Search Results for: "so you want to write a cookbook"

By Jenny McCoy, Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Alright readers…here we are. Part five. The last post in my, “So You Want to Write a Cookbook,” series. We’re almost at the end of this exciting, grueling, rewarding process—I hope you’ve managed to stay tuned!

As I write this post, I’m in the midst of my latest cookbook project. I recently signed a cookbook deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which means I’m knee-deep in developing a fresh batch of recipes—so what better time to coach you through that very process?


Creating Your Recipe Roadmap
As a first step, I drafted a working list of the recipe ideas I’d like to feature in my cookbook. My new book is contracted to have six chapters and 80 to 100 recipes in total. If you do the math, that’s about 13 to 16 recipes per chapter. So I started by creating a list of 15 ideas per chapter.

Why the extra work? Once I begin to test these recipes, I know that some will be tossed, others will morph into entirely different ideas, and a few will remain exactly the same. My list will constantly evolve—and even more recipes ideas will pop into my head during the testing process—but I’ve found that having a game plan at the outset is the best way to start. What’s more, when it comes time to write my cookbook, this list will be a roadmap, helping me to prevent too much repetition in flavors or techniques (or the opposite, too many flavors and techniques).

You always want to make sure that your cookbook, throughout the entire course of its development, has a consistent focus. Lists are the way to go, my friends.

Testing Recipes
If your cookbook is written for the home cook, I highly recommend you enlist your non-chef friends to help you with the recipe testing—especially if they’re the types who never cook. If you can write a recipe that someone who doesn’t know how to make toast can complete, then you’ve done a good job.

Moreover, where you test recipes makes a difference. Even if you have access to a professional kitchen, I highly recommend you test your recipes at home. It’s not as efficient, but you must keep in mind, a restaurant-grade convection oven is not the same as the oven I have in my Brooklyn apartment. (For comparison: you’ve got my temperamental gas stovetop at home versus the 12-burner range I’m used to working on at ICE.)


In short, tailoring your recipes to work in a typical home kitchen is pretty important. What takes two minutes to boil on a professional induction burner will take five minutes on a home cook’s electric burner. Most novice home cooks follow recipes “to a T,” meaning that these little details can make all the difference. (Believe me—you really want to make sure your recipes are fool-proof, because people love to vent online about how recipes in cookbooks never work.)

For consistency, when I test my recipes, I try them myself first. If they pass the test, I give them to someone else to try. From there, if they pass again without a hiccup, they are edited and go into my cookbook. If there are any issues with the outcome of the recipe during the second round, I analyze the problems, tweak the recipe, and pass it on to a third person to test. If it’s a go, into the book it goes. If it fails, I strike it from the list and move on. This is a critical lesson: unless the recipe is instrumental for your topic or is your favorite dish in the book, learn to let it go and come up with a new idea. If you have to force the recipe to work, imagine how had it will be for a novice to tackle.

Recipe Testing Template
Below you’ll find a nine-part list of criteria I use when testing recipes. If you include all of this information, you will have enough information to write a complete recipe that should be easy to follow and give clear instructions to your readers.

Keep in mind that your writing must be consistent. Create a style guide that is specific to your writing style. If you prefer abbreviations in your ingredient list, go for it. Just make sure all the ingredient lists are the same. If you tell a reader how to sauté onions in more than one recipe, be sure to use the exact same language for each recipe that calls for sautéed onions. (Cutting and pasting copy is the best way to be sure.)

And don’t forget—communicate with your editor throughout this process. The last thing you want to do is turn in a manuscript that is riddled with grammatical errors and inconsistent language. A good editor will give you all the guidance and tools you need to succeed in writing great recipes, but you usually need to ask for such assistance.

