3 Really Obvious but Really Important Aspects of Writing a Cookbook


As of this posting, fall is five days away. That means the scent of pumpkin spice is in the air, which makes it the perfect time to publish a cookbook.

Pumpkin pie.

Apple cider stew.

Sweet stuffing…

Though that’s admittedly short notice for novice writers. So, fortunately, there’s a consolation to be had. If you can’t write a cookbook before fall officially hits, there’s always the jam-packed Christmas season coming up.

Which makes right now a great time to talk about what you need to know to write a cookbook.

Or a baking book, smoothie guide, mixology guide or any other edible recipe-related how-to book. For those die-hard kitchen dwellers, don’t worry. Innovative Editing is well aware there’s a difference between the just-listed categories.

However, this week’s Definition, Challenge and Rule all pretty much apply across the (cutting) board, regardless of whether you’re ultimately using it to dice lemons for lemon and lime salmon; zesting them for lemon squares; throwing a halved one into your pineapple, strawberry and orange smoothie; or adding a wedge to a lemontini.

Make sure you’re using life’s best lemons possible when you write a...

Cookbook

Oh, the wonder of cookbooks! Diet-specific cookbooks. Holiday-specific cookbooks. Lifestyle-specific cookbooks. Ethnic or region-specific cookbooks.

They’re all about teaching people how to do tasty, tasty things with food, from making lasagna to “Authentic Bangladeshi Beef Curry” (which I randomly found on Recipes.com) to various takes on carrot cake.

They’re artistic expressions. And artistic expressions require some science in order to properly present.

Thursday’s and Friday’s pieces will focus entirely on the art involved when you write a cookbook. Today’s, therefore, will solely cover the science, including some pointers that might seem exceptionally obvious…

  • Be sure to test out every single recipe you recommend. Multiple times. You’re more than welcome to roll your eyes at that one and say something snarky. (“No, duh,” could suffice.) But better safe than sorry here if you’re going to write a cookbook/baking book/smoothie book/mixology book. Your whole job in putting it together is to make things as doable as possible for anyone who wants to try it out themselves. Therefore, you want to know as many potential issues as possible, and how to avoid them.

  • List off every single ingredient involved and every reasonable step. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your amateur or expert foodie followers to "pick up a knife." If they can’t figure that necessity out of “Cut lemons into eight slices,” they don’t belong in the kitchen to begin with. Really, they don’t belong around knives to begin with. But when you write a cookbook, you do want to make sure readers know their lemons need to be sliced. And how they should be sliced if that’s important. Which brings us to our next point.

  • Don’t say a recipe is going to take 20 minutes to make when it’s actually going to take 45. When calculating how long a recipe will take, factor in all prep work short of getting dressed to go grocery shopping for those last few ingredients. Your culinary student’s probable skill level should be taken into consideration too. If your cookbook is called The Expert’s Guide to Preparing Meals Like a 10-Star Chef, then, by all means, assume the reader can dice an onion in 15 seconds flat. Otherwise, have some mercy and give them an extra two minutes to accomplish that prep work. Maybe even five.

Of course, those tips alone aren't going to sell your cookbook. That’s why we’re moving onto the artistic side of things in our next Write a Cookbook blog post.

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