how to write a cookbook

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook

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how to write a cookbook


April 2016.

That’s when I wrote this post telling all of you I was embarking on a journey to finally write the cookbook that I had always wanted to write.  When I decided to put it out there, I really wasn’t sure how this would all roll out. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe I wanted it to be as romantic as I had imagined it would be.

So, we will begin at the beginning…

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

“Who’s your publisher?”

That’s the first thing people ask.

Most people assume I have a publisher.

I don’t.

There was no interest – which is totally fine. I get it. I’m not a celebrity, I don’t own a famous restaurant, I don’t have a million followers on Instagram and my “thing” isn’t anything trendy…I’m not gluten-free, paleo, vegan, Whole30, Keto or any of the other popular diets going on out there. I just want to share tried and true recipes that have been in my repertoire for years and show people that it’s really not scary to bake up something delicious!

So, in 2016, I started writing.  At the time, I thought I would write about my Bake it Forward Project (for those of you that don’t know about it, here it is in a blog post where I explain it all).  I envisioned a recipe book peppered with stories of the people that have been touched by this mission.  I wrote a 50 page proposal and sent it off to a few publishers.


The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

But I kept plugging away, writing and testing recipes like a mad woman. I kept putting it out there on social media that I was writing this book, but then I got stuck.

I got stuck because people that I met kept saying, “Omg, I can’t wait for your book…it’s going to be so funny!!”

Uhhh, it’s not.

It was going to be about stories…and lots of them were going to be a bit sad.  I thought, “now what do I do?”

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

I had a conversation with my editor (I hired my friend Fina Scroppo, an amazing editor, a published cookbook author and a dear friend) and she raised a good point.  She said, “Will people buy this book because of Bake it Forward, or will they buy it because of you?”  I thought about it and then thought, my followers, who I’m sure love my initiative, will inevitably by it because it’s mine. So Fina said, “Why not make this a Just Crumbs book about baking that has a chapter that speaks to your initiative?”

Once I wrapped my head around that idea, everything became so clear…my humour could shine through, I’d have a chapter dedicated to my project and I know I would give my audience what they wanted.

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

So, I hired a designer and started editing recipes, photographing the last few things I had left to do (after photographing in excess of 120 pictures over a two year period) and set a deadline of October so I would have a book in my hands, ready to sell for the Christmas season. This was going to be epic.

So, I had to start thinking about what the cover would look like. Enter in my friend Betty, photographer extraordinaire, wise business woman and another dear friend.  She came over to take some photos of me that I might be able to use for the cover or for media. I decided then that I would hire her to edit all my photos so they would look the same (I had recently bought Lightroom and was in the process of learning how to use it to edit my photos but, to be honest, I had to pick and choose where my time was being spent). I was so happy when she agreed.

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

The next day, Betty called and had “the talk” with me.

Before I tell you what Betty said, I need you to know that if you don’t have a friend like Betty (and Fina who is the same when it comes to laying it out on the line), you need to find one.  Good friends will always support you…but amazing friends will always be honest…even if it hurts!

Betty had looked at my photos and said at least 60 had to be re-shot.  To my eye, they looked good.  But, Betty, who has done print work before, said they weren’t sharp enough. So I had to basically start from the beginning.

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

Betty also made some pretty valid points.  She talked about what percentage of my audience will actually buy the book based on research (it’s lower than I had imagined) and that I had to make sure this book would sell to a broader audience….aka, people who didn’t know me from Adam.

My friends that heard I have to start again are freaking out and thinking that this has set me back. Realistically, it has set me back (my new print date is March) but mentally it hasn’t set me back at all. If there’s one thing I am, it’s resilient. And I also love hard work.

So, I’m good.

This gives me a chance to test the recipes…again.

It gives me a chance to create a good marketing plan that will sell the book once it’s done.

It gives me a chance to set up all the proper meetings to make sure I have some shelf space in the bookstores.

