Friday, January 9, 2015

And now for a word from the author

Getting a cookbook published is like riding a roller coaster. It's all ups and downs, with short sections to catch one's breath every once in a while.

And then work-work-work-work to get to the top of the next hill.

At the very beginning, before the ride even starts, there's a bit of euphoria at the glimmer of hope that there's enough of an idea to even begin writing the proposal.

Because you can't just approach publishers and say, "I gonna right gud fud recipez 4 U."

No, you need a reason why people will buy the book. And unless you're already a household name, that means a good theme. A hook. A reason for people to pull out a credit card and click a button.

General interest books exist, of course. Betty Crocker, Joy of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens ... and there are new versions of those books that get published regularly. But a no-name blogger isn't going to be able to sell the idea of "150 random recipes that I happen to like."

No, it needs to have a theme that's broad enough to have appeal, but narrow enough so there aren't a dozen other books that cover the same territory.

Writing a proposal meant digging through my blog for sample recipes that could be adapted, and it meant creating even more brand-new recipes to fit the chosen theme. Easy enough, since I'm always cooking.

But ... right about that time in the process, my husband landed in the hospital. He spent about 5 months quickly getting sicker before slowly getting better. I could have thrown the proposal out a window at that point, but working on the proposal became my anchor. One solid and sane thing in a world of chaos. The one thing I had to accomplish, besides getting out of bed and spending time at the hospital.

I often brought my laptop to the hospital with me and pecked away at it while my husband remained mostly unconscious. The funny thing is that he says he remembers opening his eyes and seeing me there, clicking away at the keyboard. And it comforted him. And then he'd close his eyes and drift away for another hour or day or week.

There were plenty of days where I didn't have the strength or brain power to even think about the proposal, but other days it was a welcome diversion where I could get lost in flour, yeast, and oven temperatures, and I could ignore beeping heart monitors and IV bags full of ... way too much stuff.

Once the proposal was done, it went to my agent who started shopping it around to publishers. There was a brief moment of joy when it was complete, a bit more work as I polished a few things according to the agent's suggestions, and then the first wave of anticipation, anxiety, and fear as the proposal bounced around.

Would someone buy it? Would most people hate it? Would everyone ignore it?

A few publishers nibbled within the first few weeks the book was making its rounds, and I had conversations with several editors, but offers didn't come.

Then I had a wonderful conversation with a publisher who suggested a modification of the original theme. We threw out half the proposal and I went back to work. Oh joy! They like me! Oh, slogging work! Oh, anxiety!

They liked the new version, the agent haggled about price, and about some details I never would have thought about, and then we struck a deal.

Then, even though I had a complete list of recipes I planned on making ... things changed. There are things that a blogger doesn't think about that a book publisher does. So, the list got tweaked and adjusted and I went into the kitchen to start baking the first of several hundred loaves of bread.

Yes, I'm serious.

And then I found out that you don't write a book from front to back. First, I needed to work on the recipes that would be photographed. Because photography was scheduled before the final draft was due.

So we talked about which recipes would look best in photos, and we juggled some ingredients, and we finalized that part of the book. And then I went back into the kitchen.

Much nose-to-the-grindstone ensued. Flour flew, the oven worked overtime, and finished bread was given to friends, neighbors, and random strangers. Huff-puff, huff-puff ... deadlines, deadlines, deadlines ...

When the photography was in process in a studio in New York, I was a wreck. Strangers were kneading my recipes and baking my breads and slicing them open. What if things went horribly, horribly wrong?

Don't worry, they told me. Things go wrong all the time. Once we had an oven that went rogue and burned everything we put into it. We still got it done.

But then they looked at the schedule and the baker-people decided there wasn't enough time, so I was asked to bake a few loaves and ship them. So I did. I was nervous about that. What if someone hijacks the truck? What if a snowstorm delays delivery? What if they cut the loaves open and something horrible has happened?

Like, what? I bake bread constantly. I've never found a shoe embedded in a loaf of bread.

But when you're shipping loaves of bread across the country to have photos taken ... well, anxiety happens.

I held my breath for several days. There were no reports of photo studio fires in New York. And then I saw some of the photo proofs ... euphoria!!! They were beautiful! I started breathing again and went back to baking more bread. More buns. More sweet rolls.

Photo from Make Ahead Bread: Blueberry Swirl Buns
And finally I was done. The last of the text went to the publisher. I could take some time to sit back and relax and ...

Editing. Many many rounds of editing. Consistency. Style. Logic. Questions. Facts. Tips. Hednotes.

And then it was done.


Acknowledgements. Introduction. Dedication.

Still not done.

Proofing. Need to cut a line here or there to fit the layout.


And then it was done?

Well, editing was done, but there were plenty of conversations about publicity.

Throughout the whole process, there was always this nagging feeling that it wasn't real. Or that they'd call me and say, "Yanno, this bread thing isn't working for us. We're scrapping the project to work on this other book about parsnips. We think they're going to be bigger than kale!"

I'm not sure when the realization hit that they were really committed to my project and that no one was going to pull the plug. But the roller coaster didn't stop there. What if people hated my recipes? What if no one bought the book? What if everyone's oven blew up?

So when 37 Cooks decided to take on my book as a challenge, I got a little queasy. These are some mighty fine cooks, and some accomplished bread bakers. And maybe a few who were a little intimidated by yeast. I figured that their results would be a good indication of what would happen in other kitchens.

How would it all turn out???

The great thing about 37 Cooks is that they don't take the easy path. They don't cookie-cutter things. They go off on mad tangents. They get creative.

So, they didn't make my recipes as they were written. They took the doughball and ran with it. Which, really, is how a lot of people use cookbooks. They read "Cheddar and tomato" and they use Jack and jalapeno. Or bacon and onion.

But that's fine with me. Recipes can be made as is, or they can be adapted, or they can be inspiration. It's all great.

I have to say that it was fun ... and terrifying ... and fun ... to see photos of doughballs being posted in the 37 Cooks group, seeing unbaked rolls in their pans, and seeing the finished products. Every single one was a success. They were beautiful and they were delicious.

These cooks made me proud.

And that all happened before the book was out in the wild.

Now that I have an actual copy of the book in my hands, all that work and worry seems like nothing at all compared to the joy of having this book and knowing that copies of it will end up in people's kitchens getting dusted with flour and splattered with dough. Because that's what it's all about.

By the time you read this, the book will be available on Amazon and maybe the publisher will have an idea how well it will sell. I'm hoping it has a good long run, that bookstores sell it and bakers buy it.

And now, the first few 37 Cooks versions of my recipes have been posted. I hope you're enjoying them, and I hope you'll keep stopping back to see what else these fabulous cooks have made for you.

As for me, I'm just sitting back and and thinking that maybe I should start it all over again. Because it was a really, really fun ride.


  1. Donna, this might be my favorite post on our whole blog. Trust me, we were all just as terrified to cook from your book! We wanted to make you proud! Love you to pieces and congratulations on the second printing announcement!

  2. This is so you!. Lay it out there. Do the work no matter what. Maintain your sanity through a wonderful sense of humor. AND, you answered a question I would never have asked but I wanted to know. You got paid for all your hard work! Much deserved and now others know you are the Bread Queen. Our secret no longer. Bake on!!

  3. Donna- Congratulations on your book! I've baked from it many times and have had great success. I've also gifted it to a couple of friends, and they have been equally enthusiastic about using it. You are a TRUE "Go-Getter", and I'm so happy to see your ideas/dreams be realized. My fingers are crossed that we see more from you in the future. But, for now, try to enjoy the moment. Your book is Awesome, and You Rock!