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So You Want to Write a Cookbook?

Everything you need to know to get started

a close up of food on a table

Picture this setup: you’re a chef-owner, and things at your restaurant are going pretty well. Seats are filled, the reviews are good, and maybe you’ve even won a few awards. What’s next? You’re in a great spot to explore new options—including writing a cookbook. But where do you begin, and what is the process really like? We spoke to Jamie Feldmar, a writer and the co-author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook Taste & Technique (and, full disclosure, a BentoBox editorial consultant), to find out more.

How do I know if it’s the right time to write a cookbook?

There’s no wrong time to write a cookbook, says Feldmar, but because it can be a long process, it’s helpful to be in a stable spot with your business, with a reliable staff you can trust to run things while you dedicate time to the book. Publishers often approach chefs when they have a new restaurant that’s winning awards or getting a lot of buzz in the press; from a book sales perspective it’s important to strike while the iron is hot, but be sure you have the right infrastructure in place. It’s also important to think about what you really want to say a cookbook. The clearer your concept, the better the book will ultimately be.

What to Include in a Cookbook Proposal

I’m ready, but where do I begin?

Most cookbooks are sold to publishers off the strength of a proposal, which outlines your vision. The more detailed you can be here, the better—get into the specifics of what your book will be about, how you want to structure and organize it, your ideal look and feel, and include a recipe list along with 10-15 sample recipes, plus photos of the dishes. 

Feldmar recommends hiring an agent before you start the proposal process—it’s important to find someone who can advise you, and has the relationships with publishers to get a solid book deal. Agents can also help connect you with professional writers who can serve as co-authors or ghostwriters for your project. If you’re not sure where to find an agent, ask around in your networks, and/or other chefs who have published cookbooks you admire. 

How long does it take to make a book?

Putting together a proposal can take anywhere from 1-3 months, depending on how clear your concept is and what kind of book you want to write. Ideally, your agent will be able to sell it to a publisher quickly. However, various factors can impact this, such as the time of year and trends in the publishing and food industries. If your proposal does get picked up you will likely have anywhere from 6-12 months to turn in a completed manuscript, depending on the scope of your cookbook. After that, it may take another 6-12 months of post-production, such as edits, design and layout before the book actually hits the shelves.

What costs and payoffs come with writing a cookbook?

It’s difficult to predict how lucrative your cookbook deal will be—much of it will revolve around your idea, the competitive landscape, and your reach as a chef or the popularity of your restaurant. Whatever your contract states, it’s important to factor in expenses such as a recipe tester, photographer, and food and/or prop stylist for the photo shoot, which will be taken out of your advance.

Huerta website's online store where they sell their cookbook

Every copy of Huerta's cookbook that is sold on their website comes signed with a special note.

My cookbook is done! Now, how can I promote it?

Once your book is out in the world, it’s important to promote it! Your publisher will likely have some type of marketing strategy, but you can and should take advantage of your own online channels to boost sales. Promote your new release on your social media channels, send out a dedicated email newsletter to your mailing list, and use your restaurant website. With BentoBox, you can add a homepage alert notifying any visitor to your big news, and include a link to buy. 

You can also add a cookbook section to your website or add your book to your online store, so fans and guests can easily buy online. This route has worked well for restaurants such as Huertas (who offers signed copies of their book online), Birchwood Cafe (who sells copies directly from their restaurant website's online store), Rich Table (who is offering information on pre-orders for their forthcoming cookbook in advance) and many more. 

Already have a cookbook you’re ready to add to your restaurant website? Get in touch today!

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