Things I Wish I Knew: About Writing a Cookbook with Allison Day

Whole Bowls 9781634508551Today’s “Things I Wish I Knew” post is from cookbook author and award winning blogger Allison Day.

Allison Day is the cookbook author of Whole Bowls (Skyhorse, April 2016) and Purely Pumpkin (Skyhorse, Fall 2016), the voice and lens behind Yummy Beet, as well as a food photographer and nutritionist. Allison won gold in the 2015 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards, the highest honour for culinary writing in the country, in their inaugural blog category. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesFood Network CanadaThe Irish TimesPreventionalive, The KitchnEpicurious, the James Beard Foundation, on CityLine and more. She cooks, writes and snaps photos for Hamilton Magazine’s Good Taste column, too.

Today, Allison tells us in her own words 5 Things She Wish She Knew…About Publishing A Cookbook:

  1. Accept outside input: Taking control of every aspect of cookbook writing, from recipe research and development to testing to writing to photographing, became too much. I began to experience a bit of cabin fever over the many months of working on Whole Bowls! Writing a book, regardless of genre, can often benefit from outside input. For my second cookbook Purely Pumpkin I’ve reached out to friends for their ideas on the recipe set, even getting some assistance on the food styling front. It’s made for a much more balanced, fun job (and has helped me retain both my sanity and a social life!).
  1. Keep it quick: Writing the book over a longer period of time caused big changes in my writing, recipe and photography style. I’ve found doing a project in a more condensed time period, when I’m given far less time to second guess myself, produces a more consistent outcome.
  1. If you have a problem, ask your literary agent for help immediately: Don’t suffer in silence! If I wasn’t happy with something regarding my publisher, there are several instances I should have reached out to my literary agent (Carly) for assistance earlier. Now if there’s an issue, I tell her right away. Working through a problem with the author, publisher/editor and agent is much more efficient.
  1. Set boundaries: Because I work from home, it’s hard to separate work life and regular life, as they generally overlap when “you” are your business. I used to set unnecessary standards for getting work done, working later into the evening than I should. Today, I’m much more efficient if I stop all work by 6 or 7 pm, make dinner and unwind with a friend, walk or good tv show. I’ve also discontinued working on Saturdays when I can help it, which helps refresh my ideas for the week ahead and keeps me happy.
  1. Embrace change: Writing is dynamic. Every piece of work you do is a little snapshot of who you were at that specific moment in time. Inevitably (and thankfully!), you’ll grow as a writer, changing your style with each new project. Looking back at Whole Bowls, I can see things I’d love to change (recipes, photos, words, etc.), but I’m so proud of the book in its entirety. I don’t sit and stew over minor details anymore – it’s the big picture that matters. When you get the book in your hands, regardless of what it contains, it’s an incredible accomplishment that neither you nor anyone else should diminish. Accepting that my work will change over my career is no longer nerve-wracking to me, but exciting. And the more comfortable I become in my food, photography and writing style, the more enthusiastic the response from my blog (Yummy Beet) and cookbook audience.

Check out her books! Whole Bowls is in store tomorrow and Purely Pumpkin is available this fall.

7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

IS09AL15JWe all know what a demon procrastination is. But what about the other things that get in the way of actual writing? I have a list of things that (some, not all) writers have a tendency to waste their time with. Whether it’s old habits that need shaking, or creative crutches that lead to excuses, the only way you’re going to write your book is when you sit down and do the work.

My goal, with this post and all of my blogs, is to help writers recognize their personal limitations and push through them for higher productivity and success!

