Want to Write a Cookbook? Top Editors Reveal Best Subjects and Formats

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This past weekend two cookbook editors from Chronicle and Ten Speed told an audience at Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA what they’re looking for in a cookbook. I thought you might like to know.

One of Chronicle Book's biggest sellers.

Let’s start with Amy Treadwell, an editor at Chronicle Books. She’d love to find another book that will do as well as Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans, which has sold more than 100,000 copies. That book led to more cupcake-based products: the Cupcake Kit and Cupcakes Deluxe Notecards.

Treadwell said she’s looking for three things:

  1. Cookbooks that tell a story, versus just a collection of recipes. She gave the upcoming The Commonsense Kitchen: 500 Recipes Plus Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Life as an example. It’s based on a college that teaches men to cook.
  2. Targeted single subject books, such as the one on Whoopie Pies she co-wrote in six months to capitalize on a trend.
  3. Blog-to-books such as the upcoming Cake Pops by Bakerella, a top pre-order on Amazon.

Rustic Fruit Desserts sold well for Ten Speed in 2009.

Melissa Moore, an editor at Ten Speed Press, said the company’s top recent successes include Rustic Fruit Desserts, the best selling cookbook in 2009 with no blog or restaurant behind it. Last summer, the bestseller was the Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.

The categories that have done best for Ten Speed are:

  1. Baking books.
  2. International and ethnic cuisine. The upcoming My Sweet Mexico, for example, focuses only on desserts and sweets.
  3. Previously uncharted territory that still seems mainstream, such as nutritionally sound yet accessible cookbooks. Forget sending a vegan cookbook, as she says the category is overcrowded.
  4. D-I-Y cooking such as pickling and preserving.
  5. Wine and spirits, if you have a new twist or you can demystify the process
  6. “Food writing,” a small segment of narrative with the right recipes woven in.

What does she not want to see? “I get five proposals a day for ‘Fresh from the Farmer’s Markets,'” she sighed.

Got a proposal to interest these top editors? Here’s the info on submitting (if you don’t have an agent): Chronicle submissions and Ten Speed submissions. Expect 6-8 weeks for a reply.

(Shameless self promotion: Don’t send off your proposal without reading my chapters on writing cookbooks and proposals in Will Write for Food. Or hire me to help you craft an irresistible proposal.)


  1. says

    These are fabulous tips I’m sure many people will glean direction and focus from. Food bloggers hoping to publish a cookbook must get a copy of your book. I read the first edition after taking your informative workshop and it helped me immensely for improving my food writing.

    Thank you Dianne!

  2. says

    It’s great to hear exactly what editors are looking for – like a Mediabistro “How to Pitch” but for book publishers.

    This raises a question that I have been wondering about though. Is there such a thing as international cuisine that is too unknown to be attractive to a publisher?

    There is this type of Indian cuisine from Maharashtra, the state where Bombay is, that is quick, easy, vegetarian, and much healthier than Northern Indian cuisine. I have been trying to figure out if I should make the cookbook I am working on into an ebook or work on a book proposal, but I am worried that it is just so off-the-radar a publisher wouldn’t be interested.

    • diannejacob says

      I”m not sure it’s too off the radar. If you are an expert in it and it’s healthy and vegetarian, those sound like all good things. And you could always consider the success of Niloufer Ichaporia King with her book on Parsi cooking, My Bombay Kitchen.

    • says

      I like your idea and I think you should work with it. You already have a pitch to stand on because it’s not the typical North Indian cuisine. What makes your cookbook different? light, healthy and easy.

      I am in the process of writing a cookbook on Central Asian cuisine, which is also not too widely known– but it more or less known as the Silk Route. I have converted many of the recipes into vegetarian ones.

      I like the idea of each recipe telling a story, which you can find another great cookbook author who does that, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by
      Najmieh Batmanglij.

  3. says

    This is extremely interesting Dianne. It’s wonderful to hear what these particular editors are looking for…thank you for sharing this information. Ps. I just received my copy of your revised and updated book :)

  4. says

    I second what Alice said! I devoured the first edition of your book (pardon the pun!) and found it very helpful when writing my book proposal. Several publishers felt that my proposal was done very well, although most of them passed on the topic “because it was too new” or because I “wasn’t famous enough” for something that hadn’t been done before! One publisher liked my platform, though, and we agreed on a new subject – and families can look forward to my new book this May!

    • diannejacob says

      Steamed cupcakes! There’s a different topic. I’ve eaten them since I was a kid, from Chinatown, but I don’t think most people know about them.

  5. says

    Interesting to hear how the tides have changed in just a few years. When I was pitching my single-subject cake book four years ago, I couldn’t interest anyone in it. Dessert books weren’t selling as we were in height of the low-carb craze. Now, the return to our roots (preserving, pickling, baking from scratch, etc.) and handcrafted, homespun anything seem to be what’s hot.

    • diannejacob says

      Absolutely. And now with fruit desserts — there have been a whole bunch of books — we’re in a whole retro phase, and people think they’re healthy. Well, okay, they’re healthier than Ding Dongs.

  6. says

    Am reading the latest version of your book right now and have ideas swirling around my head. Pipe dreams, probably but on peut toujours rĂªver, n’est-ce pas? Glad to see that the type of book I might eventually find myself working on is in that list. Thanks for another informative post Dianne.

  7. says

    Thanks for giving us the words from the editors themselves. Great to learn that some books (e.g. Rustic Fruit Desserts) can succeed without blogs or restaurant support. There’s hope yet if the idea is right!

  8. Bill Candela says

    You should ask some of your cookbook peers to look into publishing a cookbook
    for Cancer survivors, most of us are winging it, trying to eat healthier foods like whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruits. No one has really tryed to put a tasty hook into these types of foods.

  9. says

    I can definitely understand why a cookbook with stories sells. I enjoy reading stories about peoples’ lives, especially when it includes their extended family. My parents and grandparents are both gone, so it’s melancholy, but still enjoyable to hear about other people and the relationships they have with their family members.

    • diannejacob says

      Agreed. Also, since anyone can find recipes on the Internet, a collection is not that interesting anymore.

  10. says

    Thanks so much for this post! Writing my own cookbook would be a dream come true for me and this is really helpful information. I will definitely be scouring your site for more posts! : )

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Katie. There’s lots more detailed information about writing a cookbook in Will Write for Food as well.

  11. says

    Loved this inside info…do you think these trends are true with other publishers as well? Just discovered your blog (have been living under a rock, apparently) and will be ordering your book. Super helpful!

  12. says

    I’ve just found your website as i’m starting to research the possibility of gaining a grant to write a literary non fiction. Your site is great, and i look forward to your updates.

  13. says

    Hi Dianne,

    I ordered your book yesterday, then today (because I’m impatient and couldn’t wait for it to be delivered) went online to see what other advice I could find on the process of getting my cookbook created. Funnily enough, I found myself right back with you, here on your blog! Thank you for the advice and for taking the time and trouble to share it with all of us. One question: what is your opinion of ebook publishing (via Smashwords, Lulu, etc.)? If I did that, while waiting to get a printed book deal, would it taint my project in the eyes of publishers? I thought perhaps being able to approach publishers and say ‘X number of people have purchased the e-version, now would you like to produce a printed one?’ might work well. Am I off the mark? Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts,


    • diannejacob says

      If you would like to go to the expense of self-publishing your cookbook, and it sells many copies, then yes, publishers would see that as a good thing. The definition of “many copies” depends, though. It might have to be 5,000 to 10,000.

      Thank you so much for ordering my book, Ruby. Hope you find lots on my blog to entertain and inform you in the meantime.