Ask the Author: Nine Questions with Self-Published Cookbook Author Dawn Parker

Dawn Parker is a Functional Medicine Health Coach who works with clients to help them reach their health goals. She helps people look and feel their best through nutrition changes, stress reduction strategies, fitness, better sleep, reducing toxins and other lifestyle changes. Dawn works with clients locally in Zionsville, IN and with clients throughout the country virtually. She works with clients with digestive issues, autoimmune conditions, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, migraines, arthritis, food intolerances and more. Her philosophy is to add small healthy changes over time so they become life-long habits - no calorie restriction or drastic overnight changes that are unsustainable. In October 2015, she published her first cookbook, “The Healthy Chocoholic” full of healthy chocolate recipes, free of gluten and dairy.

ALC: What inspired you to write and publish your cookbook, The Healthy Chocoholic?

DP: I love to experiment in the kitchen, creating new recipes. And as a health coach, I create a lot of recipes for my clients. I was continually getting feedback that my recipes were surprisingly delicious, considering how healthy they were. So it was my early clients who encouraged me to put them in a cookbook. I had so many recipes to choose from but I decided to start with my favorite food, which is chocolate.

ALC: What was your process for acquiring the photography?

DP: I actually took all the food photographs myself. There was a lot of trial and error, but since you need to make the recipes over and over when writing a cookbook, I had lots of opportunities to try various photo angles, lighting, backdrops, etc. The cover photo and author photo were taken by a friend of mine who is a professional photographer.

ALC: How did you determine which recipes to include and the order/structure?

DP: In choosing the recipes, I wanted to be sure that the book appealed to both bakers and non-bakers and people without a lot of time to dedicate in the kitchen. I had several factors for inclusion in the book:

1. A short ingredient list

2. Simple instructions

3. Healthy and low in sugar

4. Free of gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts and white sugar

I have always avoided recipes that are too time consuming, too complicated or with too many ingredients, so it was important to me that my recipes were quick and easy to make. The same ingredients are used over and over throughout the book, so once you buy some staples, it’s easy to pick out a recipe and not have to go to the store to make something. As far as the order structure, I categorized them into basic food categories, like smoothies, candy, no-bake, non-dairy ice cream, etc. Then I put the more breakfast ones like smoothies at the beginning and the obvious dessert ones like non-dairy ice cream at the end.

 ALC: You’ve integrated some nice elements in the cookbook such as the “Health Benefits of Chocolate” article, testimonials, shopping list, etc., and have also included links to recommended ingredients on your website – explain the importance of these elements and how they add to the overall experience for the reader.

DP: A lot of people question me when I say the cookbook is healthy, because it is all sweet items. So I think it’s important to share the health benefits of chocolate in its whole food, cacao form. The testimonials I added because each of them talked about enjoying my healthy recipes. And the shopping list I added because I wanted to give a quick glance on the types of ingredients used so people would know if they would enjoy the recipes. Having lots of photos helps with that even more. The shopping list also shows that once you have some staples, you aren’t going to need hundreds of ingredients to make all the recipes. When I first wrote the cookbook, I had a lot of people reach out to me, asking where to buy cacao powder and a couple of other ingredients in the book. So I added links to these ingredients on my website to assist with finding and purchasing these items.

ALC: How long was the whole process from initial concept to having a published copy in your hands?

DP: I already had about half of the recipes created when I decided to write the book. It took about another four months to create the rest of the recipes, perfect them all, and get feedback from my taste testers (children, clients and friends). During that time, as each recipe was perfected I worked on getting the best photographs I could. At the same time, in between recipe creation, I was also writing the beginning chapters of the book. After four months, I worked with an editor and a book designer in the last phases to get the right design, eliminate any typos and get the book in the right software to self-publish. Then in the last month, I downloaded the book into CreateSpace, ordered my proof, proofread it and then published. All in total, it took about 7 months. Had I not had so many recipes ready to go, it would have taken longer.

ALC: Any challenges that you encountered during the writing and publishing process, and any advice for aspiring cookbook authors?

DP: My biggest challenge was finding a good book designer. I should have done better research (I only interviewed two) and have been willing to pay more. This is really critical when writing a cookbook, but less so when writing a novel. Unfortunately the book designer I chose was new to designing cookbooks and made numerous errors along the way. This ended up costing me a lot of time re-reading the book to catch them and communicating changes to be made.

ALC: What have you found to be effective marketing tools to create awareness for your cookbook, outside of your health coaching client base?

DP: I have had several book signings, hosted by local book stores, friends and small business owners in my area. I did lectures on healthy chocolate at libraries, yoga studios, and other places where at the end I was able to sell my book. Several local businesses have been kind enough to carry and sell my book as well - a local book store, functional medicine offices, chiropractors, yoga studios, yoga clothes stores, etc. I have also done many Facebook posts and mention it every time I send out a newsletter. In addition, I have been featured in two local papers and a local magazine featuring my book and/or my business. I also promote it to other heath coaches, who also want to eat healthy and I can do this in Facebook groups. Some of them have been kind enough to share my book with their followers. And, of course, most of my health coach clients buy a copy for themselves and some as gifts. Since it is a great gift book, I promote it heavily around the holidays.

ALC: Your comprehensive website serves as a hub for your business, blog, and cookbook – did you start out by blogging and sharing recipes before compiling them into a cookbook?

DP: I don’t do much blogging, but I do send out a newsletter once a month and I always include a healthy recipe (and advertise my cookbook). I also post a lot of pictures of my food creations on Facebook.

ALC: How has the cookbook enhanced your overall platform and business initiatives?

DP: I think being a cookbook author adds credibility both to my career as a health coach and also to my ability to create recipes that are both healthy and delicious. It was a ton of work, and people always say it was so much more work than they ever thought. But I’m very proud of my cookbook and it was a great decision to write it. And it’s pretty cool to be a published author.

 For more on author Dawn Parker and her health coaching practice visit

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