Cookbook: How to Write Your Own Family Cookbook

Several weeks ago Susan e-mailed me to ask how to get a cookbook published. This is a question that I get frequently and here is how I answered her. “I don’t know what to tell you. Publishing cookbooks the traditional way is a dying template. If you are the hottest thing on TV, a publishing house will be interested in you and back you up, if you are not, they don’t care.  I just got my last book published the traditional way. I don’t think that will happen again. You should explore publishing the book yourself and selling it on line. Or perhaps you should start blogging to get your name out there, include recipes, and then follow up with the cookbook.” I promised her that I would update and post the following piece I wrote a while back about publishing a family cookbook as that information might be of help.

Create Your Own Family Cookbook

The recipes your family loves are an important part of your heritage and a very special gift to preserve and pass along to future generations. These days it’s easier than ever. Recipes and photos can be collected via the internet and publishing software for your home computer makes it possible to design and print the finished book or to send it electronically to a local copy shop or a community cookbook publisher for finishing. Here’s how:

1. Make a plan: Before you start there are several important things to decide.How do you want the book to look? Do you want the recipes to be hand written or printed? Do you want the book to be in full color, partial color or black and white? Do you want a loose-leaf book, spiral-bound book, tape- or velo-bound book or a booklet? Keep your answers to these questions in mind when researching your production options.
How many pages do you want to include in your cookbook? How many copies of the book do you want to print? These two questions affect the cost of your cookbook, so you will need to have some idea of these figures when negotiating production costs.
How do you want to produce the book? Do you want to design and produce the book on your home computer, work with a copy shop or have it produced by a community cookbook publisher? Software is available that will help you produce your cookbook at home. Copy shops and community cookbook publishers offer their own guidelines to make the job easier. There are many web sites that offer services for family cookbook authors. Be sure to check out costs and production time for several different options before making your decision.

2. Collect the contents: It’s time to ask family members to test and send you their favorite family recipes along with any stories or traditions that make the recipes special. Ask for photographs and title suggestions as well. Those who have a home computer can scan the photos and scan or type the recipes to make your job easier. If all recipes will be printed, send contributors a sample recipe for style. Remind them that it is important to use standard measuring cups and spoons when testing the recipes and to include details such as the sizes of baking pans and the volume of casseroles. Be sure to set a deadline and send postcard or e-mail reminders a week or so before recipes are due.

3. Organize the book: Now that you have collected the recipes, stories and photos for your cookbook, you can decide on the Table of Contents. Do you want to arrange the recipes by generations (e.g. 1850- 1900, 1900-1950, 1950-2000), by family members (Great-Grandma’s recipes, Grandma’s recipes, Aunt Sue’s recipes), by food categories (e.g. Appetizers, Vegetables, Meats), or something else? Where do you want the photographs and family stories to go? How do you want the recipes organized within chapters? Choices include: alphabetically by title, seasonally, or something else. Do you want an index? Do you want to include blank pages so additional recipes may be added by hand?

4. Produce your cookbook: If you have made arrangements with a copy shop or community cookbook publisher to produce the book using hand-written recipes and original photographs, organize the materials and any introductory material you are providing following the publisher’s directions. Be sure to make a copy of everything for your own records. If the book is being done electronically, organize the materials in a file. Check all recipes to see that they are in a consistent style and that all essential information has been included. Recipe style guides that are available from bookstores and on-line book dealers are helpful with this. Deliver the materials on a disc, CD, or by e-mail as prearranged with the producer.

5. Enjoy: Share your unique cookbook with other family members, giving it as gifts to special friends, passing it along to your children and grandchildren and knowing that this important part of your heritage has been preserved. Once your cookbooks arrive, you might want to consider putting it on line or creating a web site that includes several recipes and sales information.


On Line Information:
Use your favorite internet search engine to find community cookbook publishers, copy shops, and other families’ experiences in writing a heritage cookbook. The following addresses offer information on researching and writing family history as well:

Style Guides:
The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Revised and Updated, Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, Jane L. Baker and Antonia Allegra, John Wiley and Sons: 2001.
Recipes Into Type: A Handbook for Cookbook Writers and Editors, Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon, HarperCollins: 2000.

Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, Dianne Jacob Marlowe and Co.:2010
Recipe for a Cookbook: How to Write, Publish, and Promote Your Cookbook, Gloria Chadwick, Copper Canyon Books:2008.
The Recipe Collector: Collect, Organize and Share Recipes With Family and Friends, Brent T. Huesers, Lusions Publishing: 1997.
Meals and Memories: How to Create Keepsake Cookbooks, Kathy Steligo, Carlo Press: 1999.

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4 Responses to Cookbook: How to Write Your Own Family Cookbook

  1. Susan Ramie says:

    Dear Sara,

    I just printed out all the information you gave us on how to get our cookbook published. I think this is extremely useful information and again, I thank you for answering my question online and helping me see my recipes get published.

  2. Susan Shonk says:

    Sara – THANK YOU for posting this information.

    I am in the process of writing a cookbook and will be publishing it myself. Mainly, this is a gift for family and friends. My husband is doing the cover art work (he is a wonderful artist) and I am taking all of my own pictures of the food. I also have a blog, but have hesitated to post detailed recipes on it, but I do share tips, hints and some generic ideas.

  3. Sherry Johnson says:

    Hello Thank you for this information, I have a 22 year old daughter and a 23 year old neice who recently moved in their own place. I am constantly getting calls from them asking me how to make this or that dish. So I decided I would write all of my special recipes down for them, but I decided I would love to make all my recipes into a cookbook for them. I want to call it Sherry’s family and friends recipe cook book. I have been working on it going on 2 years now and wanted to know if you had any suggestion of where I can send my recipe to print and make the book, not for publishing just for family and friends?

  4. Tamara M. Smith says:

    Thank you Sara for all your hard work on the t.v. show! I love it! I live in Michigan and appreciate the fact that you attended the U OF M! I have been watching you for years now. I used to watch when you were on THEFOODNETWORK and now watch you and others on CREATE t.v. Thank you for the information regarding writing your own family cookbook. I am interested in that also. I am writing a book with my almost 12 yr. old grandson who has been cooking with me since about 3 or 4 yrs. old! He loves cooking, and, eating too!

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