The hidden risks of writing a cookbook

 cookbooks on shelf

For many chefs, it seems like a no-brainer to write a cookbook, both in terms of finances and career advancement. Hefty advances and the allure of possibly winning an award are too tempting to overlook. But there are downsides involved that the chefs only find out about after the contract is signed. Grub Street explores the hidden risks of cookbook writing.

Chefs often underestimate the amount of time they will have to put into the writing - and later promotion - of the cookbook. For Chris Fischer, author of The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook, promoting the book meant taking off several months in the summer, the height of the tourist season and busiest time for his restaurant. 

While hefty advances - often between $100,000 and $200,000 - lure many chefs into the publishing arena, that money has to go toward the cost of putting the book together. That usually means paying a designer, photographer, recipe testers, and possibly a co-author. The advance isn't paid as one lump sum; instead, it's doled out at different times during the process, which can take several years. Most chefs spend more than the advance before the book hits bookstores, and in the end many chefs end up never earning money even after the book is published. 

Alex Stupak, chef and author of the award-winning book Tacos, says that any profit he made from the sale of his book was eaten up by his expenses in promoting the book. The cost of traveling to bookstores across the country is borne by the author, not the publishing house. Then there is the time the chef has to spend away from the restaurant, which can come with other headaches. 

So why do chefs continue to write cookbooks? Brand promotion is one reason, and since most chefs are already fully invested in the creative process, there is also the satisfaction that comes from creating something that is both beautiful and useful. "We designed a piece of art, a piece of history," says Fischer, who is considering writing a second cookbook. It's probably fair to say that most chefs don't enter the field with aspirations that are purely financial.

2 Comments

  • HollyWass  on  7/15/2017 at 7:11 AM

    Cooking is my favorite thing to do. I love trying new things and this is the perfect site for my creative side

  • EmilyR  on  7/15/2017 at 11:29 AM

    Fascinating! Thanks for this.

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