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Help Me with My Cookbook’s Cover!

It’s been a while since I talked about Parents Need to Eat Too, probably because I’ve been so busy coming up with recipes, coordinating recipe testing with my amazing (and huge) crew of mom-testers, and, y’know, writing it. But this week I’m finally starting to believe this is real (I know, it’s been real for nearly a year—it just hadn’t felt that way). See, on Wednesday my agents and I went to HarperCollins to have our first official marketing discussion about the book. We sat around the table with my fabulous, amazing, insightful editor, her boss (the VP of creative development), the associate publisher, a publicity bigwig, and two marketing people, and talked about nothing but me and my book.

This was a bit bizarre for me—before I left corporate life in 2002, I was on the other side of the table. I used to be an advertising & promotion person for a different, equally humongous, publisher, and in these meetings it was my job to guide the author to an understanding of what was a smart, effective way to promote an upcoming book. It was absolutely surreal for me to be the focus of the discussion like this. I kept wanting to turn to the author and say, “Well, we’ve found that…” Except the author was me, and of course everything I want to do to promote the book makes perfect sense. Uh huh.

That prior experience came in handy: I learned long ago that it’s always wise to bribe your publisher with food. Thanks to a tray of The Best Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Entire World, I’m pretty sure Harper’s decided to triple the marketing budget. No, quadruple it.

We talked quite a bit about the book’s audience and the best ways to reach them, and as you might imagine I had quite a lot to say about that. I was a little more uncertain, though, when discussion turned to the cover and what should be on it. My taste is clean, modern, simple, and it’s all too easy for that to turn out plain old boring. Plus it’s important to me that the book looks accessible—I know you can feed yourself and care for a new baby without a trip to the loony bin, and the cover should make that promise. When it comes to Parents Need to Eat Too, the cooking class, many people have responded to this picture, which I took during a class:

This photo itself wouldn’t work, but would a re-done version, with just one mom & one baby, not standing near the stove? And should it be a photograph or an illustration? Personally, I loathe cutesy illustrations on books for moms. Why do they assume we need cartoons to understand what a book is about, just because we’ve had babies? Of course there are illustrators out there who aren’t cutesy…

I’m not sure if I’m navel-gazing here, so I thought I’d turn to you for help. What are some of your favorite book covers, either of cookbooks (especially family-oriented ones) or parenting books? Harper’s asked me to send a list, and I’m sure I’m missing some good ones. So please, take a look at your bookshelf and let me know what you like!

Thanks eversomuch.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. MyKidsEatSquid

    Your cookbook sounds so cool. I like photos versus illustrations too–they feel more authentic. Now, since I weighed in when do I get one of those fabulous chocolate chip cookies?

  2. NoPotCooking

    I agree that most mom-type cookbooks are cartoon covers. I have One Bite WOn't Kill You and the Jessica Seinfeld books and they are both like that. I think a drawing would be ok, as long as it wasn't all pastel and cutesy.

  3. l_r_

    Debbie, I love that photo, but I think it (or a restaging of it) wouldn't work for two reasons: First, the back-carry and maybe babywearing in general isn't universally appealing or accessible among moms. A certain subset would probably be more likely to pick up your book because of it, but for others it might connote a certain crunchiness or AP-style that could be a turn-off. Second, I think that two moms & kids promotes a class rather than the actual intended audience — parents by themselves at home with babies trying to get dinner on the table. I'm with you on the cutesy illustrations, though I am not super into generic-looking photos of babies and moms either. I'm thinking of those pregnancy books with the mom in repose, hand on belly. What about a food shot with baby paraphernalia on the table — a rattle, a bottle, etc… — something where the food seems put-together, delicious, and serene, even though the environment is full of baby stuff? – Lyssa

  4. Ann

    I would prefer a drawing, I think photos with people can get dated looking really quickly, and not in a good retro way.

    Maybe an aesthetic like this:

    I would also be drawn to something like this:

    Or, some sort of take on a retro guide look (not this exactly, but you get the idea):

    Or, a comic book look:

  5. Alexandra

    Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. What I love about the cover is their smiles. Smiles say this cookbook is going to be fun. The photo of the women with babies shows their backs turned to the camera ….

  6. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    Photo, photo, photo … Seriously. I like this cookbook cover for both the photo and the overall design feel.

  7. debbie koenig

    These are great ideas! Thank you so much! I'm sending a link to my publisher (as well as the conversation on WTEB's facebook page).