1. Recipe Title (no abbreviations)

2. Entire Recipe Yield

  • Weight in grams
  • Volume in cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc
  • Number of pieces/servings yielded by recipe

3. Ingredient List (no abbreviations)

  • Weights in grams
  • Volume in cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc

4. Directions (provide explicit details)

  • Cooking temp; cooking time (Example: Simmer on low heat for 3 minutes)
  • Bake temp; bake time (Example: Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes)
  • Visual indications of doneness throughout recipe stages and final product (Example: Stir until ball forms; bake until deep golden brown, etc.)
  • List all tools used at each stage of recipe (Example: stir with a wooden spoon)

5. Flavor Notes

  • Comment on taste, consistency, visual appeal, etc.

6. Yield Notes

  • Do the amounts yielded by each section of the recipe match up to create the final product? (Example: Is 1 quart of marinara sauce enough for 1 pound of pasta?)

7. Finished Product Storage

  • Can recipes be prepared in advance? If yes, how long can they be stored?
  • What are ideal storage conditions?

8. Misc Notes

  • Can the recipe be improved? How?
  • Any time saving tips?
  • Any potential ways to make recipe more user-friendly for the home cook?

9. Photos

  • Document each stage of the cooking/baking process
  • Photograph each finished product (Example: finished dough, frosting, chocolate shavings, etc.)
  • Photo of fully assembled/plated dish


The Photo Shoot
This is the fun part. Once you’ve tested all your recipes and have them in working order (or as close to perfect as possible), you can begin planning your photo shoot.

With your team in place, the next step is to determine the look for each photograph. Just like the variation in your recipes, you will want to make sure you have a range of colors and textures—different surfaces, props, camera angles, etc.

I prefer to plan this final phase of my cookbook by reviewing all the snapshots of tested, finished dishes with my prop and food stylists. Based on the needs of each recipe, we decide on the plates, baking dishes, pots, etc. and overall style that should visually represent each recipe. We come up with multiple options for items that are difficult to shoot (for example: heat-sensitive items like ice cream, physically flat or brown-colored dishes that can be challenging to present in a way that is visually appealing). This gives the prop stylist a shopping list and the food stylist time to prepare his or her tool kit.

Once the styling for each shot is determined, I then prepare my shot lists. Each day of your photo shoot, you will have a certain number of photos that you need to complete. Talk to your photographer about setting reasonable goals. (Many first time authors don’t realize that each photo will likely take over an hour to stage and shoot!)

My best advice is to organize the shots by how they are produced in the kitchen. If you have items that can be made in advance, shoot them all on the first day. This allows your photographer and stylists to jump right in, while your kitchen staff preps the food for images that require à la minute cooking. Also, finish each day with one or two recipes that are easy to prepare. (Photo shoot days are long, and everyone will run out of creative steam if you schedule the most complicated dishes at the end of the day!)

Also, remember that your dishes don’t have to be eaten, so if your pound cake is stale because you baked it a week before your photo shoot, that is perfectly fine. So long as it looks moist (and your food stylist can help with this) then you are good to go. And remember to be flexible—sometimes you will need to change the order of your shot list to keep the momentum going.


Here are a few additional tips for a successful photo shoot:

  • Consider putting more than one dish in a shot. Often times your publisher will give you a very low budget for images. Including multiple dishes in one photo can vary the visual appeal of your book and make the most of your time with a photographer.
  • Double or triple your recipe. You typically will need 2-3 times the amount of food in the original recipe to be properly prepared for a photo. If a dish starts wilting, gets dropped or burned, you’ll need to have more ingredients on hand to swap out.
  • Bring lots of extra raw ingredients. Your food stylist may want to use some of the ingredients from your dishes as props. Reserve the freshest and best looking produce you have for this purpose.
  • Set aside a few days in advance of your shoot. If you have a 5-day photo shoot, you’ll need a few days to shop or prepare as much of the food in advance as possible. Also, make time in your shoot schedule to prepare some of the components of the next day’s dishes.

Like I said earlier, the days will be long. But they will result in the culmination of all your hard work, and there is nothing like a cookbook photo shoot to make your months of writing and testing feel worthwhile!

Wrapping It All Up
Once the photo shoot is complete, fine-tune your manuscript to ready it for delivery to your publisher. This is the perfect time to write your acknowledgement page, the resource guide, your introduction and any remaining front or back of book items. And once you’ve got that finished…voila! The first draft of your cookbook is complete. Now it’s in your editor’s hands, to help ensure you’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t”.

