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How to Write a Cookbook

Comfortably Yum fans will be happy to learn that I'm working on a new cookbook! I've got 125 drafted recipes that I'm testing and writing up. Here's my process:

1) Write down ideas. Maybe you tasted something great in a restaurant or bakery that you want to reverse engineer. Maybe you've had a brainflash on how to improve a traditional dish. Maybe you got desperate one night when the fridge was pretty bare, and you created something brand new and fabulous. Maybe a friend shared a recipe with you, and you've customized it to your family's tastes. I've done all of the above and more in choosing my recipes. Most cookbooks have at least 75 recipes in them, and many have far more than that. 

2) Come up with a theme. Look at your list carefully and analyze it. Group the recipes into categories. Is it unbalanced? Is it all one kind of food? What do your recipes have in common? What are the outliers? Once you've seen patterns and recurrences in your list, you can figure out whether you're going to have an eclectic collection or a single-food book--and whether you need to trim or expand your list. Comfortably Yum is eclectic; my dear friend Annette Lyon's peerless Chocolate Never Faileth focuses on just one wonderful thing. 

3) Test, test, test. Cook up your recipe as drafted and take notes on what needs improving. Try it again, and again--as many times as needed until it's perfect. 

4) Write the full text of the recipes. I'll tell you a secret: recipes themselves can't be copyrighted. But the way they're written can be copyrighted. I like to have a chatty, quirky, (hopefully) funny voice when I write recipes. Other cookbook authors are more formal or are able to write mouthwatering descriptions to tempt the reader to try their recipes. Let your personality shine.

5) Ask others to test your recipes. This is the equivalent of asking for beta readers for a novel. Are your directions clear? Are your measurements accurate? Feedback from other cooks is essential.

6) Find a way to publish. I used CreateSpace and have been very happy with it. My genius friends Jana and Deb came up with the title for my first cookbook, and my very talented brother-in-law Gary designed its cover. Having pros help you with design is key to your cookbook's appeal. 

7) Spread the word. I'll confess: I have done very little marketing for Comfortably Yum, yet it continues to sell month after month. I put that down to word of mouth. But at the beginning, print up some postcards and give them away. That'll cost you $20. Ask friends to write reviews. Get the excellent book Make a Killing on Kindle and follow its advice (most of which applies to self-published paper books, too). Trade bloggers a copy for a review. If your recipes are good, your book will sell. 

What about you? Have you ever dreamed of writing a cookbook?

Reader Comments (2)


Cannot wait for this sequel! My copy of Comfortably Yum has literally been loved to death and desperately needs to be re-bound. :)

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharrette

Ditto Charrette! My copy is hashed. I finally made the chicken enchiladas the other day and they were a smash hit--at least with half my family, which seems to be all I get these days. Yay for more!!!

July 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEowyn

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