Have you decided how to organize your cookbook?
Well, I hope you’re more creative — and forthcoming– than this table of contents above. Recently I worked through five drafts of a cookbook table of contents with a client. We were refining her idea, bit by bit. I’m happy to say that usually, it doesn’t take so long.
For standard cookbooks, the structure is easy.
Seriously. It’s been done the same way for ages. After the introduction, the traditional method is to arrange chapters from “soup to nuts,” as the saying goes. That means:
- main dishes
Because this structure is based on a typical American model of entertaining, it may not apply to your cookbook idea. And it does not necessarily apply to how many Americans cook and eat today! So you might want to take some out and add some new ones, for example. Chapters on:
Modern cookbooks might include chapters on:
- one-bowl meals
- vegan main dishes
- spreads and dips
- baked goods
You’re free to do what you wish, as long as the structure makes sense for both your topic and readers.
For The United States of Pizza, my most recent cookbook with chef Craig Piebe, we originally organized our book by region. The editor who bought it asked us to rethink that. So Craig proposed a structure based on type of doughs. It worked beautifully. We opened each main chapter with a master recipe for dough, and followed it with pizza recipes based on using that type of crust.
Even though you have lots of options, it’s best to rein in the number of both chapters and recipes. For chapters, strive for between 8 to 12, with a balanced number of recipes in each. Please call them “chapters” when you write your book proposal. One thing that drives me nuts when reading them is when writers call them “sections” or nothing at all.
The standard number of cookbok recipes runs around 100 to 150. I recently spoke with an author whose publisher talked her into an “encyclopedic” cookbook of 500 recipes. That’s so much work. Often the advance doesn’t increase to cover all that recipe development, testing, and writing.
Outside the usual, here are other popular ways to organize cookbooks:
- Thematic events, such as seasonality
- A breakdown of a single type of food (casseroles), ingredients (quinoa), or meals (breakfast)
- Organized based on type of meal, such as wraps, bowls or noodles
- Appliance based, such as chapters based on using donabe, slow cookers, or pressure cookers
- Geographic, with chapters by country or region
- Historical, moving chronologically through a country or region
- Menu based, arranged by meals, such as picnics or holiday dinners (although this option is not a popular one)
- Technique based, with chapters on roasting or fermenting, for example.
And that’s not all. You might also want to organize optional chapters or sections like:
- A chapter on pantry supplies
- A chapter on basics like stocks and sauces
- A shopping resources section for hard-to-find foods
- A glossary of unfamiliar foods
- A chapter on fundamental techniques used in the book
- A bibliography
- A recipe index, which contains only the titles of recipes.
So those are my lists. What about yours? If you’re a cookbook author, have I missed other ways to organize? Or maybe your favorite cookbook isn’t organized this way at all. Let’s tawk.
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(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)
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