Our new series explores the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing in different genres and guides you through the process. We also interview some of our best selling writers on the field who are happy to share their own experiences with you.
In the first part of the series, we are introducing Kendall Harrison and her genre: cookbooks.
The first steps: finding your audience
Why do you cook? Who do you cook for? What are your favorite ingredients? If you have a strong answer to all of these questions, you are able to find your niche market.
Are you cooking with your kids, are you nuts for nuts or you just like to eat some filling deliciousness, calories be damned? “My inspiration was my love for cooking.”, shared Kendall Harrison. “My mom is my inspiration. I’ve learned a lot from her cooking techniques and recipes. I cook the way I do because I love my style of cooking, which is healthy food.”
As everybody has different tastes, you just have to find the people who like your cooking and write for them. Try to explore the market and find a gap. I’m still looking for warm and hearty veggie recipes that are not soups, and I’m happy to pay whatever it takes to the cook who creates them for me. Nobody is going to take your cookbook off the shelf if it has Cookbook as the title. Be as specific as you can.
Most of the best-selling cookbook authors started as food bloggers: they are using social media to build a group of followers, people who regularly visit their website for new ideas and who are happy to share their recipes on their own social media sites before dinner. (Click here to read about ebook promotion on social media.)
Creating a conversation with your readers also helps you to explore who they are and what do they like to read about. It is key that you know what you are writing about: you don’t want disappointed mums to go after you. “The taste of any food is in the eating,” added Kendall Harrison. “Combining ingredients to prepare a meal isn’t the main thing but knowing the ingredients that give the sweetest taste and flavor when used.”
Once you are a big cheese, it is going to be easier to find new readers and sell your book. After the release, you can take off some of your recipes and direct your readers to the webstore where they can buy your book. It is also common to leave only the ingredients on the blog, best in the form of a shopping list. Follow The Telegraph’s advice here on how to bring home the bacon while writing a food blog.
As you are publishing an ebook that is available for everyone in the world, be aware that people can buy different things in the supermarket and use different measurements. While you don’t have to make compromises, you can help out the readers who do: Is there any way to replace Israeli couscous? Can I use curry powder as substitute for garam masala? (Yes, there is and yes, you can.)
Keep in mind that the food market is extremely competitive. Apart from making fantastic food, taking great pictures of it and writing a cookbook that is fun to read, you have to think about marketing strategy from long before you start writing your cookbook.
The cookbooks I buy are usually hardcover, heavy, printed on glossy paper and beautiful. For five minutes, leastwise, until I sprinkle them with olive oil or tomato sauce. Try balancing a one pound cookbook in one hand while stirring soup with the other and keeping your 3-year-old safe with your leg. And try the same thing with your smartphone: it’s no wonder e-cookbooks are thriving on the market.
If you choose only e-publishing, you save on printing (in case of a full-color cookbook it can be thousands of pounds), distribution and warehouse costs. If somebody would like to spill some coffee on your cookbook or light it on fire, many bookshops (e.g. Amazon) offer a print-on-demand service for them. You can also send one to your grandma.
Why self-publish your cookbook?
Finding a publisher might be a lengthy process savored with rejection letters. The agents you meet are going to ask you questions like: is anybody going to buy this? Are you a valuable investment? If your answer is a confident “yes,” you can read here about how to secure an agent who can try to find a publisher for you. If you find a publisher, they will edit and distribute your book, but also keep the majority of your revenue.
Paying someone to publish your book (assisted self-publishing, also known as vanity publishing) is hardly sustainable if you have a cookbook to publish. The pictures will not only increase your editing costs but the minimum printing quantity as well: full-color books usually come with a minimum order quantity of 1000 pieces.
Although services like the Cookbook Publishers seem attractive at first sight (you hand in the draft, and they do all the work), the estimated costs are high, and the possible profit is unrealistic.
We’re not saying self-publishing is going to be a piece of cake, but at the at least you don’t have to share your earnings with anyone. Kendall Harrison never tried traditional publishing: “I chose self-publishing because it is simple, easy and straightforward with no bottlenecks. My advice is to focus on the goal, which is getting your books out there for others to benefits from. Also not to lose hope when things don’t happen the way you anticipated.”
Self-publishing an ebook can be easily done for completely free (although time-consuming), but if you would like a quality product, you are recommended to hire somebody for editing and proofreading your book, for creating and editing photos and for layout and cover design. (See our guide for self-publishing costs.) The market is competitive: you have to aim to be the best.
Photos are so powerful that simply researching for this article made me hungry. Without great pictures, your cookbook is less likely to sell, and with bad pictures, your cookbook is more likely to be ridiculed on social media.
Since your readers won’t be able to smell the food or taste it, the picture has to do all the work.
Photographing food is science on its own: you can find very useful tips about finding the right angle and composition at Cookie and Kate, a step-by-step at BBC Good Food and a how to make brown soup mouth-watering guide from the Digital Photography School. Some of the advice comes up everywhere: take the time to create the perfect photo and learn how to edit your own pictures with PhotoShop or Gimp; use good lighting and simple props.
If you were to edit your draft with all the pictures in a Word document, you would probably go old by the
time you finished. Thankfully, you can always hire layout editors to do the job for you (you can find people on Fiverr for very cheap). If you decide to edit it yourself, you can find free BookWright and Bookify templates at Blurb, templates for Microsoft services at the Brighthub and InDesign templates at Template.net. If you are using a template, your cookbook might look similar to others’, but you can’t go wrong either.
While the options are plenty, there is no need to get scared: Kendall Harrison used Word to edit her book and did the whole process by herself. Nonetheless, she is our most selling cookbook author. You can find her books Whole Food Diet, Delicious & Irresistible Gluten-Free Recipes and Gluten-Free Meals Prepared with a Slow Cooker at major ebook stores such as Apple, Google, Amazon, B&N, Kobo through the largest libraries like OverDrive, Odilo to indie ebook retailers.