The Making of a Cookbook #3

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Jamie Geller
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Edit cookbook

Editing, Editing and More Editing.

The most unglamorous and laborious part to writing a cookbook is the editing, specifically the recipe editing. There are so many styles to recipe writing, think about it like decorating, and no way is better than the other but each publishing house, or publication, or website (I am sure you are getting the point) has a style sheet. Now, much like morning sickness, which is not confined to the the AM hours, a style sheet is not really a single piece of paper but something closer in size to a small book. It details all the "house rules" for writing. And goes through the painful process of listing the mundane to obscure.

Things like:
“healthy” = person, plant, good-size amount; “healthful” = diet, lifestyle, food, drink
“garlic clove,” celery stalk,” “asparagus spears,” not the reverse (“clove garlic,” etc.)
ingredients without measurements = initial cap: Kosher salt
no “of" except with “pinch” or “dash”
fractions not decimals (5 1/2 ounces not 5.5)
halved/quartered -- not cut in half/quarters
and then another 20 plus pages with more 1 line monotonous info like this.

Now there are editor types (like Sheilah and Paula, my beloved recipe editors), who love this stuff, eat it up, retain the info and mark up my files so that it looks like I've done almost nothing right. But for me - my eyes just glaze over and I fight to stay awake at 3am when editing.

For instance right now my entree chapter is 118 (double spaced - because those are house rules) pages long. So first I have to write up the recipes and keep referencing the style sheet in an effort to get things right the first time. And even when I think I've caught things, I undoubtedly revert back to my old style (VERY! different from my new publishers -- I always said "cloves garlic!). Then I send off the files to Sheilah and Paula who I affectionately call "S+P". They tag team and review because it's almost impossible for one person to catch everything. They spend a number of days with the file and return it all marked up in red-- looks like I failed a test, badly failed a test. Then I go through the days-long process of reviewing all their comments, accepting the ones that are straightforward, re-writing and revising my header notes and or directions if S+P didn't find them clear enough or easy enough to follow. And then we go back and forth for weeks on minutia that actually matters to you -- the end user.

With each book I think I spend the most time on editing -- it's more time than testing and more time than the photo shoot (which is surprisingly the shortest albeit most expensive part of making a book) and more time than writing the narrative. The months long recipe editing process that I am writing about now all takes place with my personal recipe editors BEFORE I submit the manuscript to the publisher. The publisher then has their own in-house editing team who I am sure are all excited to get their hands on the manuscript and make their own comments.

For the first time with this book my stories -- my autobiographical narrative, the memoir part will also be edited. I am both nervous and excited to see what that process will be like. Unlike my recipe writing I am married to my stories. And I take great pains to tell the stories the way they actually happened. With recipe writing do you think I really care if it's "cloves garlic" or "garlic cloves"? NO WAY Jose! But when it comes to my story I wonder what it will be like to see comments all over. Hopefully (I am dreaming here!) my editor won't have too much to say. So far we are getting along fabulously, note we haven't started the editing yet. But I do have really HIGH hopes.

If you all have any specific Qs that I have not addressed in the Making of a Cookbook Part 1, Part 2 or this one then just ask in the comments below. I am happy to answer or post in more detail about any behind-the-scenes cookbook aspects you are wondering about.