5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Writing the Genius Recipes Cookbook (2024)

Today: A crash course in cookbook writing from the author of Food52's own Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook (on shelves today!)—plus, some sneak peeks inside the book.

Until last year, I didn't have any idea what writing a cookbook would look like, and how it would be different from the thing I'd already been doing for years: writinga weekly column about recipes that will change the way we cook (spoiler: It's very, very different).

In January of last year, I had a looming manuscript deadline, an almost-final table of contents, and the blessing of my bosses and Ten Speed Press to go. Below are some of the lessons I learned along the way, the things I wished I knew, and the ways it all worked out.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Writing the Genius Recipes Cookbook (2)

1. You can't talk about snowicanes or Angry Birds in a cookbook. Or at least you probably shouldn't.
An article (or blog post) is rooted in season and time, and you can say things about the weather, what's at the greenmarket, what just happened over the holidays. You can make quickly-dated references tothe hot new iPhone game Angry Birds or that TV show everyone's talking about, Friday Night Lights. You can, within reason, do whatever you want.

In a cookbook, you want every headnote to make sense, no matter when you pull the book off the shelf, whether it's next week or next month or 10 years from now, and there are no embedded links to help explain what Janet's hair looked like on Three's Company and how that has anything to do with waffles.

2. Not every dessert can be chocolate.
In the column, I can write about one chicken in milkone week, andanother a fewweeks later. You don't mind, or maybe even notice—not with chickens this good! I can call it a "series." But in paging through a cookbook, you want a balance—believe it or not, you'll get bored with too much chocolate, and suspicious if I include 12 recipes from Marcella Hazan (I wish).

3. Shooting photos for a cookbook is like shooting for a weekly column x100.
The photos on Food52 are horizontal, because computer screens are oriented that way. Cookbooks, including this one, tend to be vertical (as do magazines). So we had to come up with new ways to use the space and some types of shots just didn't work as well. Imagine the cauliflower shot above with loads of blank space above it—negative space is cool and all, but it starts to feel very far away from the food. And for the first time, we started renting extra dishes, surfaces, and tools from prop houses, because if you kept seeing the samegray plates or wood table, you might feel more inspired to nap than cook.

More:Behind the scenes of the Genius Recipescover shoot.

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The pages, in various states of tidiness (Left: Kristen, the messy. Right: Ali, the tidy.).

4. Welcome to editing!
Once an article is published, you rarely have to read it again—it's onto the next. Until you write a cookbook including many of those articles. Then there's the developmental edit, the copy edit, and first, second, and final "pages" (where you get to see the words, photos, and recipes together on massive sheets of paper, like above). Coming face to face with years of your own words can be illuminating (wow, you really like the word "laze", don't you?), a little stressful, and a huge opportunity to get better. Even with the recipes that I was writing about for the first time (which made up about half the book), I read and edited each headnote at least 5 times, and could probably recite them aloud if you asked me to.

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5. You need help.
To keep up with a once-a-week column, I can usually do it all at my own pace. If I want to edit in the middle of the night or test 7 recipes on a Sunday, no one is going to say boo, as long as the articles keep going up on Wednesday mornings. With a book, you need a lot more help.

To find and test all the new recipes I needed for the book, my assistant Emily Stephenson and I had astanding Saturday date in the Food52 kitchen for several months, and she pillaged her own cookbook collection to help me round out the book (you can thank her for the kale panini below and the one-pan beets and greens above, among others).

On photo shoot days, I couldn't cook everything and also be on set finding props and styling the food, so I was relieved to hand the cooking over to my ace kitchen team ofJennifer Vogliano and Allison Buford(plus Emily). I also needed a small army of readers and editors and re-testers to make sure the recipes worked and the headnotes made sense—especially my brother Billy, who didn't let me get away with anything, and my editor Ali Slagle,who watched my back the whole time. If you don't let other people help you and gut-check you, you're missing out on the feedback that will make your book better. Let the people help you.

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Photos by James Ransom, Bobbi Lin, and friends

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Writing the Genius Recipes Cookbook (2024)


What are the rules for writing a cookbook? ›

These are the key steps to take when writing a cookbook.
  1. Choose Your Concept. As mentioned above, owning your concept is a vital stage of the process. ...
  2. Plan Your Structure. ...
  3. Create A Proposal. ...
  4. Write Your Recipes. ...
  5. Test Your Recipes. ...
  6. Edit The Text. ...
  7. Finalise The Design. ...
  8. Proofread And Index.

