Shrimp Tacos Original Recipe

Secrets of a Cookbook Editor: 5 Steps to Writing Foolproof Recipes

There’s an art to creating a good recipe. Many people—including myself—make whole careers out of helping authors do just that. But how hard could it be to publish recipes for a cookbook? Recipes that anyone, and I mean ANYONE can be successful cooking? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how we ensure that each of the recipes we publish in our cookbooks is as precise, clear, and intuitive as possible.

There’s an art to creating a good recipe. Many people—including myself—make whole careers out of helping authors do just that. But how hard could it be to publish recipes for a cookbook? Recipes that anyone, and I mean ANYONE can be successful cooking? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how we ensure that each of the recipes we publish in our cookbooks is as precise, clear, and intuitive as possible.

1 Review  Our first step is to review the original recipes submitted by the author. Our authors have developed and fully tested the recipes before they submit the manuscript. 

Shrimp Tacos Original Recipe

When we receive the recipes, we look for general patterns—good or bad—and list them in memo form, which will help inform the next steps.

Sample Recipe Edit Memo

2 Refine  The second step is to hire a professional copyeditor to layer our “house style” onto the recipe. This means changing words, phrases, punctuation, or other expressions to reflect the guidelines in our style handbook. Every publisher will have such a handbook (ours is nearly 50 pages long!), which indicates preferences for how to express certain words (chile vs. chilli); how we handle abbreviations (lb or pounds); what are our preferred punctuation rules (embracing or eschewing the serial comma) and more. Our style handbook also includes international equivalents so that readers in other countries using the metric system can easily use our recipes.

Shrimp tacos with house style

During this step, the copyeditor will put the ingredients in the order that they are used in the recipe, and in descending quantities (for example, 1 tablespoon oil comes before 2 teaspoons of vinegar) to help ensure every reader will be using the same method to prepare the recipe. They will also edit for grammar, syntax, tone, and other word-nerdy things.

3 Clarify  The third step is to generate queries for the author. Here, the edit team will insert questions and comments into the document, asking for clarifications or modifications to the recipe, or alerting the author about why we are making certain changes. We then send the document back to the author and ask them to address the queries.

Shrimp Tacos Queries

4 Flow  After the author queries are answered, the recipes are considered “ready for flow.” While the recipes are being edited, our graphic design team creates the page dimensions, type style, and other design features such as illustrations or colorful accents that will help bring the recipes to life. As the recipes are flowed into the book’s design template, the designer creates boldly colored boxes indicating any overmatter, which is text that can’t be accommodated in the space allotted. The editor and/or author then make adjustments to the text so that it fits on the page.

Shrimp Tacos Flow into Design

5 Perfect  Books that are photographed may go through another level of refinement to be sure the recipe matches the image. For example, if the team at the photo shoot added fresh lime wedges to the plate, or a garnish that wasn’t originally present, the editor will mention it in the recipe or in the headnote so that the readers are not confused. In addition, during the photography step, the recipe is tested a final time to ensure that it works correctly. Any adjustments are noted in the recipe. Both photographed and nonphotographed recipes are then proofread multiple times by a professional proofreader as well as in-house editors to make sure nothing is missed. The final result will be an easy-to-follow recipe that anyone should be able to cook. 


Even if you are not publishing recipes for commercial sale, as we do here, you can employ these same steps with your own personal recipe collection or food blog.

  • Review: Read your recipes with a critical eye noting any patterns or tendencies. Reading them aloud can help get you thorough trouble spots.
  • Refine: Keep a notebook with your own preferences for style, abbreviations, punctuation, etc. and update it continually. This will sharpen both your recipe writing and editing skills and help you develop a consistent style and voice.
  • Clarify: Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your recipes and insert any questions or comments. Better yet, ask them to cook the recipe and let you know how it turned out.
  • Flow: If you wish to print your recipes, decide on a preferred font style and font size and employ any text formatting that you like on each part of the recipe. (Tip: If you have a friend with graphic design experience, seek out their help.) Use this style consistently for each recipe in your collection to give it a uniform, professional look. If you are organizing your recipes on a digital platform, such as for a blog, use one of the preformatted templates in any content management system, such as WordPress.
  • Perfect: Set the recipes aside for a day or two so that your mind is clear. Then, read the recipes again. With a fresh mind, you may notice things that need adjustment that you didn’t see before.

Get into practice of following these five steps and you’ll be creating your own foolproof recipes in no time! And if you want to try the shrimp tacos in the recipe above, look for them in our recent release, Good for You: Easy, Healthy Recipes for Everyday.