How to Self-Publish a Cookbook
So, you want to write a cookbook! Good news: you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’ll break down how to make a cookbook all on your own, without a publisher. We’ll cover what goes into the process, the cost of writing a cookbook, and self-publishing platforms.
So, why learn from me? I’ve self-published two cookbooks and they’ve completely changed my career as a food blogger. I’m also in the process of pursuing a traditional book deal and am by no means “anti-traditional publishing,” but believe self-publishing is often the right fit in the right circumstances. I have a course called the Cookbook Lab that walks folks through the entire self-publishing process with a community of over 100 authors and aspiring authors.
You can hear me talk more about self-publishing on podcasts like Food Blogger Pro and Eat Blog Talk, or maybe you’ve caught be speaking at conferences like Tastemaker and the Food Blogger Summit in the past!
Prefer to learn via video? I’ve got an on-demand webinar where we go over all the basics of self-publishing cookbooks.
Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
Self-publishing can be a great option instead of going the traditional route with a publishing house. A few of the pros of self-publishing:
- Simply landing an agent and then a book deal can take months, even years. This can be a real buzz kill when you know you’ve got a great idea!
- When you traditionally publish, you lose a lot of control over your book. Ultimately, the publisher has the final say on the title, cover, design and creative direction, when the book is released, and more.
- You work on your own timeline. This means you can move way faster than a publishing house (usually about 2 years from signing a contract to pub date) or you can give yourself a little grace and move more slowly.
Want to learn more about traditional publishing before making a decision? The Ekus Group has fantastic resources and happens to be my literary agency!
So, how do you create a cookbook? Let’s get into it!
1. Determine Your Cookbook Topic (and Make Sure It’s Good)
If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you already know what you’d like to write a cookbook about. But even if you don’t, that’s okay! A great place to start your brainstorm is to look at your most popular content, whether that’s a blog post, email, or social media post, and see if there’s a common theme across the top 10 or 20 pieces.
Another way to go is to look at what topics you currently focus on and figure out how you can narrow in on it further. For smaller food bloggers, I typically recommend going as niche as possible so that way you aren’t competing with vegan cookbooks but vegan breakfast cookbooks, for example.
From there, you should do some competition research. This is done a lot like keyword research. A great cookbook topic has a decent amount of search volume without too much competition.
Next, make sure your audience is actually interested in this topic. Start talking about it more and more on social media and in your email newsletter. Do people engage with this content? Do they have follow up questions?
Finally, make sure that you’re okay with being known for this topic because you’re going to eat (literally), sleep, and breathe it for the next year plus!
Want a worksheet to guide you through this topic research process? I’ve got one for you!
2. Test Your Recipes (and Have Others Test Them, Too)
Once you’ve got your topic set, it’s time to start thinking up the recipes you’ll include and testing them. I recommend that your cookbook have a minimum of 50 recipes.
You’ll want to test these recipes yourself until you’re very happy with the results and then ask others to test them. This part is tempting to skip, but don’t! It’s incredibly important to have others test them to ensure:
- The flavors are appealing to others
- The instructions are clear
- Cooking instructions work well in a variety of kitchens (everyone has different cooking equipment!)
In my experience, subscribers to my email list and followers on social media have always been so excited to help me test my recipes as volunteers. You do not need to pay for recipe testers unless you’d like to hire a professional for more complicated recipes.
Inside the Cookbook Lab, students have access to all my resources for working with recipe testers, including sign up templates and templates for collecting feedback, plus so much more.
3. Write, write, write!
Typically, we don’t think of cookbooks for the writing, but there’s actually quite a bit of written content in them! You’ll be writing:
- The front matter (introductory content)
- Chapter introductions
- Maybe more, depending on the time of book you’re writing! Especially if you’re doing a memoir style cookbook.
The best cookbook authors make these sections as helpful as possible and some even have some creative ways of going about that. Pull some cookbooks off your shelves and flip through them for inspiration.