What is the best program to create a cookbook? ›

Here are a few to look at to get you started on a project such as this:
  • Blurb. Use one of Blurb's free and easy cookbook templates to make your cookbook that looks professional and beautiful. ...
  • Cook'n Recipe Software. ...
  • Heritage Cookbook. ...
  • Create My Cookbook. ...
  • Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software. ...
  • TasteBook.

Is it hard to write a cookbook? ›

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.

What makes a cookbook successful? ›

The quality of your recipes and photography will play a huge part in whether your book sells well or not, and marketing and PR efforts are crucial to creating awareness for your cookbook. But most of all, if you have the drive to write a cookbook, you can bet success will find you.

Do I need to copyright my cookbook? ›

If you have a collection of recipes, for example in a cookbook, the collection as a whole is protected by copyright. Collections are protected even if the individual recipes themselves are in the public domain.

Is it legal to post a recipe from a cookbook? ›

If it's still under copyright, you must transcribe it from the book. Change a few words. If the book is in the public domain you may post a photo or copy directly from the book. The recipe itself cannot be copyrighted or patented.

Where do I start when writing a cookbook? ›

Come up with a cookbook idea. Find a literary agent to represent you and your idea. Write your idea into a cookbook proposal. Shop the proposal around to different publishers.

How many recipes do you need to sell a cookbook? ›

I recommend that your cookbook have a minimum of 50 recipes. You'll want to test these recipes yourself until you're very happy with the results and then ask others to test them. This part is tempting to skip, but don't!

What is the most popular cookbook size? ›

The average landscape cookbook size is 11 × 8.5 inches with a horizontal page orientation, but you may also opt for smaller print sizes such as 9 × 6 inches and 8.5 × 5.5 inches. The commonly used square cookbook size is 12 × 12 inches, but there are other print sizes available such as 8 × 8 inches and 6 × 6 inches.

What should the first page of a cookbook be? ›

Front matter
  1. Half-title (showing only the title of the book)
  2. Card page (list of author's previous books)*
  3. List of contributors*
  4. Title page.
  5. Copyright page.
  6. Dedication*
  7. Epigraph*
  8. Contents (the table of contents should be headed up with just 'Contents')
Jun 3, 2021

How many recipes are in an average cookbook? ›

Billable pages include recipe pages, index pages, and additional personal pages beyond the 4 free pages. Q: How many recipes are in an average cookbook? A: The average cookbook contains 150–250 recipes.

How do I write my first cookbook? ›

Start with a broad idea of what you'd like your cookbook to be about. Organize and refine the recipes that you want to use in the book and have people test your recipes. Once you're happy with your cookbook, find an agent or publishing company to produce your cookbook.

What makes a cookbook attractive? ›

All good cookbooks are clear, concise, and easy to understand. Several design elements can help make your hardback cookbook both more attractive and simpler to use. Here are a few helpful ideas for design elements you can choose to enhance your cookbook's appeal and make it easier for the reader to navigate.

What are the 7 questions of a cookbook reviewer? ›

Here's my questions–who knows, maybe they'll help you the next time you're having brain freeze in the Cookbooks section.
  • Question 1: Is it useful? ...
  • Question 2: Is it thoughtful? ...
  • Question 3: Is it new? ...
  • Question 4: Does it tell a story? ...
  • Question 5: Is it well-designed? ...
  • Question 6: Is it focused?
Nov 14, 2011

What skills do you need to be a cookbook author? ›

Other important traits include curiosity, persistence, initiative, resourcefulness, an accurate memory, the ability to concentrate and produce quality work under pressure, good research skills and organizational abilities, and excellent grammar, spelling, writing, and editing skills.

How do you write a cookbook without plagiarizing? ›

The cookbook writers should not copy the cooking method or illustrations used as part of the cooking procedure to avoid copyright infringement. They need to use their image, which helps them avoid copyright-related issues, and it even offers protection to their works from getting copied or plagiarized.

Can anyone make a cook book? ›

Copyright can protect a published recipe in the way it's written, but not the way it's made. So, as long as you create your own versions of the recipes by rewriting them with your descriptions of how to make each, and you use your own images, yes, you can publish them in a cookbook.

What should be in first page of a cookbook? ›

The only required front matter is really a simple title page and a copyright page. We give descriptions of the various pieces and provide basic examples below, but we highly recommend pulling a few of your favorite cookbooks off the shelf and looking at how they handle the front matter.

How much does it cost to write a cookbook? ›

What is the average cost of self-publishing a cookbook? In general, it can cost between $1,000 to $20,000 to self-publish a book. This price varies depending on the additional editing, book cover design, and formatting services you choose.

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