As someone who only cooks out of necessity, it’s not often that I find myself on the hunt for a cookbook. But when I am seeking one, there are cookbooks that draw me in immediately, and there are those that make me feel like ordering out five nights a week isn’t so bad.
The cover design of the cookbook is key in determining whether I’ll pick it up or not. A tad superficial? Yes, but there’s one particular type of cookbook cover that sends me straight back to the delivery apps.
You’ve definitely seen 100 iterations of this cover when browsing the cookbook section. The author stands smiling in a beautiful, modern kitchen full of sunlight, their hair perfectly set, wearing a crisp white shirt and an absolutely spotless apron. They hold up a platter of whole fish or baked goods as if offering it to you, right there in the bookstore. Though the intention behind this sort of cover is to invite the reader to open up the book and see just how simple the recipes really are, all it does is make me want to call bullshit.
Let’s consider how the average person cooks. A cover like this is just too perfect, giving the unintentional impression that the author most definitely does not cook. In fact, I can’t help but feel like the author is immediately less credible when I see them looking this pristine—even if I already know and love their work.
The best cooks and bakers get a little (or very) messy in the kitchen, and sometimes it’s part of the fun of cooking. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them truly in their element?
Based on Amazon’s top 50 best-selling cookbooks, I’d theorize that many people (at least unconsciously) get the same vibe I do when it comes to perfect picturesque images of the author, because design trends have steadily moved away from that aesthetic in recent years. Thankfully, most of the major cookbooks these days have covers that center the food, as they should. Is there anything more appetizing than seeing an overhead shot of a huge, colorful spread?
This doesn’t mean that a stylized image of the author on the cover doesn’t sell cookbooks anymore; within Amazon’s top 50, at least 10 covers feature the cook themselves, typically because they’re already famous and are likely to draw shoppers’ eyes. We’re talking about well-established celebrities like Stanley Tucci and the beloved Ina Garten, people whose credibility stands on its own and quickly conveys everything the reader needs to know about their authority.
Oddly, another rising category of cookbook covers doesn’t convey images of food or people at all. Roughly 10% of the books on Amazon’s best-sellers list rely solely on text to convey the contents. If the design is bold enough, these are the books that make me curious to read more. The fact that these collections have the confidence to entice you in with words alone is downright intriguing. The Wok is a great example of this, as is Lazy Genius Kitchen.
Call me basic, but a cookbook with a mouthwatering image of food I wish I knew how to make still draws me in a lot quicker than a perfect smiling person I will never meet. When it comes to cookbook covers, I will continue to judge based on potential deliciousness.