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

So, having said that, these are the lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1.  Make Sure you Have a Definite Niche: I’ve always had a problem in that I want to be everything to everybody (even though, I know that’s a recipe for disaster).  You need to make sure you aren’t writing a book that’s been written a million times before – with no unique angle.  But, having said that, you also don’t want to write a book that’s NEVER been written before (I’m sure there’s a reason nobody has ever written a book called “101 Ways to Bake with Pickle Brine”).  Write something your audience will want and that you can easily sell to (without effort). When you know who your audience is, it will be easier to sell to them.
  2. Be Okay Asking for Help:  Whatever that looks like for you, ask for help.  Don’t want to do the grunt work in pitching to a publisher? Hire an agent. Not sure you can take quality photos? Hire a photographer (a lesson I learned the hard way). You get it , right?
  3. Make Sure Your Patience is Topped up: You will hit a lot of road blocks along the way…and that’s okay. If I didn’t have patience, I would have lost my mind when I was told I had to re-shoot my photos. I’m not even at the finish line and I’ve come up against some hurdles…and I’m sure when I get to the actual selling part, there will be even more.
  4. Make Sure You Start With an End-Date:  The date will change but if you don’t have somewhat of a plan, you will procrastinate until the end of time. As long as you’re okay with change, this step is crucial to getting things done – especially when you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck.  The ever-so-popular “I’ll just do it tomorrow” mentality sets in pretty fast!
  5. Have a Good Elevator Pitch: I’m still refining this but, I really need to get this done – and polished! This was a great point from Fina who said, “When people ask you about the book, you can’t say ‘, uhhmmm, it’s, you know, a baking book with really great recipes’.  You want to say something that is going to make them go home and order that baby!!” What sets you apart? What problem are you solving for your consumer? I never really looked at it that way, but it’s brilliant.
  6. Make Sure You Have a Marketing Plan in Place:  Once the book is in your hands, how are you going to sell it? Are you going to do a series of classes and sell the book that way? Well, then put feelers out to see who would be willing to host you. Are you planning on getting a bit of press? Well, especially if you don’t have a publisher, you better figure out who you’d like to reach out to (oh, and btw, assume many people will say no…that’s a given).
  7. Look At Your Social Media:  I just want to say, I don’t have a huge social media following. Yes, 10K is a lot to some people but so many foodies out there who are landing deals have 50K-500K. But, I’m not letting that get the better of me.  I know I have 10,000 loyal followers who I have built a good relationship with – for many reasons. I have always been truthful…admitting my mistakes and owning it.  I have always tried to engage with everyone (yes, it’s a lot of work, but I really do feel like all of you are my best buddies so when y’all ask me a question, I try really hard to answer in the best way I can). I know there are a lot of people out there that don’t engage, but I can tell you from experience that the personal connection is that much greater when your audience has developed a sense of trust with you.  It will even help you with brand work later on (I try to work only with people that resonate with me and my brand and I think my audience trusts me when I say something is good…they know I really mean it!!).
  8. Find Mentors Along the Way:  I have always had a problem with this because I have a hard time asking for help. So when I want to reach out to someone who has gone down this road and pick their brain, I stop in my tracks because I don’t want to be a bother. But then I realize how I feel when people ask me for advice.  Its’ very humbling and I will tell them everything I know.  So I did start to reach out (to a few people) and they have all been so lovely – sharing so much knowledge with me that it actually makes me teary to think they have been so kind to me.  And if you’re not ready to reach out just yet, find your mentors online.  I have thousands of virtual mentors…they just don’t know they’re my mentors!!

The Ugly Truth about Writing a Cookbook Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

So, there you have it. An honest post about the trials and tribulations of writing a cookbook – so far.  I’m sure there will be more as I maneuver through this process.

Stay tuned…

And, one final note on these pictures… Just so you know, these are the “fails”.  Yes, they’re good, but not “good enough”.

How does that saying go? Slow and steady wins the race…

So much truth!