Product Design

5 Insider Tips for (Successfully) Self-Publishing That Cookbook You Dream About

January  3, 2017

In Part 1 of this mini series, I previously shared how design dictates everything and how to reverse engineer your production timeline based on your release date (plus 3 more tips!). Now it’s time to dive deeper into other important elements: cover design, recipe testing, proofing, campaigning, and marketing!

1. Make a Big Impact With Your Cover.

Everyone judges a book by it's cover—whoever says differently is lying. The goal of a book cover is two-fold: First, it must be eye-catching enough to grab someone’s attention, and second, it must be intriguing enough to make a potential reader physically pick up copy (or click to learn more if perusing the internet). The cover is the ultimate marketing hook—your cover will make or break your sales.

A good rule of thumb here is, “Show, Don’t Tell.” Imagine if your book cover did not display your title and subtitle—would your imagery or illustrations be able to stand on their own to succinctly convey the inner content of the book? Does your cover give readers a compelling glimpse that encapsulates your cookbook’s core message? For example, my cookbook is all about farm-to-table, seasonal, from-scratch cooking and all of my food photography is shot on a black background; my cover demonstrates both those themes. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so make it count.

Shop the Story

To learn more, I highly recommend taking “Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual” taught by legendary book cover design and industry expert Chip Kidd on Skillshare.

Photo by Tina Loveridge

2. Recipe Test First; Style and Shoot Later.

Even though my cookbook took two and a half years to produce, I was always operating on a tight production schedule. Oftentimes this meant recipe testing a recipe contributed by a chef, frantically scribbling notes on a scrap piece of paper as I was preparing it, then plating, styling, and shooting that dish all in one afternoon. I learned the hard way that I should recipe test first, fine tune it, and get familiar with the end result so that I could set myself up for success for styling and shooting on another date. Sometimes trying to do too many things all at once is not as productive as it seems; single-tasking truly is the new multitasking.

3. Give Yourself Plenty of Time for Proofing—and Throw a Proofing Party!

Please note: The editing and proofing process takes time (give yourself more time than you think) and do not rush this stage of the process. Editing tip: Take your written content (recipes, stories, captions, quotes) from your Word doc, change the font to something hideous (think: Comic Sans, gasp!), print out the doc, and then edit, edit, edit. You will be shocked as to how many mistakes you find off-screen and how blatantly obvious typos look when displayed in a terrible typeface!

Make sure you get fresh eyes to edit your content; if you can hire an editor, it’s worth every penny. Next, you will submit your already-edited files to your printer and then receive proofs in return. These proofs display what your pages will actually look like in the final cookbook. Now is the time to throw a proofing party! Prepare some bites to eat (make your favorite recipes from your soon-to-be-printed cookbook), invite over your friends who have a penchant for grammar, and let them go to town with their red pens.

4. Pre-Order Campaigns Are Genius.

Self-publishing = self-financing. In order to take part of the financial burden off of your shoulders (read: savings), I highly suggest launching a pre-order campaign in order to fund the upfront printing costs of your cookbook. Raising capital through a crowdfunding campaign is a great way to create buzz before the book comes out, build momentum with press mentions, connect with your future readers, and gauge the overall interest of your cookbook in the marketplace. When I launched my Kickstarter campaign, I was able to create a lot of excitement about the soon-to-be released cookbook by being featured in local and national media (on the radio, on blogs, in newspapers, in magazines) while building a solid community of folks that would champion the cookbook in their own social media feeds.

5. Create a Solid Media Kit.

In order to make a big splash in the media, you have to be prepared. While my Kickstarter campaign was live I created a comprehensive media kit with links, press releases (in various word counts), e-flyers, downloadable high res photos (portraits, book cover, sample pages), and shareable social media (copy and paste, plug and chug!). The point of a press kit is to make it super simple for others to share your news. When media outlets come knocking on your door, you want to have all your ducks in a row. This will save you an immense amount of time when someone reaches out requesting a portrait, a paragraph about your cookbook, and where to direct people to learn more. All you have to do is send them the link to your media kit and you are done!

Self-publishing is clearly a labor of love, but immensely rewarding. Best of luck to all of those out there that are pursuing their cookbook dreams!

The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook—produced by writer, photographer, designer, and self-publisher Kendra Aronson—features 60 seasonal recipes and 40 short stories from the Central Coast of California.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lisa
  • kendraaronson
Kendra Aronson is the Founder of Pregnant and Hungry, the only searchable collection of pregnancy-friendly recipes on the internet.


Lisa February 8, 2017
I design book covers for authors all over the world, not many full color ones as this article suggests, and I cannot find out in the article HOW or WHERE she tells them to PRINT/DISTRIBUTE the book to?! Is that to come in some other article? Createspace / Amazon allows you to build your own book on their interface but full color graphics and such...what?
kendraaronson February 9, 2017
Hiya Lisa! Thanks so much for your comment! Here are the answers to your questions:

I self-published my cookbook from scratch; it's just me (Kendra Aronson) and my printer (Hemlock Printers, based in Canada). I did all graphic design of the project—the cookbook cover, cover flaps, and interior pages using Adobe InDesign. The design is completely unique, I do not use a template nor third-party platform/interface such as CreateSpace. I then sent this huge Adobe file to my printer, and they print the product. Then, they ship the cookbooks in cartons (in my case, 12 copies/carton) on pallets to my local storage unit.

I fulfill all online orders that come in through my website. I reach out to retailers with my wholesale pricing and terms to set up relationships (I have 75+ retailerss in my area: and I deliver their orders. I do not have a distributor, although, my cookbook is available through Barnes & Noble. When the Corporate B&N office places an order, I receive that P.O., and send them the requested amount of copies via UPS to their distribution center on the West Coast, then their distribution center distributes copies to all their California locations.

Hope this helps, let me know if you have more questions!