Now that we've finished our third book debuting this fall, Cocktails for Cougars and Cowgirls, we can sit back, drink wine, and share a few things we've learned about how to write a recipe book. We're not going to lie...it's not an easy process. But writing a cookbook is an extremely rewarding experience that you won't regret starting, especially once you're done. If you've been contemplating putting together any sort of cookbook, here's our advice!
Be Messy Organized You just never know when that lightning bolt for an inspired recipe will hit. What we do know is that it generally doesn't strike when your laptop is opened up to a Word Doc titled, "recipe ideas." There's something about a blank computer page that paralyzes the imagination, at least in our case.
Bar napkins, sticky notes, scraps of paper, your smart phone's notebook…these are the places where your best recipes end up. We each keep a tiny little notebook in our bags to jot down ideas when they come, which keeps pieces of paper from getting lost in the purse. Collect all your notes and scraps in one place like a Ziplock bag, shoe box, file folder, drawer... but don't go crazy organizing anything until you're almost certain you've got all the recipes for your book. And put a date on your recipe ideas if you remember, and maybe even where you were. It helps to jog your memory if you want to remember the source of your inspiration. Many of our cocktail recipes have been inspired by an amazing dish of food and we like remembering that part of the drink's story.
You'll also need to label your creations carefully. If you make syrups, sauces, or dressings to use in other recipes too, keep track of the date you made them.
Set Lots of Little Deadlines If you dream about writing a recipe book often, and not just when watching food movies or foodie TV shows, then you've got to get this project out of your head before it drives you and the people around you crazy.
But telling yourself that it should be done by the end of the year or by your 30th birthday or before summer is so unspecific that it will never ever happen. Instead, set a bunch of little deadlines that can become part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine. Perhaps every Monday morning when you're drinking your coffee, you write down a recipe idea and test it on Tuesday. Or on Fridays at 5 o'clock sharp, you pop open that bottle of wine and commit to dreaming up three recipes before you're allowed to pour yourself a second glass. When you're waiting around at the car wash, open up the notepad on your smart phone and brainstorm some recipes. After a few months, you'll be pleased with how many recipes you've accumulated, and then motivated to write more.
Save Some Money Writing the recipes is free. Testing the recipes is a whoooooooole different story. You can expect to spend hundreds of dollars buying the ingredients you'll need for each creation. And if you're planning on taking your own photos, you'll spend even more money on plates, utensils, glassware, textiles, props, lighting, and other big and little expenses. Fill that coin jar, open another savings account, promote a KickStarter fund, or set aside your tax return to pay for all the supplies that you'll need.
Purchase Ingredients with Caution Early on we learned that it's a bad idea to think that you're going to make 12 recipes in one day. It's completely possible, and we've done it, but if something interrupts your cooking, or you have to postpone your plans altogether, you're stuck with food that can begin to spoil, and that's money down the drain. We can't tell you how many packages of organic raspberries have gone to waste simply because we waited two days to use them in a recipe. We've never seen mold grow on a piece of fruit faster in our lives.
Honor the Test Kitchen If you love what you've made, save it and try it again in the morning. Try it cold and try it hot. Then make the recipe again a few days later and try it again. Sometimes our tastebuds play tricks on us and it's best to be certain that the recipe didn't just taste good because you were starving, or drunk, or full, or not paying attention. Also remember that you'll need to document every single step of the recipe process so that your audience makes each dish or drink as perfectly as you do.
Find a Photographer If your publisher is going to set you up with a photographer, you need to be very clear about the style you're hoping to capture for your book. Start saving food photos now that you like so you can share them with your publisher, and with the photographer herself. Don't be afraid to suggest photographers that you respect or know. If you're taking the photography into your own hands, you're ambitious and we can relate. But be super duper careful about this choice. Amazing recipes that are photographed poorly will not sell books. So if you're set on taking your own pictures, invest in the right classes, cameras, lighting, and editing tools.
Sample for Friends Don't work in isolation! Have your friends and family try a bunch of your recipes. Preferably every single one. Some of our biggest fans (AKA spouses and best friends) let us know when our cocktails were a smudge too strong for the average and/or occasional drinker. While their feedback didn't change our own drink preferences, we did need to make that adjustment for the book. Your friends (if they're really your friends) should be honest with you. And it's your job not to be defensive or too sensitive when you get their feedback. Listen to what your taste-testers have to say, consider them (seriously), and then do what you want with their opinions.
Hire a Professional Editor Once you're happy with your draft, hire a professional editor to look it all over before you submit it to publishers or publish it yourself. You'll want to make sure you've been consistent with how you present your recipes and clear about the directions. Our only word of advice here is to be clear to that editor about about what you're looking for. We forgot to tell a freelance editor that Jocelyn would be designing our entire book, and to ignore inconsistencies with indentations and bullet points. There was a large amount of time spent correcting these "errors" and it cost us dearly. Unfortunately, you can't tell the editor after the fact that you didn't need his help with that part.
Go for It You can do this! It's going to be so worth it. Set reasonable goals and make it happen! Even if you start the project and then put it down for a while, that's still better than never starting at all. Besides…once you write down that very first recipe, you can officially tell people, "I'm writing a recipe book!"