As of November 2020, we’ve self published more than ten cookbooks in both digital and hard copy formats, and we’ve done it with nearly zero design skills. This guide covers our entire cookbook creation process and will teach you how to make your own cookbook in no time at all. Seriously, it’s easier than you might think.
Before we dive in, I’d like reiterate we’re not professional designers or publishers. We prioritize the content and recipes that go into our cookbooks above flawless book design. That said, you could use our same process but put as much design flare as you’d like into your own cookbook.
Now, let’s talk design.
Designing Your Cookbook
We use a freemium tool called Canva to design our cookbooks. If you’re a non-designer like us and haven’t used Canva yet, you’re in for a treat. There are tons of templates and ways to get help pairing fonts, colors, and design elements. You can start with a recipe card template and make it your own (like we did) or start from scratch.
Once you choose a template, you’ll need to decide whether the size will work for your cookbook. If not, you can easily resize designs. We size our cookbook projects to 8.75″ x 11.25″ because we make hard copy versions (more on that below).
The yellow churros recipe card from above is actually the same template we used to make our current recipe cards. Pictured below is a shot from the interior of the free cookbook we use as an email opt-in. You can see we sized the image down to create wider borders (for printing purposes), changed to a white background, and moved the title into the image to create more space for text.
Once you’ve created your recipe card in Canva, you’ll want to download it as a Print PDF and save each file to your computer. You can then compile all the PDFs together to make the interior of your cookbook.
Making Your Table of Contents
Before you start mashing everything together, you’ll want to organize your cookbook and create a table of contents. This may come as a surprise, but we use Canva to make our ToCs.
There are plenty of table of contents templates to choose from. Choose a design that fits your recipe card and resize as necessary. You may have to do a little tinkering with images and spacing to get things just right. I’ll also add you can add pages to a design at the bottom of the design window.
Aside from the table of contents and recipe cards, you may want to add introduction pages, section covers, and other text-only pages. Since you’ll already be working in Canva, I recommend loading up a blank page matching the size of your other pages and creating there. But you can also use a text editor like Word or Google Docs and resize as needed.
Designing the Cookbook Cover
I know I don’t need to say it at this point, but I’ll say it anyway. We use Canva to design the covers of our cookbooks with the exception of two, which we outsourced custom artwork for.
Using a template and substituting in your own photography for the cover is the easiest way to get the show on the road. If you’re not in love with your photography, however, you can always go with stock photos. Though I wouldn’t recommend using stock photography of finished dishes as readers will wonder where that dish is inside your cookbook. Go with something like ingredients or non-finished dishes in the works.
Assembling Your Cookbook
If you happen to have a solid PDF editor, you can use that to assemble and compress your cookbook. But if you’re an upstart with minimal tools, you can do everything right from the desktop of a Mac. It’s as easy a dragging and dropping, for the most part.
Sorry if you’re a PC user, I haven’t used one in years!
Once you have all your files downloaded and organized with a table of contents, open up the first recipe file in your cookbook. Click Edit > Insert > Page from File > and select the second recipe file.
Once you have your second file added, you’ll see both files in your view toolbar (on the far left). Then you can simply drag and drop the remaining recipe files in that toolbar and save the file. Boom. That’s the finished interior of your cookbook!
Be sure to add your section covers, table of contents, and any other files to the interior before finally adding the cover.
And that’s a wrap. You now know how to make your own cookbook! But don’t stop there. Here are a few upgrades you should give your new cookbook, especially if it’s an eBook:
- Use a PDF editor or a free tool like Smallpdf or I Love PDF to compress your final cookbook. Not everyone has 5G (or even 3G) yet!
- Add clickable links within your table of contents that jump to recipe pages and a return to table of contents clickable button to the bottom of every recipe page.
- Create an about page with links to your social media. And if it’s a free cookbook, give people a way to share the link to opt-in and get the cookbook.
How to Make a Hard Copy Cookbook
We use Lulu to print our cookbooks. While you can sell directly from their store, we let our Patreon supporters buy them directly from Lulu at cost. I actually started out with Lulu using their Lulu xPress tool for Shopify. If you don’t have your own blog and wanted to make a Shopify store to sell your cookbooks, that’s an option.
I won’t walk you through the step-by-step process in this guide because Lulu has their own publishing toolkit you can download. Creating your first hard copy cookbook will take some tinkering, especially getting all the sizing and formatting just right. But once you get it down, it’s easy to replicate.
They also have great publisher support. We’ll occasionally have some formatting issues that won’t print properly. Lulu always catches them, fixes the file, and makes it easy to revise and get going again.
There are other publishers out there, but we only have experience with Lulu. I’ll add that if you plan to self publish a hard copy cookbook from the start, you’ll want to start there. Our method is a great way to design a book once as an eBook that can be easily repurposed as a hard copy. Other platforms may require much different formatting so starting with the hard copy format would save you some time.
What to Do with Your Cookbook
We’ve tried lots of things with our self published cookbooks but currently we only have two ways to access them. Our Bone Apple Tea cookbook is a free download, and the rest of our cookbook library is for Patreon supporters. The supporters can also order hard copies directly from Lulu at cost. Going this route allows us to avoid any order fulfillment and shipping, customer service issues, and worrying about sales tax and other financial issues for international orders.
But we’re probably unique in this approach. You’re likely creating a cookbook to sell, so here are tools we’ve used:
- You can use Gumroad to sell eBooks and digital products if you don’t have your own website or want to set up an e-commerce solution on your site.
- Tools like SendOwl and Easy Digital Downloads allow you sell digital products on your own blog or website.
- If you don’t have a website and want to sell hard copies, check out something like Shopify + Lulu xPress.
Side note: If you don’t have your own blog, you should start one. Check out my guide to starting a blog.
- Decide on a page size and whether you’re going to go with a digital eBook or potentially print hard copies.
- Use Canva to design recipe cards, section covers, table of contents, and a cover for your cookbook. Assemble the cookbook, compress the final file, and add clickable links for reader convenience.
- Decide whether to use your cookbook as an email newsletter opt-in or sell it.
- Stack email subscribers or fat stacks, yo!
And that’s the way the cookie(book) crumbles. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.