Episode 97 – How to Self-Publish a Cookbook: The Basics

By Beth Brombosz, PhD

Mar 21

So, you’ve decided you want to publish a cookbook. Now what do you do? The idea of having to write and produce an entire cookbook can be overwhelming, especially when you look at the project as a whole. But, when you break things down and just focus on the next step in front of you, it’s much more manageable. That’s why today I’ll be walking you through the steps you’ll need to take to publish your cookbook.

If you’re still trying to decide whether you want to create a cookbook, I encourage you to go back and listen to Episode 96, which is a deep dive into whether you should publish a cookbook and if it’s actually worth the effort. But, if you’re ready to go, this episode will serve as a checklist with the steps to go through when you’re ready to make your cookbook a reality.

Learn the major steps you should take to self-publish your cookbook, including all of the basic information you need to get started.

HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH A COOKBOOK: THE BASICS

PLAN OUT YOUR COOKBOOK

What’s your cookbook about? What niche will your cookbook fit into? Your book will be much more successful if it can fit into a specific niche. For example, your book on “how to cook everything” isn’t going to do as well as your book on paleo recipes made with vegetables from your garden. Chances are you’ve already been niching down with your blog, but if you haven’t, give this some thought.

If you’re really stumped, look at what your people want and need! Ask them on social media. Look at your Google Analytics and see which kinds of recipes are getting the most traffic. What recipes do your fans rave about? Which recipes have the best reviews? If you haven’t already, take some time to figure out what your audience is looking for. When your cookbook fulfills a desire or need that your audience has, you’re much more likely to sell more copies.

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Then, start to plan out the content for your cookbook. If you need extra help planning, or if you just like to have worksheets that guide you through the process, definitely grab a copy of my free Cookbook Planning Guide.

Think through any background information you might want to include. This could be stories behind the recipes or the general style of cooking, basic tips for a particular style of cooking, lists of ingredients readers might want to have in their pantry, and so on.

Make a list of all of the recipes you want to include. Look through your blog to see if you can repurpose any recipes, and start to create a list of recipes you’ll still need to develop. With the recipes you’ve already written, make a note of whether you’ll need to take new photographs. (Make sure you have large, high-resolution photos saved somewhere. If you don’t, you’ll need to retake the photos.)

SEE WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE IN YOUR NICHE

This will inform what you put in your proposal if you’re traditionally publishing. Most proposals will include a section that compares your proposed book to the other books that are out there in the market. It helps you argue that your book should be published and that your book will make money for your publisher.

If you’re self-publishing, this will give you some ideas about what you might want to include in your book. Don’t get stuck in comparison, though! Often we see what other people are doing and we get sucked into a spiral of “my book will never be good enough.” Don’t let yourself fall into that trap! Your book will be unique in many ways! If you feel yourself getting sucked into comparison-itis, go listen to Episode 94 of the Blogger to Author Podcast, “Mindset Shifts Authors Need to Make.”

Your goal with this research should be to figure out how your book is going to be different from the other books out there. What will make it stand out? This research will also help you figure out a good price for your book (be sure to write down the price other books are going for, and whether those prices are for eBooks, paperbacks, or hardcover). And, you can see the trim sizes (dimensions) that are common for books in your niche, which can help you choose the right size for your book.

A simple way to do this research is by hopping on Amazon, but it can be more effective to go to your local bookstore and see the books in person. Be sure to record:

  1. Title
  2. Page length
  3. Topic
  4. Trim size
  5. List price
  6. Other notes about the book. This could include how your book will be different from that book. You could also note things you like about that book, if what you see inspires something for your own book. (Important: don’t directly copy anything—that’s a big copyright no-no!!)

DECIDE WHETHER YOU WANT TO TRADITIONALLY PUBLISH OR SELF-PUBLISH

The next steps you should take will be different based on whether you want to work with a traditional publisher or if you choose to self-publish. For example, if you want to publish your book traditionally, you’ll actually want to start writing a proposal, not the content of your book. Based on what your publisher and editor want, the content of your book may change, which could mean that some or all of your writing could go to waste.

If you need help making this decision, listen to last week’s episode (Episode 98, “Should You Self-Publish Your Cookbook?”) for an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of self-publishing cookbooks. You can also read through my blog post on the pros and cons of self-publishing. Most people I’ve talked to want to traditionally publish because they feel like it makes them more legitimate or it will give their book extra clout, but that’s not necessarily so these days (especially if you don’t get in with a top five publisher). And, often the pros of self-publishing can outweigh the cons.

If you’re going to traditionally publish, your next step will be to find an agent. There are a few small publishers out there who will accept unsolicited proposals, but in general, it’s most effective to work with an agent…and you’ll almost always get a better deal. At the same time, you can start to work on your book proposal if you’d like, but your agent may also have some ideas about what you will want to include in the proposal.

You don’t need an agent if you’re self-publishing. Instead, your next step will be to get to work on the content you’re putting in your book.

PUT TOGETHER THE CONTENT FOR YOUR BOOK

This includes any front matter, introductory material, recipes, and photos. Look back at your cookbook plan and fill in any content you haven’t written already for your blog (or social media, or your mailing list). You might want to compile a list of everything you still need to write and create so you can keep track of what needs to be done. And, you can apply deadlines to that list to help you finish your book in a timely manner.

