How to write a cookbook

Professional Advice for Cookbook Publishing

How to write a cookbook

The best selling cookbooks aren’t just books of recipes — they’re expressions of the author’s culinary viewpoint. Whether comprehensive books of instruction like Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” or a highly personal collection of your great-grandmother’s hand-me-down recipes, if you intend to publish a cookbook for public sale, make sure you, the author, have “mise en place” — and are set up with:

Good Cookbook Organization and Balance

You probably already know that the chapters of a cookbook need to be organized — maybe according to a course (appetizer, entrée, dessert, etc.) or maybe according to seasonal menus.

You need to organize your recipes and chapters in a way that makes sense in terms of the theme of the book and, more importantly, to the reader who will be cooking from it. A reader should be able to skim the table of contents and/or the index and pretty quickly find a recipe that suits his or her cooking or baking needs.
Also, the chapters should be somewhat balanced in terms of length, and consistent within as to recipe order. Are you going organize according to ingredient (for example, main dish recipes according to their proteins — poultry, meat, vegetarian, etc., then dessert recipes according to type or main ingredient — cake, pie, pudding; or chocolate, fruit-based, etc.)
There are options, and you should see what order makes sense for your book. For example, if it’s a “Quick Weekday Meals,” you might order the recipes in terms of timing (make ahead, 15-minutes, 30 minutes, etc.) Again, think about how it might make sense to the cookbook user.

Meaningful Recipe Titles

Ideally, recipe titles should be both descriptive and evocative, so a reader glancing at the page understands what’s the dish is all about. While we all like occasional whimsy, too many recipes like “Sunday Surprise Hash,” or “Uncle Bill’s Favorite Casserole” don’t make your recipes very “discoverable” (to use an online term) to the unfamiliar cook or baker.

Engaging Recipe Headnotes

Headnotes are the little bit of copy before the actual recipe instructions in a cookbook (or in any publication where a recipe appears). While it’s expected that the recipe might be straightforward, most cookbook editors want to see personality in the headnote.
In the best case, recipe headnotes will reflect the unique voice of the writer and the tone of the cookbook, and engage the reader with a bit of the recipe’s history or lore; a bit more about a particular ingredient or an additional recipe tip or variation; or even a personal anecdote that relates to the recipe in some way shape or form.

Recipes That “Work” for Everyone

This seems obvious, but many aspiring cookbook authors don’t understand that the handed-down, often-improvised recipes need to be strictly codified for the general cookbook reader.
Writing a professional level recipe means diligent recipe testing and tasting, not only by the author, but often by an unbiased party or parties, as well in order to see if the recipe makes sense to a cook or baker who has not used the recipe before, or who might have a different skill level than the recipe developer. In order for them to “work,” the recipes must also be diligently proofread.

Original Recipes — Never “Borrowed” from Other Sources

Further, the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) has a code of ethics and standards for properly crediting recipes.

A Vision for the Finished Cookbook

How do you envision the finished cookbook? How many recipes? How many photographs? Will you be planning the cookbook food photography yourself? Will they be technique or plated dishes or both? Budget constraints may affect your food photography plan, but it’s good to have an idea of what you want the finished book package to look like.

Of course, there’s more to publishing a cookbook — a platform, a book proposal, a literary agent, a publisher. but having professional-level cookbook content is a fantastic way to start.

How to write a cookbook

If you want your cookbook to be published by a major publisher, you will need a platform and a book proposal.

Writing a cookbook proposal requires more than just having a stash of recipes. As cookbooks include not only writing, but recipes and, most times, photographs, cookbook proposal is a has some special requirements:

Your Cookbook Proposal Should Have a Personal Vision

Julia Child wanted to codify French cooking, which she did in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” My co-author Janice Fryer and I wanted to systematize and simplify cookie decorating, which we did in “Cookie Craft.”

More than with many other non-fiction books, readers interact with cookbooks, and help create the experience. They feel incredibly personal. So whether it’s sharing little-known recipes from your homeland, creating low-calorie versions of favorite meals, or allowing your customers to take home your restaurant’s favorite dishes, your cookbook proposal should have a consistent, identifiable concept that feels so you that only you can write it.

Know Your Audience and How They Cook

Is your reader a busy mom or dad with little time to spare cooking meals? Or a wannabe chef, who likes to challenge themselves on the weekend with 30 ingredients? Or Julia Child’s audience of “servantless American cooks.” It’s important to be able to articulate who the end-user of the cookbook will be, and how your concept will appeal to them.

And it’s essential that your recipes match your intended cooks in simplicity vs. complexity, ingredient, and equipment needs. If you’re writing about food for campers, you don’t want to include recipes that require three different pots and pans.

Thoroughly Test the Proposal Recipes

As in any book proposal, your cookbook proposal will have a sample chapter — and that sample chapter needs to include recipes.

Many of the best cookbook editors can tell if a recipe will “work” just by reading it, and there are some who will test proposal recipes to make sure they work. So, especially for the proposal, test the recipes you include to make sure they’re foolproof and delicious.

Have an Idea of Your Photography Plan

Do you envision a photo for each step of the recipe in your book, or just finished dishes? Photography (often the author’s responsibility) and color printing production cost money, so it’s good to have an understanding of photography costs and planning before you commit to providing 500 color photos you can’t afford to produce.