So see if these apply to you, and decide if it’s time to let it go…

  1. Writing with one eye over your shoulder – So many writers hold back, especially when they’re writing their first novel. Whether it’s because it’s painful to go too deep, or they’re afraid what others will think, there comes a time when you have to stop looking over your shoulder and delve inside to find the truth of what you want to say.
  2. Critique groups you’ve outgrown – It’s hard to recognize the exact moment this happens because it’s a progression. I believe critique groups serve many functions: help to schedule ‘you time,’ assist in meeting personal deadlines, teach you observe critiques, and give others feedback. However, everyone knows that growth isn’t predictable or linear. It can happen in leaps or in steady climbs. But someday, you might outgrow your group, so have a plan for what you want to do when that time comes.
  3. Thinking you’re going to please everyone – This is a life skill as well as a writing skill. It’s a fundamental truth that writers learn one way or another. Every writer has the dream that they’ll drop off a manuscript to their agent or editor and they’ll say “I have no critique!” It’s a lovely fantasy, but an extremely rare one–and I think all writers know this; I’m not saying anything new. But don’t let a fear of failing to make everyone happy stop you from writing. Writing happens one word at a time, one day at a time. Do what feels right to you and your voice.
  4. Fancy technology, expensive retreats – These elaborate things don’t make you a writer (but they don’t not make you one either). If you have a habit of thinking the writing will come when you spend money on it, you’re finding a new way to procrastinate. I believe you have to protect your writing time–and if that means a writer’s retreat and you can afford it all the power to you!–but if you’re waiting to start your project once you can afford the retreat, software, workshop, or new laptop it’s another way you’re stopping yourself without even knowing it.
  5. Rewriting your first 5 pages before you finish your first draft – There is no reason to attempt to make a first draft “perfect.” Nothing good will come of it. If you have a habit of tweaking things over and over before you even have the first draft it’s going to lead to over-written work that you don’t want to cut because it’s become a darling. “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood
  6. Twitter stalking – There is a time and a place for research, but sometimes Twitter can be a place that drowns your voice and makes you anxious. I’m all for social media breaks and I think it’s great to have an understanding of the industry, but don’t let Twitter or Facebook take over your protected writing time and take you away from your ultimate goal.
  7. JealousyI wrote this post last year and it remains one of my personal favorites. Please read it again. I think everyone in creative fields can relate. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are points to come back to time and time again. Moments of jealousy and comparison are a perfect time to reflect on why you’re feeling that way and get out of your funk.

If you want to write, find time to write. You’re the only one that can make your dreams come true!

Q: Did you recently shake a bad writing habit or creative crutch? Tell us about it.

Agent perspective: What’s wrong with your manuscript

googleimages2Pitching your book to no avail?

Are agents not being forthcoming with advice?

Getting ready to submit in the new year?

The definitive guide to what’s wrong with most manuscripts:

1. All internal conflict, no external conflict. Does more happen in the character’s head than in the plot? This is going to be a problem whether it’s literary or commercial fiction. Make sure enough things happen.

2. Pace. The most important thing to get an agent’s attention is to keep us turning the pages and stop us from doing other things. The moment things lag, you’ve lost us.

3. Voice. This one’s more subjective, but the way to check if your book has voice is whether we can tell the difference between whose head we’re in or who is speaking at any given time. Everything about your writing style needs personality. What makes your book special? Your voice. It’s how we separate all the books out there.

4. Dialogue. This goes with my point above. I should be able to tell who is speaking–a character, not you the author. For me, this separates the beginners from the advanced writers.

5. Length. Does your book follow word count guidelines? If not, it’s an easy pass.

6. Structure. Getting experimental? Are chapters vastly different lengths? Jumping drastically from POV? If we can’t follow your structure, you’ve lost us.

7. Characters. Some people feel differently about the ‘likeability’ aspect of characters. Personally, I enjoy ‘liking’ characters, but more importantly: Do they grow? Do they evolve? Do we care about their stakes and what happens to them? If not, I’m not on board.

This comes from reading many, many slush pile manuscripts that I often like but don’t love.

Use this as a checklist.

Good luck!

4 Ways To Edit Your Book Back on Track

530973.stock.xchngWhen you go back to edit, do you ever find your book has lost its way? Not sure what it is anymore? Too close to it to see it clearly?

This happens with many manuscripts I see. Writers query these novels still unsure of what it is and how they got there.

Here are my tips for the editing process.

How to get your book back on track:

1. Focus on the big picture

It’s so easy to get scrambled about the little details, but remember, the plot has to work as a whole first. Editing a full-length novel is no small feat. So develop a plan that keeps you editing in stages: big picture, small picture, then line editing. I recommend not to start with the small things, always start with the big picture and work your way down to line level.

2. Remember why you connected with the premise

Premise is everything. It has to be believable and make us feel things–just from hearing it or reading it on the back cover copy. Go back to the beginning and remember when this idea was shiny and new. And why this idea is the one you ran with. Go back to those feelings and rediscover the emotions that the premise revealed.

3. Think about your characters outside the framework of the novel

Instead of imagining your characters inside a box, that is the pages, think about your characters living life outside that box. i.e. What was their childhood really like? Click here for more questions to ask your characters.

4. Share it with another writer or reader

Beta readers or critique partners can be a big help. Yes, you are the one that knows your story best, but getting a second opinion is getting fresh eyes–and a much coveted reader’s opinion.

Q: What do you do when your manuscript has lost its way?