I know I mentioned this earlier, but I can’t emphasize this fact enough when it comes to cookbooks. Make sure you keep your photos full-resolution! Don’t save them at a smaller size—you’ll need the big photos for your book. This is true no matter how you’re publishing your book, eBook or print. You can always save a copy of the photos at a lower resolution and size for your blog. But, you’ll want the largest photos available for your book.

EDIT AND FINALIZE THE CONTENT OF YOUR BOOK

You should never publish your first draft. None of us is perfect and there are bound to be mistakes in what you’ve written. (It happens to everyone!) That’s why editing is so important. You can go back and look through what you’ve written to make sure that it’s clear and that you’ve done a good job communicating with your reader.

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you create a style guide for your book. You could follow an existing style guide, or you can create your own. Basically, this will be a set of rules that you’ll follow as you write and format your book. For example, will you use the Oxford Comma? Will you spell out numbers under 10, or leave them as Arabic numerals? How will you format fractions in your recipes? In what order should ingredients appear? How will you format units of measure in the ingredients list, and will the formatting be different in the directions?

You can always hire an editor to help you with this part of the process. An editor can help you figure out what to put in your book and how to best present the information (a developmental editor). They could also help you make sure your sentences are clear, that you haven’t made any grammar or punctuation mistakes, and that you’ve followed your style guide (a copy editor). Or, you could hire a proofreader for your final draft, who makes sure there aren’t any typos.

If you don’t have the budget for an editor, try to have a friend or colleague read through your work. I strongly recommend that you have another set of eyes look over your work, at minimum. We’re all human and we all miss things. (In fact, I’m sure you’ve found typos in published books that have been looked over by many editors and proofreaders. They happen.) It’s also a good idea to look over your work on your own, but after you’ve walked away from it for a few days or weeks. Looking at your work with fresh eyes can help you get the perspective you need for good self-editing.

DESIGN YOUR BOOK

This includes designing the cover and interior of your book, or having the book designed for you. If you’re confident in your graphic design ability and you have the time (or a very limited budget), you can DIY your design. But, if you have the budget or you want your cookbook to look more professional, definitely consider hiring a designer. Different designers will have different rates and levels of experience, so find one who meets your needs.

If you’re going to DIY your design, it is possible to design your book (even a print book) in every blogger’s favorite graphic design tool, Canva. But, it can be tricky if you’re creating a print book. Be sure to get all of the details you need about page size and margins from the printer you’ll be using. Also, be aware that you may need to resubmit your files multiple times, so set aside some extra time for that.

Most pros will design your book in Adobe’s InDesign software. You can certainly buy access to the software and use it yourself, although beware that there is a learning curve to figure out to use it (just like any Adobe software). But, you’re likely to get better results with InDesign—it’s much more powerful software, and you can do so many more things than you can with Canva. But, if Canva is in your comfort zone, you can make it work.

If you’re working with a designer, you can start the design process a little earlier. Most designers will begin by coming up with a general design for your book and fill it with dummy text before it’s ready for your content. So, you can keep finalizing your book’s content while the first steps of the design process are taking place.

Either way, I recommend starting out by creating an inspiration board. (You can do this at any point in the process.) Start to collect designs or inspirational photographs that convey the look and mood of what you’re going for. A secret Pinterest board is a great place to do this. Just make sure to note what you like (or don’t like) about each image in the notes so you remember what you were thinking, or so that your designer knows what you were seeing in each image.

PUBLISH!

If you’re publishing an eBook, you can just save the book as a PDF and send it out. But, you might also consider getting in into .epub and .mobi formats to make it friendlier for people who are looking at your book on an eReader. There are many distribution methods out there—you could individually email people with the PDF once they pay, or you could use a checkout system that automatically distributes the PDF for you. I personally use SendOwl for this, but there are other similar services that work well, too.

If you’re getting your book into print, you’ll send your finalized files to your printer. Print-on-demand services are very popular with smaller self-publishers because the author doesn’t have to keep a large number of copies on hand, and you only pay for the number of copies you need. But, working directly with large offset printers (which print hundreds or thousands of copies at a time) can give you more printing options.

There are a lot of choices for printers out there, and it’s beyond what I really want to get into in this episode. I will say that for most of you, either Amazon’s KDP Print or IngramSpark are going to be the best choice. They’re print-on-demand options, and they’re the most popular with self-publishers right now. For a full rundown on different printing options for your book, go listen to Episode 92 of the podcast, “Printing Options for Self-Publishers with LeAnna Weller Smith.”

PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE!!

So many authors launch their books and let them languish. But, if you want your book to keep making money for you, you need to keep promoting it, month after month. There’s more to book promotion than just the launch.

Launch strategy and book promotion strategy are beyond the scope of what I want to get into here today. My main goal for this episode is just to walk you through the steps you should take. But, if you want more details about book promotion, there are several other Blogger to Author Podcast episodes you can check out for more information. They are:

So, there you have it! Those are the basic steps that you’ll need to take to create your own cookbook. As a reminder, if you need help getting started on your cookbook and getting organized, grab a copy of my free Cookbook Planning Guide. It will help you jump start your path to becoming a cookbook author!

And, if you need extra help walking through each of the steps I’ve listed out in this episode, look into my course, “Create Your Own Cookbook.” It includes the details you’ll need to DIY your own cookbook, including tips for designing your cookbook yourself in Canva and getting your files uploaded to Amazon’s KDP Print. It will save you a lot of time and research, with everything you need right at your fingertips.

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Learn the major steps you should take to self-publish your cookbook, including all of the basic information you need to get started.