Every food blogger, influencer and YouTuber these days seems to have published a cookbook. It must be lucrative, right?
You’d be surprised.
Book advances are typically minimal and costs associated with publishing and promoting a cookbook are exorbitant. So why go through the lengthy and labor-intensive process if it doesn’t result in a substantial payoff? There’s actually a good reason.
We spoke with five cookbook authors about the emotional and financial rewards of publishing a cookbook.
Book Advances And Costs
Publishing houses pay an advance for the cookbook, and this can vary from $10,000 for an unknown author to closer to $100,000 for more established authors with a proven audience and some level of fame.
Liz Moody, host of the Healthier Together podcast and author of the “Healthier Together Cookbook,” told HuffPost that she estimates “at the lowest end, for a single subject book, if the publisher doesn’t care who you are and you might do your own photography, you would [get an advance around] $10,000 to $20,000. And then in the low-end for a book not just designed for SEO purposes, I would say $40,000 to $50,000. Then for a mid-sized author, around $90,000 to $100,000, and then for a really big or famous ― not Chrissy Teigen-famous, but bring-their-own-audience famous ― I would say around $150,000 to $200,000.”
While those numbers might seem generous, Moody reminds us that writing this type of book is typically the work of a full-time job for upwards of a year.
Indeed, the work involved in writing, photographing, shopping for ingredients and testing the recipes is a significant time investment that forces work on other projects to be delayed or postponed. As Nikole Goncalves, author of “The Healthnut Cookbook,” shared: “You also have to consider the time and energy you’re putting into creating the book that takes away from working on other projects in your business.”
Out of that advance, a number of associated costs are required, the largest of which is the photo shoot. Rachel Mansfield, author of the cookbook “Just the Good Stuff,” told HuffPost that the cost for her book “was twice the amount of my salary at my full-time job before I was doing this full time.” And Moody said the 10-day photo shoot for her cookbook cost $40,000.
Expenses abound, from photography to outside publicity, which Moody explained could be another major cost. While publishers typically provide a publicity list for writers, authors are expected to share attention and promotion with the other books that are also being released around the same time. What Moody recommended instead was using an outside team to help push your book, a cost that can start at “$5,000 a month, easily, and they usually recommend that you do that for four months when your book comes out, so that you have it a little bit before your book comes out and a little bit after your book comes out. So that’s $20,000 right there.”
Lauren Toyota, a social media celeb and author of “Hot for Food,″ had a somewhat more positive experience, though perhaps her combined YouTube and Instagram audience helped buoy that success. “Once I had the deal, all the conversations I had with fellow colleagues in the cookbook publishing business were kind of negative,” she said, acknowledging that she is in the minority. “People have had bad experiences working with publishers and editors, don’t get the support they expect, and always say, ‘Don’t expect to make money,’ ‘It’s so much work, but worth it in the end,’ or ‘We’re not doing it for money.’”
Why Publish At All?
Many authors feel that publishing their work creates a different level of trust with their readers than what they share through their social channels. This may be because the process has many gatekeepers, which, as Mansfield shared, “validated the process.”
Moody noted that publishing can “establish you as an expert in your space.” Indeed, while the overall process for many of these authors hasn’t shifted dramatically, the gatekeeping that has traditionally been associated with publishing is imbued with importance.
While book advances may not be as remunerative as many authors would like, the payoff can come in the opportunities a cookbook creates. As Karlene Karst, author of “The Kitchen is for Dancing” shared: “From my experience the financial rewards come from other doors and ventures that have been made possible from being an author and an ‘expert’ in a particular area. Usually a book is a means to something else, and in my experience it will open up other fruitful doors.”
Whether that means speaking engagements, expanding your business, selling other products, reaching new audiences or laying the groundwork for a second book, the authors we spoke with all noted that opportunities abounded as an indirect result of publishing their books.
Although the costs are great and the workload is tremendous, every author we spoke with enthused about the opportunity to put “published” beside their title, and many spoke about plans for another book in the future
Ultimately, the tactile nature of cooking could drive us to purchase physical cookbooks while continuing to enjoy scrolling through Instagram food posts and long blog entries with recipes and images of the dish being prepared.
“I don’t think having a book in print will ever go out of style, especially when it comes to cookbooks,” Joy McCarthy, author of “The Joyous Cookbook,” said. “I buy other types of digital books, but I’ve only ever buy cookbooks in the printed form. My most loved books are full of Post-it notes and dog-eared ― you just can’t do this with a digital book.”