  8. Carrie

    Hmm. I don't think an illlustration would work so great–the cartoony thing might be too much. But if someone could do a really strong typography, maybe all caps in a bold color, that would catch your eye–you know: PARENT NEED TO EAT, TOO!—sort of thing. You would feel the imperative nature of the title?

    You could do a cool black and white of some sort, maybe a kid throwing food all over the floor, sitting in a high chair, with two parents looking less than amused.

  9. Carrie

    I also like the photo, but I don't think it's wise to publish a cookbook photo of people with their back to the camera, regardless of what the intent says. It's a very urban-specific photo–I agree with some of the other comments here.

  10. kris bordessa

    I don't think that photo is it. In fact, I'm not a big fan of people on the cover of cookbooks at all unless it's a relevant photo of the author. Not a fan of cartoony illustrations though, either. What about a photo of a table that obviously has kids in the house (high chair, toys on the table) set with a delicious looking meal? This is a tough one!

  11. debbie koenig

    I'm just realizing I should've made it clear: That photo wouldn't be the cover–if we go with the notion of a mom cooking while wearing baby, it would be redone by a professional, with just one mom & tot. I'm going to fix that in the post itself.

  12. Stephanie -

    Not being a mom, I can't recommend any parenting cookbook covers. 🙁 But I do love the cover of Elana Amsterdam's Almond Flour Cookbook, and I could see you going in that directions. Or, How about the Blue Eggs cookbook?

  13. Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

    I like what Kris Bordessa says above, a photo where you can tell there is a little one in the house, but with a focus on real grown-up food.

  14. Susan Johnston

    Technically not a cook book cover, but I liked the Nintendo DS packaging for America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking:

    I also think that the food photography on the cover of Cooking Light is consistently strong, but it sounds like you want people on the cover (which I think is smart to indicate that it's geared towards moms rather than the general population).

  15. sarah henry

    Photos — and if there's a way to convey some whimsy, humor, or, you know, the multi-tasking madness of parenting, all the better!

  16. kerry dexter

    several that I like — not parenting cookbooks, but inviting: Nigella Lawson's Christmas, Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian, Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman Cooks. Drummond's has a back cover montage that could work for a front cover idea for you. too. I'm just reading Country Cooking of Ireland, which has a classic atmospheric food cover, no people, which could be done with Kris Bordessa's idea, above.

  17. Vera Marie Badertscher

    I'm not much help, since its been a long time since I had babies in the house, and Joy of Cooking is my most used book with its (now very dirty) plain white cover.
    But I like books with scenics–a picnic spread? Or irresistible food. Maybe a plate of grown up food beside a baby dish, or kids' plate? Or grown up food IN a kids's plate?
    Remember the Erma Bombeck line about knowing she hadn't been out in public for too long when on an airplane, she reached over and cut the meat of the passenger next to her? If you could capture that humor in a photo, along with luscious food–Poifect!

  18. Jesse

    In my mind I keep seeing a mom stirring a pot of something on the stove with a baby in highchair somewhere in the background. She is stirring wiht one hand and eating a one bite in the other, making silly faces at the babe.
    Babywearing could turn some people off, I totally get that point. And cartoony is so overdone, in my opinion. But I'm sure that whatever you guys come up with will be fabulous!

  19. Alisa Bowman

    Something that says the title. Like a cute baby with food all over her face and a bunch of super adult foods on the tray in front of her.

  20. Jennifer Margulis

    Definitely a photograph and NOT a cartoon. Something really eye catching. A baby with food ALL over herself is something of a cliché but it's just so cute it might work. What if it were the mom chopping yams and the baby COVERED in yams with a white background so it didn't look busy?

    So exciting! CAN'T WAIT to buy your book!

    And would love to have you write a guest post about kids and food and cooking on my blog:

  21. debbie koenig

    I'm loving all these ideas! This is so incredibly helpful.

    And Jennifer, I'd love to do a guest post! I'll email you.

  22. Jody

    Hmm, I have a strong reaction to having a photo of a mom on the cover. Too much gender baggage here – the title is PARENTS, not moms! Reading all these great comments my inclination would be to go for a scene featuring gorgeously shot food in some scene that implies a family with young kids.

    If you go for a cooking shot, let it involve *both* parents, with baby/ies, in a profile shot at the counter/stove!

  23. Jody

    One other thought – the cookbook really is (to me) about adults eating well in the midst of parenting infants and small children. It's also about learning skills that are building blocks for eating well with older kids. An image of a toddler plate or a baby eating food would say to me that the book is about making baby food, which is part of the theme here but not the main topic, kwim?

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