On Writing a Collaborative Cookbook

Test Cocktails

In the last four months, I’ve spent a lot of time shaking and stirring. I’ve also grown very attached to Google+ and the Google hangout function. It’s how my brother, André Darlington, and I wrote a cocktail book together with 900 miles between us. It won’t appear on shelves until Fall 2015 Spring 2016, and — for the moment — it doesn’t even have an official title. But it’s fini!

We wrote the book in five months — a blur of eras and lemon twists, of research and recipe testing. Now it’s time to sit back with a Jasmine, my new cocktail of choice, and reflect for a moment. I’ve gone from writing alone (novels in cabins) to writing with others (my last collaboration was a cheese book). Alas, I am not the solitary mouse I used to be, thanks to artisan dairy and velvety mixed drinks.

Here’s a little recap of how the most recent book collaboration came together.

Andre's Kitchen In Madison, WI

Andre’s Kitchen In Madison, WI

My Kitchen in Philadelphia, PA -- I'm Making Drunken Horchata

My Kitchen in Philadelphia, PA — I’m Making Drunken Horchata

Step 1: We Wrote a Proposal

First, we studied up on the market. Originally, we wanted to write a book about cheese and spirits, since I am cheese obsessed and André is wine-and-spirits obsessed. But our publisher (Running Press) shot back a request for a cocktail book. We had one week to reframe our proposal. Together, we studied the enormous list of cocktail books and brainstormed how we might approach the subject with a fresh eye. André developed the table of contents while I made room in my cheese library for a new trove of books.

Cocktail Bookshelf

Step 2: We Created a Timeline for Writing and Recipe Testing

We  started our collaboration with a 10-day “cocktail camp-out” at Andre’s place. Each morning, we shot out of bed and planned out our day on his kitchen chalkboard, then we slugged back some green juice and hit the books. In the afternoon, we recipe-tested. We worked with two great bartenders to brush up on our skills. Our goal was to drink our way through cocktail history, one era at a time, and to write a book with flavor notes, historic context, and pairing ideas for the home enthusiast.

Cocktails have always been central to our lives — from sipping them after work, to serving them up with snacks on the weekends as part of cocktail hour (a favorite pastime). We had a lot of recipes in our repertoire, but we wanted to do more than just gather up a cocktail canon. We wanted to serve up a story.

Cocktail Work Day 3

Step 3: We Used Google Docs and Google Hangouts to Meet and Write Every Day

Our manuscript started as a single Google document called “Drinks Organized” and became a folder full of documents. We created a document for “sidebars,” a document for “cocktail adjectives,” and even a document called “notes graveyard” for cuts and revisions. The Google hangout function allowed us to face-time and write collaboratively on the same document. It was fabulous to be able write and talk at the same time, often while mixing drinks or fixing lunch in our respective kitchens.

Andre at his laptop

Step 4: We Devised a Budget, Then Went Overboard

Recipe-testing was our biggest expense. Early on, we decided not to approach liquor companies for samples, so that meant setting up bars in our respective homes, half-way across the country from one another. We spent $4k testing 200+ recipes — a significant chunk of our advance. Looking back, we could have worked more efficiently to develop specialized  home bars that didn’t overlap. However, each of us wanted to test all the recipes so we could compare notes. We have enough booze to write a second book. And then some. Let’s just say, our neighbors have not gone thirsty.

Martini Notes

Step 5: We Discovered That Two Minds and Two Mouths are Better Than One

Before we started this project, we heard many tales of collaborative book projects gone awry. One can just imagine the scenarios: writer A is overly critical of writer B, writer B does more work than writer A. Andre and I grew up writing family newsletters on our mother’s old Smith Corona typewriter, and somehow that taught us to be both brutally honest and yet exuberant toward one another. We relied on one another through every part of the writing process — for word choice (“what’s another word for “tawny?”) and for direction (“So, really, what should the first line of the introduction be?”).

Sure, we had our differences of opinion at times, but together we created a better book than either of us could have written separately. And, yes, we will drink to that.

Back in 2009, when we were drinking...tea?

Back in 2009, when we were drinking…tea?


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16 Responses to “On Writing a Collaborative Cookbook”
  1. Karen Darcy says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product!

  2. Aunt Dawnie says:

    Being auntie to both of you, yet preferring not to imbibe – now there’s a dichotomy!!!
    Aunt Dawnie

  3. mike says:

    great write-up report! Those photos are great! Cant wait to get my hands on your book. Congrats to you, Wonder-twins!

  4. Helen Scalzi says:

    What a fun blog. Frank and I are eagerly awaiting your book.
    I am you aunt and I do imbibe so eagerly is a good description.
    Love you both.

  5. Amanda says:

    Congrats! I hope you’re feeling a wonderful sense of relief and excitement!

  6. Phoebe Reed says:

    Cheers to Tenaya and Andre! You guys are fabulous!!! I can’t wait for the actual book! You guys going to have a joint book signing? love you both! A proud Auntie who does imbibe!!

  7. Trish says:

    amazing sips & sibs – congrats!

  8. Allison says:

    I’m always looking for new uses for Campari! Can’t wait to try the Jasmine. Sibling collaboration is so special. Any cheese pairings in the book?? I always go to your Ginepro and Gin suggestion!

    • tdarlington says:

      Hi Allison, great to hear from you! I’m so glad you’re on the gin and Ginepro train. It’s such a great combination. Yes, there will be some cheese pairing ideas in the new book, along with a number of Campari recipes! Let me know how you like the Jasmine.

  9. I am so excited to see this book! Congratulations to you and your brother. I dream of collaborating with my sibling one day.

  10. Molly P says:

    Hah! Love it. Can’t wait to read the book (and of course try the recipes… )

  11. Aunt Tookie says:

    I am so behind on reading your blog! This is wonderful! What great pictures! I look forward to getting the book and giving copies to those I know will enjoy it.
    Now I know why we haven’t heard a peep out of you Tenaya!
    Much love!

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