Did you miss Jenny’s previous posts? See the links below:

By Jenny McCoy, Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

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.



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.


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 acknowledgement 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



By Chef Jenny McCoy, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Writing a cookbook is a labor of love. I repeat: writing a cookbook is a labor of love. One more time… writing a cookbook is a labor of love. It is incredibly hard work, but—if you plan carefully—it’s well worth the effort.

If you’ve been following my So You Want to Write a Cookbook series, aimed at guiding you through the process from soup to nuts, you’re either ready to throw in the towel or gearing up to sell your proposal! (I’m hoping the latter, but seeing as the process is quite time consuming, I’m really hoping you’re still chipping away at step one—writing a cookbook proposal.)


So with the power of positive thinking, let’s imagine that you have finished your proposal and sold your idea. After you get past your initial excitement, you realize there’s no way you’re going to finish this project alone. The first step in your planning process is—you guessed it—hiring the right team.

Don’t delay in gathering the best creative team your budget can afford. My editor at Rizzoli gave me a great tip: pick those with whom you really connect. Especially during a long and stressful process, it’s essential to find others who completely understand your vision in addition to having a wealth of experience.

This might seem to suggest that working with friends would be a good idea, but beware: this book is your book, your labor of love, and not worth negotiating over. Sometimes hiring professionals will be a heck of a lot easier than calling in favors or asking your buddies to contribute. My personal anecdote: I made the mistake of thinking my good friend could shoot the photographs for my own cookbook. Ultimately, I decided not to go forward with the idea. Thankfully, we are still on good terms, but working with friends may put not only your cookbook, but also your friendship, at risk.

Now, exactly who is on this team, you ask? It could be two people or it could be ten; it’s up to you (and your budget). Here’s a general idea of who you’ll likely need on your team:

Pick this person first. The photographer is your co-pilot and could share almost half the pages of your book with you, so it is of the utmost importance that you choose someone whose work you love. Your publisher will definitely want to weigh in, but you should review portfolios and meet with the candidates to narrow your options before presenting to your editor.

I suggest taking note of the photographers in your favorite cookbooks. If they are located in the same area as you—and have a studio—even better! (This means no travel costs or studio rental fees.) And if you can’t afford your favorite photographers, ask if they can recommend someone else or if their best assistants shoot freelance projects.

A great photographer will capture candid moments and a great prop stylist will ensure you have the perfect bowl, apron, etc. for every recipe.

A great photographer will capture candid moments and a great prop stylist will ensure you have the perfect bowl, apron, etc. for every recipe.

Prop Stylist
This role may seem like a luxury, but I assure you, you are wrong. All those lovely surfaces, dishes, silverware, glasses, napkins, platters, pots and pans (I could go on and on) will not show up in your kitchen cabinet for your photo shoot. When you work with a prop stylist, each photo will be planned in advance. Your stylist will hand-select each prop to go with each dish, and then some. They are worth their weight in gold and will make your photos glorious. You prop stylist is also a mule—they have to schlep all the aforementioned items back and forth to set—a job you definitely want to outsource. Again, take note of the props in books you love and email the stylist for rates.

Food Stylist
If you are a professional chef and have hands-on experience plating for photo shoots, then you might be able to skip having a food stylist. I, however, love having one on set. They have all sorts of tricks of the trade that I never knew about (and I think I know everything!). A pinch of salt in ginger ale causes bubbles and is a much cheaper alternative to champagne. Grating dry ice over ice cream will prevent it from melting under hot photography lighting. And all those crumbs on the plates in images are perfectly placed with tweezers. Having someone be mindful of those miniscule details can be a world of help when you’re busy taking care of the bigger picture.


Those broken cookie bits didn’t end up there by accident.

Graphic Designer
Your publisher may take care of this selection, especially if they work with in-house designers. Regardless, you should be sure to ask how much you can contribute to this decision. If your publisher doesn’t work with someone in-house, ask your editor for recommendations—and work with someone who has experience in cookbook design. Just like your photographer, this role is very critical. Your designer is responsible for the layout of the final product, so make sure you can communicate well with this person electronically—because you’ll be sending many emails back and forth.

