On contributing to an anthology about cooking

This post is both promotional and musing, so to get the promotional stuff out of the way, read more, and I’ll try to stuff it all into the first paragraph.

I contributed rather a lot of words to an anthology of writers writing about cooking. I think my entry’s one of the longest, it’s at the end, and it’s about a tidy comfort food menu built around some of my father’s (and mine) favorite Chinese dishes. The book’s called Feeding The Muse: Recipes For Authors, Recipes By Authors. You can buy it in eBook form at Barnes & Noble (for $1.99), SmashWords (for $1.99), Blio (for $1.99 – epub format – blio format), or Kobo (for $1.99). (Apparently we can’t publish via Amazon until we rack up enough sales to get cross-listed from these other platforms.) Other contributors: Danny Birt, Elektra Hammond, Jonah Knight, Gail Z Martin, Steven Savage, Edward Morris, Leona R Wisoker, & Allen L Wold.

I didn’t really collaborate much with any of these other author folks. We exchanged a few emails but Ms. Wisoker kind of ran the whole thing, and has asked us to coordinate our social media presence to promote it. But they seem quite nice, and if you recognize them, too, why not throw a couple dollars at the publisher and buy a copy?

For my part, I’ve done a few tweets and Facebook posts, but then I finally realized that the best promotion I can likely do is to write about the process of contributing to an anthology.

First, how did I get in? I had the fortune, this time, of being invited to contribute. Leona knows me pretty well and knows I do good and thorough work, and that I’m carefully articulate, so I can only assume she was looking for that when she invited me. And indeed I delivered.

The writing for the chapter required coming up with a good scope of food to write about, selecting a menu, finding out from the editor what the word count limit is, and then attempting to shoehorn all my shiny thoughts and ideas into that word count. I think she initially set 3,000 or 4,000 and I eventually delivered 4,800. It being an eBook, she wasn’t too fussed about hitting the precise word limit. We agreed the menu worked well and so I submitted.

For recipes very familiar to me, the methods didn’t need much testing, but I did get friends and colleagues to beta read them to make sure I didn’t accidentally say folks should use 1 cup of five spice powder per pound of meat rather than 1 Tablespoon.

(For Style Guide geeks, the one I use for my food wiki – and thus for my contribution to this anthology – is pretty simple. Most ingredients units are in lower case, e.g. “cups”, “teaspoons” but because they both end in “spoon”, I capitalize “Tablespoons” to help differentiate from teaspoons. I usually start with any notes and comments I have, then get started with the recipe with an Ingredients section, any ingredient specific notes, then a bulleted list of quantities and ingredients, then a Method section, any notes, and then a numbered list of steps for the method/technique. I also followed formatting requirements from the editor, including making sure that fractions weren’t smart-subbed with single character fractions, e.g. “1/4” instead of “¼”. These requirements there to help the editor/publisher more easily convert to PDF and eBook formats.)

Now, the other thing I did before submitting the first draft was recipe testing. Not only did I need to come up with a menu, but I also needed to make sure the recipes worked, and were understandable, and that the methods were consistent.

Making the clear pork stock, for instance, I did a couple runs, since I wasn’t that familiar with doing it, I produced a couple of collections of clear and unclear pork stocks. I also tested a couple of my suggested substitutions, and did some other specific testing and method checks. For a full cookbook of my own devising, I might also have gotten one or more friends or colleagues to do their own tests of my recipes and making sure instructions and measurements make sense. But for an anthology, I just tested my own recipes, and got my partner (who’s a chef) to do a reality check on all my recipes.

Stay tuned – I can provide some photos for the recipes I published in the book, so perhaps I’ll do that soon.




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