Thursday, January 17, 2013

Self-Publishing a Cookbook

Since announcing my cookbook, I've received some questions about how it came to be and what it was like to self-publish.  I decided to share my response (and then some) to one such inquirer here in case others of you are interested in how it has worked for me.  If you have further questions, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!

Hello!  To answer some of your questions, yes, I did self-publish my cookbook.  I didn't want the hassle of sending it out to publishers (and wasn't too keen on being shot down or being told I needed to change half of it or sitting around, waiting for responses).  I wanted to be in control of the process, content, and price (keeping it reasonable) and wanted to keep it simple.

The entire process took me about 9 months once all the recipes were written and ready to be compiled.  I went weeks and even months without having time to work on it and then went through periods where it was front and center in my mind every free minute.  It was a lot. of. work.

One of the major issues I struggled with was finding out what constituted my own recipe, one that I could publish in my own cookbook (and sell).  From various knowing sources, the clear response was that if you change any of the ingredients (or amount of ingredient) or the method, the recipe is yours and you need not site where the original recipe came from.  This didn't sit quite well with me.  Even though I was assured that many publishers of cookbooks follow this rule, I wanted to do it differently.  So, even though I altered and adapted many aspects of almost every recipe, I did go back and attempt to hunt down any and all sources so I could say "adapted from _________" behind each recipe.  Or, flat out say whose recipe it is when they came from family members.  The only problem with doing it this way is that some have asked me (while they flip through the cookbook in front of me), "Have you tried this recipe?"  Have I tried it??!  Well, yes.  In fact, I've changed it, made it dozens of times and in my opinion made it better.  So, doing it this way you risk people thinking you just compiled a bunch of other peoples' recipes.  Such is life.  So, if you decide to write your own cookbook, this is one area that deserves some thought.

Once all the recipes were updated and compiled in sections, it went very smoothly because I hired a wonderful graphic designer (a friend of a friend and fellow mom and cook).  She took my content and put it into a design software program.  She formatted the pages, gave me choices for the font and took my photographs and designed the cover (front and back) for me.  I also hired an editor (a great friend) to read through it and help write the copyright page, etc.  This was money I needed to have up front and I won't lie- it was nerve-racking putting our money out there (even when I felt good about where it was going) not knowing for sure if I would make it back (I'm almost there!).  So, after I gave final approval, the designer emailed the whole thing to a local printer who printed it for me.  I did go in ahead of time and chose the paper and cover quality.  Hiring professionals is an expense but I wanted the cookbook to be of good quality and pleasing to the eye- I wanted folks to get their money's worth!

Once it was formatted and the recipes were assigned pages, the next (giant) task was to write the index.  First, I needed to determine which ingredients (and what amount of said ingredient) or categories would warrant entry in the index.  Then, I needed to go through and highlight those ingredients.  Jamey deserves a lot of credit for helping with this.  He developed a spreadsheet and then entered recipe titles in different ingredient and category categories and then alphabetized the lists.  I then, with a proof copy of the cookbook (without an index yet), went through and assigned the recipes in the index their page numbers.  This was a big project and came toward the very end of the process, so it seemed that much more tiring but exciting at the same time.  A good index is so helpful.

Initially I was going to go with an on-line self-publisher (Lulu), but I was leery of the reviews I read about on-line publishers and didn't like having the price driven up by their cut.  What I did like about them was that they were going to handle all the shipping and customer service end of things which I was concerned I didn't have time to deal with.  Then, my editor friend (who has an etsy shop and does mailing for her own business) offered to ship them for me.  I couldn't turn down her offer.  So, I am able to pay her a bit from each cookbook, print locally and keep the cost in the range I feel best about.  It's been working really well and I love supporting a local business and friend instead of a large on-line company.

The one thing I will throw out there is that having an established blog with readers helped a lot in getting the word out and making those initial sales.  Things have slowed down a bit since Christmas, but my goal isn't to make gobs of money.  I wanted all my favorite recipes in one place and wanted to share them with others.  I kept my expectations low and realistic and this has lead to me (still!) being so pleasantly surprised when I sell each and every cookbook :-).

I hope this answered your questions.  Best of luck to you on your publishing journey!!

Jane Pin It


  1. Interesting. Can you give me a breakdown/ slight overview of the recipes? Is it mainly canning and preserving? Made from scratch? What percentage of recipes are meat related? (We try to cook mostly meat-free). We do use dairy and eggs.

    1. Let me see if I can help. Pages 1-140 are all recipes broken down into the following sections: "Breakfast & Brunch", "Breads, Muffins and Rolls", "Salads & Dressings", "Soups, Stews, Chowder & Chili", "Vegetarian Main Dishes" (17), "Main Dishes (with Meat)" (13), "All Kinds of Sides", "Pies", "Cakes & the Like", "Bars & Cookies", "More Sweets", and "Drinks & Sauces".

      Pages 141-161 contain the Preserving sections including "Canning Help", "Canning Recipes", and "Freezing". The remaining pages include an index and equivalents and substitutions page.

      Almost all the recipes are made from scratch. Above I noted the breakdown of how many in both the vegetarian and meat sections. I hope this is helpful. If you have more questions, just ask:-).

  2. I have to say, I find your honesty refreshing. There's a woman in our area who has published three cookbooks. I have been given all as gifts, and I do like the recipes. However, I wish she were more honest that these recipes are not necessarily "hers." As I go through them, I occasionally run across one that I've seen in "Taste of Home." She's made little changes--using fresh garlic as opposed to powdered, or something like that--I assume to follow the rule that you have to change it to publish it as your own. I kind of twitch when I hear people say, "Oh, this is from [name witheld]'s book!" as though she actually invented it. A great collection of recipes, sure. Her's? Not so much. Sorry, this is one comment that has to be anonymous.

  3. Readers: I was privileged to work with Jane on this most excellent cookbook. And I can tell you that she was so thoroughly organized, so motivated, and so flexible, that it was a pleasure to work with her.

    Jane: I have said it before, but I'll say it again...I am so proud of you!!!

  4. How lovely to have your own cookbook. I am very interested in learning more about it. Congratulations on this accomplishment.

  5. What a process! So interesting to read about. I always wondered about recipes actually being someone's "own". Pioneer Woman is a good example...I don't think she's made anything unique, just adds her own unique twist. Granted I haven't seen both cookbooks, but when I watch her show she is always cooking classics, recipes that have been around for years, with her own touch. I enjoy cookbooks that let me know the history of a makes it more interesting.

    Good job Jane...and when I have a little extra in the budget I would love to purchase a copy. I LOVE the cover design...gorgeous and colorful and inviting.


  6. Looks beautiful.can't wait to see it i print at a book store or library some where ,I can say ,"I knew her when...."


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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