Getting a cookbook published.
February 27, 2007 6:58 PM   Subscribe

I want to publish a cookbook and need some advice.

I'm a college student studying Computer Science, my brother is a college student studying Culinary arts. We'd like to write and publish a Cook book. I think, and may be wrong, that we would have an interesting angle to write from, being students and all.
However I'm having some trouble finding good sources of information on how to write/publish a cookbook. I've found a lot of information about getting a fund raiser cookbook published, but that isn't something I'm interested in. I'd like the book to be sold in stores after we're finished.

Is it even possible for two college kids to get a cookbook published? I'm looking for an any personal experience or advice in compiling and or publishing a cook book.
posted by magikker to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Start a food blog.

Getting a publishing deal is kind of a large and far-ranging topic and the cookbook industry is pretty darn competitive. Not to be bubble-bursty, but you're not going to get a deal by contacting a publisher and saying "hey, we're students, can we write a book for you?"

So just start writing something someplace and find your angle!

(Or, if you just want to self-publish something directly, then one place to start is Lulu, which will do on-demand professional-ish printing from a master document that you provide.)
posted by bcwinters at 7:09 PM on February 27, 2007

there are a lot of places that publish cookbooks and many of them will consider yours, but in almost all cases for a first time author they will want to see the whole thing. so the first step is, write a cookbook. alternatively, start by writing cooking articles and trying to get them published in student or cooking magazines, which might make a publisher more interested in considering a partial manuscript.
posted by lgyre at 7:38 PM on February 27, 2007

I've seen more than one literary agent's page say that they won't look at cookbooks by anyone who isn't a "name," so the food blog is a good idea.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2007

webpage, that is.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2007

Another thing about cookbooks-- from what I've read, it's one of the few areas in book publishing where the advance works the same way it does in music, in that you're expected to pay for stuff out of it. It's on you to get the photography, etc, and apparently that can cost a bundle. (Not meant as discouragement-- go forth and kick @#s, if this is really what you want to do.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:55 PM on February 27, 2007

you're expected to pay for stuff out of it

Thats the kind of thing that I like to hear, Not because its good news, but its something I need to know
posted by magikker at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2007

Good advice given so far, but as someone who reviews cookbooks, I have to say that the angle of students writing a cookbook has been done, so hopefully you would have a lot more than that to sell yourselves on.
posted by GaelFC at 8:13 PM on February 27, 2007

Since its been done, that tell me it is possible, Thanks.
posted by magikker at 8:18 PM on February 27, 2007

GaelFC, can I ask what you look for in a good cookbook, since you review them and all.
posted by magikker at 8:19 PM on February 27, 2007

To begin with, although I realize you probably consider posting here a pretty casual thing, your lack of proper spelling and punctuation is kind of disturbing in a wannabe writer, even a student. You want to present yourself as best you can in all circumstances if you hope to attract an agent and someday an publisher.

What are your qualifications? What makes you and your brother different from every other culinary student out there and their siblings? What is your angle? Your experience, both in writing and in creating new recipes? I don't mean to be so discouraging, but everyone who can cook wants to publish a cookbook.

If you don't have an incredibly unique gimmick, scads of experience, and/or are already a well-known personality, the entertaining/cookbook world is almost impossible to break into. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. As long as people like Rachael Ray are out there, with millions of fans watching her show and thus already predisposed to buy her book, those are going to be the books snapped up first.

Recent books I chose to review include a fabulous baking book by a very experienced baking expert, a book that covered the foods of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon complete with lavish photos and information about the history and trends of cooking in those areas, a wonderful book out of a famed San Francisco bakery, and a best-of recipe collection.

From your age group, I think one of the better cookbooks is "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen," which was written by a student and his mom.
posted by GaelFC at 8:53 PM on February 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

I do consider posting here a casual thing and when I am typing in a hurry things do not come out like they would if it was something I was going to publish, print, or turn in. I had hoped that my internet typing would be beside the point.

From my question of "What do you look for in a good cookbook?" I gather from your response that I need a gimmick to have a published cookbook, and that the best gimmick is fame in the form of a TV show on the food network. Thank you for this advice. I searched for cookbooks and the first result was Rachel Ray. I also found over 15,000 other books. I understand that this is a long shot, but it is a shot that I'm willing to take.

Thank you for the advice, though I have to say you dodged the "What do you, as a reviewer, look for in a good cookbook?" Unless of course it is the gimmick that you are looking for, or maybe the lavish photos.
posted by magikker at 9:53 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't think I dodged it at all. In the baking books, I knew that based on the experience of those bakers, the recipes would be high-quality. And as I said when I mentioned the Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon book, that book went beyond the norm of just providing recipes and delved into the trends and history of the foods of that area. Those books had something more than a famous name.

You may not like to hear that the entertaining/cookbook industry is dominated by famous names and experienced cooks, but that doesn't make it untrue.

I hope this isn't the attitude you take when trying to get your book published, because nothing I said was cruel, mean, or personal to you. I tried to present a hard but fair picture of the world as I see it. You will hear a lot worse than what I said if you succeed on the long route to publishing -- a lot worse.

Good luck to you though.
posted by GaelFC at 10:10 PM on February 27, 2007

We review cookbooks and get copies of them sent to us by publishers, and Gael has it exactly right. You'll need to have an interesting angle and serious cooking chops. That doesn't mean you need to be a culinary expert, but it does mean that you'll have to take care to publish tried-and-true recipes and indicate clearly why your version of Chicken Piccata is better than other versions.

I'll also say that lots of people are turned off by gimmicks, so instead of focusing on the idea that you need one, you should think more about originality and new contributions to the world of cooking.

And it's both hard work and an iffy business with lots of arcane rules. One story I can offer is that we were supposed to ghost write a cookbook for a very famous local restaurateur here in New York, and after he'd approached us and gotten us on board (to be paid out of his advance, of course), his publisher hired a different, in-house person for him at twice the cost. So what looks like creative control might really not be.
posted by NYCnosh at 2:48 AM on February 28, 2007

I too review cookbooks. I'm getting five more this week as a matter of fact.

While it's true that having a name makes it infinitely easier, it's still possible for a civilian to get published. You may or may not want an agent, for example, but they'll help open the door if you want to get published by the Random Houses of the world. That said, there are also plenty of smaller, focused publishers out there that will work directly with the authors. Do your homework. If your cookbook focuses on a particular region (Louisiana cooking, for example), find out if there are any publishers that focus solely on that.

In terms of content, that'll depend on your angle. But inject some personality and feeling into the book. Let readers get to know you. Anyone can slap together a collection of fifty recipes, and I can just as easily go to or Google a recipe for a particular dish. Why should I use yours? Why should I open your cookbook?

Lastly, a plea. No cute names ("Sammies" makes my skin crawl), and make the recipes interesting. Avoid the slop that Semi Ho Sandra Lee and her ilk promote. There's tons of that crap out there already, and even more recipes on the products themselves, such as a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.

Spend time with the cookbooks you like and make notes about why you like them. Similarly, look at ones you're not crazy about or wouldn't buy and determine why you don't like them.
posted by Atom12 at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2007

Thank you for the advice.
posted by magikker at 5:38 PM on February 28, 2007

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