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When It Comes to Sales, Cookbooks Are Just Pretty Picture Books With Recipes

Pretty pictures.

In the initial engagement department, it doesn’t matter how logical we are. How rational we are. How educated we are or any other such thing. We’re still little kids who like pretty pictures.

Pretty pictures of things that go vroom! Pretty pictures of things that go ooh la la. Pretty pictures of things that go “I’ll make your taste buds think they died and went to heaven”…

To prove as much, consider the last packaged food you bought in the grocery store or were tempted to buy.

Was it pizza pictured with a slice dripping cheese and yummy toppings? A box of Tastykake’s Kandy Kakes prominently featuring one of the delightful little treats cut open to show soft, spongy yellow cake topped by peanut butter goodness and encircled by the perfect proportion of milk chocolate?

I’m going to stop myself right now before I desert this post for the grocery store for an emergency cravings run. Besides, you no doubt get the picture and are properly primed to read this week’s Writing Rule:

When it comes to cookbooks, baking books or any other kind of recipe-related how-to-guide, your initial sales are all about the pictures!

In other words, recipes typically don’t sell cookbooks. Pictures of the final products do. From the front cover to the individual pages, cooks, bakers, chefs and other culinary creators need to make their concoctions look awesome in order to woo people into trying them out.

Presentation is key here, people! Your recipes deserve the extra attention, and so does your sales potential.

To detail what that presentation should or could look like, try searching for “key lime chicken recipe” on Bing images.

Or Google images. Whatever floats your cookbook-writing boat.

On Bing images, the very first picture that comes up doesn’t just show the key lime chicken in question. Instead, it’s an artistic shot of half a black skillet on top of a faded wooden table with a disheveled but otherwise attractive towel set in the hazier background.

The chicken inside the skillet then is nicely browned with slices and chunks of lime artistically arranged on top and around it. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind sinking my teeth into the sight.

Go to picture two, and it’s of a white plate on top of an orange striped cloth, with a single breast of clearly seasoned chicken, a wedge of lime next to it and some salad greens and croutons to top it off.

Does it make me want to click? Eh. It’s actually a little boring in my opinion. So moving on...

Picture three, however, shows skewers of chicken, lime and pineapple on top of an elongated white serving dish with parsley and halved limes on full display for a pleasing pop of culinary color.

It’s probably the one that gets me the most out of the three, though there are plenty of other delectable-looking pics that follow it too.

But that’s the point. You need to make the food look too good to pass up. The average cookbook, in order to sell, has to sell more than just food. That's why the images involved have to include more than just food.

They have to push the idea that people will look awesome, feel awesome and taste awesomeness if they only buy the cookbook and try it all out.

Don’t get me wrong. The recipes should fulfill those promises. But it’s the pictures that sell them.

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