Monday, October 17, 2011

Day Job Blues

     Like every writer starting out, I have a day job.  Though I do consider myself fortunate to be employed by my father at his dental practice.  I started working for him in December 2009, but started my freelance career in 2007.  I was lucky enough to get published with one of my first query letters, and have been writing pretty steadily ever since for other publications.
     This past year I've been busting my butt to try and finish my YA novel, "Blood Pressure."  I had a fantasy that I could finish a rough draft by this summer and have it sent out to agents by January.  WRONG!  I'm only on Chapter 9, and think that I will have to scrap the idea.  Maybe not, I'm hoping to salvage what I've written.  It's not bad writing, it's just a lack of research.
     Anyways, I've finally come to the conclusion that I won't have a book finished any time soon.  So, I've decided to quit pressuring myself and focus more on my freelance work.  And when the inspiration hits, I'll work on the book.  My main goal of course is to be a full-time writer and leave the dental biz.  I firmly believe that this is not a pipe dream; that I can achieve and WILL achieve this one day soon.
     My biggest fear is that I can very easily become complacent in my work at dad's and just be happy to do that full-time.  The money is awesome and I'm tired when I get home.  I sure don't want this to happen.  But I'm wondering if this happens to a lot of writers with day jobs, who are making more money there than with their writing.

Am I alone at this?  What do you do to push yourself more?

Monday, October 10, 2011

How To Write A Cookbook


     At some point during our lives, we will have amassed a collection of recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.  And soon you will have enough 3x5 cards to begin putting together a family cookbook.  So, why not go the extra mile and publish it?
     In order to get started on your writing venture, you will need to develop a clear concept and let it guide you in the selection of your recipes.  Your own personal experiences with food are what is going to make your book stand out among the other cookbooks.
     Before gathering recipes from family members and your own personal collection, you'll want to explore what your relationship and personal experiences are with food.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

1. What type of food did the women in your family cook, and what dishes of theirs do you remember most?

2. Does your family have any special food traditions around the holidays?

3. How old were you when you first started cooking, or helping out in the kitchen?

4. What was the first meal you ever cooked for either yourself or someone else?

     Now that you've taken your trip down memory lane, it is now time to narrow the themes down to something specific such as holiday recipes, family-style recipes, crock-pot, pastas or desserts.
     Since cookbooks are written to show the home cook the steps necessary to duplicate a desired dish, the recipes need to be written in simplified, step-by-step instructions.  To make sure you are able to better write out the recipes so that they are easy to follow, jot down every step during the cooking process and then photograph the end result.
     Now it's time to get down to the actual writing of your book.  There are four parts to the recipe writing process: Ingredients List, Cooking Instructions, Titles, and Introductory Notes.

Ingredients List:
     The ingredients and their measurements should be listed in the order of use.  Exact measurements should be noted, for example 1 bell pepper, diced.  You will want to note anything that needs to be prepared ahead of time such as sauces or piecrusts, and list the separate ingredients for these special sub-recipes.

Cooking Instructions:
     Be concise as possible, you're not writing the Great American novel.  While preparing a recipe from cookbooks, people only stop what they are doing and glance at the next step, before continuing on.  Instead of writing, "Put the flour, milk, sugar and eggs into a mixing bowl and stir until combined."  Write, "In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, milk, sugar and eggs."
     You will want to be precise as possible when setting up each of the steps.  An example would be, "Sweat the onions in a sauté pan on medium heat until translucent." Make sure to give pre-heating instructions when needed before the readers are to start the cooking process such as, "Pre-heat oven to 450º."
     For each new step, start a new paragraph, keeping instructions short and to the point.

     If you think about all of the meat, poultry and seafood recipes published each year; the sheer volume can be daunting.  This is why it's important to pay particular attention to the qualities that make your fish, chicken or beef recipes stand out.  Tell your readers what makes your recipe special from the others like it.  For example: "Fish Tacos with Chipotle Mayo," instead of just "Fish Tacos."
     Rachael Ray seems to be the only one who can get away with using cutesy titles for her recipes, but it is better to stay clear of the cuteness factor, as it says nothing about your recipe.  What adult wants to eat, "Yummy In Your Tummy Chocolate Chip Brownies?"

Introductory Note:
     Here is where you need to sell your recipe.  Describe what makes it mouth watering delicious.  You can also offer up alternative ingredients and special equipment, including mandolins or griddles, and alternatives if the home cook doesn't own one of these gadgets. If the recipe calls for broccoli, tell the reader they can substitute Brussels sprouts instead.

     Now that you have your cookbook written, the next step is to seek out a publisher.  You'll want to do your research by browsing the cookbook aisle of your local library or bookstore and note which publishers are printing your type of cookbook.
     Once you have compiled your list, you can now think about sending out your queries, which will include the following:

1. Cover letter - Here you'll describe in a few paragraphs what your book is about and why you're the person to write it.

2. Concept synopsis - In one or two pages, describe the concept of your book and why it would appeal to a certain audience.  This is where your research comes into play; because you'll be able to cite the social or cultural trends your book fits into and give a list of already published cookbooks that are would-be competitors and why your cookbook will beat out the competition.

3. Table of contents - Here you will outline what's in the book, chapter-by-chapter.  Chapters may contain appetizers, main courses and desserts or soups, stews and pasta dishes.

4. Sample recipes - This includes samples of recipes and how they represent the book's concept.  You should only need about a dozen of these samples to give your future editor a taste of your book.

5. Author's bio - This is where you sell yourself as the reason why you're the one to write your book.  Acknowledge your experience with cooking the types of recipes included, and any other experiences as a "foody" such as traveling, cooking contests, or maybe you write reviews for a magazine on restaurants.

A Note On Copyright Law:
     Most would be surprised to know that cookbooks, like any works of fiction or nonfiction, is subject to copyright laws. Surprising, since women pass out recipes like their children trade and collect comic books.  While the listing of the ingredients themselves are not protected under copyright law, the literary aspect of the recipe itself, meaning any notes of explanation, as in the how-to of cooking the recipe, is subject to the laws of copyright.  The only time a recipe may be reprinted without credit is when it has been doctored and reworked so that it no longer resembles the original recipe.

     Writing your own cookbook is a wonderful way to keep those special memories that come with the preparation of the food alive.  You now have a collection of your family's and your own recipes to pass down to the generations to come.  And hopefully others will revel in preparing meals from your cookbook for years to come.

Homemade Chili:

Homemade chunky-style chili in an hour.

Ingredient List
2 lbs ground beef
1 Lg onion, chopped
1 Lg green bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz. can of stewed Mexican tomatoes
2 15oz.  cans of tomato sauce
1 cup of water
4 tbs chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 tbs of ground Cumin
2 15oz. cans of red kidney beans (undrained - salt to taste).

     In a large saucepan, cook beef.  Drain, and then add remaining ingredients.  Mix ingredients together.  Cover and let simmer for 1 hour.  Add beans the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Cook Time - 1 hour                
Serving size - Makes 3 quarts

Article in appeared in last month's issue of Writer's Journal 2011