Aug 272013
 

Cooking is about action, and that should come across vigorously in your recipe writing.

Last week I aroused passions about passive voice in recipes, not only here in the comments but on Facebook and Twitter.

My point was that cooking is an activity, so we need direct language that shows action. Active verbs are the ticket, an effective and efficient way to show movement.

In these examples below, you won’t find a whiff of passive voice. There is also no use of “you,” which some readers found objectionable. Others pointed out that active verbs are imperative, where the writer commands readers to action by implication. (Haven’t you always wanted to command?)

I plucked these examples from my bookshelf. Note how many verbs writers crams into a paragraph. It’s like watching a movie, sports event or ballet:

1. Julia Child

Scoop (peppers) into mixing bowl. Spread both sides of the bread with Continue reading »

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Aug 202013
 

Passive voice would mean writing something like “the melon slices, quartered figs and goat cheese are added to the salad.” Why isn’t the person doing the action identified? After all, it will be you.

In every writing class or book about writing, it says: Avoid passive voice. (Passive voice is when you don’t identify the person or thing doing the action. It’s considered lazy and imprecise, everything that recipe writing is not.)

I do my best to remove it when I edit. Yet I read dozens of published recipe instructions like this in Continue reading »

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Jun 042013
 

Author Andrea Slonecker must really, really like pretzels and eggs for years — and she’s up for it.

A guest post by Andrea Slonecker

Andrea Slonecker is a food writer and cooking teacher in Portland, Oregon. Find out more on her website.

I once heard that the best way to learn about something in detail is to write a book about it. That is the essence of a single subject cookbook. I learned this by writing Pretzel Making at Home (Chronicle Books, April 2013), and another book on eggs that’s in the editing phase.

Enthusiastic cooks, it seems, take to single subject subjects as well, when they want to know all about a food or dish. Here are the pros and cons of writing them:

The Upside: You Really Get into the Subject Matter

For authors, the opportunity to write a single-subject cookbook is a dream come true, providing the resources (time plus funding) to dig deeply into the subject and reveal all its potential. Total immersion in the subject makes the author a go-to expert, which opens the door for Continue reading »

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Mar 262013
 

Let’s say you want to write a cookbook, and you live in the USA. Should you write recipes that include metric measurements (liters and grams) in additional to imperial (cups and pounds)? That’s a good question, and one that’s being asked more often these days.

First, let’s admit that the US is way behind in the metrics arena. It should not come as a surprise that, to quote Dave Barry: “The metric system is not going to catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.” We are one of only three countries that have not yet embraced the metric system, along with Burma and Liberia.

Second, many bakers are adamant about measuring dry ingredients by weight for accuracy, and more baking books sold in the US list them.

And third, a daily US newspaper has taken to including metric measurements in some recipes, as some kind of experient.

To get some clarity on the issue, I turned to Melissa Moore, an editor at Ten Speed Press specializing in cookbooks, about the state of metric measurements today:

Q. Is metric measurement in cookbooks getting more popular in the US?

A. There has been somewhat of a shift. More people have a digital scale in their homes Continue reading »

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Mar 052013
 

(Disclosure: After working on this post, I bought this cookbook. I love foraging and viewing beautiful images of plants, and these two women impressed me. If you wish to do the same, act now, as time is running out.)

Herbalist Dina Falconi teaches people about plants, herbs and foraging in the wild, and has done so for about 30 years. Now that foraging for edible plants is trendy, she decided the time is right for a cookbook. As the writer of Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, a recipe book for body care products published in 1998 from a small press, Falconi knew about the process.

Her book idea took shape about three years ago, when Wendy Hollender, a professional illustrator, moved to Falconi’s New York neighborhood. Falconi asked Hollender if she wanted to ilustrate a cookbook on foraging and feasting. “With her skills, I could direct her art to be Continue reading »

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Feb 262013
 

Snagging a literary agent for your book proposal takes nerves of steel. You might have to send a query out to many agents, while telling yourself that it only takes one who’s excited about your book.

Most agents accept only one or two percent of the queries and book proposals they read. They spend a lot of time saying no. The problem is that they don’t have time to tell you why they don’t like your book idea or you, and often their responses don’t shed any light. On top of that, you’re not supposed to ask for clarification when you do get a response, because once they’ve said no, it’s no.

Possibly the most stressful thing of all is how long literary agents take to answer. Many take a month to six weeks to write two sentences back about Continue reading »

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Sep 042012
 

Peter Reinhart is a baking instructor and faculty member at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Peter Reinhart has authored eight cookbooks, including the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, winner of two national awards. That cookbook alone has sold more than 100,000 copies.

You’d think he’d have an ego, but during our interview Reinhart came across humbly, talking about the value of working with a team and not burning bridges.

I caught up with him as he taught baking classes in California to promote his latest book, The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, co-authored with Denene Wallace. It’s his first book on low-carb breads, pastries, cookies, and cake for those sensitive to gluten, diabetics, or those who need to reduce carbs to prevent weight gain. The focus is on baking with nut and seed flours and non-sugar sweeteners.

In this interview, he talks about the value of sticking with the same publisher, learning a new subject, and why you need a thick skin to grow as a writer:

Q. Why did you decide to write a gluten-free, sugar-free baking book? You are a bread and pizza guy.

A. Ten Speed asked if I wanted to do a gluten-free book, and I said only if we cover new territory. They told me gluten-free and allergen-free was the hottest new category. It was nice to be asked. I felt like I had arrived.

Q. You’ve been with Ten Speed for a long time.

A. It’s common to jump around to publishing houses, but it feels traditional to be with a publishing house where you feel like they’re part of your family. There’s a comfort level there and a trust level there. I’ve been with them for 12 years.

I got lucky when Random House bought Ten Speed because they got bigger distribution but they kept the same team. My former editor, Aaron (Wehner, publisher), is a great idea man. He stays engaged and I have access to him. Melissa (Moore, Food Editor) is the new Aaron, very collaborative. This is our third book together.

In the old days you read about Judith Jones and Julia Child, where people were together for years. I feel like I’m in the stable with thoroughbreds. And if I want to do a non-food book I can stay within the Random House family and go with an imprint.

Q. What makes an award-winning cookbook?

A. Writing a book is not a solo effort. Sometimes the magic is just there with the editor, the publisher, the design, the photography — it’s like putting a movie together. Everybody contributed something. Having great recipe testers has been invaluable too.

From the writer’s standpoint, it’s important to appreciate that process. I know a few writers who have fought the process, to their Continue reading »

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