Recipe Testing and Kitchen Assistant(s)
You may think you can do all the testing yourself, and you can. But it more than pays off to have others test your recipes, too. Often times, I would think my recipes were in tip-top shape, only to learn that I forgot to include an ingredient, or that the directions didn’t read as clearly to my assistant as I thought. Going through the process of trouble-shooting your recipes with someone else’s feedback is the only sure-fire way to make sure your recipes work—the gold standard of any cookbook.

Personally test your recipes more than once, and have others test them, too. I sent my most difficult recipes to my home cooks who had never baked. If they master my layer cake, then I knew it was ready to be published.

I'm very grateful for the amazing ICE students who helped bake for my book launch party!

I’m very grateful for the amazing ICE students who helped bake for my book launch party!

You’ll also want one to two assistants on set at your photo shoot. They will help you prep massive amounts of food and allow you to toggle between the kitchen and the photo staging area. If you don’t have much of a budget for recipe testing and kitchen assistants, this is a good moment to ask competent friends, colleagues or culinary students for help. Photo shoots are exciting work, so you’ll certainly find someone willing to donate their time in exchange for the experience and an acknowledgement in your cookbook.

Hiring a team is just the first step in your planning process. In my next post, we’ll cover how to handle the actual timing of your work—and how to get your publisher and editor to help you determine that timeline.

Did you miss Jenny’s prior cookbook tips? Check out her guides to writing a proposal and selling your cookbook idea.

By Jenny McCoy, Chef Instructor—School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Just like baking, cookbook writing is a step-by-step process.

Just like baking, cookbook writing is a step-by-step process.

Now that you’ve finished writing your cookbook proposal—using my handy little outline published on the ICE Blog last month—the next step is to share your idea with the world! But how does that happen exactly? There are several options for pitching your idea and selling your cookbook proposal, some of which can be more challenging than others. I’m sharing my top three options for aspiring authors, in order of practical preference:

But as I warned you in my previous post: writing a cookbook is a labor of love. If you want to cash in and make millions of dollars, you ought to walk away before you’re too heartbroken. The pitching process takes time, lots of effort and a thick skin—you may have to change your proposal (a little or sometimes a lot) or even worse, it may be rejected.

1. Find An Agent

While it may seem difficult to hand over 15% (this percentage is industry standard) of your cookbook advance money, I can’t think of a better investment. Publishers and editors give first priority to proposals delivered by a good literary agent, so if you want to guarantee that your proposal won’t get lost in a stack of papers, this is the way to go.

A good agent can also help tailor your proposal to the likes of certain publishers. They know if your idea is relevant and on-trend. They can help you to edit the language in your proposal to make it shine—and to help it sell for as much as possible. They do all the legwork: sending your proposal to publishing houses, following up with editors, arranging interviews with potential editors and, if need be, harassing publishers until they take note of your proposal.

Instructor Mingle-022-72dpi

But it doesn’t stop there; should more than one publishing house have interest in your proposal, your agent will facilitate a book auction. This gives multiple publishers an opportunity to bid to publish your cookbook. Your agent will do all the negotiating for you, and simply let the publishers go to war.

If your book proposal finds itself a home, lucky you! Now your agent will work even harder for that 15% and negotiate the terms in your contract. Their job is to make certain you do not sign your life away, not to mention the rights to every future book you want to write.

My agent even helped me revise the introduction to my cookbook, select the cover photo and was the sounding board for a million and one questions. At times, when my editor and I didn’t agree, my agent fought the battles for me to ensure I did not tarnish our working relationship. All in all, a relationship with a literary agent is a valuable one—well worth the effort and financial investment.


How do you go about finding one of these highly prized agents? My best advice (unless you are a celebrity and already have agents knocking down your door) is to get a referral. If you know other cookbook authors, ask them to connect you with their agents. If you don’t, go to cookbook signing events and try to meet the writers—network with those who are already successful! Through these relationships, you might find an author who is willing to share a little friendly advice (and their agent’s contact info). We all had to start somewhere, right?