Be Realistic on What and When You’ll Deliver a Manuscript

That is, don’t underestimate the work involved for the finished cookbook. Developing a cookbook makes demands on its author that writing, say, a mystery or romance novel doesn’t — that is, not only recipe and recipe headnote writing but recipe testing and photography. The amount of author resources (time, energy, money) a cookbook takes shouldn’t be underestimated.

When you write a proposed number of recipes or the estimated manuscript delivery date in your proposal, make sure you understand how much time it will take to get the writing and other work done.

Recipes are a cookbook’s prime ingredient, but aspiring cuisine writers should also take care not to skimp on their introduction. This important section sets the tone and flavor of your book and can make the difference between whether someone buys your book or leaves it on the shelf. Cookbooks can often sell a lifestyle alongside the recipes. Appeal to your reader’s imagination. An introduction to a book promoting easy summer recipes, for example, should make your reader think of lazy summer nights dining al fresco with friends.

Introduce the primary concept. Your introduction should engage and tantalize your reader and sell the book’s main theme. If you have written a book about preparing meals for friends, expound on the joys of casual dinners and intimate suppers. Someone writing a cookbook about regional cooking could talk about the passion that is an integral ingredient of French cuisine or the earthy flavors of traditional Italian dishes.

Add personal touches. Cooking is an intimate and personal experience and readers are more likely to engage with your book if you tell them a little about yourself. Someone offering fast and easy recipes, for example, could tell her reader that she is a busy working mother who understands that fresh, delicious meals can still be created with a minimum of time and fuss. Tell the reader a little about your background and inject some humor. Someone who spent years working in a busy restaurant, for example, could add some funny anecdotes about making the perfect pavlova.

Offer information about your recipes. Someone whose recipes contain simple, easy-to-find ingredients should incorporate that into the introduction. If your recipes are easy to follow, offer substitutes for ingredients that might be hard to find and offer generous portion sizes, your reader should know.

Encourage your reader. Tell him that he shouldn’t feel nervous about experimenting with some of the ingredients or adding a few more herbs and spices, if required. Encourage him to relax and try again if he doesn’t get it right the first time around. People will feel more relaxed about trying out your recipes if they feel you are on their side.

  • Nigella Express; Nigella Lawson; 2007
  • Healthy Cooking for Two (or Just You); Francis Price; 1995
  • Marcy Goldman’s Better Baking.com: So You Want to Write a Cookbook

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the “Irish News,” “Belfast News Letter” and “Sunday Life.” Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.

Marshall Gunnell is a writer with experience in the data storage industry. He worked at Synology, and most recently as CMO and technical staff writer at StorageReview. He’s currently an API/Software Technical Writer at LINE Corporation in Tokyo, Japan, runs ITEnterpriser, a data-storage and cybersecurity-focused online media, and plays with development, with his RAID calculator being his first public project. Read more.

How to write a cookbook

Microsoft Word comes with pre-built page settings for creating books. Whether you’re creating a memoir or event guide, these settings let you create a beautiful book or booklet, from start to finish.

Create a Book or Booklet

First, go ahead and open Word. It’s recommended that you adjust these setting before writing the content of your book to prevent formatting issues late on.

Once you’re in Word, head over to the “Layout” tab. In the “Page Setup” group, click the small arrow at the bottom-right.

This opens the “Page Setup” window, where you will automatically be on the “Margin” tab. In the “Margins” group, you’re able to set the margins of the page. By default, the “Gutter” margin will be set to 0. This could cause issues further on, as the gutter margin is the amount of space between the content of your book and the fold where the pages of the book will be bound together. That said, go ahead and give the gutter a 1” margin, so the content of your book doesn’t get lost in the fold.

How to write a cookbook

Next, select the arrow next to “Multiple Pages” in the “Pages” group, then select “Book Fold” from the drop-down menu. Once selected, you’ll notice your page orientation automatically changes from “Portrait” to “Landscape.”

Tip: You may notice a “Reverse Book Fold” option. This is for content that reads from right to left, such as Japanese-style books.

Once you’ve adjusted the settings, click “OK.”

The page setup for creating a book or booklet is now complete. There’s a ton of stuff you can do from here depending on what you require for your book. You may want to add a header or footer, create a table of contents, or give your book page numbers for easier navigation. We’ll leave the content and add-ons to you—we’re just here to show you how to create the setup.

It’s also worth noting that, depending on the length of your document, you may need to split it up into multiple booklets due to the sheer size of the document. That’s fine—you can bind them into one book later.

Print Your Book or Booklet

Once you’ve finished composing your book, it’s time for printing. Select the “File” tab, then select “Print” found in the left-hand pane.

How to write a cookbook

Next, select the second option in the “Settings” group.

How to write a cookbook

A drop-down menu will appear, presenting a few different printing-style options. If you have a duplex printer, select (1) “Print on Both Sides” (and whether or not to flip the page on the long or short edge). If your printer doesn’t have this functionality, you’ll need to select the (2) “Manually Print on Both Sides” option.

How to write a cookbook

All that’s left to do now is select Print, and you’re good to go!