How to Write a Cookbook – Secrets from a Top Seller
Are you the sort of person who loves cooking and entertaining? Do your friends and family relish those unique little twists you put into every dish? If so, the chances are that somebody will have said: ‘you should write a cookbook.’
That sounds like a great idea. But how do you go about it? How do you write a cookbook?
The best way to find out about anything is to talk to an expert. So we spoke to Melissa Maris, one of the top cookbook sellers on Payhip. And being the lovely generous person she is, she was happy to share some great tips.
Choosing Recipes to Write
The obvious place to start is selecting the recipes you want to include when you write your first cookbook. Melissa believes in variety and accessibility.
“I choose recipes that include both easy and more complex options. If it’s all too easy, or all too complex, there might be a gap in what the audience needs. I love to include recipes that fit the theme of the book as well (desserts, dinners, salads, etc.) while also including helpful side options such as toppings and side dishes.”
When you think about how we live our lives this makes a lot of sense. Sometimes we just want something quick and delicious. And sometimes we want to push the boat out and do a full meal with all the trimmings. So why not give people all those possibilities in one cookbook?
A Feast for the Eyes
It’s often said that people eat with their eyes (not literally, of course – that would be crazy). But how important are photographs when you consider how to write a cookbook? Melissa is in no doubt.
“100%! I’d say the top thing people love most about my books is that they have images of the finished recipes. Creators can see what it is they can actually create. Recipes are more likely to be used when there’s a photo – especially if you can add photos along with each step. A recipe book without photos is like a night sky without the moon and stars!”
How to Structure Recipes
If you want to write a cookbook that will sell it helps if recipes are easy to follow. So what structure does Melissa recommend?
“I like to structure recipes with two main sections: an ingredient list and an instructional list. Within each we can separate certain parts of the recipe. For example, for a salad recipe I like to have one list of ingredients for the actual salad portion and another for the dressing.
“That way the reader doesn’t have to wonder where the dressing ingredients begin, even if it’s mentioned in the instructions. This also helps if someone just wanted to make one portion of the recipe such as the dressing. They can just glance at the list for the dressing and not bother with the salad part.”
How Much Detail?
Having said that photos are important, what about the words? Are instructions a big factor?
“The instruction list should include a detailed description for each step along the way. The more descriptive, the easier it will be for the reader to understand. Make your recipes easy to follow and people will use them. And if they like using them they’ll become fans who can’t wait for your next cookbook to come out.”
Recipe Writing Inspiration
When people talk about how to write a cookbook they don’t necessarily tell you where to get inspiration for recipes. Melissa has a few tips.
“I love to look around at other recipes and think how I could change them and make them more unique. I like to look at photographs and try to envision how I would make that dish without having a recipe at all – what would I do to make it look the way I see it in the picture?
“The library, Pinterest and even just an internet search can bring up countless ideas that you can play around with and make your own!”
One Cookbook or a Themed Series?
You’ve probably noticed that some cookbook writers like to have a theme that they cover over a series of books. Does this matter, or is it OK to go for one-offs?
“This is a great question and I have thought about both over the years. I have a series of meal plans but I also have specific books as well. I think both can do well.
People often ask for a ‘volume 2’ or want to see what new fresh ideas I might have along the same theme. I would also say that if you have A LOT of recipes, you could split them into two volumes, but I like to jam pack each of my books with as much as I can!”
Meals You Enjoy
We all have different tastes and enjoy different foods. Does this matter – and should you ‘write for yourself’ or try to follow trends and what other people like?
“I personally focus on what I like most and what I use the most – because that’s what I eat on a regular basis and what works for me. I also try to add some recipes that are a little out of my ordinary menu and get creative because hopefully someone else will enjoy that creation.
“My recipe books are based on the diet and lifestyle that helped me solve multiple health issues. So I like to provide recipes that I would personally make in my daily life to continue enjoying the benefits.”
How to Write a Cookbook that Stands Out
There are plenty of cookbooks and cookbook writers. How do you carve out your own niche?
“It’s gotta be unique. I always ask my followers what they might be looking for, so I can fill a gap that they need filled.
“A recipe book needs to help bring a result to the audience. They need a reason to want to buy it, not just to support you, but to solve a problem in their life. If the recipes you have in your book helped YOU solve a problem in your life, share that!
“Readers will resonate with your personal story about how your recipes helped you in some way. They will want the same results that you got from them.
“Another way for your book to stand out is the photography and design. If it’s too busy or low light images, it won’t be as appealing. Bright and very colourful photos with excellent lighting are essential for a good recipe book. But it also depends on the style of photography – I’ve seen some stunning darker images with shape and beautiful contrasts.
“Stunning photos make people intrigued. I try to have the most interesting image on the cover because it’s the first thing someone will see. If they think ‘I wanna make THAT tonight!’ you’re well on the way.
Build Your Audience
When it comes to building your audience, Melissa’s advice is simple:
“Social media! Tease with the deliciousness and share some recipes to let your followers have a taste of what you can offer in your book.
“People love seeing you make the recipes in reels, videos and in your stories. Taste test the recipes on camera. Get people to tag you in their posts if they make one of your recipes.
“Getting active on social media is the top outlet to get your message and recipes out into the world.
“Also, stories sell! Tell stories around your recipes; how you created them, how they helped your life or what problem they helped you solve (maybe you healed from acne, maybe they helped your kids eat more vegetables).
“It will be easier to sell if people resonate with your story. Your struggles are their struggles, and your solution will become their solution too! And… who doesn’t love a good story?”
Selling Your Cookbook
This is maybe the easiest part. Your Payhip store is easy to set up with your own custom domain and it’s easy for buyers to buy and download your cookbooks. There’s always someone to talk to if you need help. Best of all, you can use the free forever option so there’s no monthly or annual subscription.
Hopefully this has inspired you to realise your ambition and given you some insights into how to write a cookbook that sells. And once you’ve written your cookbook, Payhip has everything you need to help you sell it.