Can you make money writing a cookbook? The simple answer is probably not, however, there are certain circumstances when it might be worth it. Here’s why I decided to write a cookbook.
When my blog Fermenting For Foodies became popular, I was approached by two different publishers interested in doing a cookbook with me. One of them primarily published ebooks, the other was a major international publisher with over 20 imprints. Obviously, I was excited about the opportunity to work with the major publisher.
One of the members of my critique group knew I was working on a proposal for the major publisher. She had published two non-fiction books at a smaller, local publisher and recommended that I query them as well. Both because they produce beautiful and award-winning cookbooks and because they were great to work with.
I did a bit of research on the smaller publisher. Bought two of their cookbooks and looked at a bunch of their books in my local library. My friend was right. Touchwood Editions‘ books were more like what I was wanting to create. A cookbook that was beautiful, rustic, and interesting. So I sent my cookbook proposal to them as well.
A tale of two publishers
The editor at the major publisher kept focusing on keyword searches and stock photography. Our Zoom meetings centered on selling me her idea of a cookbook, one that was mostly based on a punchy tagline rather than a good idea.
In contrast, I had several long conversations with the publisher at Touchwood. We talked about the concept for the book, the design, and the layout. She was clear about what I should expect from the experience. That I shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money. The market is saturated with cookbooks, and unless you’re a celebrity author, most cookbooks don’t sell more than a few thousand. She wanted to make sure that publishing a book was something that I wanted to do to fulfill a passion rather than a get-rich-quick scheme.
Can you make money writing a cookbook?
I had done my own research and knew that the publisher at Touchwood was right. Writing a cookbook was not a way to make money.
- It takes quite a bit of time to write a cookbook with properly tested recipes. You’ll either need to devote a year’s worth of evenings and weekends or quit your day job and write full-time for several months.
- Cookbook writers typically make a royalty of 7 to 10% of the cover price of the cookbook. Most cookbooks sell about 3000 to 5000 copies. So a VERY optimistic take-home for a new cookbook author after several years of sales is less than $20,000.
- The costs of photography generally come from the author’s share. Unless you’re an experienced food stylist and photographer that means hiring help, which could easily eat up most of your earnings.
- Cookbook authors also spend a LOT of money on food. And as much as I wanted the cost of food to just come from our usual family food budget, there were a few points where we had so much food in the house that I was giving it away to everyone I knew.
If you want to read a few more articles on the costs of writing a cookbook, check out:
Why I considered writing a cookbook as a food blogger
In the end, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to work with the major publisher. They produced hundreds of cookbooks a year and were mostly looking for something that would hit on a trend. If I was lucky, my cookbook might hit on a meme. But if fermenting was no longer popular, then I probably wouldn’t get any promotional support.
In fact, I’d contacted a few of their authors to find out what it was like to work with them… and the only author who got back to me suggested I would probably be better off self-publishing.
Self-publishing didn’t appeal to me for a host of reasons that probably could form their own blog post. However, as a food blogger, I was interested in publishing a cookbook with a small publisher.
- Lower expenses: I looked at the Copywrite information in the front of a few of Touchwood’s cookbooks and knew that they often let authors do their own photography. This meant I wouldn’t have to pay for a photographer or a food stylist.
- Direct sales: I am able to sell the cookbook directly through my blogs. Then, instead of earning a small royalty on the cover price (about $2), I can earn the full bookseller’s rate ($14).
- Google’s EAT: Google is really into EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Having a traditionally published book helped improve my google search rankings. And the fact is, as a full-time blogger, I mostly get paid by having people visit my websites.
- Cross-promotion: Every online review or radio interview about my cookbook was also an opportunity to promote my blog. As every blogger knows, it’s incredibly hard to get high-quality backlinks. If publishing a cookbook could help, then I might as well try it!
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