6 Effective Strategies to Writing a Best Selling Cookbook

6 Effective Strategies to Writing a Best Selling Cookbook

The best-selling cookbooks are more than just recipe books; they’re also representations of the author’s culinary philosophy. If you plan to publish a cookbook for public sale, whether it’s a complete instruction book or a highly personal collection of your great-hand-me-down grandmother’s recipes, ensure you, the creator, possess “mise en place” — and thus are set up with:

Organization and balance

You’re surely aware that a cookbook’s chapters must be ordered somehow, whether by course (appetizer, entrée, dessert, etc.) or by seasonal menus.

You must consistently structure your recipes and chapters with the book’s concept and, more significantly, with the reader who will be cooking from it. A reader should be able to easily identify a recipe that meets their cooking or baking needs by skimming the table of contents and/or index.

In addition, the chapters should be evenly spaced in terms of length and within the recipe order. Are you going to organize by ingredient (for example, main dish recipes by protein — poultry, meat, vegetarian, etc., followed by dessert recipes by kind or major ingredient — cake, pie, pudding; or chocolate, fruit-based, etc.)

There are several possibilities, and you should consider which one makes the most sense for your book. For example, if the theme is “Quick Weekday Meals,” you may arrange the recipes by timing (make ahead, 15-minutes, 30 minutes, etc.) Consider how it may make sense to someone who isn’t familiar with the cookbook.

Write relevant recipe titles

Recipe titles should ideally be both detailed and evocative so that a reader who only glances at the page gets a sense of what the dish is about. While we all enjoy a little humor now and again, too many recipes with names like “Uncle Jack’s Favorite Lasagna” don’t make your dishes very “discoverable.”

Engage recipe headnotes

In a cookbook, headnotes are a bit of copy that comes before the actual recipe instructions (or in any publication where a recipe appears). While it is expected that the recipe will be simple, most cookbook editors prefer to see personality in the headnote.

In the best-case scenario, recipe headnotes will reflect the writer’s distinct voice and the tone of the cookbook and will engage the audience with a bit of the recipe’s history and perhaps even lore; a bit more about a specific ingredient or an extra cooking tip or alteration; or even a personal anecdote which actually refers to the recipe in certain form or manner.

Recipes should “work” for everyone

This may seem obvious, but many aspiring cookbook authors fail to recognize that the handed-down, frequently-improved recipes must be strictly codified for the general cookbook reader.

Writing a professional level recipe necessitates thorough recipe testing and tasting, not only by the author but also by an unbiased party or parties, to see whether the recipe makes perfect sense to a cook or baker who has never used the recipe before or who has a different skill level than the recipe developer. The recipes should also be meticulously proofread in order to “work.”

Recipes should never be borrowed

Since there are so many “traditional” recipes and other recipes that are frequently passed down and passed around, it’s easy to forget that a lot of work goes into developing and testing the recipe ideas that culinary professionals share in magazines, books, and online. ​

The set of ingredients in a dish is not protected by copyright law. However, copyright protection extends to “substantial literary expression — for example, a description, explanation, or illustration — that accompanies a recipe or formula, or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.” In the case of recipe books, that literary expression would most likely include headnotes as well as any technologies employed by the author as well as those working on his or her behalf.

If you want to publish a cookbook for the general public and include a classic recipe in it, make sure you bring something new to the potluck. And, for the sake of ethics and good cookbook karma, make sure your recipes don’t violate the copyright of others.

Have a vision

What do you hope the finished cookbook will look like? How many recipes are there? How many photos are there? Will you be doing your own cookbook food photography? Will they be a technique, plated dishes, or a combination of the two? Budget constraints may have an impact on your food photography plans, but it’s a good idea to have an idea of what the completed book package will look like.

Of course, there is much more to publishing a cookbook than just having professional-level cookbook content — a platform, a book proposal, a publisher, but having quality cookbook content is a great place to start.