Makings of a Book / Work

The Making of a Cookbook: The Cover Shot

The making of a cookbook: the cover shot

Every time I wrap up another phase of my cookbook, it always feels so, so close yet so, so far away. We’re still months (like, six months) from the official release, but since half that time is spent in printing, we’re much closer to the finish line than it seems.

This week, the blurbs are starting to come in from authors I’ve long admired (I’m still stunned they’ve agreed to review my book!), the final tweaks are being made on the book layout and design, and the front cover is set. in. stone. !!

May I announce my soon-to-release first book from Voyageur Press, The CSA Cookbook: Thinking Inside the Box.

The CSA Cookbook: Thinking Inside the Box

Just like it says on the cover, this book gives you “No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Agriculture Box or Backyard Bounty.”

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for some time are likely familiar with my approach to farm-to-fork meals. I like to utilize all the unconventional parts of vegetables that most people toss away, such as broccoli leaves, tomato leaves, carrot tops, and nasturtium pods.

But in this book, I go beyond those recipes and introduce more vegetables you might not have known were edible, from the tender tips of your squash vines to the leaves on your sweet pepper plants.

I give you ideas for using up those leftover bundles of herbs from your CSA share and a guide on storing produce for maximum freshness. And I’ll show you how almost anything green (including stems, stalks, and flowers) can be turned into a pesto!

Trying to convey all of this in one image — the cover, and the first impression someone has of the book — took a few rounds between the publisher’s team (my editor, art director, designer, marketing people, and ultimately the CEO) and my own team (just the photographer and me).

As you might remember from my other cookbook shoots (here and here), my talented hubby, Will Taylor, photographed all the recipes. We were given creative free reign with the front and back covers, which sounded like a dream at first but proved to be a challenge.

Adding to that challenge was the fact that the cover was one of the first elements of the book to be finalized, long before the manuscript was ever turned in or the recipes ever shot. It lands in the publisher’s catalog and starts being pitched to our distribution channels (here and abroad) before it actually becomes a book. Talk about the pressure of making a right first impression!

We had only submitted a handful of images by that point, so the publisher tried a variety of recipe shots for the cover and the designer played with a variety of typefaces and placements.

Initial cover contenders

But how do you choose that one recipe to represent an entire book? Was a salad appropriate for something called The CSA Cookbook, or should we show a box full of vegetables? Would that imply a raw or vegan book, or should we use a cooked recipe? What if someone hated carrots, or thought the watermelon were tomatoes?

I can tell you that I was completely stressed at this stage, worried that we wouldn’t have time to submit a cover concept, worried that they’d go with one of the initial recipes we shot when there would be 75 more to choose from if they’d only wait a few more weeks.

We weren’t 100 percent absolute on any of the picks, so Will and I put our heads together. I looked at what must have been hundreds of book covers on Amazon, making notes on what I liked or didn’t like. I bounced ideas back and forth with my editor and relayed the best ideas to Will.

Through it all, we agreed on one thing: We wanted the cover to show a glorious assortment of fresh produce (in case anyone wasn’t familiar with what a CSA was) as well as a finished dish that would have wide appeal.

It started with a few sketches, a trip to the farmers’ market, and a rummage through our backyard to source all the food and props needed for our scene.

Sketching cover concepts

Testing potential backdrops

Vegetables from the garden and the farmers' market

Back cover setup

Styling the back cover

Pugs supervising the photo shoot

We shot five different scenes using more or less the same vegetables (a bounty of summertime farm fare) and the same dish (zucchini noodles with roasted tomatoes), but arranged a little differently each time. It might look like we just piled a bunch of produce together, but you wouldn’t believe how long it took to position each piece!

Every tomato, every pepper, even the twisty ties wrapped around the greens were meticulously and deliberately placed. We wanted the colors to work in harmony and the lines to flow smoothly, directing your eyes around the image… and yet, we wanted it all to look very natural and approachable.

Every piece of produce is meticulously placed

Styling the shot

Capturing the scene

A week later, the publisher sent us three new mockups: the one that was ultimately chosen, and two more from our submissions.

Final cover contenders

For me, it was a toss-up. I liked them all for different reasons… but in the end, the publisher went with what they believed had greatest marketability and shelf appeal.

I don’t know how it works at other publishers, but at Quarto Publishing Group (the parent company), the author is just one of many voices in the book-publishing process… a small voice, at that. So while my feedback was considered for the cover, the final pick was heavily favored by the sales and marketing departments. After all, they know what sells.

Out of curiosity, I did an informal poll of 20 friends and family (of all cooking abilities, and even some that were non-cooks) after the cover was chosen. I showed them the three different covers and asked which one caught their eye the most. Seventeen of those 20 chose the winner, so it seems we made the right choice!

I am beyond excited to see the book taking shape and can’t wait to hold a real paper copy in my hands. It shouldn’t be long before I’m able to share some teasers from the book, so I hope you like what you’ve seen so far.

Thank you for your continued patience and overwhelming support while I’m on this wild book-writing journey!

Read the full “Making of a Cookbook” series:

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »