Skip to content

writing your own cookbook

Many people dream of turning their recipes or blog into a cookbook and I hope to answer some of the questions you might have about the process here. Below are some pointers that might help you out, but I’ve curated several excellent links from around the internet from experienced cookbook authors and editors whose advice I found particularly valuable and insightful. Interspersed in this post are a lot of questions for you to ask yourself. There are no right or wrong answers, just points to consider and to help you refine your idea as you pursue your cookbook goal. These are not meant to discourage, but to encourage you to think about your project so that you can best position it, in case you decide to try to go for it and get published.

[Note: This post was revised and updated in 2018, to reflect some of the changes and innovations in the publishing industry, including some self-publishing options.]

Here are ten tips to help you get started:

1. Start With A Great Idea

Come up with an idea. And while you’re at it, make it a good one. Perhaps you have a bevy of good recipes. Or you want to be famous and have a show on television. Maybe you want to be rich. All are reasons to write a book. But the best reason is that you want to share your great food and terrific stories with readers. If you look at your favorite cookbooks, each one has at least one recipe that’s amazing, that you make over and over again. If it’s not the recipes, it’s the author’s voice ringing through and you like thumbing through that book for the writing or the photographs. In either case, there’s something about it that excites you.

As someone once wrote about Julia Child “…everyone wants to be her, but no one would dream of putting in 10 years of obsessive work on a cookbook.” Yes indeed, Julia spent ten years writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Are you willing to spend ten years laboring over a manuscript? That’s probably not likely with today’s one-year deadlines, but you should believe in your idea enough to obsess over it 24/7 while you’re writing it, and be willing to spend a big chunk of your life devoted to it as you go.

Note: If you want to contact someone who is a cookbook author, agent, or editor to pick their brain, be aware that you are asking someone to take time from their own work and life, to consult with you on yours. Read Modern Etiquette: Asking for a favor, which has guidelines on how to approach someone. Keep inquiries short and sweet. Get to the point – don’t just write to someone and say, “I want to write a cookbook. Can you tell me what I should do?” And for the sake of everyone’s eyes, avoid superfluous text and use spacing between paragraphs when you write to someone. People have limited time so respect that. If someone is a professional editor, ask if there is a fee for the initial consultation if you have a lot of questions and want to set up a time to talk. If you want to be treated as a professional, treat others the same way.

2. Find Your Niche

The keywords these days are saying that you’re doing “seasonal and regional foods,” which isn’t enough anymore. Everyone does that—or says they do…so you’ll need to explain what makes your approach better. There are thousands of cookbooks that come out every year. Think about what makes you buy the cookbooks that you reach for often. Head to your local bookstore or online and see what is out there to see if you can offer something new or different. Sorry to say, “One Hundred Meals from Tammy Terrific” can’t compete with “One Hundred Meals from Rachael Ray.”

Evaluate cooking trends. Scope Amazon and cookware shops. Is there a new item on the horizon that might need a cookbook to be sold alongside, like a panini grill, a home smoker, a blow torch, or an ice cream maker? Are there any foods coming down the pipeline that might need recipes or merit further explanation? Soy, gluten-free, whole grains, and home-cooking are all popular right now. But what’s next? Hamburgers? Ceviche? Paleo? A low-protein diet? What’s the next big thing?

3. Find An Agent

While it’s not imperative to have an agent, most editors and publishers give top priority to proposals submitted by an agent. One editor told me she gets twenty proposals a day and doesn’t have the time to even look at most of them let alone respond. The best way to find an agent is to look at cookbooks that you like, check the acknowledgments, and take note of the agent. Then do some research to contact them with your proposal. Read query letter pet peeves from agents, to get a handle on how to approach one. Agents are swamped so be concise. If you don’t hear back, call or write a short message to inquire back. John Grisham had a book rejected sixteen times before it found an agent and other famous authors have similar stories.

A good agent knows exactly where to send your proposal and is on good terms with the top editors. If an agent accepts your manuscript or proposal, that means they can sell it or will try to. You may get passed over by an agent or editor for no apparent reason (my very successful ice cream book was passed over by an editor because I didn’t have a show on Food Network) – but they may have a similar proposal on their docket or are working with another author in the same genre. (Same with editors. You may simply get rejected based on the fact they have a book in print or in the pipeline on the same subject.)

Done right, with the help of an agent, your well-written proposal can land on an editor’s desk the next day. A good agent will also help a writer shape that proposal and they handle on the contractual and legalese. Not that they have a crystal ball into the future, but they do have their fingers on what’s selling and what’s not. As mentioned, you can sell a proposal without an agent but a good one will understand your concept and work on your behalf to get your book sold. Finding an agent is a crucial part of the puzzle and in my opinion, the one that’s most important.

