How I Wrote the Perfect Cookbook–Part Two

Part Two.

Writing a cookbook is a lot of fun, first, and a lot of work, second. Or maybe it is work first, and fun second. In either case it is fun. And in either case it is a lot of work. So before you commit to the book, make sure you’ll commit to the work. Some of the work involves writing, and for many of us (I mean me, and maybe you), writing is unimaginably stressful. Perhaps later we can talk about strategies and stratagems for moving words from thought to type….

But writing and publishing a cookbook also requires you to develop recipes, standardize them, test them, circulate them to friends and volunteers, revise them and then test them again, and even discard some and start all over. Depending on your point of view and your ambition, you may have to spend some time thinking about what you want your recipe to convey—every recipe, as I tried to show in The Perfect Omelet, embodies a way of cooking and, equally important, a way of thinking about cooking. Some cookbooks will require you to read and research (my favorite part of the project!) the recipe or the dish you want to present. Some will require you to cook, plate, and photograph the result, often several times. And we haven’t said anything at all yet about the unusual and stressful world of publishing and agents and editors and advertising.

My first word of advice, then, is to make a choice. Unless you intend to make a living writing cookbooks (great work if you can find it, and you can find it if you try, as the song goes…), choose a subject or a theme or a focus you can live with for a long time. Write about what you love. Write about something that intrigues or puzzles or fascinates you. I chose omelets because I have loved everything omelet for a long time and I knew it would hold my interest for still longer. I considered a cookbook devoted to lima beans, but I hate lima beans. (Feel free to take up the idea, if you fancy.) I thought about a cookbook dedicated to luncheons (not lunch. Luncheons), and I’m sort of kind of a little interested in playing with that, but the fun/work balance struck me, in the end, as unfavorable. (Another book I’ll never write, but feel free to take it as your own, if you fancy.) But do fancy your topic. Otherwise you’ll start the book and suffer with it and finally abandon it. Choose something you love, something you know will keep your interest for a long time and in times of uncertainty and irresolution.

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