Tuesday evening award-winning cookbook editor Shaun Chavis treated the See Jane Write community to a free online workshop on how to write a cookbook. Though I am not a food writer or blogger, I was happy to host this workshop for the members of my community who are.

Shaun spent four years as a development editor for Time Inc. Books, where she specialized in finding and working with new talent, and managing book concepts from start to finish. Three of her books were Cooking Light list bestsellers. Cooking Light Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Good-for-You Food Taste Amazing! won Time Inc.’s Luce Award for Best Book of the Year and the James Beard Award for Focus on Health in 2015. Shaun worked on The CarbLovers Diet, which spent 11 weeks on The New York Times Nonfiction Best Sellers List.

Currently, Shaun owns Saltshaker Marketing, a boutique content marketing agency in Atlanta that specializes in cookbooks and food magazines for businesses. With this kind of resume I knew my foodie friends would be in good hands. But what I did not expect was for this workshop on writing a cookbook to help me draft an outline for a collection of essays!

Your Message

Shaun began her session discussing the importance of knowing your message. What do you have to offer? What is your expertise? How are you unique?  What else is out there and how is your idea different? 

If you want to create a successful cookbook, simply putting together a collection of recipes is not enough, Shaun said. “And that’s a good thing,” she added. Your cookbook can be a creative way to share your story! So get clear on the story you want to tell.

I immediately started thinking of the essay collection I’ve been working on. I realized my planning process spiraled out of control and then completely stopped because I lost sight of my focus. I lost sight of the message I am trying to convey.

Your Audience

Next, cookbook creators need to know their audience. Who is going to buy your book? What kind of cooking do they do now, what kind of cooking do they aspire to do, and how can you bridge that gap? Get clear on what your audience needs, Shaun said, as this will even determine how your cookbook is packaged.

Again, another light bulb went off. Though I aim to share my story through my essay collection, I also want to help my readers. I want to teach them something. Getting clear on what they need to learn will help me structure my book.

Your Process

After this, it’s time to edit and organize. Only include recipes that support your message. Cut out everything else!  Figure out how you will group your recipes in your cookbook (i.e. by meal, ingredient, technique, region, etc.).

And consider your marketing needs as you compile your recipes. If you’re planning to pitch to magazines, be sure to include magazine-friendly recipes. If you plan to use Instagram to promote your book, be sure to include recipes for aesthetically-pleasing dishes. If you plan to make TV appearances, be sure to include recipes you could whip up in a TV station studio.

If you’re a food blogger and you’re trying to decide how many recipes from your blog you should include in your book, Shaun recommends that at least two-thirds of the content be new.

I’m following all of this advice, too. I’m only including essays that convey my core message. I’m organizing them based on three of my great passions: writing, feminism, and entrepreneurship. And I’m going to make sure that two-thirds of the essays in my collection are works that have never been published.

The Cookbook Course

If you’re serious about writing and publishing your own cookbook one day soon, Shaun has just what you need — The Cookbook Course.

This 9-week course will give you a cookbook creation blueprint designed by Shaun plus access to a team of cookbook publishing professionals who will share valuable insight to help you succeed. By the end of the course, you will have a proposal, a marketing plan, tested recipes, and a customized schedule to finish your book.

The course includes 9 live 90-minute video lessons (featuring industry pros as guest speakers), a private Facebook community, two one-on-one coaching session with Shaun Chavis, and much more.

The Cookbook Course begins May 9. Head to TheCookbookCourse.com to learn more and apply. And use the code SeeJaneWriteCookbooks for a HUGE discount. (See Jane Write will receive a commission from purchases made using this code, but I only promote products and services that I wholeheartedly believe in.)

I can’t wait to check out your cookbook!