First Write the Blog, then Write the Cookbook

by diannejacob on December 13, 2011

People who want to write a cookbook contact me all the time.

Often these potential authors have no background in writing, cooking, teaching, or any other credential that would make them appealing to a publisher. But they’re passionate about cooking.

Don’t write a book first, I suggest. Start with a blog.

But but but, they protest. Whenever they bring their chocolate-bacon cupcakes into the office or serve their lamb shanks scented with cinnamon, people tell them they should write a cookbook, because their cooking is just that good.

Great, I say. But it’s not that simple. Enthusiasm from friends, family and fellow employees is not what excites a publisher. What turns on publishers is a cunning idea, writing chops and a platform. Now if these potential authors would start a blog instead, they might get to a published book.

Literary Agent Lisa Ekus, who represents only cookbooks, said recently at a blogging conference that more than 80 percent of book queries to her agency come from bloggers.That’s perfect. The bloggers who contact her are writing about their passions and expertise in a blog, and they’re building a community of followers. Blogging gives them a cunning idea, writing chops, and a platform. Sense a pattern here in what I’m saying?

A book is not the only way to express a love of cooking. In fact, it’s a ton of work and can take several years, by the time you solidify the idea, create a proposal, find an agent or publisher, write the manuscript, and get it published.

A blog, on the other hand, has three main benefits:

1. It’s immediate. You launch it and it’s out there. Boom. You’re published on whatever you’re passionate about.

2. It helps you figure out what to write about. Some people start a blog and have no idea where it’s going, other than that it’s about food. After a few months, a theme emerges. They sharpen their ideas, zero in on a topic, and a solid focus emerges that might become a book.

3. You engage with future buyers of  your book. If you start a blog on the subject of your book, you start a relationship with readers who might buy it. A former student just got a book deal. When she began the book proposal a year ago, she started a blog at the same time.

“By the time the proposal was in, the blog was well underway and became part of what sold the project,” she wrote me in an email. ” The blog has also been a great way to connect with my audience and get to know what their needs are in a cookbook.”

A blog delivers on the main reason people want to write books: It gets their writing published, immediately. So why, do you think, is there so much resistance?

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(Photo by Stuart Miles,


Zoe December 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I started my blog on the basis of my family and friends telling me I should write a cookbook, which I mention in my about page. While I’m now blogging comfortably, the idea of writing a cookbook looms larger and larger as a daunting process as I read more about the work involved, especially writing the proposal. (Most of what I know about the process is from your posts and reading your book, which I have the Kindle version of. I also borrowed the previous edition of “Will Write for Food” from my library.) As much as I am open to the possibility still of writing a cookbook, I also realize I am not ready for it yet. (But at the same time, on a philosophical note, how much in life are we actually ready for?)

I didn’t start my blog in the hopes of a blog-to-book deal. (When I started blogging I don’t think I was that aware of the phenomena.) While it would be neat to have a publisher approach me with a book deal, should I want to write a cookbook one day I don’t want to rely and wait for a publisher to discover me; I’d much rather take matters in my own hands and do it myself. I’m not canceling the idea out, by any means: if it happens it happens but I’m not going to wait for that window of opportunity and those external forces in order to write a cookbook.

As always, thanks for the inspiring and informative read, Dianne!

diannejacob December 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I think it’s terrific that you have satisfied your desire to write about food by starting a blog, and that you are not necessarily looking for a cookbook deal. You’re right that writing a cookbook is a lot of work. If you’re putting that same level of effort into your blog and you’re happy with the outcome, that’s just great.

Zoe December 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Thanks, Dianne. Aside from being urged to write a cookbook, my situation for starting a blog was a bit different in that I wanted to share recipes I’d made or modified to make gluten-free (among other allergens) for my brother recovering from autism. I would say my motivations for writing about food has evolved, although I hope my original purpose remains clear in my blogging. When I really want to write a cookbook, I’ll write a proposal (and I’ll definitely be consulting your book) instead of waiting to be found, as I said in my first comment and has been said by others in the comments. No use sitting pretty!

sally December 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm

This one sure made me smile Dianne. Thanks. It’s just like everyone who enjoys my cooking says “oh you should open a restaurant!”. They have absolutely no idea what they are saying. It’s like you should go to the moon. You smile, thanks them, and take it as a compliment. Blogging is great training on writing. I look at how much I’ve grown and how far I have come in the just over two years of blogging. And the growth continues. That’s part of the fun. I know a cookbook, more than one, are in my future, when the time is right. But I appreciate Zoe’s comment, when do we really think we are ever ready? I do have a great idea for a book I think I want to do as an e-book. We’ll have to talk. Something new!

