Five Biggest Mistakes in Making a Family Cookbook

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Planning a family cookbook? Erin Miller, owner of CookbookPeople.com, highlights some of the pitfalls and opportunities.

Five Biggest Mistakes in Making a Family Cookbook

The coming holidays bring together food and family, and they inspire many to unite them in a family cookbook. Unfortunately, what starts out as a noble idea to bring brothers, sisters, parents and grandchildren together can lead to disaster. According to Boise, Idaho based CookbookPeople.com owner Erin Miller, the key is to plan carefully and avoid making a few key mistakes.

Mistake #1. Making the One Final Perfect Family Cookbook.
"Oh, I see it all the time," says Erin. "You spend hundreds of hours pouring over every recipe, quibbling over every detail. You go with one of these big Vanity printing presses that charge you thousands of dollars to get them printed. You proudly hand them to every family member. And have no idea why they get buried at the bottom of a cupboard."

The problem is that there is no such thing as The One Final Perfect Family Cookbook. There are always new ideas and new recipes to add. There are always little typos you missed along the way.

"And even if you get everything absolutely perfect the first time," Erin continues, "what does that tell the rest of your family when you foist on them a massive hard cover book? 'It's not yours.' That's what."

Erin recommends you go with a much lower budget and try making it a holiday tradition. Give everyone a low-cost book and say, "Mark it up and return it to me in two years!" Make your Family Cookbook a living, breathing document that gets added to regularly, not just by you but by everyone.

CookbookPeople.com sells family cookbook software that lets users print a cookbook from home, drastically cutting the cost of printing copies.

Mistake #2. Making the Family Recipe Book Just About Recipes
Last Christmas did you run into the house, tear open the presents and leave without talking to anyone? Probably not. Building a family recipe book with just recipes is like ripping open presents and running out the door. There are a number of things you can include to put the "family" in your family cookbook:

  • Photos of events and family members. This will add interest even for those who hate cooking.
  • A short family tree or bibliography. This is a great place to add a little history and a little humor.
  • An address book. Everyone will love having one place that lists the entire family's emails, addresses and phone numbers.
  • A birthday calendar.

If this seems like a lot of work, it does not have to be. CookbookPeople.com's software, Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software ($24.95), does all the organizing for you with a few clicks.

The point is to make it a family recipe book and a family year book. Will Great Uncle Larry really care about your new peanut brittle recipe? Probably not. But he will take a look at it if it has a photo of him at third base seats in Shea Stadium.

Mistake #3. Bad Proof Reading.
If you are writing your family cookbook, you are going to be a lousy editor. Even if you are a good editor most of the time, you will disappoint yourself with what you missed. Get two or three people to help you.

"On my own family cookbook," Erin advises, "I always tell my proof readers there's a Waldo on every page. As in 'Where's Waldo.' The Waldo is a mistake that I know about. 'If you are half as clever as you think you are,' I say, 'you'll see it.' Sometimes there isn't a Waldo, but more often than not the proof reader will find typos anyway."

Mistake #4. Trying to Get it Done by Christmas.
Erin sees too many people focusing on a date instead of on the family. "Would it be nice to have a family cookbook to share on Christmas Day? Sure. But there's already a lot going on. Why not use that time instead to get buy-in?"

Thanksgiving and Christmas can be hectic enough without adding the burden of finishing a cookbook. Instead, just bring a few copies of a short mockup of your idea. When people can get a feel for how it will look when it is done, they will be much more responsive in helping you out. This will be critical in avoiding Mistake #5.

Mistake #5. Doing It All Yourself.
A family cookbook will never get done without somebody pushing it at every step. However, that doesn't mean you have to do all the work. As with any big project, breaking it down into smaller pieces and enlisting the help of others will make it seem much more manageable.

If you share your idea from the outset and get others as excited as you are, your job will be much easier. Set some clear timelines and hold others to them. If they can not make a deadline, it is up to you to decide if you should delay the cookbook or just leave their parts out for now. If you keep your cookbook inexpensive and produce a new version every few years, you can always pick up what was left out then.

As families continue to move farther apart, a family recipe book can be a great opportunity to share traditions and build new bonds. By including both the family and the recipes, you will not only avoid making many common mistakes, you will be creating an heirloom and a tradition that everyone looks forward to.

The Cookbook People manufactures and sells Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software ($24.95) at its site, CookbookPeople.com. It is the best-selling cookbook software on Amazon.com.

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Erin Miller

Ted Miller
The Cookbook People
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