good cookbook

Good Cookbooks: What Makes an Outstanding Cookbook?

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

October 19, 2023

What makes a good cookbook? At one time or another, even the most casual chef has tapped into the power of a good cookbook. Whether it is a family treasure, passed down through the generations, showcasing time-tested recipes from loved ones, or the first cookbook on the shelf that proclaimed “quick and easy recipes” that caught your eye, most people own at least one compilation of recipes.

Still others collect cookbooks to improve their menu options, to learn what a celebrity’s kitchen habits look like, or simply to have a book that introduces exotic foods into their repertoire. But the appeal of a good cookbook is more than just a great recipe or beautiful photographs of food, although those certainly are a part of why we love them.

Books full of recipes can be so much more than just a listing of ingredients and steps to follow. Before you begin the cookbook printing process, discovering how good cookbooks draw the readers in just like a great story will help you craft a gorgeous book that others will want to read just as much for the recipes as for the soul behind the food.

A Good Cookbook Tells Stories

Even though the focus of a cookbook should always be to deliver an assortment of recipes to hungry readers, a good cookbook will tell readers a story. Cookbook authors may be accomplished chefs themselves able to weave together a compelling story about each recipe’s origins, creating a narrative that loops in readers and cooks along the way. But cookbooks that are compiled in a less personal fashion can still create a captivating story for readers to enjoy.

Celebrity cookbooks are especially gifted in storytelling because part of the reason their cookbooks are so popular is that their audience loves to hear snippets of their famous lives. Readers enjoy learning about the author’s favorite childhood dessert or the way a recipe always comforted them during the ups and downs of life, demonstrating the connection that we all have with food and memorable times in our lives.

  • What it Looks Like: Storytelling should be an integral part of the whole cookbook, including the introductory section to the cookbook that presents the why behind the book’s creation. Authors can introduce each recipe with a snippet of personal commentary or even write a narrative to pair with groupings of recipes.

The Author-Food Connection

Even though a good cookbook may tell a greater story about the author’s life or experiences in the kitchen that encouraged them to author this cookbook, a good cookbook will clarify the connection between the author and the recipes inside.

Cookbooks can show readers how the wafting scent of Cajun food always simmering on their family’s stove created a life-long love of spicy cuisine or how a love of baking with a beloved grandmother resulted in a cookbook filled with bread and dessert recipes. Just like a musician penning songs about their own life experiences resonates with fans, an author who uncovers their own connections to the ingredients and recipes in their cookbook is sure to create a magical, memorable experience for their readers.

  • What it Looks Like: Crafting a title hinting at a connection for the cookbook reader, injecting anecdotes that demonstrate the significance of a recipe or using narratives to explain how your cookbook’s contents came together all give readers a clear picture of your book’s author-food connection.

A Good Cookbook Will Explain an Author’s Approach to Food

Not all cookbook authors are master chefs, and many have never been formally trained in the art of cooking. But when an author writes a good cookbook, it usually means they have a distinct perspective on food. Formally trained chefs may describe the food prep process in a technical, clinical fashion while home cooks raised next to the family stovetop may use informal language, colloquialisms, and recipes with looser descriptions of quantities, cooking times or levels of doneness because “it’s the way my mama taught me.”

But most cookbook authors fall somewhere in between these two extremes, and their unique viewpoint on how to create food with the heart and soul of their own experiences is the recipe for a good cookbook that readers will love.

The Cookbook Author’s Voice Comes Through

When authors begin the process of cookbook printing, the gathering and organizing of recipes is the first step in crafting a great cookbook. But pick up the first five cookbooks you see in a bookstore and flip through them. Reading the cookbook’s introduction, chapter explanations, and recipe notes make it obvious how big a role the writer’s voice plays in a cookbook. Books intentionally written in the author’s voice, like an autobiography, transport a reader into the life of the author, and a well-written cookbook can do the same thing.

  • What it Looks Like: Authors can use the same phrasing, word choices and exclamations in their writing that punctuate their daily expression, with some modifications of course. Some authors like to begin by using a train of thought style of writing for their first draft so they can initially capture their own voice followed by a strong editing and revising of the content to reflect the style and character chosen for the final drafting.

Good Cookbooks Evoke Memories

Smell conjures the strongest sensory connection, but taste is a close second. When someone prepares a recipe, inhaling its comforting scent as it cooks and tasting the ingredients as they transform into a finished dish, any history with those smells and flavors inevitably floods their thoughts.

A great cookbook author will anticipate those mental connections and lean into them. First, the cookbook reader remembers their own experiences with the spices or ingredients as they are added to a dish. And then the cookbook content presents a new perspective so those shared emotions and memories can create a new connection with the recipes in the cookbook.

  • What it Looks Like: Authors can tell personal stories of their own experiences with a recipe or inject how a certain scent of a dish brings them back to a specific point in their lives. Reading about how foods, tastes, and smells transport the author back in time allows readers to think about how their own lives and food are connected.

Photography Sells the Recipes

Not every cookbook is loaded with photos of food, but many authors choose to use tasty visuals to increase the reader’s excitement for their recipes. A well-designed photo on the cover can entice readers to pick up the cookbook, while a snap of a finished dish is appreciated by those still learning to confirm that the hard work in the kitchen was successful.

Cookbooks for novices often include step-by-step photos to encourage understanding, but even a few gorgeous photos sprinkled throughout a book can help sell a cookbook.

A Good Cookbook Delivers a Personal Touch

Above all, cookbooks that foodies want to buy make cooking and the whole kitchen experience feel personal and intimate. Hearing the author’s voice, learning tidbits about their life, and discovering how food influenced the flavors prevalent in their cooking style all contribute to building a strong connection between the reader and the cookbook author.

While even a serious chef appreciates the comprehensive recipe collection that a hefty cookbook brings, a cookbook that brings the reader into the author’s kitchen and thoughts will be more memorable.

Begin Your Cookbook Printing

Creating a cookbook that people will love begins with collecting recipes that connect in some way. Foods you grew up eating, dishes associated with a particular tradition, or even upscale versions of everyday recipes are all excellent themes for writing a great book that readers will love.

But the most important part of creating a good cookbook is injecting your own heart and soul into the narrative with personal stories and anecdotes to let readers get to know you. Once you have collected your recipes, planned for beautiful photography to complement your dishes and created an eye-catching title and cover for your cookbook, the cookbook printing process is complete when you partner with a trusted printer like Publishing Xpress.

And their on-demand printing process means you can order books in small or large quantities, anytime you need them, so you can make sure that you can get your new cookbook into the hands of readers right away.

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