Amanda December 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm

More wisdom from you, thanks Dianne.
Like Sally, I’ve had loads of friends and family urging me to open a restaurant, but I just smile and nod and change the subject. There is no way on earth I’d want to do that much work and have that much worry.
Starting my blog was just exactly right for me. It gives me an excuse to indulge my curiosity about food & food producers, it has connected me with others from around the world who share my food interests and has helped to hone my writing skills and focus my attention.
Thanks to some of the attention my blog has enjoyed, I can now call myself a freelance writer and maybe, one day, there might be a book in my future. I know it won’t be a cookbook, but it will be about food – but what specific section of that very broad table of interest (pun intended) is yet to be decided.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

Yes, there is what other people tell you you should do, and then there is what you want to do, and they are not always a match. I love that the blog satisfies you, and that’s enough for now.

Kaili December 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I suppose the food bloggers write and cook because they have a need to do so. At one point you feel that you are ready to share with others what you know and think. It is stimulating to read and see what other likeminded people are doing and new ideas grow and off to the kitchen again. The blog may or may not lead to a book. Great when it does, and when not, nothing stops us from blogging.
Agree with Sally that so often people say “open your own restaurant”. It is a compliment to your cooking, but the step to the restaurant just may not be for everyone.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:26 am

Good point. Maybe people are just trying to compliment you when they say “you should open a restaurant” or “you should write a cookbook.” It doesn’t mean you should do it!

Jenn December 13, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I think writing a successful blog and building a platform is also an immense amount of work, and I also think many people still do not view blogging as a professionally viable endeavor – some only consider printed media as valid forms of publication.
Having a successful blog takes time, money for hosting/design, etc., and unless you are one of the few who’ve “made it”, is in no way a money making endeavor on its own. If someone is totally new to the online world then there is also social networking to figure out and breaking in to an industry of sorts that is already over-saturated with competition, trying to stand out amongst everyone else as one with “potential”. One probably also needs to learn about creating decent photography (or spend more money on stock images), as reader’s attention spans are often too short for words alone. And only after one has “proven” themselves (and building a successful online brand doesn’t happen overnight), then one gets to start all the “real work” of catching a publisher’s eye and writing a book? From that perspective I don’t think blogging looks so easy at all. As with many things in life, taking on a full new endeavor just to get beyond it and reach something else is just that – also a lot of work. I can definitely see why someone new to blogging would be a bit hesitant.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:28 am

I was waiting for someone to say that, so thank you. Indeed, the most commented-upon post on my blog is “Is Food Blogging Too Much Work?”

Yvonne December 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

Hi Dianne, another great topic here!
I’d venture to say that it’s simply to get to the chase. Many people don’t see the value in blogging- I hear it all the time: “it doens’t make any money”, “I just want to get a book published”, or “why aren’t you publishing a cookbook instead of wasting time on a blog!”. You hit the nail on the head when you said that a blog builds a platform, which is something that publishers understand but perhaps those on the outside don’t. If people try your food or hear you talk about food and see all that passion coming forth, a lot of times it’s just a supportive way of saying, ‘hey, you’d be great at that’.
I’ve spent nearly three years building my blog and it is a lot of work, but I also see it as an investment in my career and future as an authority (I hope) in the niche I’ve chose to blog the most about; for others, the intentions may be different. I’ve finally decided it’s a sacrifice like many people in the creative arts make with the hopes and dreams that one day, it will all pay off. Now if a publisher will just come knocking, that would make my life a whole lot easier!
Thanks again for enlightening us 🙂

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

Three years is a good amount of time for a launching off point for other things, Yvonne. A publisher might come knocking, but they might already have a plan for a book that isn’t the book you want. Why not start working on a proposal?

Shef December 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Dianne, I was going to comment after reading all the comments but this one stopped me. I’m curious—did you say to Yvonne that 3 years is a good time for launching off because of the time spent in blogging (3 years) or because of her platform? Would you safely say 3 years for anyone? I think the answer is no, but wanted to double check.

And now I want to answer your question in the post.

I think there is resistance because of the fact that starting a blog is intimidating (for many of the reasons already listed in the comments), even if you already know how to test and write and edit recipes. I was told (since I ultimately want a cookbook) to start blogging to develop my platform. I held off for one year and then finally just started it, knowing it wasn’t going to be perfect.
Now, a little over a year later, I thoroughly enjoy it but it is a LOT of work.

Most importantly, it has made me realize what I like writing about and what my niche actually is. Though I was an Indian cooking instructor before, my blog reflects even more of who I am, an Indian-American. And I certainly hope to have a book about that someday.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

You could have a blog for 3 years and still have few followers and no platform other than the blog itself, so I suppose the answer really should be “it depends.”

Perhaps people don’t start a blog because no one says to them, “You should start a blog!” They’re still more likely to say “You should write a cookbook!” Both are pretty intimidating, but blogs have technology to fear on top of other unknowns.

Being an Indian-American is an interesting space, Shef. I’m not sure what it means (I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean hot dog curry), but it might be fun to figure it out.

