How to write a cookbook
People must think I’m some sort of a machine, having churned out a cookbook a year for over twelve years. Especially when you hear stories from some cookbook authors who take three or four years to write their masterpiece, and then shoot it over another year, working with the seasons.
Sounds like a perfect scenario, but not for me. Once I get going with an idea, I’m off and running, all guns blazing, with the turnaround from inception to holding the book in my hands sometimes as short as seven months.
This doesn’t mean I take shortcuts – quite the contrary, as I’m a stickler for rigid testing and editing. It’s just that, once the book is conceived, it becomes all-consuming until the day it’s born (quite like having a baby actually).
Let me take you through a few of the steps. It always starts quite organically really; the initial idea can come from something as simple as beautiful produce, a delicious meal, or something I’ve seen on my travels. Once the seed starts to grow, I discuss it with friends and family, and ask them for genuine feedback. My youngest son can be brutally honest (‘Oh, Mum, that’s a crap idea, don’t go with that!’). But, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I land on a concept.
Then it’s a case of pitching the idea to my publisher. I’m one of the lucky ones – my publisher is always open to ideas, and gives a guiding hand so that, within no time, the ‘book’, with possibly only a working title, is ready for me to get started on.
I begin with some research, looking into things like what’s trending. If I’m including international dishes, I also like to get some background on them to make sure I protect their authenticity. While all this is going on, I’m thinking about recipes and writing down ideas – often with crazy drawings of how I see the finished dish. When I look back at the end of the project, it’s often hilarious how completely different some of the recipes actually turn out.
Writing and testing goes hand in hand. Some days I’ll test up to ten recipes in a day (yikes, the washing up!) and other days I’ll just test one dish and present it to the family for supper (again, often with brutally honest criticism, but I’m used to it).
When I’m about a third of the way into the book, I create a mood board to share with the publisher, photographer and stylist. This is when the project starts to get really exciting, as you can start to see the design and feel of the book.
I’m also madly trying to write recipe introductions – for me, it is so important to know something about a recipe’s provenance: who developed it, where it came from and what inspired it. It’s also at about this stage that we settle on a title for the book.
Once I’m over the halfway mark, and the dreaded deadline is looming, I go into panic mode. It’s at this time that I’m doing crazy things like eating curry for breakfast and baking six different cakes in an afternoon (which does make me popular with the neighbours). But, to be honest, it’s all part of the fun as the pace picks up.
Then it’s time for the photo shoot, which usually happens in a studio over a four-week block. It’s manic, as we’re prepping, cooking, styling and shooting up to twelve recipes a day. I absolutely love this part; collaborating with lots of creative minds to create something we’re really proud of is such a joy. Quite often, the finished shot is very different to what I had initially envisaged, but that’s what having a talented photographer and stylist is all about. They can take it to another level visually, while I make sure that it still tastes amazing. With all but one of my books, we have known almost immediately which shot was going to be on the cover – a particular shot will often just stand out from all the rest. Needless to say, the one book cover that didn’t work out like that was a nightmare to shoot, and I have since vowed never to make a Banoffee Cake again!
Once the shoot is over, it’s down to the hardcore editing, where I’m bombarded on a daily basis with questions: ‘Can you describe the cake when it comes out of the oven?’; ‘How long exactly does the sauce take to reduce?’; ‘How many chocolate curls can you get out of a 100 g block of chocolate?’
Then a designer lays out the text and photos into pages, and the pages – what we call the proofs – have expert eyes from food, art and editorial go over them meticulously.
There is a huge sigh of relief from everyone when it finally goes to print, and an even bigger sigh of relief when, several months later, a parcel wrapped in brown paper arrives and you know that your baby is inside. Of course, there’s always the inevitable jitters and doubts: ‘Is the cover image right?’; ‘Did we choose the right fonts?’; ‘Did we forget to thank someone?’ But I’m never disappointed by the finished product, always elated. And with every book I’m even more grateful that I have been given the opportunity to work alongside a team of truly talented people, and that next year I can do it all again.
Valli Little’s latest cookbook – delicious. Feel Good Food is released late October 2015 and can be found in all good bookstores and online and can be ordered through Booktopia.
Valli Little Bio
WIDELY REGARDED AS ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S most exciting food writers, Valli’s passion for her subject shines through in her writing and recipes, which are invariably imaginative, easy-to-follow and most importantly failsafe. Born into a family of UK restaurateurs, Valli Little was destined to work in the food industry. After a formal training at Le Cordon Bleu in London, she embarked on a career as a food consultant and caterer.
Since 2001, Valli has worked for the highly successful delicious. magazine where she creates recipes inspired by her travels and love of food. She is a regular guest on national radio and the author of a series of bestselling delicious. cookbooks, including Home Cooking, Simply the Best, More Please, Quick Smart Cook, Faking It, Love to Cook and Love to Eat.
delicious. is Australia’s highest-selling premium food and lifestyle magazine. Since its launch 13 years ago, the magazine has led the way in sharing the most delicious food experiences with Australian home cooks, with simple, seasonal recipes from top chefs and columnists, insider travel guides and food, restaurant and travel news. Contributors to the magazines include some of the industry’s most influential like industry's most influential, including Matt Moran, Matt Preston, Jamie Oliver, Colin Fassnidge, Shannon Bennett, Billie McKay, Anthony Puharich, Anthony Huckstep, Silvia Colloca and Mike Bennie. Available each month from leading newsagents and supermarkets nationally. Digital edition also available through Apple Newsstand, Zinio and Google Play.