Another great way to find an agent is to explore authors’ acknowledgements pages in your favorite cookbooks. Within the first few sentences, you’ll likely find a generous thank you to the agent who helped bring that cookbook to fruition. Then hop on over to the internet and do some research. You want to find agents that represent cookbooks in specific, but you do not want an agent that represents other authors who have written books that are very similar to your idea. From there, send a query email and introduce yourself. Include a compelling snippet from your proposal and cross your fingers!

2. Enter a Contest

Publishers are always looking for the next big author or idea—just like you, they’re hungry for success, and the bigger your book sales, the better for them. And while seasoned authors are often the safer option, that success can also appear by way of finding a “diamond in the rough.”


Many publishers host contests (or open calls for book submissions) for specific genres of books. Last year, Rachael Ray Books hosted a competition for the Next Great American Author, and the winner was chosen to write a book under her imprint. The traveling food blogger convention, TechMunch, hosts a cookbook pitch contest, where aspiring authors present their ideas to a room full of food media experts—many of which result in cookbook deals. Chronicle Books recently teamed up with Tumblr for The Great Tumblr Book Search and requested entries for the next best humor book—if you’ve got some amazing stories from your time on the line, this contest could have been your big break! Follow several cookbook publishers and cookbook editors on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as social media outlets are the first place many of these contests are announced.

3. Go Rogue

If you don’t have any luck with (or want to bypass) agents and contests, you can simply try to sell your proposal on your own. This is very difficult, but it has certainly been done. Research the editors who have worked on your favorite cookbooks or books that are somewhat similar to the subject of your book. Collect their contact information (simply call the publisher and ask for the editor’s email address) and send along your proposal—with a very compelling subject line and a message that will make sure they look at your proposal.

But be very wary. Navigating the world of publishing on your own can be challenging. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a situation where an editor and publisher want to work with you but you have no idea how to negotiate a deal or read through a lengthy legal agreement. Or worse, send your perfectly polished proposal to an editor who loves the idea but not with you as its author. These are just a few reasons why blindly sending out your proposal, without the representation of an agent, is a pretty big risk. But as I said, it has been done (and to the benefit of many authors).


So with that, I wish you luck in deciding which route suits you best. Just one more suggestion: try working the list from the top down. In the meantime, I’ll see you next month, to explore project planning and management for that happy day when you land your first cookbook deal!

For more of Jenny’s posts about writing, baking and entrepreneurship, click here.

By Chef Instructor Jenny McCoySchool of Pastry & Baking Arts

As I finalize the contract details for my next cookbook(!), I thought this would be the perfect time to write about my efforts in securing a book deal, as well as the the process I like to use to write the books themselves. Rizzoli published my first cookbook, Desserts for Every Season, in September of 2013, to critical acclaim. However, it was only with the help of an incredible agent, editor, photographer, and cookbook design team that I was actually able to get the thing written.


Most aspiring authors have no clue of just how much time and effort goes into writing a cookbook. By the time an author has completed her manuscript, she is often wondering why in the world she signed up to write one in the first place. There are several planning and execution stages involved in writing a cookbook, the most important of which is securing a great team of people to work with. In my opinion, one simply cannot write a cookbook without the help of others.

So in a kind of mini-series of blog posts for the ICE Blog, I am going to break down the process for you in four stages:

  1. Writing a Proposal
  2. Selling a Proposal
  3. Project Planning and Management
  4. Writing and Shooting Photos for a Cookbook

All of these phases include key partnerships, lots of thought and preparation, and knowledge that your cookbook will be a labor of love—not lots of money. And please keep in mind, if you truly want to write a cookbook, there are several ways to go about it. This is simply my advice, drawn from my personal experiences. I’ll be sure to keep it simple—the last thing I want is to deter anyone from achieving his or her dreams.