4. The Proposal

When I tell people I spent around eight months just working on just the proposal for my ice cream book, they’re shocked. But editors want to see a full and clear vision of what you’re going to write about. That’s especially true for a first-time author, but is also the case for someone who’s written several books. Each book is a brand new project and requires a fresh start. And often the editors have to answer to higher-ups in marketing, sales, etc…and don’t necessarily have the last word, so it needs to be the best it can be.

Included in the proposal should be extensive samples of content (stories), the tables of contents, recipe list and sample recipes if applicable, as well as a winning biography of you. And just as important as the content of the book, include an outline for a plan for how the book will sell once it’s published, and what you’ll be doing to promote the book. (Most first-time, or even well-established authors, are expected to handle a lot of their own promotion after the book is published.) The marketing team at a publishing house will review the proposal to see if it’s saleable, so the more you can give them, the better.

Most importantly, this is the time to give this your very best shot. Be concise and self-critical, and only send in your best effort. Editors are simply too busy to take the time to sift through a lot of material so your proposal should be, as they say, a “killer app.”

(Some cookbook authors send sample treats with their proposal. But one editor told me she got a very good proposal which was accompanied by some homemade cupcakes that were so terrible, she found them, half-eaten, and tossed in the trash of the employee break room where she left them for the staff. Not a good sign.)

Proposals are really hard but form the outline of your book. If you need help, you can hire someone who acts as a coach who can help focus, write, and edit with you. Ask about their success rate of having their proposals accepted by publishers. Ask authors for recommendations.

TIP: Publishers these days love numbers. You’ll need to include Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter followers, as well as blog traffic. When your proposal lands at an editor, they need to “sell” the idea to the marketing team and nowadays those numbers have become important. They’re not vital, but the more followers that you have, the stronger your proposal will be. If you don’t have high numbers, don’t be discouraged. Explain your social media and blog engagement with readers, which will improve your position. If your numbers are low, explain how engaged with you those followers are. (Add proof of some sort, if you can.)

5. Give It Time

From the time you start writing down ideas, the proposal is written, the book sold, the book written and edited, and then printed and released, most books take much longer to come to fruition than people imagine. Plan on at least two years from the moment you start your quest until you see something tangible.

Most books have a one year lead time, which means you generally have a year to write the book. Then it can take another year to edit, re-test recipes, design and photograph the book. Finally, another year passes before the book is on the shelves.

6. Paying For It

Although it sounds tempting to live off your writing, for most writers, it ain’t their ship coming in. According to Dianne Jacob, in Will Write For Food, in her survey, she notes a first-time author can expect to get a $5k-$25k advance.

But even if you get, let’s say, $50k – that might sound like a lot of money. So figure your agent gets 15%, the IRS gets 27%, then figure $5k in expenses like food costs, printer cartridges (why are those things so darn expensive?), and equipment. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll go through a lot of pajama bottoms too, the preferred uniform of those who work at home. So that’s approximately $25,000 for a good 1-2 years of full-time work. A popular baking author once told me, when I asked if she made money writing book, “Well, it wasn’t my ship coming in!”

Most people who write books do something else to supplement their income: teach classes, lead tours, consult, have a restaurant, or go to real jobs where they have to get dressed and leave the house for each day. Others marry rich, which is not a joke (!)

7. Going Inside and Outside Your Blog to Refine Your Writing Skills

If you have a blog, use your blog to practice and refine what you do. Since anyone can start a blog, use yours to go out on a limb and write something outside your comfort zone. If you’re used to writing recipes, for example, do a review of a product, visit a food producer, conduct an interview—whatever. Keep a theme going, but challenge yourself on occasion. If you want, keep your blog private and just use it for practice. Very few writers just start tapping a keyboard, or pick up a pen, and write something magnificent. I’m the exception. (Just kidding!) Most good writing is editing. Step away, then come back later to your writing. Or ask a friend who has good sensibilities, that you respect, to read what you wrote and get some feedback.

Another option is to use a writing coach. This can be money well spent if they get you motivated to write the book you want to write.

Note: If you’re going to ask someone for help, you should thank them properly. A lot of people give advice freely and graciously; I can’t even begin to thank those who helped me. But do take the time and have the courtesy to acknowledge the assistance of others. It’ll come back to you in spades and you’ll gain the respect and trust of others for acknowledging their contribution to your success.