To make your life easier, write recipe headnotes as you write your recipes.
If you’re self-publishing, there’s a good chance you’re doing your own food photography. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive to hire it out! However, this is something you can look into if you’d like to.
The photography for your cookbook may be one of the most time consuming parts of the cookbook creation process. Here are a few tips to keep things efficient:
- Create some kind of tracking system for your progress. Not only will this keep you organized, but it will keep you motivated. I provide templates to Cookbook Lab students.
- Prepare recipes with overlapping ingredients on the same day.
- Get help! Whether this is a friend who’s willing to do dishes in exchange for taking home dinner or someone you hire locally, someone to help prep ingredients and do the dishes as you go is huge for this process.
- Break up photography days with writing days so you don’t get too sick of either one.
Listen to me: this is one thing you HAVE to hire out! Other people are going to be able to catch things you can’t, and something that is clear to you may be gibberish to someone else.
You’ll want to hire two types of editors: a copy editor and a recipe editor. A copy editor will edit the front matter, chapter introductions, headnotes, etc. A recipe editor will edit your recipes and make sure that you’re following standard recipe formatting.
You may think that you can skip this or rely simply on willing friends and family, but I highly recommend hiring professionals.
6. Graphic Design
Once you have the recipes finished, the photography shot, and everything edited, it’s time to put it all together into a book! When you’re self-publishing, you’re essentially creating a giant PDF. And if you’re anything like me, you want this PDF (and therefore your book) to be pretty!
If you’re not comfortable with graphic design, this can be a great opportunity to hire out or at least find a graphic designer you can consult.
My first tip: skip Canva and use InDesign. Canva was not made to create books and is lacking many features that make the process easier. Not to mention, you have no way of saving a working file, so if Canva goes away, the editable version of your cookbook does, too.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to start from scratch. There are plenty of cookbook templates available on Etsy and we have several as well as a boatload of InDesign tutorials inside the Cookbook Lab.
7. Self-Publishing Platforms and Distribution
I highly recommend using print on demand (POD) platforms when self-publishing. With print on demand, the platform is entirely responsible for printing and fulfillment, which means you won’t have a garage full of cookbooks that you’ve paid up front for and are really, really hoping you sell.
When you use POD platforms, you do sacrifice print quality (but only slightly) and you’re limited on book size options and formatting, although these platforms have all the standard options.
I always use these two platforms: Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. I publish my books on both. KDP will make your book available on Amazon, which, whether we like it or not, is where most people buy their books. IngramSpark will make your book available to retailers if they’d like to carry it.
A couple of tips when using these platforms:
- When setting up your book on Amazon, do not select “Expanded Distribution.” If you do, you will not be able to list it on IngramSpark and most retailers are unwilling to buy from Amazon.
- Do not take the free ISBNs offered by any self-publishing platforms. Purchase your own. If you use their free ISBNs, you’ll be limited to publishing on their platforms only.
8. Marketing and PR
Besides creating a kickass cookbook, the marketing and PR may be the most important step in this whole process. This is likely a big reason you chose to create a cookbook: to get your name out there and to get recognition!
You should be working on your marketing and PR plan months before you plan to release your cookbook, as you’ll want some things lined up for launch week.
Here are some of the things you should be doing:
- Learn how to pitch yourself. There’s an art to this, and to finding relevant journalists, podcasts, TV shows, etc. Dr. Tiffany Eurich is my go-to gal for all things PR.
- Plan to send copies of your book to other bloggers and influencers whose audiences have overlap with yours.
- Take photos and videos and create graphics ahead of time for your launch week.
- Draft emails to your email list promoting your book.
- Think of creative ways to get people to leave reviews – early reviews are essential to cookbook success.
Self-publishing a cookbook can be a lot of work, but it is so rewarding. If you’re looking for a little extra help, check out the Cookbook Lab and watch my on-demand webinar where we dive even deeper into the self-publishing process.
You can also view this post as a web story here.