Writing a recipe

So You Want to Write a Cookbook? Part IV: Getting Down to Work

Last month, we worked on assembling your dream team—from a photographer to food and prop stylists, recipe testers to a graphic designer. Your resources are now all in a row. You’ve got a slew of recipes developed. So what should you tackle first?



  1. Determine Your Deadlines

First and foremost, meet with your editor to find out your strict deadlines, since your publisher will want to see certain parts of the book earlier than others. They’ll also request sample recipes and photos for marketing materials and will want your artwork delivered at a very specific time. I’ve found that some editors will proactively hand you a schedule, while others will need you to coax it out of them. My best bit of advice: as soon as your contract is signed, set a kick-off meeting with your new editor and simply ask, “What do you need from me before my manuscript is delivered? And when?” Then, ask that same question about 10 more times in your meeting. From there, you can begin to formulate a plan that works for you.

  1. Create a Timeline for Recipe Testing

Start by writing a list of recipes for each chapter. Include about 10-15% more recipes than you need, as inevitably some won’t work as planned. Be sure to share this list with your editor and get confirmation to move forward. It’s much easier to have this discussion earlier on, rather than learn later that your editor doesn’t like the recipes you’ve been working on. Sauces-002-300x449   'Divide the number of recipes that you plan to test by the number of weeks you plan to work in the kitchen. For example, if I had a year to write a cookbook with 100 recipes, I would plan to test 5 to 6 recipes a week, giving myself about six months for testing and using the remaining six months to actually write the book. This kind of planning also allows you some leeway, should a fussy recipe require repeated testing.

And don’t forget—each week, after testing the recipes at home, you’ll need to transform your index card scribbles into a document that someone else can read and follow. How you go about this process is up to you. Will you collect a hundred recipes on scraps of paper, then sit down for a few months and bang everything out on your computer? Will you work through weekly batches? Or do you prefer to test and write up one recipe at a time? It’s completely up to your sense of organization and working style. Jenny-McCoy-5-bright-CD-550x821-300x447 Personally, I suggest going week by week. This helps you to write your recipes while they are fresh in your head—and provide all sorts of key tips with your readers that you might forget several weeks later. But whatever you decide to do, stick to it. You are going to have to crack the whip on this project. If you aren’t on top of the work, it will pile up and become completely overwhelming. And if your editor catches wind that you aren’t working in a timely and efficient manner…you are in BIG trouble.  

  1. Schedule Your Photo Shoot

This seems easy enough, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t. Talk to your photographer and prop stylist about their expectations. Make sure you plan enough time for all the food prep you will need to execute, remembering that you will need to make double or triple the amount your recipe calls for. (A cake might fall. Your fish might burn. Trust me, you’re going to want extra.) In general, the rule is to over-prepare.. Don’t forget to bring lots of extra raw ingredients, which also work well as props in your images. (Now do you see why having a prop stylist is helpful? Imagine all the food and groceries you have to manage. Adding props into the mix? Yikes.)


(My next post will cover organizing all the nitty gritty details for your photo shoot, including how to best organize the timing of recipes, choosing a location, refrigeration, essential tools and supplies, trouble-shooting, prepping your assistants, etc. Be sure you don’t miss it!

  1. Writing Your Introduction, Resource Guide, Acknowledgements, Etc.

I find that it’s best to save this for last. Once you’ve completed all your recipes, you’ll have a better sense of what to write in your introduction. Your resource guide will simply be a list of all the stores and vendors you used for ingredients, tools and other supplies for your recipes. But as you go along, it’s good to keep your acknowledgment page in the back of your mind; keep a list of every single person that has helped you with your book as you go along. You don’t want to forget anyone and have hurt feelings. That should do it! If your editor has other specific requests, plug them in where they best fit. Now stop reading this and start writing your book! Did you miss Jenny’s previous posts? See the links below:

 **Coming Soon! Part V: Recipe Writing and Photo Tips    

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