On Writing a Collaborative Cookbook
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.