8. Sell It

Some of this I mentioned before, when thinking about your proposal. But once it’s done, it all comes down to selling. There are lots of great ideas for cookbooks out there, but if you want to do a book, you need to have an idea that’s saleable since most publishing houses are now owned by larger, global media corporations who are looking at the bottom line. But there are independents still out there that do superb cookbooks. See what’s out there, look at what publishing houses are releasing and what people are buying. Differentiate yourself from the pack if necessary, or go with the flow.

Say your book is all about making great salads. Great! Does the world need another book of salads? No. Do you have something extra to offer? Is there something special about your salads that make them different? Are you using a new product or vegetable to make those salads? If you do, that could be your hook.

People often want to publish treasured family recipes. If you are thinking along those lines, make sure to explain what makes your family special, and why are those recipes. Just because friends ask you for them, you need to explain in your proposal that ten- or twenty-five thousand other people will pay $30 for a book of them. Is your family from an ethnic group noted for something special (ie: Korean pickles, Swedish cordials, French dips, etc)? Is there something in your family’s culinary history that stands out?

Italian cooking is another popular topic. You may have a lot of great pasta recipes. But how does that make you different from the multitude of established (and already published) Italian cooking authors, like Faith Willinger or Marcella Hazan? Find what makes you different from the rest of the pack. Is it your take on it? Is it your personality? Are there techniques that are groundbreaking or truly exceptional that you can share?

9. Do It Yourself

If you want to write a book for a specific audience, like your blog readers, or you’re not having any luck finding an agent or publisher, there are plenty of options nowadays to self-publish In the past few years, many options have opened up, such as publishing an e-book through Amazon, Lulu, CreateSpace, Blurb, and Apple. Some authors also do Kickstarter campaigns to raise funds. Be sure to compare the various e-book options to see what percentage they take. Also, Kindle books have limitations in terms of formatting, so they may not be appropriate for your cookbook project if it is design-rich. 

The upside is that you don’t need to go through a traditional publisher and you have complete control over every aspect of the book, but self-published books need to find an audience so they sell best if you have some sort of outlet for sales, such as a blog or another medium. Another aspect is publicity. You won’t have a publishing house behind you pushing your book and making media contacts so you’ll need to take that on yourself. Still, no one’s as concerned about your book as you, and there are many self-published authors that sell a good amount of books on their own.

10. Do You Click?

In these cost-conscious times, if you have photographic skills, that can be a huge plus. Cookbook photography and styling is very expensive, costing $500 and up, per photo. So imagine the budget for a book with fifty, full-color professional photos. (And often the price of the book reflects that.)

If you are a good photographer, or are willing to learn, that can work to your advantage nowadays. If you can do a good job and save the publisher some money, that just might be a major plus in your favor during these cash-strapped times. Include samples in your proposal, but make sure they’re the very best you’re capable of doing.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged. Julia Child was rejected by almost every publishing house because Mastering the Art of French Cooking wasn’t considered a salable book. Later in life, another of her books was turned down, which became a huge success as well. The folks who wrote The Silver Palate Cookbook came up with the idea over drinks at home one night and had no idea what they were doing. But they took a risk, worked hard, and it paid off: They got the book they wanted, it met with great success, and the rest – as they say – is history.

This is just a general overview and there are lots more to consider if you want to write a cookbook. But I hope these questions and suggestions give you a good introduction to the process – good luck!

Useful Books for Cookbook and Recipe Writers

Will Write For Food

Recipes Into Type (out of print, but worth tracking down)

The Recipe Writer’s Handbook

These are some links that have very helpful information for those aspiring to write their own cookbook. Some are about first-time author experiences, which chronicle their journey to getting their first cookbook published:

The making of my book, My Paris Kitchen.

How to Finally Write Your Nonfiction Book (NYT)

The Book Diaries: The Book Deal (A Brown Table)

The Business of Cooking Up a New Book (Lifeandthyme)

A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent (Cooksplusbooks)

10 Things We’ve Learned Writing Cookbooks (The Lee Brothers, Food Republic)

Diana Henry: How to Write a Cookbook (The Telegraph)

5 Research Steps Before You Write Your Book Proposal (Jane Friedman)

Submission Requirements (Literary Agent Lisa Ekus)

How to Write a Book Proposal (Jane Friedman)

So You Want to Publish a Cookbook (Justin Schwartz)

Before You Write that Cookbook (Cookbook Editor Susan Friedland)

A Recipe for Success: Tips for Self-Publishing Your Cookbook (Publisher’s Weekly)

From Blog to Book: How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality (Chronicle Books)

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal (Blogher)

How to Get a Cookbook Published (Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen)

Turn Your Blog Into a Book, Part I, and Part 2 (Gina Trapani of Lifehacker)

Chronicle Books’ submission guidelines as well as those from Ten Speed Press.

