10 Things You Should Think About Before You Publish a Cookbook


Let the experts guide you..

Written by Lucy Miller



Publishing a cookbook may seem, to some, like a walk in the park. A process filled with testing recipes, taking a few beautiful photos, a little editing here and there and, voila - a best seller!

If that’s the impression you’re under, keep reading. There’s a big difference between blogging about your favourite recipes or whipping them up in your restaurant and publishing them in a hardcopy format. Though reaping a very rewarding result, publishing a cookbook can be a long and demanding task that requires commitment and a whole lot of passion to produce a bookstore best-seller.

 There are plenty of things that you’ll need to consider before launching a fabulous project like custom publishing, so here are a few thoughts to get you started:

1.     Find your niche
First things first. You’ll need a killer idea to build the book around. Some of the most successful cookbooks from Yotam Ottolenghi's vegetarian recipes in Plenty, to Stephanie Alexander’s creative structuring of The Cook’s Companion, and the I Don’t Know How to Cook Book by Mary-Lane Kamberg. All have a strong foundation that centres their recipes. Think of it as a narrative that you get to tell piece by piece that keeps your readers and budding chefs interested in trying out recipe after recipe.

2.     Research your content
Once you’ve got the concept down pat, it’s all about finding the right people to help you take it from an idea to the real deal. Think chef friends, photographers, mentors and industry favourites. Ask for help along the way. Chat with your favourite producers, farmers market friends – anyone who can help develop your recipe ideas to produce something unique.

3.     Test your recipes
Once you have assembled your recipes, make sure you test them for the quantity you are recommending. It doesn’t work to simply divide a large restaurant quantity by 4 – it will require seasoning and other adjustments. At the end of the day, it’s all about taste, taste, taste. If the end result doesn’t taste good – word of mouth publicity about your bad-tasting recipes can go viral.
It’s also worth making sure that you advise where hard-to-get ingredients can be sourced – it can make the difference between the recipe working or not.

4.     Let the experts guide you
The process from content creation to photography, printing, publishing, distribution and the whole she-bang can be daunting. There are also the technical decisions to make, like choosing colour schemes, bindings, stitching and/or glueing, fonts, paper and the list goes on. In a world like book publishing, it’s hard to keep your eye on every part of the process, so it helps to have a trusty team of editors, photographers, designers and project managers on your side.

5.     Talk the talk
While your publishers are here to fill you in on the lingo, it can’t hurt to read up on a few of the key terms. We’ve compiled a few that you’ll need to know here.  

6.     What’s the point?
With a project as creative as a cookbook, it can be easy to get carried away. The most important thing is having a clear vision of what you’re after and being open with your publishers about your expectations.
This conversation should revolve around whether this is a money-making exercise or being used for marketing and branding. The benefits of producing a recipe book can be enormous but unless you are printing over 5,000 books, you are not likely to be making buckets of money.
However, if you work with your publisher to keep an eye on costs, the exercise should be a no-brainer, marketing coup. It can be great exposure with your name out in the marketplace in areas you haven’t been seen previously. Your campaign can include:

·      a launch,
·      in-house promotions and events around the book,
·      digital blasts about your recipes, bio, and book, plus
·      many PR opportunities connecting the book to your name/venue.

7.     Talk Timelines
Is your cookbook going to be brimming with recipes that will be perfect for Easter? Or is it better suited to the summer-slim down? Would it be a fabulous Mother’s Day gift? Starting with a timeline in mind will help you to plan the best times to get things going, so be sure to think ahead about major holidays and market trends that could open some opportunities to sell big.

8.     Photography and design says it all
Good photography and striking design are what will capture your reader’s attention from the beginning. Working with a designer from early in the project is essential, as pulling it all together at the end can be costly and eat up much precious time.

9.     Online is not the be all and end all
There’s something to say about being able to cook in the kitchen with a well-designed, sturdy, hardcover recipe book in front of you where the font is large enough to see, images are where they should be and each step in logically formatted. Sure, there’s an abundance of recipes online to choose from, but how are you to know whether they’re any good? It is all about trust!

10.  Understanding copyright
Who will own the rights to the book? This is one of the most misunderstood areas of publishing but it is quite simple to understand.

·      Photography - Photographers will often want to keep their copyright and provide the license to use the images for that book. Discuss your expectation of this up-front and make sure you pay enough to ensure that you get full rights to the images. This way you can use them whenever and wherever you want.

·      Recipes - In Australia, recipes aren’t covered under the Copyright Act, as ingredients are considered to be ‘factual’. However aside from the ingredients list and method, any tips, tricks, or descriptions that you add are classified as ‘literary work’, therefore will be copyrighted to you.

·      Design – Usually the publishing company will own the rights to the design to protect all the work they have put in to create the book. This help to protect the quality when future editions are printed, to make sure all the pre-press and design elements are checked before future print runs.

Katie Wilton