Móna Wise December 14, 2011 at 12:28 am

Resistence is futile. I think there are some that feel they will be giving away all their recipes for free online if they blog, and that takes away from the book content.

I started blogging in 2007 when we moved from USA to Switzerland. It was purely to stay connected with friends and family. It did not start off as a food blog but being married to a gardening chef it ended up being all about food. I still have no aspirations of a blog-to-book deal. Nothing about blogging is easy and like Jenn stated above it takes an enormous amount of time to write, engage and nurture a following. But the blogging, like you said, opened up a door of writing and deffinetly helped me figure out ‘what ‘ I wanted to write about and could even be blamed for me returning to college…

Great article as always Dianne,
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season from the Wise Family in Ireland.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

What a great story, Mona! I like that the blog evolved organically, and then it evolved into other opportunities. Some people have a plan, some people see what happens. Happy holidays to you and your family as well.

Liz December 14, 2011 at 12:57 am

Why are people asking you about writing books and not starting blogs? Probably because those who thought to start a blog just do it!

But here’s a serious reason to launch a blog instead of attempting to go straight to a cookbook: Cookbook writers I know (in Hebrew) working through publishers wound up earning a little less than minimum wage once you factor in the many hours (i.e. months) of work involved. Is it better in languages with a larger readership? Maybe for the best authors, but I’m willing to guess that most people who write cookbooks through a publisher have a similar experience. My blog may not pay, but it certainly isn’t so much of a time drain that I can’t hold down a full-time job (that pays more than minimum wage) on the side.

And yes, people have asked why I don’t start a cafe/cookbook/TV food show/whatever. They just don’t know what options are out there.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Yes, you don’t write a cookbook to get rich, just as you don’t start a blog to get rich. While it’s possible to make only minimum wage while writing a cookbook, some people make a lot more, so there is a range, at least. And most people who blog do so as a hobby — also a wise decision.

Agreed that some people may not know that they can start a blog — they just think about a book.

Ruby December 14, 2011 at 1:00 am

Hi Dianne,

Like many who’ve commented, I started my blog as a venue for recipe-sharing with family and friends. I found I was actually good at it, so it’s grown and blossomed since then, and now I have a print column, a column in an online cooking magazine, as well as work in progress for both an ebook and a (different) print volume, should a publisher materialize. But my blog doesn’t have a huge following since I haven’t spent a great deal of time on the networking side of things. My question is: how is the platform judged? Site traffic, comments and Facebook followers, or quality of content? All of the above? Some of the most popular blogs, in terms of comments, followers, etc. have relatively poor content, but their authors are fabulous networkers. I can see how good networking skills would be attractive to publishers, but am finding it hard to strike a balance, especially as I’m still having to do this all ‘part-time’. Any advice?

Many thanks,


Joyce Pinson December 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

You hit the nail on the head. No one talks about setting reasonable traffic goals, what is a goal for Facebook fans etc. The directives just seem to be “get out there.” With no vision, no goal, no expectations….out there is a daunting place to be.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm

It looks like not having a huge platform hasn’t stopped your clients from hiring you, so I wouldn’t worry about how your platform is judged. Lisa Ekus said that some publishers have minimums for blog numbers, but I don’t think most just look at numbers when they’re considering a book. They also look at reach — does anyone know about you outside of your blog? You can say yes. Another plus is if your subject matter is national vs. regional or local.

Good networking skills are definitely an advantage in the eyes of publishers.

Regarding striking a balance, you sound like you’re doing very well! If you really want a book, I suggest you write a proposal and go after it, versus waiting for a publisher to find you.

Ruby December 15, 2011 at 12:59 am

Thanks Dianne. I do intend to write a proposal and go after publishers, but had assumed I needed to wait until my platform was somehow ‘big enough’. Glad to hear my blog numbers alone won’t be the yardstick. I had wondered if the fact that one of my columns is on a website with much larger readership would be factored in, and it sounds as though you’re confirming that it would. OK, so now to get that proposal written. Will go back to your book for tips on that. But first I have to survive Xmas… Happy Holidays!

Jamie December 15, 2011 at 5:33 am

Ruby, thank you for bringing up these points. I agree that most of the popular blogs with the biggest traffic (thus biggest blog earnings) have mediocre content at best (please don’t throw anything at my head, I know there are many exceptions) – merely spend all of their time on their blogs, self-promote out the wazoo (excuse my French), spend their days networking and usually have content/recipes which appeal to the masses. I recently was “interviewed”, if you like, by a serious publisher who asked me about my traffic and platform, and he was intrigued by the fact that I had multiple platforms reaching multiple and different audiences. I spoke at length once with a famous blogger who is now working on a second cookbook and she explained that as a blogger, her publisher understands that her book-buying public is pretty much limited to her blog readership. This means that if you have multiple platforms/readership, then the traffic at one would be less important and only part of the whole. Networking is important, but having more than one audience to network with is even more important, I would think.

