Who doesn’t have a cookbook in their house? I know I have far too many, but I can’t help myself when I see a new one with beautiful images and yummy recipes. The beauty of a cookbook is that the result of using it is great-tasting food.
Cookbooks are one of the most popular non-fiction genres in publishing. They are in the top five selling categories for e-books on Amazon, despite the ease of googling for a recipe. There’s something comforting about opening a book, choosing a recipe based on pictures of mouth-watering food, and putting it on the stand as you are cooking.
You might buy a cookbook because it’s written by your favourite chef or a famous person, it teaches you new skills in the kitchen, it contains a new style of recipes you want to try, or you trust the author to write recipes that work. Whatever the reason, cookbooks are staying popular.
There are many ways to write a cookbook, but there are some elements that are important to get right.
If you look through the cookbook section of your bookshop, you will notice there are many different types of cookbooks on the shelves. Some have recipes for specific foods or diets, some showcase specific cuisines or cultures, and some cookbooks have specific types of people in mind, such as busy parents, those new to cooking, those on a tight budget or those who want to take the next step in their skill level.
From the outset, you will need to be very clear on the theme and the target audience for your cookbook and stick to it. If a recipe doesn’t fit the theme, don’t include it.
Parts of a cookbook
There are certain parts of a cookbook that are essential, and some that are optional. You should think about what you wish to include as you are compiling your recipes. An editor will be able to help you get it looking polished and professional and iron out any inconsistencies or confusing elements.
All non-fiction books consist of the front matter, the main body text and the back matter.
The front matter is similar to other non-fiction books. The order should be similar to the list below. The optional pages are marked by a *.
Main body text
The main body of text can begin with a message from the author with a personal message, information on the background of the cookbook and any interesting features of the cookbook. Some authors' introductions contain extra information such as special utensils or tools required, or health information.
In general cookbooks, the chapters should follow through the order of the courses of a meal, from appetisers to dessert. Baking can come first or last. Within each section, recipes should follow a logical order, such as from simple to complex, alphabetically, or grouped by main ingredient.
In speciality cookbooks, the recipes should follow a logical order, for example by type, main ingredient or skill required.
This is the most important part to get right, for obvious reasons. There are specific ways to format recipes and specific items to include. These are detailed in my article on how to write recipes for cookbooks and food blogs.
Conversion tables and a bibliography go after the recipes.
The index is always the last thing in any book and it’s the same in a cookbook. Creating an index is a very specialised skill and is not easy to do correctly (even with the Word function). I would recommend hiring a professional indexer to create the index.
Many recipes that are used in cookbooks have been passed on or handed down through families.
If the source is known and the recipe is copyrighted, then it is important to obtain permission in writing from the owner and credit them in the headnote. There is more information on how to do this on the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office website.
Where it is impossible to find out the source of the recipe, it is still very important to ensure that the recipes are written in your own words.
Images can enhance the final look of the cookbook as well as give the reader a good idea of how the finished dish should look or entice them to make a certain dish.
It is important for original images to be used or to be aware of copyright for images obtained elsewhere. All images should be captioned.
What an editor will do
Once you have written your recipes, you will have the basics covered. If you are compiling a cookbook, you will want to make sure there are no errors that will take away from the professionalism of the book or will make it hard for a reader to follow. There would be nothing worse than someone with hungry mouths to feed starting to make your recipe and they get frustrated following the recipe, or, worse, it fails. It’s likely they will not trust any more recipes from your book and not recommend it to others.
There is a lot more to recipes than just the basics.
To make sure your recipes are clear and consistent, an editor will
To make sure this is done correctly, I would recommend hiring a professional editor who has experience in editing cookbooks.
What an editor will not do
An editor won’t test your recipes (though I've been known to try some really tasty-looking ones), so it is up to the writer to make sure that what is written will actually work and taste good. A cookbook editor will use their experience to know to query when the recipe says to add half a cup of salt, but more subtle things may be missed. This is up to the writer to get right.
An editor will also not seek permissions, unless this has been agreed as part of the contract.
If you have written a cookbook in New Zealand English and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help. I love editing cookbooks.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers of fiction and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your book is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your book shine, please contact me on: www.clearlingo.co.nz/contact.
I would love to hear from you.
Related article: How to write recipes for cookbooks and blogs
Marja Stack is an editor and plain language consultant based in New Zealand. She is the owner of Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, which caters to all writers of non-fiction books, business publications and cookbooks. For more information or enquiries on how she can help you make your writing shine, please see her website.
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New Zealand English Series
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The Editing Process
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- The revision and editing process
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- What to expect when you get your manuscript back
- How to order the pages of a book
- Fact checking fiction writing
- Formatting your manuscript for submission
- How long does it take to edit a book?
- Why I belong to editing associations
- How to write recipes for cookbooks and blogs
- The basics of writing a cookbook
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- How to use basic Word Styles
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