Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Cookbook

Food Writing

Writing cookbooks is rewarding, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. Even if you have the skills—and your cookbook concept is clearly defined—there are specific elements you should consider before embarking on your project.

Here are five specific questions that will help you hone in on the exact book you want to create.

1. Who am I writing my cookbook for?

It’s essential to identify your cookbook audience before you begin. Here are two common ones.

  • Family and friends

Let’s say your family loves your home-cooked meals and your friends adore your signature casseroles or cakes. They all want you to share your recipes, and they’re always asking you. Are these compelling enough reasons to write a cookbook? Yes. Your audience is small, but important. If your friends and family have asked for recipes, they will love recreating your dishes.

  • Clients or customers

If you have a nutrition-focused business, you might help clients with weight loss, disease management, and wellness. You know what motivates them to cook and you know their challenges. A cookbook can help them live a healthier lifestyle and offer an immediate way to connect in the office.

Owners of a restaurant or catering business could offer a cookbook as a souvenir. Imagine your clients and customers buying your cookbook from you, your website, or an online retailer.

To figure out your audience, think of the people you most want to connect with. Define their age, gender, income level, and cooking experience. Keep them in mind when writing your cookbook or cookbook proposal.

2. Who are my competitors?

For family-and-friends cookbooks, this step may not be necessary, but if you plan to go the traditional or self-publishing route, it’s an important piece to consider.

  • Competitive title research

This shows how your book will fit into the current publishing landscape; it’s part of a cookbook proposal. Pointing out your competition will validate your idea, give clues about the type of book you want to write, and boost your argument for why it’s time for you to write a similar book for this audience.

  • Inspiration and design research

Look at other cookbooks and pay attention to what delights you—cover design, paper, fonts, interior colors, photography, and other features. Parts of other books that you find attractive (or not so attractive) are clues about the type of book you may want to write. And a word of caution: don’t let the study of other cookbooks deter you from writing. Hundreds of cookbooks are published each year, but your exact book and idea hasn’t been written yet.

3. How do I want to have my cookbook published?

This answer is important. For this one, try not to compare yourself to others. Focus on your specific motivation for writing a cookbook and choose the route that best matches your goals.

Here are some common answers:

  • Use an app or recipe software to organize recipes, and print my cookbook at home or in cooperation with a quick-print shop

  • Operate as an independent publisher and self-publish a PDF of recipes, an eBook, or print book

  • Pay a publishing company to help publish the book as a print book and eBook

  • Secure a publisher (without an agent) to handle all aspects of publishing my book

  • Retain an agent to help find a traditional publisher who will publish my book

4. How does my audience know me and hear me? What is my presence in the marketplace based on?

Your author platform is how your intended audience sees you, hears you, and begins to develop a relationship of trust with you. If you want to go the agent-and-traditional-publisher route, an established platform makes you more attractive as a prospective author.

One reason to define your audience early on is to help determine whether building a platform is necessary. If your audience is your friends, family, or college-aged kids, a platform isn’t essential. But if your audience is middle-aged professional women who suffer from heartburn, then your platform is necessary to keep in touch with them. You need to be present to them, and they need to be able to find you, hear you, and see you as an expert in the treatment of heartburn through food and nutrition.

5. Am I fully committed to this project?

There are plenty of obstacles to writing a cookbook: day jobs, home lives, community involvement, children, travel demands. Other obstacles include the realization that there are agents who won’t represent you and your idea, and editors don’t want to publish your work. But don’t let this overshadow the fact that there are agents who DO want to represent you and editors who DO want to publish your work.

Even once you sign a cookbook deal, you may hit a midproject slump and feel like giving up. It’s at this time in particular that you need to remind yourself why you are embarking on this project and to focus on energy-producing emotions such as optimism, discipline, productivity, and energy.

Schedule doable goals, stick to your plan, and your obstacles become stepping stones instead of blocks along the path.

Food and nutrition writer, culinary dietitian, and cookbook author Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors with private and group programs and packages. For more information, visit

Excerpted from the Spring 2017 edition of the IACP Food Writers, Editors, and Publishers newsletter. Read the full issue here.

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