If you’re self-publishing a cookbook, knowing what to focus on—and where you can cut costs or find different solutions—can help you minimize your risk and enjoy being an author.
By Shaun Chavis
Once your cookbook is out in the world, you want it to sell and give you an audience of loyal fans that love you (or maybe your restaurant or product). And you don’t want to be stuck with a warehouse full of books, wondering how you’re going to sell them all.
Good planning can help minimize the risks—and max the pleasure of being a successful author. Here are some ways to help reduce your risks:
- Have realistic expectations. Unless you’ve got a restaurant empire or a cooking show on Netflix, your book isn’t likely to sell tens of thousands of copies—it’s more likely that your cookbook will sell somewhere around 5,000 copies. Take a look at your platform (your audience reach) and adjust your expectations—and your budget—from there.
- Define your goal. What do you want out of printing a book? Setting a clear goal in the beginning will help establish your expectations and prioritize where you spend money.
- Evaluate books to your competitive set. Take a look at four or five cookbooks that are similar to yours—similar topic, similar size, and published in the last year or two. How well did they sell? Their sales history can give you an idea about how well your book will sell. This is where having an agent will come in handy.
Most have access to BookScan—it’s a service that tracks sales for book titles. You can also get some idea from Amazon rankings. As you compare, keep the author platform apples to apples, too: Don’t compare your book to Chrissy Teigen’s if you’re a dietitian with a column in regional newspapers and 20,000 unique visitors on a blog.
- Consider print-on-demand publishing. You don’t have to warehouse any inventory and you don’t have to pay printing costs up front. Instead, your readers pay as they order books. That alone will save you tens of thousands in printing costs and warehousing costs. Check out CreateMyCookbook Pro!
- Use a platform that designs pages for you. A platform that lets you input recipes like CreateMyCookbook will do the layouts for you. Alternatively hiring someone to do design and layout would cost $20 or more for every page—and that doesn’t include the cover design, which cost $5,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the designer.
- Get creative with production costs. If you’re on a tight budget, your dreams of a gorgeous photographic book might be out of reach. But you can get creative with recipes, photography, and design, and still have a beautiful book that people love using. Some ideas:
- Get friends to test the recipes! A professional recipe tester charges about $100 to $150 per recipe, plus the cost of groceries. Save that money by giving your recipes to friends who’ve never seen them before. Pay for the groceries they need to test—budget an average of $25 per recipe. There are a few cases where you don’t want to skimp on testing: If you’re doing a healthy cookbook and plan to offer nutritional analyses, or if you’re converting restaurant recipes for people to use at home. In those cases, splurge on the professional. The last thing you want is a bad online review about your recipes.
- Take a creative approach to recipe photography: Group several recipes together in one photo. Use lower-cost illustrations or interesting graphic layouts to bring life to your book. Use stock photography of ingredients or places (be sure to purchase the appropriate licenses).
- Adjust the page count and the paper weight if you can. A lot of people go to a thinner paper weight when they’re trying to save money, but another approach is to choose a thicker paper and fewer pages. The thicker paper will help the book still feel substantial.
- The one place to spend money on: The cover. It sells your book.
- Build a lean and awesome marketing strategy. The months leading up to your book release, take the time to build your platform and strengthen relationships with your existing audience. Those relationships can turn into inexpensive yet valuable word-of-mouth marketing once your book comes out.
Before your book comes out, create a launch plan for your book, and recruit people to help you carry out the launch. If you’ve got relationships with restaurants or retailers, see what they can do to help promote your book.
Other creative, low-cost strategies for selling your book could include teaching cooking classes in local stores or even on your local TV station, getting a column in your local paper or city magazine before your book comes out, and doing pop-up tastings.
Making sure your book sells well is the best way to minimize your risk and enjoy the rewards of publishing a cookbook. And, great sales on a book might just inspire you to follow up with a sequel!