The undercooked cookbook.

I may be more sensitive to the topic, as a publication designer. I recently purchased local chef’s cookbook for our cookbook club that came with high reviews of unique and tasty Senegambian cuisine. I purchased the book at full retail rate because I do believe in supporting the self publisher and once in my hands my heart sank. The layout and design that didn’t do justice or is very good at walking a reader through the steps. On top of that, the photos are not the best quality and at points images have no place in context. One can see this was an example of a woman who really did it all herself with no experience with printing, design, writing or copy editing.

These experiences just break my heart. But perhaps I am biased. I am constantly questioning my own designs everyday. But not everyone is so critical of design in general. What is more sad, in this day and age, the printers who produce these books — I can only imagine how un proud they are of the overall publications… another job for the bank, but come on.

I would acknowledge that the high cost to bring in copyrighters, designers and photographers can be a challenge to someone who is just trying to get their family recipes documented for themselves and their family. And when using small run digital online printers, the $30 cost per book makes it a challenge to sell it for much. But if a cookbook author is looking to make it to the bookstore shelves — the investment is required.

I am a lover of cookbooks and base my design on creating publications that respect how people skim and don’t read. Especially when you are in a kitchen and the pots are boiling, the oil is spitting and for some of us that little child who just wants to ‘help’, but you are feeling the pressure to cook something you haven’t done and are stressed out! Top that all off with instructions that are a challenge to read and quickly refer to while in the middle of it all.

For all you other amazing cooks and chefs out there — do your best at book presentation as you do on your plate.
  1. Write each recipe out in a document and take breaks to read and re-read, even pass onto a friend or mentor who can call you out on your editing needs and if things sound right. This process should take 2–6 months, anything faster you will have mistakes.
  2. Over those months, cook up each recipe and take quality photos of each. There are many do it yourself tips — look them up!
  3. Price out the various online publishers and along the way get an idea on the best page count and size of book. Once you know that — then you begin using a design layout software. This process you should expect to take 2–4 months minimum, especially if you are not comfortable with the software you have chosen.
  4. Keep in mind that a recipe should be a minimum of 1 page, 2 if including a photo or the instructions and ingredients are quiet intense. Make sure it all flows.
  5. Once you have it all flowed in — print out one or two copies — it is pricey — but really worth it in the end. This is the chance to see the tangible review. There are so many issues you wouldn’t notice on screen — spread it around — hire a designer to consult on any advice if you couldn’t afford to hire one in the first place.
Bottom line, the flavours in your book may soar, but a poorly designed book can sour the whole experience.
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