Working with Recipe Testers as a Cookbook Author

hi, i'm chelsea!

You'll find me just outside of Portland, Oregon, hopefully in my kitchen with a big glass of Willamette Valley red wine and sous viding salmon my husband caught that week, unwinding after a day of recipe development, food photography, and marketing freelance work. Say hi on Instagram: @the.cookbook.lab

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I’m excited to dive into the nitty-gritty of working with recipe testers, a vital process for anyone publishing a cookbook, whether self-publishing or traditional.

The Importance of Recipe Testing

I know it’s tempting to skip, but working with recipe testers is essential. It ensures that your recipes work not just for you but for any home cook, in any kitchen. This process will help you identify issues with recipes, such as unclear instructions, so you can get them straightened out before you publish, instead of receiving angry emails from purchasers. Thorough testing leads to higher quality, reliable recipes that readers can trust.

Recruiting Recipe Testers

Strategies for Finding Testers

Finding recipe testers is way easier than you might think. Here are a couple of channels to recruit from:

  1. Social Media: Announce your need for testers on your social media channels.
  2. Email Lists: Invite your subscribers to test for you.
  3. Facebook Groups: Target groups related to your cookbook’s niche, like cooking communities or specific technique groups (e.g., sous vide, grilling).

For all of these channels, make sure to include a link to a short application so you can easily get their info! You’ll likely get more people than you’d expect.

Criteria for Selecting Testers

If you’re writing a cookbook for vegans, it won’t be very helpful if someone on the carnivore diet signs up to be a tester. When creating your application, consider the following:

  • Relevant Background: Testers should have some experience with the cooking techniques or equipment your recipes require.
  • Availability: They should be able to test recipes within your specified timeframe.
  • Cooking Experience: Your testers should be about as experienced in the kitchen as your target audience. Is this for beginner, intermediate, or very experienced cooks? Although it may sound great to have a trained chef giving you feedback on your cookbook for college students, you might be surprised.

Managing Feedback

Using Airtable and Google Forms

Efficient feedback management is crucial. I recommend using Airtable or Google Forms to organize tester information and feedback:

  • Initial Questionnaire: Collect basic information from testers, such as their contact info, experience, and dietary restrictions.
  • Feedback Form: Create a detailed form for testers to fill out after trying each recipe, covering aspects like flavor, texture, and clarity of instructions.

Parsing Feedback

Not all feedback is equally useful. Learn to differentiate between:

  • Constructive Criticism: Comments that help improve the recipe (e.g., “The sauce was too salty; consider reducing the salt.”).
  • Personal Preferences: Feedback based on individual taste (e.g., “I don’t like pickles.”).

Addressing Feedback

Incorporating Changes

After collecting feedback, make necessary adjustments. If multiple testers highlight the same issue, it’s a clear sign something needs to change.

Handling Negative Feedback

Receiving critical feedback can be tough but valuable. Approach it with an open mind, and remember it’s meant to improve your work. Sometimes, you may need to discard a recipe if it consistently receives poor feedback.

Building Relationships with Testers

Maintaining Communication

Use clear and consistent communication throughout the testing process. Tools like Loom can be useful for recording video instructions or updates, ensuring testers understand their tasks and timelines.

Showing Appreciation

Your testers are likely volunteers – show your gratitude! They’re also likely to be some of your biggest cheerleaders when your book comes out and there’s nothing like word of mouth.

  • Acknowledgments: Include their names in your book’s acknowledgments.
  • Thank You Cards: Send personalized thank you notes.
  • Exclusive Content: Offer testers access to exclusive content or early copies of the book, if feasible.

A Few Tips

Here are a few tips that made the whole recipe testing process easier for me:

  • Consider Outsourcing: A VA can be invaluable for managing testers and keeping things moving! I hired my sister-in-law to manage this process.
  • Starting Early: Begin recruiting testers as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time for thorough testing. Even if you’re not finished writing all your recipes, you can have folks testing the ones you have done while you continue to work.
  • Utilizing Family and Friends: Engage those close to you for last-minute or particularly challenging recipes.

Tools and Techniques


Airtable (affiliate link) is a powerful tool for organizing and managing tester feedback. Set up a database to track:

  • Tester Information: Names, contact details, and testing capacity.
  • Recipe Assignments: Which testers are assigned to which recipes.
  • Feedback: Detailed responses from testers.

Google Forms

Don’t want to use Airtable? Google Forms can work great, too – just not as fancy!


Loom is useful for creating quick video messages. Use it to:

  • Welcome Testers: Record a welcome message explaining the testing process.
  • Provide Instructions: Show how to complete the feedback forms or any specific tasks.

Final Thoughts

Recipe testing is an essential step in creating a cookbook that’s a delight to cook from. By carefully selecting testers, managing feedback effectively, and showing appreciation for your volunteers, you can ensure your recipes are reliable and delicious for any home cook.

If you’re looking for more detailed guidance, check out the Cookbook Lab where I dive even deeper into the self-publishing process.

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