What makes a bestselling cookbook?

There’s no doubt that appearing on the Food Network is one way to ensure a book’s success. So is having a QVC connection, it turns out, or having a hugely successful blog.

Looking at the 10 bestselling cookbooks of 2012, we find at #9 Weeknights with Giada, by Giada De Laurentiis, whose career flourished on the Food Network. Blogger Lee Drummond has two books on the charts—The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl and Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier. Deb Perelman is at #6 with her debut The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, based on her blog of the same name.

QVC host David Venable celebrates at #3 with In the Kitchen with David Venable. Hungry Girl to the Max author Lisa Lillien runs a newsletter with a reported million recipients.

Looking at 2012’s top 50 cookbooks, 24 of them were published by four houses: Random, Wiley, Simon & Schuster, and Cooks Illustrated. But a couple of small presses grabbed the top spots: Running Press published Eat More of What You Love by Marlene Koch, and Quail Ridge Press released Great Food Fast by Bob Warden (not coincidentally, Warden is a host on QVC, and Koch appears regularly on the network).

One author has neither a food blog nor a Food Network contract, but is a respected food writer and critic—Peter Kaminsky, whose book The Chew: Food. Life. Fun. placed respectably at #7.

Meanwhile in the top spot, Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof has sold nearly 450,000 copies to date. Her start pre–Food Network? She opened a 400-square-foot store in East Hampton, N.Y.—and in 1999 came out with her first bestseller, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Who Buys Cookbooks?

Perhaps not surprisingly, more women buy cookbooks than men; around 69% of cookbook buyers are women, whereas 31% are men. And according to Bowker Market Research, 27% of cookbook buyers are in the 30–44 age range. The two next-older groups (45–54 and 55–64) account for 36% of cookbook customers (with 18% each). Those over 65 make up 15%. Breaking down cookbook buyers by household income, 31% come from households earning $25,000–$49,000 a year.

Hardcover cookbooks still outsell all others, but as a portion of total unit sales, hardcovers dropped from 49% in 2011 to 42% in 2012. And e-book sales more than doubled, up from 9% to 22%.

And where are those cookbooks sold? Amazon, by a wide margin—its percentage of all cookbook sales nearly doubled, from 18% to 36%.

Top 10 Cookbooks

1 Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Ina Garten Clarkson Potter 428,105
2 The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food… Ree Drummond William Morrow 267,909
3 In The Kitchen with David David Venable Ballantine 264,953
4 Eat More Of What You Love Marlene Koch Running Press 132,796
5 Great Food Fast Bob Warden Quail Ridge 122,665
6 The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Deb Perelman Knopf 114,547
7 The Chew: Food. Life. Fun. Peter Kaminsky Hyperion 109,020
8 The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes Ree Drummond William Morrow 103,751
9 Weeknights with Giada Giada de Laurentiis Clarkson Potter 95,040
10 Hungry Girl to the Max! Lisa Lillien St. Martin’s Griffin 86,656

Thinking Beyond the TV Platform

When seeking a marker of the changes in the cookbook market over the last 40 years, one need look no further than Ithaca, New York.

In 1973, the Moosewood Restaurant opened its doors there, serving something that was a novelty at the time—vegetarian food. The restaurant’s cookbook, published four years later by Ten Speed Press and authored by Mollie Katzen, introduced the concept of meatless eating to more than one generation of Americans. In 2007, the cookbook was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame.

In September of this year, St. Martin’s Press will publish the $24.99 hardcover Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by the Moosewood Collective. St. Martin’s Press executive editor Michael Flamini says, “This book shows how much the collective’s cooking has changed over the years because of the availability, today, of fresh herbs, new strains of vegetables, and a wide variety of grains not available when Moosewood opened its doors in 1973.” In other words, once-exotic vegetarianism has gone mainstream.

Katzen split from the collective and has gone on to publish several books of her own, and she has one more coming in September: The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation. Rux Martin, editor of the Rux Martin Books imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, says, “Vegetarian and vegan continue as big trends. While Mollie didn’t set out to do a vegan book, more than half of her recipes are vegan.”