Part One: Writing a Cookbook Proposal

You can absolutely lose your mind before even putting pen to paper to draft a cookbook proposal. The concept is daunting. Like, really, really daunting. But if you break your proposal into small sections, you will find that getting over your fear of “OMG! How in the world am I supposed to write 40+ pages about an idea?” is a bit easier.

Here’s a list of the nine sections I recommend including in your proposal, along with a little bit of advice on specific information to include.

1. Title Page – Include the “working title” of your cookbook; Author’s name; and the name, address, and contact information for your literary agent. If you don’t have a literary agent, that’s ok for now—do not let it stop you from completing your proposal. (We’ll discuss agents further in Part Two of the series.)

2. Table of Contents – You’ll write this last, after you’ve completed the proposal. It should only be one page long and include page numbers.

Chocolate-026 crop

3. Overview – This is the part of the proposal where you want to SELL! SELL! SELL! your idea. It includes the following:

  • Mission Statement – Pitch your idea here. For example, explain how your idea is an up-and-coming trend or is an older subject that has a proven audience. Explain why you are personally interested in your cookbook’s topic. Discuss some of the details: will it be for home cooks, professionals, parents, kids? Will your recipes require specialty equipment and ingredients, or be easy-to-use and accessible for all levels of cooks? Cite prominent magazines or websites that have written articles about your cookbook’s subject. Prove to the publisher that you’re “on to something” and your book will fill a gap in the cookbook market.
  • Author Biography – This is where you shamelessly self-promote. Do not be shy. Include all of your relevant experience, accomplishments, and awards that you’ve received. Also include any past writing experience you may have—whether you’re an avid blogger or have had recipes or articles published already. Make sure you describe your professional platform; if you are or were the chef at a prominent restaurant, have a huge social media following, or know editors that will write about your book, now is the time to mention it! Publishers prefer books written by authors that already have a following and can help sell the cookbook, so if you have outlets for the book to gain exposure, let them know.

jenny at book launch


  • Front Matter – This information outlines the “front section” of your cookbook—all the stuff that fills the pages before you get to the recipes. Take a look at some of your favorite cookbooks for ideas, but be very, very brief in describing this section. All you need to do here is provide a simple list of the following:
    • Copyright Page
    • Dedication Page
    • Table of Contents
    • Foreword – Include one or more experts in the field that you know personally who might write a foreward for you. If you don’t have any, omit this from your list.
    • Introduction – List points that you’d like to cover in your introduction. Perhaps a brief history of the subject, your personal relationship to the subject, and your favorite tips for success, etc.
    • Ingredients and Equipment Guide – Most cookbook authors include this in a cookbook, but it’s not necessary. If you do want to include this in your front matter, write one to two bullet points about what information you plan to cover.
    • Do note that all of the components in the Front Matter (other than the copyright page and table of contents) are optional. So tailor your front matter outline around your personal preferences: if you hate when cookbooks include ingredient guides, skip it!
  • Outline of Chapters – Write one to two paragraphs about the flow of your cookbook. Tell your publisher how many recipes you want to include and how many photos you’d like per chapter. Perhaps you’d like the book to have illustrations, or maybe you’d like to include little sidebars on cooking tips and ingredient facts. Then list the chapters you plan to include, along with numbers and titles as you go along. (For example, a salad cookbook might go: 1-Leafy Greens; 2-Shaved Vegetables; 3-Whole Grains, etc.)
  • Back Matter – This is the section that follows your recipes. Simply list the following:
    • Resource Guide
    • Acknowledgement Page
    • Index
    • Back Jacket Quotes – If you can list prominent authors, chefs, experts that you know personally and who will write a quote for the back of your book, include their names here. DO NOT make this stuff up. Many publishers will hold you to this list, as it is a very important element to the sales and marketing of your book.


4. Market Analysis – This section isn’t necessary, but it certainly can’t hurt to write up. Whether you include this information in your proposal or not, you should definitely do your homework. You want a cookbook concept that doesn’t already exist or that isn’t a subject that is over-represented in the market. Publishers pick up books that will sell, so make sure you aren’t proposing a title that already has a ton of competition, like “Cupcakes,” for example.

