A Recipe for Self-Publishing
The challenges of doing a cookbook
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Chef and restaurateur Sondra Bernstein didn’t plan on self-
publishing her second cookbook, Plats du Jour: The girl & the
fig’s Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country, but, in the
end, found that the DIY approach gave her complete control
over the project—and this, she says, was a great relief.
When Bernstein, the proprietor of several restaurants in Cali- fornia and author of The girl & the fig
Cookbook (Simon & Schuster), set out to
publish Plats du Jour, she hired a literary
agent who represents numerous top chefs.
Bernstein wrote up a proposal. The agent
loved it. The only problem: they couldn’t
sell the book.
While a few publishers expressed interest in the title, Bernstein says they wanted
her to make significant changes to the
book’s concept, which focuses on seasonal
recipes from Sonoma Valley. Some publishers felt the book’s focus was too narrow. Some wanted it to include recipes
from other small wine countries.
“We rewrote the proposal several
times,” Bernstein says. “But the changes
were pushing [the book] too far from my
original concept. In the end I was relieved
to do what I wanted to do.”
Another issue for Bernstein was the
book’s photography. Her biggest disap-
pointment with her first cookbook—now
in its fourth printing with Simon & Schus-
ter—was the lack of color photographs.
“The deal for the [first] book was for
black-and-white with a limited amount of
photographs,” she says. “And the photos
that were used I had to pay for. This time
[I said,] ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m going
to do it the way I want.’”
So Bernstein decided to self-publish,
taught herself Adobe InDesign—and did
absolutely everything by herself and on
her own terms. But self-publishing a
cookbook (as opposed to a novel or mem-
oir) is a very complex and detailed
First of all, the recipes for Plats du Jour
come from Bernstein’s restaurants—the
girl & the fig, the girl & the fig café and
wine bar, Estate—and those recipes are
designed to produce big batches for many
customers. As such, everything had to be
scaled back and revised for the home cook.
After revising the recipes, Bernstein
needed to test them. Her initial call for
recipe testers went out over Facebook.
And once she received comments, she
made adjustments and hired a full-time
tester—not to mention an indexer, several
editors, and other staff.
When it came time to shoot full-color
pictures for the book, she hired Steven
Krause of Steven Krause Brooklyn Studio
West. Over the course of a year, Bernstein
and Kraus held 28 photo shoots in her
“We cooked the food and plated it as we
would and then they shot it,” says Bern-
stein, who then cropped the images and
prepped them for the printer. “The hard
part was toward the end, getting the cor-
rect color profiles for the printer and
understanding the language that came
with that process.”
Once Plats du Jour was complete, Bern-
stein went with Four Colour Print Group,
headquartered in Louisville, Ky., to pro-
duce the book.
“Four Colour did all of the conversion
for the [e-book] version,” says Bernstein.
“They were a pleasure to work with and I
would totally recommend them.”
For one thing, getting copies of Plats du
Jour into bookstores wasn’t a top priority.
“It’s less important because I know the
[sales] volume is definitely going to happen in our restaurants,” Bernstein says,
adding that while she may sell a few copies of her book in stores, she sells 10–15
copies every day in her restaurants. “Sales
are pretty good.”
Still, while Bernstein advises her chef
friends to consider self-publishing their
cookbooks, she admits the process is a
complicated and often difficult one.
“If I didn’t have this much staff or
hadn’t built our company to the stage that
it’s in, I don’t know if it would have been
that easy,” she says, offering this advice:
“Learn as much as you can, have realistic
expectations about sales, have enough
money, and a game plan about it. Get creative if you don’t have enough money.” ;