The financial challenges of cookbook writing

We have posted many stories about people who have written (or ghostwritten) cookbooks. The tales include sneak peeks into the worlds of recipe testing, design, the long back-and-forth of editing, finding a voice, and so on. One thing rarely discussed in these stories: the finances. Food52 takes us behind the curtain to explore the ‘harsh financials’ of cookbook publishing

Money and booksThere are many components to the larger financial picture: how much an author gets as an advance, how much the publisher invests in the project and how much of the production costs are borne by the author, how much it costs to actually print the book, and how much goes into advertising the book once it is published. The final piece – and the one everyone wants to know about – is how much the author makes in profit from the book.

The disappointing truth is that many (perhaps most) authors make little, if any, money on a cookbook. To help explain this, the Food52 article points to a recent long-form essay on Medium by Nick Kokonas, co-author of the excellent Life on the Line  and the forthcoming The Aviary Cocktail Book. (We recently reported on the Kickstarter project that is funding the latter book.) In his essay, Kokonas details the finances of traditional cookbook publishing, including the heavy load carried by the authors compared to the risks assumed by the publishing house, and explains why he and Grant Achatz chose to self-publish their book. 

While it used to be extremely difficult to successfully self-publish and promote a book, changing technologies have made it much easier. Social media is a low-cost and effective promotional tool (provided you have an appropriate audience), and online publishing tools have become more sophisticated. 

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