  • Audience for Book – List all the categories of people you think will read or purchase your cookbook. Include internet-based booksellers, national bookstore chains, etc. But be brief, this is just a simple list.
  • Comparable Titles – If books exist that are similar to your subject, list them. You need to include the author name, publisher, and one line that describes the book. Make sure that line subtly downplays the book. You don’t want the publisher to think it’s better than your idea!


5. Sample Chapter Introduction – Write a chapter introduction. It should be one to two double-spaced pages. Have friends read it and give you feedback. Make sure it is clear and concise. Read chapter introductions from your favorite cookbooks for guidelines about what sort of information you might like to include.

6. Sample List of Recipes – List all the chapters you previously mentioned in your Outline of Chapters and include three to four recipe ideas for each chapter.

  • Sample Recipes – Include two or three fully written and edited recipes from your Sample List of Recipes. Take a look at recipes written in magazines or cookbooks for examples of how recipes are structured. Make sure they are easy to follow and that you have tested them carefully! Some editors will actually try your recipes. If they aren’t any good, guess who won’t be getting a return phone call?


7. Selected Press Clips – If you or you work has ever been mentioned in the press, include clips here. Be sure you mention the name of the publication, author of article, publish date, and the entire article, including photography. Anywhere from three to five samples is good. Pick the press clips that highlight your work best.

8. Selected Writing Samples – If you are a blogger, this is a great place to include two or three of your favorite posts and photos. Or, if you’ve ever been a guest writer, include your published articles here.

9. Sample Images – This section is completely optional, but I love including it in my proposals. Beautiful images of food will help sell your proposal. If you have great images that you have shot yourself, use those first. Otherwise, you can pull images from the Internet and call them “inspirational” images. Be sure to credit the photographers and mention your sample images are meant to give your publisher a sense of the aesthetic and design you’d like your book to have.

So there you have it! Just pull these elements together, and next thing you know, you have a proper cookbook proposal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to write your Outline of Chapters and Sample List of Recipes and call it a day. But don’t do that. There is nothing wrong with starting on the easy sections, then parsing through the harder sections. Figure out what will motivate you best: if you have a friend that is an amazing writer or editor, swap them dinner for assistance in putting your proposal together. Or drink a pot of coffee and lock yourself in a room with your laptop until it is complete. Or set a goal to write one to two sections a week. I find I do my best work on airplanes, when I have no one to bother me and nothing else to do but sit for hours.

Up next: Part II – Selling Your Proposal


To learn more about Chef Jenny and her cookbook, Desserts for Every Season, click here.


By Casey Feehan

A lot can happen in the time between pitching and publishing a cookbook—especially when that process takes seven years. Aside from the endless edits, re-writes, negotiations and time in the kitchen, life happens: trends are fickle, science can change facts, and various moving parts may drift away. It’s enough to make anyone go nuts.

Institute of Culinary Education – Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian – In a Nutshell Cookbook Launch

Andrea Tutunjian, Director of Education, and Cara Tannenbaum, Assistant Dean of Students

Nuts are exactly what Assistant Dean of Students, Cara Tannenbaum, and Director of Education, Andrea Tutunjian, have had on the brain for the past seven years, all leading up to the recent release of their first book, In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds (W. W. Norton & Co.). Yet for Andrea and Cara, those seven years never rattled their working relationship and friendship, which sparked two decades ago in the kitchen.

Long before joining the school as instructors, Cara was working towards a PhD in Anthropology, and Andrea was studying to earn her degree in Mathematics Management. The pair likely never imagined that they would one day author one of 2014’s most eagerly anticipated cookbooks.

The Institute of Culinary Education – In a Nutshell Book Launch

Thankfully, fate stepped in to bring their one-of-a-kind work to today’s bookshelves. Disenchanted with the lengthy path to becoming tenured faculty at a prestigious university, Cara found satisfaction in baking, taking a job at the famed Judies European Bakery in Connecticut and quickly climbing the kitchen ranks to become lead baker. Realizing both her natural talent and work ethic, she then attended the New York Restaurant School to gain professional training, which is where she was taught by chef and acclaimed cookbook author Nick Malgeri.

