Some food writers tell me indignantly, “I’m not dumbing down a recipe!” They think it’s insulting to to simplify their three-layer cake recipe or a lasagna with 20 steps.
They think their readers should want to cook exactly the way they do.
Here’s the thing:
Your readers are not you. They don’t have your skills. They don’t cook as much. They don’t want to spend as much time in the kitchen. They don’t necessarily make your food, and they’re deciding if they want to.
What they want most of all is for you to make it easy for them. Aside from writing a tempting title and headnote, that is your secret power. It makes readers want to cook your food.
On dumbing down and selling out
As the author, you’re not selling out by writing recipes to people less experienced than you. Potential readers are your treasured consumers. Writing to them is all about your attitude. “Dumbing down” is about resentment, while simplifying is about understanding what motivates readers. If you talk down to them or feel annoyed because you resent explaining how to temper chocolate, flash fry fish, or buy the best anchovies, they will sense it.
Instead, you can coach readers to success. You’re a teacher in a virtual classroom. You’re guiding them to break out of their comfort zones. You’ve combined steps, streamlined the process and written a recipe that excites them.
The best cookbook authors understand this. They are enthusiastic teachers. Sure, they make complicated dishes too. Their books contain challenging recipes. But most of the time, they understand that readers are not at their skill level. They do not think of them as dumb and they do not resent writing for them. They know their readers well enough to serve them — with pleasure.
What about you? How do you handle a complicated recipe? Do you simplify it, or do you think your readers can handle it? If you simplify, is that the same as “dumbing down,” or do you think of it differently?
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