Indeed, these days vegetarian cooking is often a gateway to vegan cooking (which eschews all animal products, including dairy, eggs, and honey). Or, as Doris Cooper, associate publisher of Clarkson Potter, puts it, the trend right now is “food that is light on the body and the Earth.” Clarkson Potter will publish Mark Bittman’s VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health… for Good in April. In September, Harvard Common Press will publish One-Dish Vegan by Robin Robertson.

In more vegan news, Vegan Family Kitchen, by Mayim Bialik, the Emmy-nominated actress on The Big Bang Theory, is Da Capo’s lead title this fall. The latest from Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame, Isa Does It, is due in October from Little, Brown.

“The healthy-eating trend isn’t likely to go away anytime soon,” promises Leslie Stoker, v-p and publishing director for lifestyle at Abrams. The house has already gone back to press with Whole Grains for a New Generation by Liana Krisoff, published in October of last year. February will see Live Foods, Live Bodies! by Jay and Linda Kordich from Square One, and in April, Square One will publish The Big Beautiful Brown Rice Cookbook by Wendy Esko.

North Atlantic Books will publish Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko in July. There’s more vegetable-centric cooking in Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables (Black Dog and Leventhal, Mar.) by Matt Wilkinson, whose Melbourne restaurant has its own garden. And gluten-free books continue to sell strongly, several publishers reported; Barron’s added the Quick Check Guide to Gluten-Free Foods to its Quick Check Guide series earlier this month. Harlequin was successful with blogger Sarah Matheny’s Peas and Thank You: Simple Meatless Meals the Whole Family Will Love (2011) and in April it will publish a follow-up, More Peas, Thank You: 85+ Vegetarian Recipes for Delicious Healthy Meals.

TV Addiction

Cookbook publishers cannot—nor do they want to—completely cut their ties to the Food Network and its stars, whose cookbooks continue to be lucrative for them. At the same time, publishers are branching out to other channels and other platforms.

Elisabeth Dyssegaard, Hyperion editor-in-chief, says, “These days a successful book could as easily come from a blog or another online platform as it could from the crowded Food Network field.” Yet many of Hyperion’s cookbooks this season boast television pedigrees. In April the press will publish 250,000 copies of the $24.99 paperback original Fabio’s Italian Kitchen by Fabio Vivani, the Los Angeles restaurateur who made his name as a contestant on Top Chef and currently hosts Chow Ciao on Yahoo! The same month will see Every Dish Delivers: 365 Days of Fast, Fresh, Affordable Meals, a $29.99 paperback original with a 50,000-copy first printing from Sandra Lee, host of Semi-Homemade Cooking on the Food Network (and de facto First Lady of New York state). In April the house will also offer two e-books, The Chew: Spring Flavors and The Chew: Summer Flavors, both featuring recipes adapted from the ABC series.

In more television news, in January, Shine 360˚, which handles nonbroadcast rights for the Shine Group, and Bloomsbury Publishing announced that a series of MasterChef titles will be published under Bloomsbury’s Absolute Press imprint. MasterChef is a successful television franchise now produced in more than 35 different countries, including the U.S.

In May, Rodale will publish Recipes From My Home Kitchen: Vietnamese and American Comfort Food from Christine Ha, the legally blind winner of MasterChef season three. From the magazine world comes Keepers: Simple, Essential Weeknight Recipes (Rodale, Aug.) by Kathy Brennan, who has worked as an editor at Saveur, Gourmet, and Food Arts, and Caroline Campion, who is currently the books editor at Glamour and has previously worked at Good Housekeeping, GQ, and Saveur. She blogs at DevilAndEgg.com.

Chronicle, too, is looking to television connections: Live Fire (May) by Michael Chiarello; Little Paris Kitchen (Mar.) by Rachel Khoo, who has a BBC series of the same name that is now airing on the Cooking Channel; and two books based on HBO series, Treme and True Blood Drinks and Bites, both set to be published this summer.

