The process of writing a cookbook can start with an idea, a recipe or a need. One day at the beginning of last summer, I turned to my husband and said, "I think I should write a salad cookbook." A short conversation later I was jotting down ideas and making a grocery list to start my recipe testing. Months later, after a whirlwind of testing and retesting recipes with the help of some faithful testers, it was finished. My husband and I self-published it, and my book, "Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons," was born.
Now I am working on a second cookbook. This time I am working with a publisher, but am still free to go about writing it in my own way. While I often wonder what I was thinking in adding such a large project to my already busy life, I’ve enjoyed entering the fray again. This time it will be a longer book, which means more recipe testing, more writing, and more creative thinking. I am thankful that I have until the August to finish it.
For anyone out there who is considering writing a cookbook, and for those who have requested information on what the process is like for me, I thought I’d share how I go about writing a cookbook.
What is your philosophy? Who are you writing your cookbook for?
The first thing that is important to decide is the philosophy behind your recipes. What is your style and whom are you writing the cookbook for? For me, I want my cookbooks to feature nourishing foods based on real food ingredients. I also want the recipes to be assessable to the average cook and family friendly. In other words, I don’t write my cookbooks with food critics and gourmets in mind. I write them because I want to get the average person in the kitchen cooking real food more often.
For my salad cookbook, I tried to limit the number of special ingredients. I only called for two vinegars in the whole book, which was very intentional. I wanted to show that you can make a wide variety of salads with just a few basic pantry items on hand. Of course, fresh produce is always a must, but I decided I didn’t want to call for a huge variety of vinegars and oils in my recipes to make my recipes more budget-friendly. (You can hear about my first book by watching the above video).
After I had decided what my food philosophy was, I jotted down a rough outline of the book, and started filling it in with recipe ideas. Then I started to get specific. With such a huge project, you can really hold yourself back if you feel like you have to plan out every detail before you start recipe testing. I find that the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place once you’ve gotten your hands dirty in creating recipes.
Jump into recipe testing
I start with the recipes I already use on a regular basis. The vast majority of them are either my own recipes, or ones that I adapted from old family recipes. From there I branch off into the recipes that jump out at me. As I continue to think, test, and retest, I keep asking myself, “Is this a recipe that I want to remake myself?” Basically, I want my cookbook to be a book that I am constantly using myself. That’s been true for my salad cookbook; I use it all the time. My goal for my next book is the same.
Set an end goal and figure out a weekly goal
When I self-published, I set a time goal to have the book transcript finished (with my next book, I have deadline agreed on between me and the publisher). I figure out how many recipes I need to finish each week to meet that goal. It’s very important that you pace yourself.
Use recipe testers
I find is very helpful to have a large group of recipe testers. I split them into four groups, and then send them one or two recipes each week (for my salad cookbook, I sent them more). Having at least four people in each group ensures that someone tests every recipe.
Having to write out my recipes and send them off each week really helps me keep track of my progress and also gives me a good feel on how easy to follow my recipes are and how well others receive them. It can be tricky; I have a few recipes that get rave reviews by one person, and a not-so-great review by another. I try to figure out whether a mistake was made by the one who didn’t enjoy the recipe, whether or not they normally like that type of dish, or if they just simply didn’t enjoy the recipe.
I have a feedback form that they use that helps guide them in giving me the type of information I need to know. Recipe testers are invaluable because they point out errors like forgetting to inform the reader when to add a certain ingredient in — and to give me encouragement that I am on the right track when I get good reviews. It does create a lot of extra work for me, but I’ve found it is more than worth it.
Just do the next thing
Writing a cookbook can be an overwhelming task if you look at all that is still before you. I have had to be purposeful about just looking at my weekly goal, and take it one recipe at a time. By just doing the next thing, I keep myself on task without overwhelming myself.
Like everything, writing a cookbook takes determination, focus and a lot of hard work. But I've found it is rewarding work.
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