Proposals aren’t just for landing contracts at major publishers. Today, proposals are lean, business-oriented roadmaps that will make your book stronger, however you decide to publish.
By Shaun Chavis
So you’re going to write a cookbook, where do you start?
Start with a proposal!
Here’s why: A cookbook is a big project and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or lose focus. A proposal will give you a clear end goal. When you have a plan, you are more likely to finish!
Proposals can be short documents, but they include a ton of valuable information. Your cookbook is a product that you’re creating. Your proposal will help you think about your vision, your marketing plan, your competition, and your readers—in short, it ’s a product development plan.
Here’s how your proposal will help you.
- Clarify your goals for your book. Writing down your goals for your book drives all the decisions you make. Some goals might be:
- Earn passive revenue. If you already have a huge audience, this can be a realistic goal. A cookbook adds a modest revenue stream to an already existing business.
- Boost sales of an existing product or service. One of the most successful marketing stories in history is how the owner of Jell-O used a cookbook to save the company and drive sales (to $2 million in 1911, which is over $51 million in today’s dollars). The cookbook gave people ideas for how to use Jell-O—and more reasons to buy Jell-O.
- Take your relationship with customers to a new level. If you’re a blogger, Instagram influencer, restaurateur or chef, you can use a cookbook as a way for your customers to get to know you better—and increase loyalty.
- Teach people something new. Cookbooks can teach people how to eat on a new diet, or how to use a new product—just like the mini-cookbooks that come with an appliance like the Instant Pot®.
- Record family recipes. Collecting your family’s favorite recipes and putting them on paper is a valuable legacy you can share at weddings, reunions, and other events.
- Share your thought leadership. If you’re trying to change the way people behave when it comes to cooking and eating, a cookbook can be a practical way to share your thought leadership. Think about Mark Bittman’s book VB6, where he encouraged eating vegan before 6pm; or The Big Green Cookbook, which teaches people how to cook in an environmentally-friendly way.
- Identify your audience and what you have to offer them. This is another way to think about your book’s value proposition. If you have an audience or platform, your readers are already coming to you for a specific reason, and it’s likely they’ll love to have more of your wisdom packaged up in a cookbook.
Think about how people use cookbooks. It’s not always about getting dinner on the table! Some people love to read cookbooks like novels. Some people like to collect cookbooks. Some people want to learn how to cook, and others like to feel like they can travel the world through cooking. What is your audience interested in? Cater your book to their taste! (Pun intended!)
- Evaluate the competition and your book’s sales potential. Part of your proposal will be a competitive analysis. (No spreadsheets or pivot tables are involved—promise!) A trip to the bookstore or some time online will get you started. Looking at your competition helps you develop ideas for your cover, give you an idea of what kind of sales you can expect, and help you make your book stand out from the pack.
- Develop a visual concept for your cookbook. Good proposals include a mini-lookbook. This gives you a chance to really think about what you want your cover to look like, what types of photos you want in the book and how you want them to look, and what you want the page layout to look like. Putting these concepts on paper at the beginning of your project will help you maintain a consistent look as you move forward.
- Begin a marketing plan for your book. As soon as your book is finished, you’ll want to hit the ground running with sales. Take a tip from the big publishers: They start working on sales and marketing months before the book is printed. Your proposal (see our Cookbook Proposal Generator) will help you begin thinking about what your sales and marketing strategy should look like. This is another way to make sure you reach your ultimate goal and get a return on your investment —and to make sure your sales and marketing strategy aligns with that goal.
Your proposal doesn’t have to be long and crazy detailed. It just needs to be long enough to give yourself a roadmap. It is a great way to hit the ground running when you sit down to write your cookbook.