Ingrid Hoffman, host of Simply Delicioso on the Cooking Channel, has penned Latin D’Lite: Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist (Celebra, Apr.). Rachael Ray’s November title, A Week in a Day, will be published by Atria, as will The Can’t Cook Book (Sept.) by Jessica Seinfeld. Former Free Press authors with television backgrounds Buddy Valastro (The Cake Boss) and Carla Hall (Top Chef and The Chew) are now Atria authors: Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss: Perennial Recipes and Gatherings for the Whole Year and Cooking with Carla: Comfort Food from Around the World will both be published in November.

For its part, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently acquired Wiley’s cookbook program, giving it the second largest market share in the category. Natalie Chapman, v-p and publisher for the culinary line, says, “Celebrity continues to fuel sales.” This fall, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish The Scarpetta Cookbook by Scott Conant, who is known as a chef in the five cities where his Scarpetta restaurants are located, but, according to executive editor Justin Schwartz, “as a regular judge on Food Network’s hit show Chopped, Conant is known nationwide.”

Even the kids of television personalities are getting into the act. Earlier this month, Ballantine published From Mama’s Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less by Bobby Deen, son of Food Network star Paula Deen. Mario Batali’s sons, Benno, 16, and Leo, 14, have written The Batali Brothers Cookbook (Ecco, May), based on a homemade cookbook they presented to their father for his 50th birthday, which included recipes like Cinnamon Swirl French Toast.

In April, Ballantine will offer What’s for Dinner?: Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life by Curtis Stone, host of Top Chef Masters and Around the World in 80 Plates on Bravo. In April, Grand Central Life & Style will publish the $32 hardcover It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking: Everything You Need to Know to Make Fabulous Food.

In May, Globe Pequot will publish What Would Brian Boitano Make?: Fresh and Fun Recipes for Sharing with Family and Friends by Olympic gold medal ice skater Brian Boitano, a self-taught cook whose show debuted on the Food Network in August 2009 and is now broadcast on the Cooking Channel. The house’s Celebrate Every Day: Recipes for Making the Most of Special Moments with Your Family, also publishing in May, grew out of author Jamie Richardson’s blog, sophistimom.com.

Marisa Vigilante, an editor at Avery and Gotham Books, says, “Although the Food Network can still provide a lot of exposure for chefs, we’re finding that other platforms can be equally attractive. Several of our authors have large and devoted blog followings, like Kathy Patalsky, the author of 365 Vegan Smoothies [Avery, June], and Kelly Rudnicki, the author of The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals [Avery, Feb.]; and Rebecca Lando’s popular webisodes led to her cookbook, Working Class Foodies [Gotham, June].”

Editor Margaret McGuire says the Food Network is a draw, no doubt, but Quirk Books seeks out chefs in its home base of Philadelphia and “in other far-from-N.Y. cities like Nashville, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Portland.” Upcoming Quirk titles include Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers (Apr.) by Miche Bacher, who owns a custom bakery in Greenport, N.Y., and Breakfast for Dinner: Recipes for Frittata Florentine, Huevos Rancheros, Sunny Side-Up Burgers, and More! (Feb.) by Lindsay Landis and Taylor Hackbarth of Nashville, who blog at loveandoliveoil.com.

Some publishers even sense a bit of a backlash in the making against television chefs. Skyhorse senior editor Jennifer McCartney says, “Readers want practical solutions to everyday problems and they’re sick of reality TV chefs offering up perfect meals. They want down-to-earth recipes from people just like them.” In May, Skyhorse will publish Live Raw Around the World: International Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty by Mimi Kirk.

Next Year in Jerusalem

One name comes up over and over again in discussions of the future of cookbooks: Ottolenghi. Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem (Ten Speed, 2012) is drawing attention to Middle Eastern cooking both here and in the U.K. (where Ottolenghi has four restaurants).

