Monday, September 13, 2010

Writing a cookbook Part 2: Why do you want to write a book?

Let’s say you are a good cook: half of the people you know will say things to you like “You should write a book!” Encouraging eh?!?!?

But why do you want to write a cookbook? Your prospective publisher may ask you this very question!

If it is for money you should really try to be realistic: it costs a lot to put together a book! Most first time authors may not know this, but if the publisher gives you a breakdown of the costs, from drafting the contract to the editing, designing, proofreading, printing and distributing, you will understand why royalties cannot be high.

If you want photographs you could share the royalties with the photographer, or pay him/her. In places like Italy it is still common to find recipe books without photos, but in places like New Zealand buyers want to see photos. Photos are inspiring, and they sell the book. Photos are expensive.

And you will need to prepare the food and style it for photography, all this on top of writing.

Personally, to write a book I need about one year. But this is I! I think about a recipe, then I make, then I make it again, then again and again until I am happy with it. I have to say that I am particularly fussy... but hey, this is going to be my book, I want it to work! Once I have the recipe I want, I then make three times, so I am sure that it works (and here there is a lot of difference with blogging!). If I consider the amount of time spent developing and writing recipes, plus the ingredients, gas, electricity and trips to the shops… well, you can see what I mean!

Writing to raise your profile? This could be a better reason than money. If you are (or want to be) a food writer or a food photographer it is always good to have a book or more in your CV.

Your prospective publisher will probably like this reason, and it will show that you are determined to put your best efforts into the project.

Finally, my last and most romantic reason: I write because I believe in my recipes, I want to share them, I love food, and I love books… I know that there are many cookbooks around but I feel that I can offer something different. It is a lot of work, but I cannot imagine a world without books, and in this world of books I too want to create books, books that I myself would want to read in ten or twenty years time (no matter if they are out of print) and still be happy with them, still meet people who tell me that they have tried this or that recipe and still love it!

And your publisher has to be the first to support your recipes: send a few sample recipes with your proposal. Invite him/her for dinner (or the commissioning editor, if there is one), bring food to the office when you are having your first meeting, and be prepared to be flexible: maybe your book idea is not marketable, but if your recipes and skills are good a publisher will be able to give you suggestions, and work with you until you both find the cookbook that screams to be published!

In the next post I'll write a bit more about writing recipes, and the difference with blogging.


  1. Alessandra, what a great idea for a series of posts! I knew there wasn't much money to be made in writing cookbooks unless you're wildly popular or something but your last 2 reasons are something I agree with too, though I'm far far off writing a cookbook, hehe.

  2. Already being the owner of two of your cookbooks. I'm enjoying reading your 'Writing a cookbook...' it is certainly making me think.

    You are right about the photographs, most people will not pick up a cookbook unless it has a glossy photographs. I think blogs are similar these days, the most succesful ones have very very professional photographs.

  3. This and its companion piece below are really wonderful for folks who think they might want to publish. You given them some terrific information as well as options. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  4. Very interesting and inspiring, Alessandra. I agree, you've got to believe in your recipes to "sell" them. The logistics for putting together a book sound daunting, but you do it well!

  5. Thank you all for your thoughts :-)
    Barbara, I hope it doesn't sound too daunting... however, it is a great learning process, every single time!!!

  6. I like to read your "backstage" view for the making of a cookbook. Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

  7. avendo già scritto un po di libri, auguri non è semplice

  8. A very interesting post! Yes, writing a cookbook is not an easy task and you don't get rich...



  9. What a wonderful series of posts Alessandra. My entire family has been urging me to write a cookbook and I am hoping to do so someday, simply from satisfying my endless passion. I would love to find your cookbooks in the States!

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