Ruby December 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

Jamie, thanks for chiming in. It sounds like your experience echoes what Dianne was saying about having diverse platforms as opposed to one huge one, which is very encouraging.

Nicky December 14, 2011 at 1:23 am

Dear Dianne,
I so hear you! I regularly get this kind of emails. The last time I suggested to a woman who had never published anything to start a blog and check out “book on demand” (self publishing in Germany). She replied: “I have no time for a blog” and “What is book on demand?” Somebody who is not willing to invest in his own audience or simply google an unknown term might not be prepared for all the hard work a cookbook involves. Even if her chocolate cake gets rave reviews at the kindergarten.
From now on I will send people who contact me regarding this issue straight to your post 😉

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Oh my gosh, it’s hard to have patience with people when they answer you like that. If she has no time for a blog, how is she going to write a book? Yes, please send them to this post, but please do not give them my email!

Maggie Green December 14, 2011 at 3:38 am

I believe the goal of writing a cookbook is a worthy one, but it needs to come with realistic expectations about time, money, and hard work. It’s great fun and I like to think that if someone really wants to write a book that they can and should. Regional publishers are interested in regional titles and there are ways to reach them without an agent. That said, I believe that before anyone writes a cookbook they need to define what they think their life might look like after the cookbook is published. Then the conversation takes place about how to build their platform in advance of, and in preparation for, book publication. The blog then becomes a piece of the author’s platform, a way to get the message out in front of a large audience so to speak. Much food for thought~ Thanks for the post.

leaf (the indolent cook) December 14, 2011 at 5:31 am

I started my blog because I wanted to do something productive with my free time… being a cookbook writer never occurred to me at that stage. I have to admit it’s sounding pretty good these days though, and I would take up any reasonable opportunity in a heartbeat.

I personally find food blogging to be a very fulfilling pastime – I don’t know why people resist. Perhaps they’re reluctant to share their recipes with the world without a financial incentive. Fair enough, but as you say, that’s going to be a tough sell to a publisher. As it is, there are so many food blogs out there it’s hard to come out on top… but surely having something out there is still better than nothing. Either way, I’ll continue to blog for as long as I’m enjoying it!

Anita Menon December 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

Makes so much sense.
I have a food blog which is an excuse for me to try something new and share the results with my readers.
I also have a literary blog for the purpose of writing and improving at the craft.
I completely agree with you about having some kind of credentials before approaching a publisher. Having a blog helped me land a space in a newspaper where I contribute movie reviews now for their weekend edition. The progress is slow but steady and that is what keeps me going. Patience and perseverance are the only virtues that would help if one intends to take their craft at a professional level.

Claudia December 14, 2011 at 6:12 am

I started a food blog for one reason and find myself continuing it for a very different reason! As for a cookbook in my future, oh no! Don’t want to go there. I did have a lovely actress come to me regarding a play production (my “real” field. She wanted a local theatre to produce it. The trouble was – she hadn’t yet written the play. So my delicate advice was “First you write the play…”

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Oh yes, I suppose there are just as many people who want to write a play as there are who want to write a cookbook. For them, it won’t help to start a blog first, I suspect, unless they are happy with just writing on a regular basis.

Certainly not everyone who starts a blog wants to write a cookbook. But for those who want that as their eventual goal, it’s a good place to start.

Souper December 14, 2011 at 6:24 am

Hi Dianne,

Grateful for this post on Blog first, then Cookbook. Good dose of reality on the process of reaching the dream of being published. After blogging for about a year and a half on my passion of getting back to homecooking, I am fine-tuning my platform, have increased followers of my blog as well as attracting a large following on Twitter. I enjoy Twitter for the quick references/inks to articles and other foodbloggers as well as luring others back to my food blog.

Wishing you holiday greetings,

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Sounds like a good plan to me. A big following on Twitter is a plus as well. It’s all about how many eyeballs you can access on the subject of your book.

Jeanne December 14, 2011 at 7:20 am

I think another issue is at play here–the unwillingness to work one’s way up to a goal. People want to start at the “top”–and the top in this case is a cookbook. This is just like the students I used to advise when I taught at university who wanted to start out as an advertising executive (or whatever) and really did not want to do entry-level jobs to gain the necessary experience. Most folks who talk to me about writing a cookbook have no experience with writing beyond thank you letters. They see cookbook writing as an easy thing to do. So, the concept of starting out with a blog seems unnecessary to them–they just want to do the big stuff. But, the big stuff is usually what folks do after they do the little stuff. 🙂

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hah. That’s a good way to think about it, Jeanne. Also remember that according to an often-quoted survey, 81 percent of people think they have a book in them. It’s easier to just keep thinking that than to do something about it.

