Self-Publishing a Cookbook: 4 Lessons from BOWLS!

Self-Publishing a Cookbook: 4 Lessons from BOWLS!

Self-publishing a cookbook is not for the faint of heart. Here’s what I’ve learned from the writing, photographing, and editing process.

If you’re a regular around here, you know that I’m in the thick of self-publishing a cookbook. I’ve learned a lot through my mistakes, so I thought I’d share a little bit about how things are going.

It’s been a little while since I checked in here with some BOWLS! progress. Mostly, I’ve been working through my editor, Elena’s, notes. And I didn’t think you guys wanted to hear about serifs or kerning. But today I have some exciting news: last week, I ordered the first print proof for BOWLS!, and it should be on my doorstep any day!

Designing and publishing for print has been more intense than I ever expected. I knew that self-publishing a cookbook be a lot of work, but the formatting, reformatting, arranging, rearranging, photographing, and rephotographing blew my little mind.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve discovered along the way:

1. You need an editor. No, really.

My amazing friend Elena Paulsen from Vegan ESP is a cookbook editing pro, and she generously offered her editing services to me. After going through her edits, one thing is clear: there is no replacement for a pro. Her notes saved me from some serious rookie formatting mistakes.

2. You need professional layout software. No, really.

Learn from my mistake! I first laid out BOWLS! using Open Office, and it was a huge headache. Open Office and Microsoft Word aren’t designed for laying out something as graphically precise as a cookbook. For a text book or one with only a few simple images, they might be fine. For self-publishing a cookbook, you need to invest in software like Adobe In Design.

I had never used In Design before, but it was pretty easy to learn. If you’re good with Photoshop, In Design is very intuitive. It took me maybe 8-10 hours to teach myself enough about In Design to lay out BOWLS! YouTube is your friend, people. There are detailed YouTube videos that can walk you through everything from setting up your initial document to creating a dynamic table of contents. And everything in between.

Self-Publishing a Cookbook: 4 Lessons from BOWLS!

This is a fancy-pants color-proofing printer. Seeing a few test pages printed in high quality saved me a lot of heartache down the road.

3. Your home printer tells you very little.

When I first laid out BOWLS!, I printed test pages on my home printer, and they looked A-OK. Then, my friend Andrea let me use his professional color-proofing printer to print some actual-size test pages. They looked terrible.

Sure, I would have seen those problems when I ordered my first proof, but at that point I would have been scrambling to reformat and been out the $30-$50 to order a second proof.

4. Photograph, then photograph again.

Sure, some of the initial photos that I took for BOWLS! worked perfectly, but I’d say that I had to retake at least half of the photos in the book. Some didn’t look good when we printed the test pages. Others just didn’t look good to me after a good night’s sleep. When you’re self-publishing a cookbook, retaking photos also means remaking the dish. It’s in your best interests to take lots of photos in different dishware and different settings. The more options you give yourself, the better your chances of having a shot that works.

Self-publishing a cookbook has been a great adventure so far. In some ways this adventure hasn’t even started. The tips above are all production-related. I haven’t even scratched the surface for selling and marketing BOWLS! yet. More to come!

4 comments on “Self-Publishing a Cookbook: 4 Lessons from BOWLS!
  1. Loved the article! I’m starting this process soon. We should start a Facebook group to share do’s and don’ts along with tips and ideas. You in?

  2. Thanks for sharing, Becky! I keep thinking about doing this and thinking “How hard can it be?” :) Love hearing about the process. And if you plan to send Bowls! on a bloggy tour, I’d love to be a part of it!

    • You are so welcome! I knew that it would be a ton of work, but these were some things I hadn’t thought of at all before setting out on this project. I’ll keep ya posted for sure! :)

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