This is a post from a few years back. I wrote it right before my first cookbook came out. I thought I'd re-post it as way to introduce my next post.
I've been in the publishing business, in one form or another, for over 20 years. But creating a cookbook was a new experience. I've
learned so much about cookbooks that I will never, ever, look at them
the same way again. A good cookbook is a work of art. Here are the
surprising top five things I've learned:
1. There are literary agents that specialize in cookbooks. Also, publicists specialize in cookbook authors.
2. Every publisher has its own recipe style. For example, one house may
want you to use numbers, like "1/2" cup, another one might prefer
"one-half" cup. (There is also a whole style book just for recipe writing–RECIPES INTO TYPE. )
3. I've written in many venues and in several different styles of
writing, but recipe headnotes were the most challenging thing I've ever
written. (The headnotes are the text that comes before the recipe,
often giving serving suggestions or a story about the recipe.) They
need to be interesting, practical, and not too culinary-cutesy or
gourmet artsy-fartsy. When I read a cookbook, the headnotes are often
the part I read first. I go through the whole book and just read the
4. Recipes need to be professionally tested—or at least, this cookbook
needed that. I am not sure how testing is handled when it's a chef's
book, but this restaurant cookbook needed to be professionally tested
in order to see how the recipes would work for the home cook.
5. Recipes need to be gone over and over again meticulously. Recently a
friend relayed a story to me about her husband making a dish that
called for heavy whipped cream. He used cool-whip, which, of course,
ruined the whole dish that otherwise had been prepared perfectly.