How to Write and Publish a Cookbook

[found on by Norene Gilletz]

Writing a cookbook is a job that requires lots of patience and passion for the project. It will take much, much more time than you thought possible, so be prepared!

Here are some tips that will be helpful:

    • All ingredients should be listed in order of use. Indicate if they are chopped, minced, melted, etc.
    • Contributors should be sure to include accurate package sizes and to provide the pan sizes needed for each recipe. Measurements should be as precise as possible.
    • Baking times should be accurate and give a test for doneness. (e.g., Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until golden. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight.)
    • Indicate whether to cook a recipe covered or not.
    • Indicate if you can make it ahead of time and if it can be frozen and/or reheated.
    • Indicate the number of servings.
    • If possible, have recipes tested by knowledgeable committee members. Set up meetings to taste the results.
    • You should have some sort of style sheet so that everyone is working within the same guidelines – very important. This saves time later on. Provide correct spellings so that the recipes are consistent. e.g., bread crumbs, not breadcrumbs.
    • Make sure there are no “dangling” ingredients – i.e., instructions that tell you to prepare an ingredient and set it aside (e.g., drain juice, reserving 1/2 cup), then the reserved ingredient isn’t added to the recipe!
    • You will end up with lots of identical or similar recipes. 250 to 500 recipes in total is usually manageable for a book. If a book is too big, the cost will be very expensive. You can always do a second book if the first one is a wild success.
    • Decide on the chapter headings in advance – e.g., Appetizers, Soups, Main Dishes, Vegetables and Sides, Cookies and Squares, Pies and Desserts, etc.
    • Instructions should be very clear and make a picture to the reader.

Here are some excellent resources that will save you lots of time and prevent mistakes. I wish I had these reference books when I first started writing and editing cookbooks! If you order from or my company earns a small commission.

    • Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Revised and Updated) by Dianne Jacob (De Cappo). 
    • Will Write for Food is an invaluable resource for anyone who writes about food – or wants to! Dianne Jacob’s Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More will teach you all the nuts and bolts of being a professional food writer. She offers excellent advice on how to come up with ideas, developing, testing and writing recipes, copyrighting of recipes, tips on taking terrific photos, writing book proposals, getting your work published versus self-publishing, plus insider information from dozens of award-winning food writers, editors and literary agents. I only wish I had known about Dianne’s book when I first started writing about food. Highly recommended.
    • The Recipe Writer’s Handbook (Revised and Updated) by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker (Wiley) 
    • Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Delores Custer (Wiley)
    • Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna (Course Technology PTR)

One more thing – it’s a long, hard job to write a cookbook, but once it’s finished, the hard work really starts – selling and marketing it! You have to let people know that you have a book to sell and that it will help make their life easier and more delicious! Also, the selling price has to be reasonable – there’s lots of competition out there.

You may want to find sponsors in your community to help defray printing costs. The more books you print, the more cost-efficient it will be. However, if you make an error, it will multiply itself out by the number of books you have printed. One mistake can turn into 1000 (or more) mistakes! That’s why it’s a smart idea to invest in an editor.

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