Writing a good cookbook is both an art and a craft. Here is some advice on how to write a cookbook that will appeal to a broad audience.
While it’s easy to collect your favorite recipes into a document, it is an entirely different thing to write a cookbook that will interest people outside of your friends and family. Here is how to write a high-quality cookbook.
Like all creative endeavors, writing a really good cookbook takes both skill and craft. It takes planning and thoughtful preparation.
Here are the steps that I used for my cookbook writing process:
1. Choose a theme
In my case, the theme was easy. I already had a popular blog on fermentation and had a good deal of expertise in the area. I also have a huge interest in Food Literacy.
I wanted to create an easy and approachable guide to fermenting that would appeal to anyone interested in home cooking. So writing a simple, no-fuss fermentation cookbook was an obvious choice.
Unless you happen to be famous, My Favourite Recipes is not a good theme.
Here are a few things to think about when choosing a theme.
- Why do you want to publish a cookbook?
- Who is your audience?
- What else has been published in the area?
- What is your book going to offer that is unique or different?
2. Chapters and recipes
Next, I created a rough outline of what I wanted to include in the book. Then I further refined it into chapters and recipes. This wasn’t the final recipe index, but it was a guide to get me started.
The exact recipes changed as I wrote the cookbook. And a few recipes were even added during the editing process.
- The publisher will probably have specific requirements around the number of recipes and the length of the book.
- Each chapter should be roughly the same size.
- Think about how the recipes go together and complement each other. You’re not sharing a single recipe, but rather a curated collection of recipes.
3. Recipe development and testing
Want to know my favorite reason to own a cookbook? The recipes work out… every time. Because if I get a failure, then that cookbook is evicted from my collection. (If only online recipes were so reliable!)
If you are planning on writing a cookbook, then be sure to actually go through the recipe development and testing process.
Here are the steps that I used:
- Write a rough copy of the recipe.
- Take it into the kitchen and make the recipe, noting any changes made.
- If the recipe failed, rewrite it and try again.
- When you have a recipe that seems to work, make a good copy and include every little detail.
- Head back into the kitchen and test the recipe, exactly as written, at least 3 times to ensure that it is reliable.
- Put together a team of volunteer recipe testers, and have each of your recipes tested by someone else. This is the best way to make sure that you aren’t secretly adjusting the recipe as you cook. In my case, I tried to get friends and family that were new to fermenting as recipe testers. I really wanted to make sure that someone who has never fermented before could make a ginger bug, or ferment with miso.
It’s important to choose the tone of the cookbook before getting into the heart of writing. The tone will dictate everything from the writing style to the photography.
- When choosing a tone, think of a few cookbooks that you like. What do they have in common?
- The tone is a big part of the branding. What do your readers expect from the cookbook?
- With Fermenting Made Simple it was important for the recipes to be easy, approachable, and fuss-free. So the writing style matches the content. It is trim, clean, and friendly.
5. Make it personal
A few years ago I went to a talk by Meeru Dhalwala. She said the most important part of writing a cookbook is to put yourself into it. Anyone can go online and find a recipe for soup. However, people will buy a cookbook because they want to have your recipe for soup.
Food is always about connection. Whether you’re cooking a meal for family or friends, it is a point of sharing and enjoyment.
Likewise, when someone makes one of your dishes, they are trusting you as a cookbook writer. So make a connection by telling them your reasons for wanting to share that particular recipe.