What’s the first recipe in your cookbook?

I’ve been reading a lot of cookbooks recently. Some for research, some through authors I’ve met, some through random chance. And without naming names, I find that many miss out on the opportunity to sell the casual reader by making your first recipe absolutely irresistible.

I work as an advertising copywriter in my day job. Marketers know that regardless how good an ad is (or how good the product you’re selling), if the headline or email subject line or direct mail envelope doesn’t pull them in nobody’s going to read it. Well, “nobody” is a little harsh. Hopefully you have devoted fans who hang on your every word. But those folks are going to read you regardless. What you want is to convert the on-the-fence people who could become fans given the right motivation. That’s where your big sales potential lies.

Does your cookbook you start with a recitation of ingredients and core preparations? That’s preaching to the choir. What’s in it for the casual reader who has not decided to come on board with you?

Do you start with a section on appetizers? That’s the most common organizational strategy I’ve been seeing: let’s cover the meal from beginning to end. The problem is that many appetizers are not that interesting and the execution is more important than the ingredients, so you lose readers (potential fans) right away.

My proposal is this: open the book with 5 or 10 recipes that make your approach unique and exciting. The recipes should also be non-daunting; not necessarily cuisine 101, but without special techniques that require practice to avoid failure. Explain why you’re including the recipe, how you developed it, what it means to you. Repeat it in its appropriate section within the book if you like; initially you’ll think this is a must but your editor will eventually talk you out of it. Try that and see if it doesn’t get you some new attention.

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