Ebeth December 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

I am one of those people who wrote cookbooks first and blogged way later due to the fact that publishers now want their authors to be involved with Facebook, Twitter, and have a blog all to augment the cookbook. Its considered part of PR. I am really amazed at the seemingly infinite food blogs on the web and some are really talented not only in writing and making tasty food, but in photography and design as well.

For the simple home cook, the blog is an ambitious undertaking, but an excellent way to share recipes and develop writing skills. I consider a blog like the 21st century quilting bee, for sharing recipes and techniques is what keeps cooking every day alive and transferred to the next generation. Blogging in conjunction with Facebook has also allowed the food community to become more connected. (I consider Facebook the expanded version of the pen pal from grade school.) Where else can you write a quick message to Marcella Hazan or Claudine Pepin and know they are going to personally read it? Where else can you read about what fellow food lovers had for breakfast?

There is a fantasy that writing a cookbook will earn you lots of money. For the time invested, be prepared to work for love and pennies per hour. There are very few authors today who garner large advances and later high sales. It is a rarified atmosphere. I know very talented cooks and chefs who worked for years, even decades, to get a book contract. And then the book didnt even get a second printing. Cookbook writing is totally different than blogging for the shere fact it is a business and a blog is personally driven.

But just like in making movies, cookbook publishing is a business that is always looking for talent as the market is voracious. And there is no one recipe for success.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Great to hear from you, Beth. You started writing books long before social media had evolved, so now you’re in the opposite position of having to catch up. Didn’t you think what Lisa said, though, about the percentage of book queries that come from bloggers was fascinating? I was blown away by that figure.

Nice to have a reality check from someone who’s been there. The only cookbook I wrote was a work for hire, and I was paid well to do it.

Ruby December 15, 2011 at 1:48 am

I’m not surprised by the fact that so many bloggers want to write cookbooks. It seems like a logical progression. The lack of a huge financial reward is not an obstacle, because, as bloggers, we’re already working for love, not money. It’s the people who start a blog with the sole purpose of eventually getting a book deal who will be disappointed by the figures. I agree with Dianne that, if you want a book deal then a blog is a good way to start, but with your eyes wide open because, as Ebeth says, a book deal should not be seen as a pot of gold. For me, it’s more about having something concrete (besides my children) that I will have contributed to the world, however humble that contribution may be.

Barbara | Creative Culinary December 14, 2011 at 10:21 am

For the record, I don’t blog for a book deal. I blog to share what I love with family, friends, and in the course of time that has meant strangers. I’ve been surprised to find how many bloggers only do it to progress to another realm; book deals, TV stardom and fame. Blogging as a stepping stone makes it seem like an easy course to achieve a different objective. It is not. For those of us who invest a great deal of time and effort into the craft of our blogs; suggesting that it’s the easy path to a book deal comes across as insulting.

Beyond the need for a professional looking blog and the skills to know how to get it found are other skills not often considered for people who love to cook. Do you have professional equipment for photographs and the skills required to take those photos in the most appealing way? Is your conversational writing interesting enough to promote what you really love which is your cooking and if not, how do you accomplish that without falling prey to a habit of many…trying to copy someone else? Seems hard to imagine but I think most important and too often forgotten? Are your recipes really ready for prime time?

It seems to have become the standard that blogs with high traffic or as mentioned, good networkers can achieve this goal but at what cost to the reader? Popularity metrics are not always skewed to factor in quality of content. I see people with book deals whose ability to market their blogs has been great but whose recipes are redundant and lack much creativity. Marketing to the masses seems the easiest path; if you have a unique concept and exceptional skills I think that can often be the hardest path to follow in this over-saturated world where everyone is a food blogger.

Suggesting that gaining your end goal by starting with a food blog might seem to make sense, but writers had best be prepared for that being a whole new effort that takes a considerable amount of time in itself to get you there.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I am not suggesting blogging is easy — far from it. As I have said in the comments, the most popular post on my blog is one asking if food blogging is too much work. But for people who have no platform who want a book deal, blogging is a way to get there. Blogging is writing, and publishers want writers to write books, preferably. Or they want someone famous to partner with a writer. Hiring a writer to write a book lowers their risk, and publishers are all about that.

I have also addressed, several times, that someone who just adapts other people’s recipes is less likely to get a book deal, so thank you for bringing that up. To be fair though, many cookbook authors have done just that, long before there was blogging.