Five Secrets to Getting a Book Deal (Alan Rinzler)

Turning your blog into a book (Problogger)

So You Want to Write a Cookbook (

How to write about food (Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet)

Trying to Find a Literary Agent Is the Worst Thing Ever (Publishers Weekly)

Cookbook editor Justin Schwartz writes When is a cookbook deal too good to be true?

Media Bistro: Information and forums for authors & writers pitching ideas.

Modern Etiquette: Asking for a Favor (Design*Sponge)

Read how one man’s book became a #1 bestseller—even though it was turned down by 13 out of 14 publishers.

Questions & Answers with Dianne Jacob, writing coach and editor, about writing a cookbook. and iUniverse both offer self-publishing and distribution options.

Tools and books: Resources I recommend for budding food writers.

Writing a Cookbook Proposal (101 Cookbooks)

How to Write (and Sell) a Cookbook Proposal (Katie Parla)

Ask the Publicists: What’s the one thing I can do for my book? (Lithub)



    • Bob

    There are so many great cookbooks out there now, and that’s not to mention all the recipes that can be found on the internet. I would dream of adding to them. Besides, my recipes are just from others that I change to suit my own tastes.

    • Phoodie

    Oh my stars…iUniverse has a free publishing program for out of print books! Someone call Alice Medrich & Emily Luchetti so we can have copies of ‘Cocolat’ and ‘Stars Desserts’ for less than $100 each!

    • Tami

    Thanks for this very interesting and educational post. This is a subject I, and I’m sure many many of your readers have wondered about being people who obsess about food. It’s good to see some clear and useful tips of tackling the idea of writing a cookbook from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

    • Judith in Umbria

    I knew most of that and was discouraged. Now I’m downright depressed.

    • Michele

    David, I’m really encouraged by one particular piece of advice that you have so wisely laid out for us. I think it will help me achieve all my dreams and ambitions.
    Yeah, that’s right. I think I’m just going to have to marry rich.

    • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    David, this post is a great example of why you are so popular – you have great information, and you SHARE it without problems. Bravo!

    • David

    Phoodie: Many authors don’t own the rights to their books (!) so only if they go out of print is there the possibility they can buy them back. I know Emily’s first two books were just reprinted as one book (and I just noticed an original copy of Stars Desserts for $35 on Amazon…but I noticed one for $841.50! I hope Emily saved a case…), but I’m thrilled to have one of the few copies of Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies, one of the best books ever. Alice is amazing.

    Michele: Sorry, I’m taken.

    Sara: Am happy to share, and as you can see from the links, I’m not the only one : )

    Tami: Thanks for the compliment. Am not sure I have all the answers, which is why I encouraged folks to ask a lot of questions. It’s a lot of work writing a book, much more than people think, so you really need to want to do it. But it’s quite rewarding and there’s nothing like opening the box and holding the first copy of your finished book in your hands.

    • Delilah Hinman

    David, great advice! I’ve had several friends and family members ask if I would ever make a cookbook of my recipes. Now I feel inspired to do a family cookbook. Thanks for the tips :)

    • martina

    I have a question for people who don’t want to write their own books but maybe want to be involved in the process. Is there such a job as a recipe tester and if so how does one go about it? I know you have loads of volunteers to help with your books but can it be paid worked too?

    • Jeremy

    I asked the same question to all my interviewed guest on my blog, you know I have some ideas it’s just how and when do I have time? Vacation in Europe should help, all except the dollar is toilet paper!

    • David

    Hi Martina: Yes, people do hire professional, as well as amateurs, to test their recipes. Some folks use ‘professionals’ to help develop the recipes, and they get paid accordingly, and some use ‘regular people’ to simply make the recipes and report back to the author. That’s what I do. (I don’t use professionals since I want to see the results of the ordinary person)

    I either ask friends who are dedicated home bakers and I’ve had a few readers test recipes too. If you’re interested in doing it professionally, you might wish to visit the IACP website. It’s a good networking organization.

    Also—ry contacting your local newspaper’s food section or working/volunteering in a local culinary school where authors pass through and teach…then asking them if they need assistance,
    mentioning that you’d be happy to help out!

    • Garrett

    Thank for this, I started writing my proposal a month ago and it is slow working… Nice to know I’m not just slow and it takes more time than I thought. :)

    • Deb

    David, thank you so much for writing this piece. It opened my eyes to many publishing elements I hadn’t thought of previously. I’m just at the beginning of the process, writing in my spare time when I’m not working. So, thanks for letting me know I shouldn’t quit!

