I Wrote a Cookbook

It's 38 pages long and there will be fewer than 500 copies, because we only ordered 500 sheets of cover stock, and I messed up on printing some of the covers and we had to pitch them. This edition is so limited that I'm not even sure yet how many copies make up the edition. Somewhere between 475 and 499, I guess.

In five days I'll pick up the finished books from the printer. This has been a strange journey, but a satisfying one.

Over the past ten years, I've attended seminars about how to promote cookbooks, listened to webinars about how to land an agent, participated in workshops on how to write a cookbook proposal, exchanged probably hundreds of emails with food writer friends about the ins and outs of agents and books and book contracts and manuscripts. I've tested recipes for seven cookbooks by other authors. I've started three different book proposals and fizzled out on each, for reasons I can't explain. They were all good ideas, and I knew exactly what needed to go into each proposal and in what format, but I just couldn't get over the hump of bringing all of the required pieces in order.  

My most recent of these ideas was the pawpaw cookbook. Initially I envisioned it as a regular cookbook, with some lovely color photography and at least 50 recipes. I wanted to go through a traditional publisher because that's what made sense to me, but a cookbook about a regional fruit that's barely available on any commercial scale  is a hard sell. 

I realized if the pawpaw cookbook I imagined was ever going to happen, it had to happen in a totally different way, and on a very small scale. 50 recipes became 12. Full-color photography became a few really cool spot illustrations. The cookbook became a zine: handmade in form and spirit.

My first encounter with pawpaws set me on an unexpected path, one that's meaningful because it's indirect.  I feel like it's a reckoning of sorts, this small pawpaw zine. Initially I hoped to do it because I love pawpaws and wanted to share trustworthy recipes for them, but eventually I accepted that I needed to do it for me, just so I could say I did.

Freed from the constraints of a book proposal, I was able to focus on what I love doing, which was writing and formatting recipes.  Though I'm naturally a very analytical person, I threw those over-planning instincts to the wind and did only rudimentary calculations about timelines, budgets, page counts, and design. I wanted to do it by feel and see where it took me. Since I was footing the bill, the only person I was accountable to was me.

The food writing world has turned itself inside-out in the 15 years I've been in it. A lot of those changes are ones I feel ambivalent about. In order to be true to my own instincts and convictions, I've needed to back away from a lot of its more frivolous aspects, because I'm not the kind of person who's able to convincingly do anything I'm not behind emotionally. This trait has not always made my life easy.

The only way the pawpaw zine could have happened was  by  following my heart. Even if I have 475 copies of it in my basement for the next 25 years, it'll still be worth it.