Lauren Bell December 14, 2011 at 10:32 am

Hey Dianne — an interesting topic and one you’ve been championing for years. My issue with blogging is that I don’t have the time or interest to even READ a blog, let alone write one. What with keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., let alone the must-read professional print publications, who has the time to read another “I had the most divine gruyere on Brioche grilled cheese sandwich today” food blog? I occasionally read yours, only because it pops up on my news feed — and it has to be a topic that really interests me for me to read anything more than the first sentence. And I’m one of those people has proven my cooking chops based having served thousands and thousands of customers my food in my 14 years of restaurant operation so I do know that folks like my food. But a blog? I don’t know of anyone that would read it regularly other than possibly my hubby, but I respect his time too much to add reading my honeydew sorbet recipe on his honey-do list.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Not everyone who gets a book deal is a blogger. But I can guarantee you that 95 percent of those who do get a deal have an established platform.

deb December 14, 2011 at 10:56 am

I love this post, Dianne, because as you and I have discussed even though my site will be 6 years old when my book comes out, it *still* feels to me like it happened quickly, though I hope for the sake of the more than two years I’ve spent working on it that it’s more a case of “Do we ever feel ready?”

I know a lot of people say you cannot make a living writing a blog, only by writing books, but I disagree. Most people I know who have written cookbooks have told me, point blank, don’t expect to make a good living doing this. But with good traffic and passable ad sales, you can earn a decent income. The thing is, building traffic takes time, but I think it ultimately sticks around longer than book advances.* On a consistently updated site with quality content, I have never heard of traffic decreasing over time, which means that income always has the potential to improve.

* Has anyone run the numbers on a standard cookbook advance, and how little that would actually pay over the 6 to 9 months most cookbooks are written? I suspect it would barely work out to minimum wage, and that’s before groceries are purchased and testers are hired.

merry jennifer December 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I love this point by Deb, author of one of the first food blogs I ever read – and one of the consistent ones that I continue to read.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Thanks Deb. That means a lot, coming from you.

So you think 6 years happened so fast? I guess since blogs are always evolving, and we are always learning more about our craft, so there’s not much room for boredom. I doubt that, 6 years ago, you started it because you wanted a book deal.

What strikes me most about what you’ve told me is that your blog is so successful that you have to carefully weigh the value of doing ANYTHING else for money. Obviously your book deal qualified. I suspect yours didn’t come out to minimum wage. More power to you.

deb December 15, 2011 at 6:36 am

For me, that was much more about being protective of the time that it takes to maintain a blog, and carefully considering the pros and cons of anything that would divide my attention from it.

Do you want to guest post on another site for $25/post (what was once a going rate in big networks), giving them content you’d otherwise put on your site? I usually chose no. Did I want to create four recipes for an article that my readers might not ever see, rather than sharing them over four posts? Not often. I am not saying this was the right answer — obviously, getting your name out there is a great way to increase your audience /visibility– but I decided first and foremost to be loyal to the audience I already had. To this day, I rarely freelance unless I’m creating content that allows me to stretch my limbs, or something that I wouldn’t otherwise put on my site. It means that I don’t freelance very often, but my core audience hopefully doesn’t need to feel stiffed.

Of course, nothing stiffs a blog audience more than writing a cookbook! If you see your site as I do — not as something to bide your time until something bigger/better comes along, but the very center of your work, and your favorite part of it — that will be the least fun part.

Stephanie December 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I saw this quote today and thought of you:

“Most people are a wandering generality rather than a meaningful specific.” (in reference to bloggers)

It’s here:

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Hah! I suspect that most people who want to write a cookbook will never do so, unless they self-publish a few copies for their friends and family. It’s too hard. I don’t, however, think it means they are not goal oriented. They are talking about a fantasy, something they would love to imagine happening without a lot of effort.

Angie December 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I have only been blogging a couple of years, and still feel like I am a world away from a book. I am sticking to that old wisdom of the 10,000 hour rule. And I am not counting from when I first started cooking as a kid, but when I started blogging. Anything worth having never comes easy.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Smart beyond your years, Angie.

Ebeth December 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Yes, Diane, the statistics of book queries coming from bloggers is remarkable. But times really have changed in food writing, many times over since julia child made her debut on TV decades ago and wrote her book on a typewriter (oh the editing-ouch). And how about writing cookbooks by using 3 x 5 cards to organize the chapters. It used to be I queried the food magazines…now they do not want that, but will contact the writer if they want a particular story. Publishers also work that way, contact a writer who will give them a book to even out their catalog.

Even with 23 books published, I still have to go through all the steps in writing book proposals, which i consider writing hell, and submitting. I thought it would get easier, but it never did. I think bloggers already have some talent in cooking and writing to set up their blogs. the internet has been a real godsend as far as opportunity for writers to practice their craft (without an editor to boot) but also more important, connecting us writers, who are a lonely bunch often writing in their pajamas all day, to hundreds of other food writers, chefs, agents, and editors. And our family is so creative!

Publishers are always looking for ways to cut costs and bloggers, please note, have given them that option. A blogger will often do all the design, graphics, and photography, which has been traditionally done in house, and save the publisher beaucoup bucks. so there is a big attraction here. this shifts the type of cookbooks being published considerably. Food writers usually communicated thru magazine columns–take for example Deborah Madison, who does so in print and online very successfully without a blog, and one of my favorites from long ago, Abby Mandel.

