Cookbook writing is not the path to riches

“Nobody wants to talk about how hard it is to get by as a writer.” This is part of what bakery owner and bestselling author Alison Robicelli explains to The New York Times about writing a cookbook. Robicelli and other authors recount tales of publishers approaching them with offers that included no advance, no budget for food, and no funds for recipe development. ‘Think of the exposure’ is the lure used to draw in aspiring authors.

And there are plenty of aspiring authors for publishers to target with that pitch. Bloggers, food writers, and even avid home cooks dream about writing a bestselling cookbook. They probably expect that they could make a lot of money doing so, but for many first-time authors, writing a cookbook is little better than break even. Often the initial offer from a publisher, if you are lucky enough to get one, does not include any upfront money, which makes doing the backbreaking (and expensive) work of recipe development, testing, and photography all the more difficult.

That is what happened to Urvashi Pitre, author of Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. When that book’s publisher approached her, they asked her to develop 50 recipes in three months without providing an advance or funds for recipe development and testing. Despite these obstacles, Pitre accepted the offer and her book ended up selling more than 100,000 copies. Although she has made little money on that book, Pitre says that without that project under her belt she wouldn’t have landed a two book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

EYB’s own Jenny Hartin, author of 101 Things to Do with a Bundt® Pan, echoes the sentiments expressed by these authors. Writing a cookbook, she says, “is incredibly hard work with little financial reward.” For many authors writing their first cookbook is a labor of love, even if it may also provide a foot in the door for better offers down the road.

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