The Baking of Mad Aunty (or How to Publish a Cookbook)

baking-mad-auntySee what I did there? It’s a blog about a cookbook, you see, and… alright, whatever.

Every author needs a voice that separates them from other authors, otherwise you have… plagiarism. Finding my voice – one that I’m satisfied with – was a bit of a struggle in the beginning. After all, I apparently talk like a sailor when I’m around my friends, so I needed to find that acceptable balance between Martha Stewart and Roseanne Barr. At the same time, I need to be engaging, authoritative (this is a teaching book), clear and concise, but still sound like me. Whew!

Since I like talking like a sailor, I thought it best to let the buyer beware – so I used some sea salt on the cover. Yes, I censored the naughty bits a little, but you should know by looking at the cover that I’m going to let loose an f-bomb every now and then. If that sort of thing really offends you, then Bad Aunty may not be for you.

How to publish a cookbook

I began this knowing absolutely nothing about authoring or publishing. The knowledge of cooking was in my head, and in the numerous three-ring recipe binders I have assembled over the years. So I began the baby steps needed to transfer that knowledge to the written word – I set up a WordPress blog on my laptop and began writing short posts to capture my ideas in little chunks. I never published them for the world to see, they remained on my computer only. This allowed me to experiment with my ‘voice’, but without fear of criticism from trolls, and to come back after a few months and see if I still liked what I read. Quite often I did not! That’s also when I noticed my infatuation with exclamation points!! Every other sentence ended in one – I was so excited to pass on my knowledge!!!

What I needed was a system – a decent tool for writing that would catch my typos, grammaticals, ridiculous punctuation, and let me practice with different layouts. I went to my old standby – Microsoft Word – and started laying out each chapter. Word is great for typing documents, but the results looked more like business letters than a beautiful cookbook – I clearly needed more powerful tools.

I then enlisted the help of my husband Gary, the computer nerd. He created the layout you see in these images using Adobe InDesign – a very powerful tool used by many print designers. He modeled the size after the popular Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library series. That size fits well in my cookbook shelf, and was perfect for the amount of content I planned to include.

We consulted many cookbooks from my library to collect some of the best design considerations. One of the main things Gary pointed out to me was how the Williams-Sonoma books all laid flat when you opened them. I hadn’t really thought about this point until he showed me the difference between a ‘lay-flat’ binding and a so-called ‘perfect binding’ that is popular in a lot of self-published books.

Perfect-bound books have a their pages glued to a spine. This is anything but perfect if you want to keep the book open while you follow a recipe. The only way to do that is to ‘crack’ the spine, which breaks the glue joint – and likely shortens the life of it. Perfect Binding is inexpensive and widely available, hence its popularity, but it is unsuitable for a cookbook in my opinion.

"Perfect Binding"

“Perfect Binding”

"Lay Flat Binding"

“Lay Flat Binding”

My initial research into print houses found that many do not offer a lay-flat binding, so I started looking at other published books to see where they were printed. Eventually I discovered Worzalla Publishing in Wisconsin, referred to me by the author of a successful Kickstarter cookbook, Anna Watson Carl. Worzalla is able to offer everything I need and want for my cookbook, so with that search out of the way I was able to move on to the task of finding an editor and photographer.

I knew that I wanted lots and lots (and lots!) of photographs in the cookbook.  I believe that no matter how sparkling and honest the prose, the photos will ultimately tell the story of each cooking class and illustrate the accompanying recipe.  I think it is exceedingly important that novice cooks are able to see what each completed dish looks like, and how it looks during the cooking process.

So, with iPad in hand, I started taking photos of my own food, experimenting with light and color, and found that, while I was able to capture some very beautiful images, I was unable to get out of my own way.  My kitchen is shadowy, my hands too unsteady for extremely close work, and to complicate matters, I only have two hands, not the three or four necessary for photographing knife skills.

As for editing, I’m just arrogant enough to think I don’t need any editing! (Except for those pesky exclamation points.) In actuality, I knew I needed an editor’s critical eye for the simple reason that I’m too close to the project.  My chosen editor would only make what I’ve written better. (more to come)

Leave A Reply