I had a neighbor who was a scientific writer. He scoffed and tormented me for writing cookbooks, which is considered child’s work and not relevant overall to society. I bet he couldnt write a cookbook for beans. Just writing a proper recipe is a skill. Bloggers can write any which way they wish since they are chief cook and bottle washer. Of course in food writing, if you can write a recipe in proper form and sensory detail, your copy editor will love you.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Thanks for commenting again, Beth. Just a few things. Re publishers cutting cost, I’m not aware that bloggers lay out their books. Most don’t have the skills. Likewise, most are not good enough to provide to provide their own photographs. Also, Deborah Madison has a blog.

sarah December 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Hi Dianne- I love all your challenging posts. I’ve had friends/customers always pay me the compliment of ‘you should have your own cookbook’, and while [of course!] that would be dreamy, after reading your book and sticking my feet in the world of blogging and twitter I realize how that is not such an easy thing to do. I never started blogging in an attempt to get a cookbook – it was birthed in a desire to have a space to share recipes I loved with family and friends, but I have to admit the thought of being published and being *noticed* is always appealing. But I find when I’m just focusing on the food and the people I care about, I get the most out of my blog, and enjoying blogging the most.

As to why people don’t want to take the blogging plunge – I think there are several reasons. Blogging is a lot of work, and a lot of people want instant gratification. Before you read all about it, making a cookbook seems like cake [pun intended]. Also, learning about blogging and html, coming up with things to write and taking good photographs takes a lot of time. Sometimes more money. It might seem easier to just invest in writing a proposal and take the chance that someone will fall in love with your idea.

I guess I love blogging because I don’t see it as a platform – it’s something I just love to do. I love spending time editing photographs, writing, and making food for friends and family. If something ever evolved out of it – yeah! If not, I still see it as a collection of my work and my time.

diannejacob December 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Oh no, writing a cookbook is not cake compared to blogging. It’s just as hard. Just a different kind of hard.

Ebeth December 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

The blogs that turned into books I know about wrote they were doing all the work plus the photos. and loved doing all the work. but I can imagine most do not. it has to do with the pixels or quality of the photos. not all are like heidi swanson.

I will look up deborah’s blog. I didnt know she had one.

oh good grief. writing a cookbook is far more labor intensive than a blog. imagine taking a year to write one blog. then having a copy editor come along and rewrite it…ayeeeee.

Jamie December 15, 2011 at 6:59 am

I have long been amazed at the need and desire that so many people have to write a cookbook. Whereas it seems almost natural for a restaurant chef or owner and even a fabulous home cook to want to write a cookbook, I am somewhat astounded that more and more food bloggers – no matter their talent or qualifications- dream of authoring a cookbook? Is this to make money? I think this is actually more a form of validation or confirmation for many, as if one must be in black & white and not just on the internet to be taken seriously. Or maybe it is the desire for fame maybe more than fortune. Nowadays, it seems that within 6 months of starting a food blog, people are letting it be known that they want to be in print. I am curious as to your opinion of this, Dianne.

Nicole December 15, 2011 at 7:19 am

Jamie, forgive me for inserting myself, since I know you asked Dianne for her opinion. I think it’s what you suspected – they’re seeking validation. Blogging is still wide open, at least in theory. Any doofus can do it, even if they don’t do it well.


Jamie December 15, 2011 at 8:12 am

Thanks, Nicole. Isn’t it funny that for all that we do on internet – sharing stories and recipes, all of our socializing and networking and promoting – we still only feel validated on paper. Maybe this is why blogging doesn’t appeal to those who first desire to be published.

Nicole December 15, 2011 at 8:24 am

You bet, Jamie. And then, when the book comes out, it starts all over again. If no one buys it, you’re humiliated. It means that a publisher validated your work, but then the publisher was wrong – or so it seems. It can go on like that forever. Does the next book do well? Do you get to write a next book? Why has your amazon rank fallen? If it hasn’t, when will the other shoe drop? Turns out, publishing is like life (big shock). If you’re looking for external validation as a basis for your self-esteem, you’re screwed. :/

diannejacob December 16, 2011 at 10:47 am

Blogs are ethereal, Jamie. But you can hold a book in your hands. It’s not about making money — any cookbook author will tell you that — but more about validation or compiling. And not every blogger wants a book deal, as some bloggers have commented.

