside the nitty gritty details of cookbook writing and take the opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture. After all, your decision to publish a cookbook comes before you need to worry about recipe writing styles, page layout designs, or the difference between a “frying pan” and a “sauté pan.”

In my case, the inspiration to publish a cookbook came from a weekend getaway. It suddenly popped into my head while my husband and I were driving home from a bed & breakfast visit. Being an ardent breakfast lover, I was struck with the idea to collect scrumptious B&B recipes from all over the country, and to feature engaging descriptions and contact information about each contributing establishment.

After doing some research about publishing, I found out that many people across North America were taking publishing into their own hands. In fact, “self-publishing” was a growing and proven alternative to the often difficult task of attracting an existing publisher. There were even experienced companies dedicated to helping self-publishers with every aspect of their cookbook — from editing and design to indexing and printing. Now I felt even more enthusiastic about my cookbook idea, and my appetite for entrepreneurial adventure also began to grow.

Like many new products, cookbooks are borne out of necessity (“I can’t find a soy dessert cookbook so I’m going to write one myself!”) or borne out of inspiration (“I love cooking with kids and would love to create a cookbook that teaches them about healthy eating!”). Often, cookbooks are borne out of the desire to immortalize a family’s cooking legacy (“My grandmother left me her treasured recipe collection, and I want to share it with the world.”).

No matter how you stumble on a cookbook idea or how the idea stumbles on you, one key ingredient remains the same: You first need to be passionate about the cookbook you’d like to write and publish. A cookbook isn’t an easy thing to create, but the passion you feel for your cookbook will make the work feel effortless.

However, during this initial “love-at-first-thought” phase between you and your cookbook idea, it’s important to temper your romantic notions with research. Seek out as many objective opinions as possible. Pitch your cookbook idea to people who you think would be the perfect audience for it. Talk to booksellers about what types of cookbooks sell well, which categories are oversaturated and underdeveloped, and what cookbook trends are looming on the horizon. Use online bookstores to research any competing cookbooks. Also, find out about the self-publishing process and what is involved. There are many books about self-publishing and several books specifically about cookbook writing and publishing (see Books about Cookbook Self-Publishing on our website).

To further temper your cookbook fantasy, you need to consider the financial side of publishing your own cookbook. Unless you have oodles of disposable income and can print books for the fun of it, you will likely want to profit from your cookbook. Again, your heart is crying out: “Why must I think about money when I feel so inspired to follow through on my dream?” Because publishing a cookbook is like going into a new business. The same rules and financial risks apply. Get an idea of what the basic costs are for editing, design, layout, indexing, and printing the type of cookbook you envision, and don’t forget to figure in a marketing budget.

In addition to the financial commitment, you need to be realistic about the time you’ll need to research the self-publishing process and to complete your manuscript. If you have a full-time job or have limited free time, it may be worthwhile for you to work with an experienced custom cookbook publisher.

Now, to continue on a less sobering note, I’ll get back to my own story. Although I did have writing, graphic design, and printing experience, I had no idea how to put a cookbook together and knew nothing about the publishing industry. So, I made sure I did my homework and thought carefully about every aspect of my cookbook. I also worked with several trusted professionals: an editor and expert home cook who gave me the guidance, confidence, and inspiration I needed to build my manuscript; a talented graphic designer who understood my design objectives; and a specialized book printer who helped me save money and make the best book I could afford. In May 1995, Rise & Dine: Savory Secrets from America’s Bed & Breakfast Inns rolled off the presses. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to hold that first book in my hands. But the best was yet to come. After the cookbook hit the bookstores, I began receiving feedback from people telling me that they loved the cookbook and used it often. Talk about feeling warm and fuzzy all over!

As I learned, if you follow through on everything you need to do to make your cookbook a success, self-publishing can be a fun, profitable, and spiritual experience. If “cooking is an act of love” (a famous quote by the late French master chef/restaurateur Alain Chapel), then sharing good recipes is also an act of love. And this, my food friends, is the true meaning of publishing a cookbook!