Kate Heddings, deputy food editor of Food & Wine and executive editor of the magazine’s cookbooks, such as America’s Greatest New Cooks (Feb.), says Middle Eastern seems to be the hot new cuisine. She foresees growing popularity for Jewish and Persian food and points to the success of Clarkson Potter’s The Mile End Cookbook (2012) and anticipation for Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built (Schocken, Mar.) by Mark Russ Federman, former owner of the eponymous appetizer store on New York’s Lower East Side. In May, Interlink hopes to capitalize on the burgeoning Middle Eastern trend with Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery, about the pizzalike national pie of Lebanon.

Flamini of St. Martin’s Press says, “Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem has pioneered the way by showing us the breadth of cuisine in that one city,” but, he adds, it’s not just the recipes that appeal. Flamini continues, “American cookbook editors can take a take a lesson from our English colleagues and their design departments in how to freshen up the genre and make it exciting all over again.”

One artful title this spring is Phaidon’s How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini, who has outlets of her Rose Bakery in Paris, London, Seoul, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv. How to Boil an Egg features recipes accompanied by 39 hand-drawn illustrations of the finished dishes by botanical artist Fiona Strickland in lieu of photographs. Another quirky departure from traditional cookbooks comes in the form of a graphic novel: In the Kitchen with Alain Passard by Christophe Blain (Chronicle, June), about the chef who took his upscale Paris restaurant completely vegetarian in 2001.

Something Old, Something New

In addition to an Ottolenghi-inspired interest in the Middle East, publishers pointed to a wide variety of ethnic cuisines that look promising. Kate Marshall, food editor at University of California Press, reports that The Hakka Cookbook by Linda Lau Anusasananan, published last year, attracted attention from mainstream magazines such as Saveur. Marshall calls this a good example of the trend toward publishing “‘undiscovered’ ethnic cuisines” (The Hakka are a Chinese ethnic minority).

Single-subject books on everything from individual serving-size cakes zapped in the microwave (Mug Cakes: 100 Speedy Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth by Leslie Bilderback, St. Martin’s Griffin, Aug.) to dates (Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee: Date Desserts from Everywhere by Sarah Al-Hamad, Interlink, May) to Homer Simpson’s favorite (Love Donuts, Parragon Books, Jan.) are still popular options.

“But you’ve got to choose the right subject,” says Suzanne Rafer, director of cookbooks at Workman Publishing. In June, Workman publishes Bacon Nation by Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama. Meaty goodness can also be found in Where There’s Smoke: Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling (Sterling, Apr.) by Barton Seaver.

Abrams offers a new twist on the cupcake trend with Savory Bites: Meals You Can Make in Your Cupcake Pan (May) by Hollis Wilder, who won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars on two separate occasions. Farcountry Press adds to its line of regional cookbooks with Tasting Colorado (Jan.) and A Taste of Montana in the fall.

Octopus Publishing has Vintage Tea Party by Angel Adore in April and in June The Icecreamist by Matt O’Connor, inventor of Baby Gaga ice cream, which is made with breast milk. Also in June, Octopus is publishing Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook by Alain Coumont, who founded the bakery chain in 1990. San Francisco’s La Boulange Bakery chain will publish Café Cooking at Home in April; books will be sold at La Boulange outlets and at Starbucks in the Bay Area.

The strongest trend may be no trend at all, but a growing respect for ingredients. Next month, Taunton will publish The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook by Ellen Jackson and the Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit that educates chefs about sustainability. In April, the house will offer Fresh Food Nation: Simple, Seasonal Recipes from America’s Farmers by Martha Holmberg. Carolyn Mandarano, senior managing editor, books, at Taunton, says, “The ‘it’ cuisine will come and go, as will chefs, but there are a few movements in the culinary world that are continuing to gain a foothold regardless of the cuisine or the chef—the willingness by cooks to experiment with new ingredients, consumers’ desire to feel connected to each other through food, and a need to eat healthfully for the sake of our bodies and our planet. Farmers and food artisans are becoming superstars of the culinary world.”