What are the ingredients necessary for crafting a well-loved cookbook? How much time is needed to produce a book worthy of adding to our personal collection? What do publishers look for when they're acquiring a book? We asked some heavy hitters at some of the top cookbook publishers for their recipes for cookbook success.
The Main Ingredients
The most essential ingredient in any successful cookbook—besides the precise food styling and photography, and the clever editorial layout, and the imperative cover image and unique jacket treatments, and the marketing strategy and game-changing press mentions—is of course, the author. Their perspective, their passion, their personality.
So if you’re deciding which topic your cookbook should cover, don’t be afraid to get as niche as possible—and think about what you are best at. By bringing your readers into your world by sharing your expertise, your book will stand out on the digital and literal bookstore shelves.
This part varies wildly across the publishing industry—just like any recipe would in the kitchen. Take cookies, sometimes they need a cool 72 hours-worth of refrigeration before baking, while other cult classics only require 1 hour—both yield equally delicious results, but the prep time is significantly different. Same goes for cookbooks; they can be churned out in as little as 6 months (Dovetail Press), on average one and a half to two years (Abrams Books, Artisan Books, Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press), or upwards of several years (Phaidon Books).
Ultimately the length of time depends on the process and scope of the book being produced. For example, Phaidon Books publishes many hundred page books like Tacopedia (318 pages) and Noma (368 pages), whereas Abrams Books hovers 200 to 300 pages with titles like Simple Fare (192 pages), Salad for President (272 pages), and Everything I Want to Eat (280 pages), versus Dovetail, which focuses on smaller, yet sizable titles like ¡Buenos Nachos! (166 pages) or Brew (160 pages).
Like a dish crafted with thoughtful intention and calculated balance, a cookbook cover must make an immediate and intriguing visual impact. Cookbook covers are paramount for an obvious reason—they will make or break sales.
Sqirl’s Everything I Want to Eat cover took three to four months, multiple conference calls, and hundreds of iterations before landing on the final design; and Food52’s very own single-subject cookbooks, Vegan and Baking, went through multiple directions and cover treatments before landing on the ones that felt right. Covers are the portal for communicating the inner content, you’ve got one shot (no pressure)—so make it count!
The Eaters' Appetites
To all you fellow cookbook aficionados out there, what are elements that make you pull the trigger in purchasing a cookbook? What criteria is the most important to you—the engaging writing, the tried-and-true recipes, the delectable photography, the eye-catching cover? This recipe is meant to get you to grab the cookbook, and publishers want to know what you’re craving…