Nicole @ GFShoestring December 15, 2011 at 7:15 am

My heart has been racing since I read the title of your post, Dianne. I have so much to say that I find myself nearly unable go say anything at all. I wish this were in person. It would be easier to speak than to write somehow…
In blogging, there’s nowhere to hide. Either people read it (scary), or they don’t (painful). I think that’s why people don’t want to do it. And it’s so overwhelming, yet you have no sherpa. I have to be a one-woman band, and although I have more peers than you know what to do with — I’ve found there to be little support in the bloggy world. In cookbook writing, I have an agent and an editor. And they are both nothing short of amazing, and for that I am endlessly grateful.
It’s all hard work, but the blogging is harder than writing the cookbooks – at least for me. Because of the loneliness blogging tends to engender in me, despite all the talk about community.
Dianne, you are one of the few writers on the Internet who can get my heart to race like that. Thank you!


diannejacob December 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

Hah! Thank you, Nicole. Everyone’s different. If you read Deb Perelman’s reply to me, she said she’s rather write the blog than a cookbook any day. With a cookbook, you still wear many hats — writer, editor, recipe developer, even photographer, for some. Personally, I love wearing a lot of hats. That way my work is never dull, and there’s always a new challenge awaiting me.

Kelly December 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I enjoyed this article, as always. I think another benefit to having a blog (which is sort of a sub bullet to your point #2) is that in addition to figuring out what you might want to write about, you can start to understand what might interest others by looking at what your most popular/most visited recipes or posts are. I think sometimes we assume that just because we (or our immediate group of friends or peers) love a dish that it’s going to be intriguing to a mass market, but it’s not always the case. And conversely, I’m sometimes surprised when a dish that seems so obvious or expected to me is the one most appreciated by other people.

I’m also starting to wonder if from the perspective of a publisher, a platform is more valued than a novel idea and writing chops.

diannejacob December 16, 2011 at 10:54 am

Yes, good point. A blog is a great way to see what is of value to your readers.

You may be on to something about publishers. Someone with a huge platform can afford to hire a ghostwriter or collaborator.

Brenda T. December 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

As always, I enjoyed this post by you! I have a degree in journalism so have been writing in some form or fashion for quite some time. I started my blog about 3 1/2 years ago as an extension of some workshops I was teaching at the time. Boy, have things changed and evolved in that time! I, too, have had people tell me I should write a book. Just because I know how to write and what to write about does not mean that I know the first thing about actually getting everything organized to actually write that book (that’s a huge challenge I see!)

At the beginning of this year I made it my goal to build my platform and that has proven to be a great decision. Not necessarily one with overnight results though. Just navigating social media and all it’s constant changes seems like a full-time job sometimes! But I have made some wonderful connections and continue to have terrific opportunities through my efforts that even though I’m not sure where it will lead me it has been a great ride so far!

diannejacob December 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Terrific, Brenda. Building your platform will make you more successful when it comes to asking your readers to buy your book or whatever you choose to sell them. Good luck. Also check out this post about another way to charge for content.

Nomad Cook January 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I’m in the beginning stage of poundering about writing my cookbook and i was wondering if i really needed a blog. And reading everyone’s opinions, ideas and personal experiences was very enlightening and helpful. I’m going to start my blog and build my platform. I’m really excited about creating something new! I will also take a look at your book Dianne. Thank you all !

diannejacob January 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

Wonderful! Best of luck to you with your blog.

Gabriela June 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

So lets say I have al the resources to write a book but in order to get ideas aligned I start the blog first, do you recommend I use my blog posts as the recipes and topics for my book? or do I need to have completely new content on the book? Thanks!

diannejacob June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

You need mostly new content for the book, Gabriela. That’s the trick, to figure out what goes on the blog and what you save. You need a topic that’s broad and deep enough that there’s lots of material.

Raquel September 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I’ve been toying with the idea to write a cookbook for well over a year now. I own a small local catering company and launched a blog page on facebook striclty for special recipes that I come up with and food related topics. I love talking, writing, teaching, and anything else relating to food!

In fact started my cookbook, but just needed some direction and pointers on how to get it done and to catch the attention of a great publisher. This site helped with a few questions that I had lingering in my head…Thank you..

diannejacob September 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm

It’s my pleasure, Raquel. Good luck with your cookbook. Hope to answer more questions and keep you as a reader.

Raquel Smith September 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Thank you Dianne! I am currently reading your book, Will Write For Food. I am sure it will help me with my cookbook. Many thanks again…


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Zainab December 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Coming from the very indian kitchen , cooking and experienting food is my passion. I started my blog on a lazy afternoon when i had nothing to do. Photography was a hidden talent which i learned gradually over the time. I do want to write a cook book. My query is how do i start. Being a mother, a wife and a teacher, I am always juggling. There r more posts lying in my drafts then the ones published. I need help.
Is blogging the first step to writing a cook book? And do u think i know enough to even think about writing a cook book? Kindly help

diannejacob December 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Blogging can solve a lot, when you want to write a cookbook. It gets you into the regular rhythm of writing recipes, for example. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have lots of drafts. You just have to finish them and press publish.

Also, you don’t always have to post a recipe, which is quite time consuming.

And the blog should be building a base of readers who are interested in your book. Once you have a base of recipes and thousands of readers, it will be much easier to get a cookbook deal.

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