8 Tips For Writing a Cookbook

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A recipe book is deceptive. It looks so simple: you put together all the recipes you’ve created, add a cover with a delicious photo, and voila! Move over Nigela Lawson! Yes, it’s undeniable that recipe books take less to put together than some other genres, but they still need structure, consistency, and pace.

To achieve this, it’s important to look at what will tie your recipes together, and once you’ve created that framework, focus on the detail of how each recipe is written. Readers have subconscious expectations on how the material in each genre is put together; how it flows, and along which route.

Like a vital ingredient, putting your finger on exactly what is creating the right mix can be difficult, but you will know quickly if it is missing. It’s the same with recipes. They have an unspoken order that allows the reader to flow along, enjoying the creativity, rather than searching frantically through the cupboard for extra ingredients halfway through the flambé.

Knowing these eight little tricks can help you look at your recipes through your reader’s eyes, and fill in the hard-to-spot holes that might be lurking.

1. Table of Contents: How Will You Break Up Your Recipe Groups?

  • Meal types, such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack
  • Ingredient types, such as meat, fish, salad, or something more quirky maybe
  • Seasons, such as winter warmers, summer salads
  • Dietary requirements, such as vegan, gluten free, or diary free

2. Cook Your Recipes

I know, this seems a bit obvious. Of course you know how to cook the recipes, that’s why you wrote a book of them! Please humour me though with a little role play and cook the recipes as if you were the reader. For some people this idea will invoke eye rolling and groaning, but it’s the best way to check the recipes are correct. The point of this step is to NOT cook your recipes from memory. As the author, you know the recipe so well, it's easy to make assumptions about what is written there and what your reader knows. Little omissions, like adding salt and pepper, or turning the food midway through cooking, can slip through without you noticing. 

Cook exactly what you have written. Go about it systematically and check each recipe. Measure out only the ingredients that are written down. If you missed out including an ingredient, or wrote tspn instead of tbspn, you’ll soon pick it up. Likewise, check that the method actually tells you every single step. The trick is to do only what the written version says, not what you, as the creator, 'know'. You could always ask someone else to cook your recipes too – that can work even better!

3. Check You Haven’t Missed an Ingredient

Going through each recipe, read the method first. Then as you are reading the method, check off each ingredient. That way you can be sure you haven't missed any ingredients.

4. Put the Ingredients in Order

List your ingredients in the same order you will use them. If the reader has got the frozen mangoes out, he/she doesn’t want them to defrost before putting them into the sorbet.

5. Choose a Language

Will your recipes be Australian, British, American? Each has their own systems of measurement. A cup is 250ml in Australia, 240ml in the USA and 284ml in Britain. A teaspoon is also different in all three! Then there are the names of foods. Will you be using snow peas, mange tout, or sugar peas? Once you’ve chosen the language that best suits your market, stick to it. And make sure you change your computer settings so it will spellcheck in the correct language – even the spellings are different!

6. Standardise Your Measurements

Standardise the way you write your measurements, and stick to it. Will you use 1tbspn, 1 tbspn, one tbspn, or one tablespoon? My pick is the second one, it’s easiest to read, but whichever you choose, the important thing is that you maintain consistency. Create a set of ‘rules’ for yourself to follow. This list of rules will be invaluable as part of your style guide for your editor or proofreader, who will need to check your work.

7. Pick Great Photos

Great photos make your book extra special, but you have to be careful about what appears in the photos. Showing ingredients with a company name or branding on them gets very complicated from a legal point of view. I suggest you follow the lead of cooking shows. If you need one cup of coconut flour for the recipe, viewers shouldn't see the packet. What they should see is the flour pre-measured in a little bowl, which is then tipped into the mix. This avoids the legal issues, but also allows your reader to see how much of each ingredient you are putting on. For instance, for one cup of coconut flour and one teaspoon of cinnamon get yourself a set of matching bowls in a solid colour. Pre-measure your ingredients into the bowls, then take your photos.

8. Add Extras

Decide what else you want to include with each recipe. Do you want a little guide to say if each recipe is gluten/vegetarian/egg free etc? How about ratings of difficulty or time taken to prepare? Maybe some tips for serving? Work out what suits your style of cooking, and create a system that you can apply to each recipe.


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Alex Fullerton

Alex Fullerton is an author’s consultant and self-publishing specialist at Author Support Services, based on a pineapple farm in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Australia. She has spent the last sixteen years working with business people to create concise, compelling, and comprehensive books that complement their businesses and increase their professional standing. Alex is supported by a dedicated team who provide a full self-publishing service, from planning to printing and promotion. www.authorsupportservices.com