I guess it was symptomatic, that I had just submerged my fingers in a gooey meass that was supposed to become an elastic, smooth and speckled pasta dough with poppy-seeds (basic recipe: 275g all-purpose flour, 25g ground poppy-seeds, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, 3 medium eggs, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp water, if necessary), when the door bell rang. With a sigh, I hastily cleaned my fingers and answered the door: “Hello? … Hello? … Helloooho???” Silence. I despise when that happens. With another sigh, this time a little louder and a tad frustrated I returned to the kitchen and continued kneading the pasta dough.
But the door bell rang again. This time twice and seemingly with more emphasis. Don’t you just hate that? Since I couldn’t think of any outstanding orders I had made the previous days and wasn’t expecting any friends – for a moment – I simply thought about ignoring it. But I’m glad my never ceasing curiosity forced me back to the door. I wiped my fingers clean again and I guess my voice wasn’t as friendly as the first time when I answered the door: “HEEELLLLLOOO???!!” (as in ‘dude, you better get your act together’). Finally somebody answered with a calm and gentle voice: “Where do you live?” What?!? Was there somebody playing a trick on me? It took me a second to realize that the person downstairs was referring to the actual floor we live on and his next sentence made me forget all the annoyance and made my heart jump for joy: “I’m delivering a parcel from Gräfe und Unzer.” Could this be the delivery of the first bound copies of my book? It indeed was. ***sigh of utter felicity***
I spent the next hour reading and completely forgot about my semi-finished pasta dough. But don’t worry, it turned out fine anyway (cooked in vanilla milk and served with browned butter and cherry compote, thank you for asking). And I started thinking about an appropriate way to introduce the book to my dear readers. Why not with a little Q and A? Over the last year I received numerous emails from readers who where interested in the whole process of writing a cookbook, some wanted advice, others had specific questions. Same with neighbors, friends & colleagues. Listed below you’ll find some of them, and my very personal answers, garnished with visual appetizers from the book.
How does it feel to hold the finished book in your hands?
(Probably THE question these days. Everybody wants to know, my neighbors, the customers at my friend Kristin’s coffee bar, my family, my friends, colleagues … And I still haven’t come up with a witty answer.)
Weird. Great. Unreal. Proud. Happy. Did I mention UNREAL?
How do I get published? How can I land a book deal?
(Probably the most frequent question I received via email.)
There’s no simple answer to this one. Almost every step from the very first contact with my publishing house to signing the contract was very untypical compared to other cookbook author’s experiences. I never wrote a book proposal, I never talked to an agent. On the other hand I had to deliver various concept presentations, convince skeptical editors as well as board directors and negotiate my contracts all by myself (ok, my pre-blog-pre-design law studies might have helped here a bit). While I was scared as hell in the beginning, I quickly learned that a compelling concept gives you enough confidence to fight for it, which – luckily – worked out in the end.
How do I know, if it’s the right publishing house for my book?
Of course you’re flattered when a publishing house shows interest in a book deal with you. But there’s no need to hurry. Just like when applying for a new job, you should try to get a closer view on the people you would have to work with (sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes under stressful conditions). Don’t let yourself be talked into something you really don’t want to do, trust your gut feel. I’ve spoken to other publishing houses before I signed my contract, some of them had a completely different idea about “my book”.
Besides, I was lucky to not only have my publishing house within walking distance, even my editors do live in the same neighborhood. A benefit that couldn’t be rated high enough, as spontaneous meetings were never much of a deal.
How did you come up with your own concept?
In the beginning it was less of a concept, more an idea, a potpourri of different features I enjoy in other cookbooks. I wanted to write a book I myself would be dying to buy when spotting it in a bookstore. Beautiful and mouthwatering – yet down to earth with realistic photography, and lots thereof. I mean LOTS OF IT. Because cooking and eating occupies such an important part in my life, I connect every recipe to a certain moment, a little story or experience. Hence personal anecdotes to recipes, just like I write them for my blog, were a must. But there is so much more to tell!? That’s when we decided to have the main recipe part take turns with little, inserted chapters about friends, traveling and such, which – naturally – would be accompanied by related recipes and more photography. All in all it took at least three months of continuous adaptation until the final concept was carved in stone.
How did you chose your recipes?
My top requirement: I must be able to go into raptures about a particular dish. Even better: guests, test cooks and eaters must do as well. The recipe itself must be doable for a reasonably experienced cook, not rocket-science. Furthermore I wanted to present a broad selection of dishes and cuisine styles. Of course a few favorites from the blog made it in there as well…
Best and worst moments of the whole writing experience?
Worst: I don’t have one worst moment, but I recall the nights before deadlines as particularly exhausting. While I felt extremely tired when I went to bed late at night, it was hard to fall asleep, because my mind was still in “writing-mode”.
Best: We had agreed, that I would send each finished chapter separately to my copy editor and I was pretty nervous when I hit the “Send-Button” for the very first time. Would she like it? Was it good enough for a book ? I’m not sure if she sensed my desire to panic, but within minutes I had an email in my mailbox, saying she didn’t recall any author before who had delivered such well prepared material and couldn’t wait for the next chapters. What a huge relief for me, coming from somebody who has edited some hundred cookbooks before. Maybe food-blogging is not the worst way to prepare for writing a cookbook?
Pitfalls, lessons you have learned, any advice you would give aspiring cookbook authors?
Backup everything, all the time. An extra external hard-disk is a good idea.
Don’t hesitate to fight for your conviction, but – on the other hand – don’t forget, that the contracting party (publishing house, editors, etc.) knows the tricks of the trade by heart. Sometimes everybody profits from a compromise.
Writing a cookbook sounds like a lot of fun, but hands down it’s a considerable amount of hard work. You should already have developed a working routine (especially for recipe testing and writing, or your food photography) before signing a contract.
Would you do it again?
No. Just kidding… Absolutely, the last year may have been the most stressful I can remember in a very long time, but it was well worth it in the end. And I never ate that good and that much, and neither did Oliver ;)