Andrea, too, abandoned a former career, hers in finance, to become a student of Malgieri (who was then the founder of ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program). After watching Andrea successfully navigate New York’s most prestigious kitchens—from Le Cirque to the Rainbow Room, Nick asked her if she’d like to teach at ICE. She accepted, first leading students as a Pastry & Baking Chef Instructor, then moving on to curriculum development and administration.

The two met in 1996 when Nick recruited Cara and Andrea to work on his cookbook projects, immersing themselves in recipe testing, editing, food styling and manuscript work. Cara joined the ICE faculty in 1997, and soon the pair found that they were creating more together than published works—with their combined passions for cooking, baking, education and culture, the recipe for a successful culinary team had been formed. After helping Nick earn multiple James Beard Awards for his cookbooks, it was only natural that he encouraged the pair to write a cookbook of their own.

The Institute of Culinary Education – In a Nutshell Book Launch

Andrea greets the book’s editor, Maria Guarnaschelli. Cookbook author Tracey Zabar speaks with Nick Malgieri.

But getting In a Nutshell published proved to be a tough nut to crack. While these superfoods may be one of 2014’s top trends, their 2007 book proposal went through 12 revisions before it was picked up by a publisher. From there, 500 recipes were pared down to 236. They questioned copy, photographs, layouts and more, constantly asking each other, “What were we thinking?”

Edited by the legendary Maria Guarnaschelli at W. W. Norton, with photographs by the coveted team of Gentl and Hyers, the book has backing from the best in the business. It’s no surprise, then, that the media is embracing In a Nutshell as one of the year’s best cookbooks—and an essential resource for every kind of nut and seed in the kitchen. The book touches upon the uses of these nutritious kernels throughout history, and covers the culinary spectrum from savory to sweet, inciting a new enthusiasm for these versatile ingredients that are so often overlooked. It’s already racking up superlatives, including a mention on SAVEUR’s August list of “Books Worth Buying.” And the subject couldn’t have been more timely: this year, a study released by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that including more nuts in one’s diet can have a significant positive impact on a person’s health, increasing longevity and decreasing disease.

The Institute of Culinary Education – In a Nutshell Book Launch

Cara Tannenbaum, Andrea Tutunjian and ICE President Rick Smilow.

The launch party at ICE on September 4th was thus a celebration seven years in the making—and a night to remember. Cara and Andrea welcomed more than 250 guests, including Ms. Guarnaschelli and celebrated author Tracey Zabar, along with overjoyed family members, friends and colleagues. The authors set the bar high for any ICE cookbook launch to follow, with a menu that featured more than 20 different recipes from the book, among them Ancho Chili Orange Roasted Peanuts, Walnut Parmesan Shortbread, Tomato Almond Tapenade, Pistachio Lemon Squares and assorted Chocolate-Covered Almonds, which were poured into bowls shaped from candied seed brittle.

1 - Book Launch - Plating and Nut Bowl

The launch party featured over 20 different recipes from the book, and showcased just how very versatile nuts and seeds can be.

The Institute of Culinary Education – In a Nutshell Launch Party

The Institute of Culinary Education – In a Nutshell Book Launch

Chicken and Mole Negro, made with almonds, sesame seeds and peanuts

Guests lined up to have their books signed by the chef-authors.

Guests eagerly line up to have their books signed.

As they took their place at the book-signing table, seeing guests eagerly line up before them, Cara and Andrea looked amazed, excited… and relieved—with smiles never leaving their faces. “We spent so many hours laughing, laughing to the point of crying…and then laughing again. It makes the whole thing worth it.”

The Institute of Culinary Education - In a Nutshell Launch Party – Andrea Tutunjian, Michelle Tampakis, Cara Tannenbaum

Do you dream of writing your own must-have cookbook? Don’t miss ICE Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy’s ongoing blog series: So You Want to Write a Cookbook

Subscribe to the ICE Blog

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notification of new posts via email.