    You’re blog has been a huge help! Thanks.

    • shauna

    Dammit! I forgot to marry rich.

    But he sure feeds me well.

    Thank you, David. Even though I have the book done (but have yet to hold the first copy in my hands), this is enormously helpful to me. Back to the grindstone, now that the (not-rich) wedding is over.

    • Steamy Kitchen

    America’s Test Kitchen also accepts recipe testers.

    Oh and I thought you were making millions on your books. Come’on you lead such a glam life you’ve got to be raking it in!!!

    • Sean

    I know from our efforts to create a small, self-published book (less than 30 pages) that it is a perfectly Herculean effort.

    But it is great fun, and one I am eager to repeat. Just as soon as I marry that rich man.

    • ulterior epicure

    Dave, thanks for the helpful post. I’ve toyed with the idea of publishing a cookbook, but am still trying to collect my thoughts and ideas – and recipes. Again, congrats on your latest publication. I wished you had stopped by Kansas City on your tour… I’ll have to catch you in Paris.

    • ginger

    1 – What camera do you use?
    2 – Are recipes copyrighted? Or can I pick my favorite 20 and publish a book?

    • David

    Ginger: You can read more about recipe copyright issues here and here. Although it’s not cut-and-dried, if you’re writing a book, you should attribute the recipe. It enhances the recipe to note where it’s from and if it’s not your recipe, you should give attribution or note where you found inspiration.

    (You can see in Dave and Kate’s Brownie how I gave attribution to Katherine Hepburn’s brownie recipe but also included my two cents. It was a fun compromise.)

    And this is my camera…I love it!

    –And to the others who commented who may be discouraged from writing a book…don’t be!

    The process just takes more time than most people realize (like blogging) but with determination and patience, and a lot of hard work, you can do it if you really want. If it seems too daunting, the self-publishing options sound like a lot of fun and you have complete control over the project.

    …and I get dibs on your first copy…
    : )

    • ginger

    silly me. found answers to all my food photography and recipe copyright questions in the links you provided. found some excellent resources and want to THANK you!

    • Roland Czekelius

    Great coments and feed back. I am a proffessionell Chef living in the Caribbean after 22 years in the USA. For years now I have been toying around about a caribbean cookbook with some history and great pictures. I have done my research , now I am in the need of a assitant writer, and editor to present the project to a puplisher. Perheps you can guide me

    • MisRo

    Thank you, for all the links and wonderful words of encouragement. I am in the process of writing a family cookbook myself. And thinking of self publishing and ways to distribute, like at the next reunion ;-0) Also your local church!

    • Sherry K Letzelter

    I would like to find out how I could get paid to test recipes for cookbooks in progress, or for magazines, or websites?

    Where would be a good place to start?

    I am a personal chef and struggling to keep my business a float and I want to continue with my cooking to help support me and my family.


    • David

    Hi Sherry: Aside from magazine and newspaper test kitchens, which likely have hiring departments, (although most have been dramatically scaled back), to meet cookbook authors, you might want to join a culinary organization such as Dames of Escoffier, IACP, San Francisco Professional Food Society, or The Bakers Dozen.

    Some are regional, and others international. Google the names to get contact information and visit their web sites. Good luck!

    • Chef H

    David, Do you think it is best to first find the agent, or first write the proposal? (Obviously, it seems that the niche/concept needs to be determined before either of those steps.) Many thanks for sharing this fabulous guide on writing a cookbook!!!

    • david

    Chef H: It’s best to approach an agent with an outline of what you want to do. It doesn’t need to be long, but should include the structure of the book or what you intend to write about. And most importantly, who is the audience who will buy the book. Publishers and agents really need to see a marketing plan, so include that as well.

    I strongly recommend Will Write for Food to anyone aspiring to write a cookbook. The author really lays down what you should include.

    I did an interview with Dianne Jacob, who wrote the book, here on the site, which you might want to check out.

    • msmarmitelover

    Thank you for this. Very useful at this time.

    • msmarmitelover

    thanks for this

    • jaime

    Thank you, David.

    What a generous, and helpful article.

    • Divina

    A thought of writing a cookbook came to mind this morning but actually been thinking about it before. I realized that over the years, I do love to browse at cookbooks at home and in the bookstore more than visiting a clothes or shoe shop and that includes the magazine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

    • Eva

    Thank you for all the information. There is so much to consider. I’ve wanted to write a cookbook for years with my family’s favorite recipes. My mom was an amazing woman and self-taught cook.


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...