How to Write a Recipe Book That Sells


by Doug Lewars


I find it hard to believe but recipe books do sell. The thing to remember is that precious few readers are likely to make much use of the recipes. The number one thing that draws readers is the fantasy of the thing. We might all like to dine on Sacher Torte but would we really want to spend the time and effort to make one?

And if we did, there’s the little matter of the calories none of which we can likely afford. At least I know I can’t. In addition, if I actually did set out to make something complex I’d be more likely to pull up a recipe on the internet than consult a book; nevertheless, recipe books are appealing and I can feel the appeal whenever I pass a book-shelf containing them. Therefore, if you want to drive sales, a recipe book may be a good way of doing so.

The key is the cover. It has to be spectacular. There are two ways of drawing attention. You can present something that looks so appealing from a culinary perspective that a reader will be drawn in by the drool factor or you can present a theme in the title that will hook their interest – something like ‘Healthy Meals Made in Seconds’, ‘Diet for Immortality’, or, perhaps better yet, ‘Diet for Immorality’. I mean who wouldn’t be tempted to go for the latter?

The trick is to find a theme that hasn’t been done to death. Search for ‘French cuisine’ or ‘Chinese food’ and you’ll find hundreds of options. You need to find a niche and that won’t be easy. Admittedly, something like ‘Food for Pigs’ hasn’t been highly covered, but it does serve a limited audience so you need to combine ‘niche’ with ‘appeal’.

Therefore consider a  list of food preparation and consumption factors. There’s time, space, limited equipment (example microwave only), ease, skill level, presentation, taste, smell, origin of ingredients and dish, nutrition, allergy risks, age (children like different foods than do adults), cost, availability and history. There may be others but these are the ones that come to mind and within each factor there are sub-factors.

For example under ‘time’ there may be time to prepare and time to consume.  Recipes for people who need to eat on the gallop will be different from those for an intimate dinner spread over the better part of an evening. Both, however, might be viable themes for a book.

Go to Goodreads or an online library, search for ‘recipes’ and skim quickly down the list. Look for covers that quickly catch your eye. Generally these sites use thumbnails so if something stands out it has to have eye-catching value.

Pay attention to those that interest you and that will give you a pretty good idea as to what photography on the cover is likely to draw in others. Then repeat the scan this time glancing at titles. Once again, make a note of anything that you find interesting because there’s a good chance that others will be interested as well. Then try and look behind the pictures and the titles. What is it about these particular books that drew you in?

For example, when I scanned titles one that caused me to stop and take a second look was ‘Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes’.  I liked the juxtaposition between whimsy and food and, yes, this is a legitimate recipe book. Of course you don’t see too many recipe books with ‘Revolting’ in the title but that suggests that selecting something beyond the pale might have marketing value.

An important aspect of these books is the photography and food photography is an art unto itself. What you prepare in the kitchen and what you can photograph for inclusion in your book are probably two different things.

I remember a woman who worked in a kitchen lab explaining to me that the preparation of food for photography frequently rendered it inedible. Lots of lights were required and those lights were hot, so, for any sort of gelatin preparation it was necessary to stiffen it to the point that it couldn’t be cut with a knife. Unless you are an experienced photographer who has worked with food in the past you’ll probably need professional assistance for that part.

Bon appetite and good luck.




Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published twelve books on



10 thoughts on “How to Write a Recipe Book That Sells

  1. I’ve thought of writing my own recipe book because I’ve had to be super creative with coming up with recipes that my kids and my husband would like that are still healthy so I am happy too. The only problem is I have no idea where to start and that’s why I haven’t done so yet.


  2. Covers and Titles. The bane of my assistance. Thanks for sharing the article. Even though I don’t write cookbooks it is interesting to see how other genres market there books. I’ll be paying close attention to the cookbooks in my library to see what they project on the front. 😀


  3. As a lifelong foodie, I love sharing my recipes! Sadly, I’m only a mediocre photographer. I did publish one cookbook – it’s a novelty item that’s a spin-off of my fiction books, featuring foods my characters ate in my stories. Most of the recipes start with an excerpt from the books. Since my books are set in the Victoria era, I was able to get away with using free vintage clip art throughout. However, I DID spring for paying for a dazzling cover. And somehow, it all worked. This cookbook is my most popular book, sales are steady and surprising! Follow the link to see what I mean about the cover art and interior clip art.


  4. Oh! Another thing to keep in mind if you’d like to try a cookbook… you’ll need to build a comprehensive index for the back. There are professional indexers out there, too, if it’s something you don’t want to do.


  5. It is amazing to me too that they sell but they do. I think a lot of us wish to have that special talent of creating amazing things in the kitchen. At least we try. You’ve gotta give us that. 🙂


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