Let’s pick up where we left off last week in the Making The Cookbook saga, shall we?
A few short hours after turning in my manuscript, my roommate and I hopped a flight to the BVIs for a little holiday R&R with my family. Needless to say, I was thrilled to temporarily wash my hands of The Dude Diet, and I spent the bulk of 4 blissful days passed out in the sun, only forcing myself upright for SPF, snacks and cocktails. It was glorious. (And let’s not forget that this happened.)
On the last day of winter vacay, I got an email from my editor saying that she wouldn’t have any feedback for at least a month, so I should take a deep breath and enjoy a little downtime on the writing front. (Hallelujah!) This lull in manuscript work was rather fortuitous, since it just happened to coincide with The DD photo shoot that I’d scheduled for the last two weeks of January….
Before we dive into the shoot itself, I want to say a few words about finding my badass photo squad. Some authors shoot their own books, but yours truly was not remotely up to the task. As a self-taught photographer who still has no clue WTF I’m doing with my camera 90% of the time, the thought of photographing a whole book made me itchy and nauseous. I had to find a professional to do the job for me.
For this first-time cookbook author, the process of hiring the right photog was a little bit daunting. I asked my publisher and agent for recs, yes, but I also spent weeks scouring my cookbook collection and the Internet for food porn photos I loved before drafting a shortlist of peeps for the job. In August of 2015, I emailed my favorite photographers’ agents, pitching my book and inquiring about their clients’ rates and availability.
Full disclosure, even though I sent out a bunch of emails, I already had a first choice. And that was the great Matt Armendariz. I had stumbled across his photos online and in food mags over the years—they were all kinds of drool-worthy—but it was this interview that made me want to work with him so badly. I know it sounds weird and creepy, but something about Matt’s energy/face/love of reality TV made me feel like he would just get me and my “vision” for The Dude Diet.
AND HE DID.
All of my aforementioned email inquiries were met with cookie cutter responses and a rate card, but Matt’s agent sent the following:
I forwarded your email to Matt, and he spent 20 minutes watching your youtube segments. He says “she’s ADORABLE!, and I’d love to do this!!” So Yeah!!!
So Yeah!!! (You know how much I love compliments!) The rest is history, and we locked in dates for an 11-day shoot in January.
For those (like my former self) not in the know, cookbook shoots require a LOT of peeps and planning. In addition to the photographer, you also need a food stylist, a prop stylist, and at least 2 assistants, plus a location to shoot the book, props (on props on props), and FOOD. Luckily, Matt made my life super easy. He handpicked a team, including stylist extraordinaire Marian Cooper Cairns, owns his own studio in Long Beach, CA (I was obviously down to spend 2 weeks in Southern California in the dead of winter) and more props than God, and he was happy to do the prop styling with Marian. I was covered on all fronts.
The week before the shoot, I had a call with Matt, Marian, and my editor to go over all the logistics. When I hung up, I suddenly realized that I had no clue what my job was on set. Marian and her assistant would do all the shopping, cooking, and food pornifying, and Matt and his assistant would shoot, edit, and send everything to my editor. Another assistant would clean up and run any necessary errands. Sooooo, I would hang? Eat snacks? “Consult”? (I considered buying a power suit for these busy and important activities.)
Turns out I was kind of spot on with the above job description. Matt and Marian are such masters of their crafts that I mostly did just hang and eat snacks, while occasionally weighing in on various cookware and garnish options. It was professional heaven, and the 2 weeks I spent on The DD shoot were hands down the best part of putting together the book. I’d been working on the project in isolation for what felt like forever, and it was so fucking cool to see people bring my ideas and recipes to life in such a beautiful way. (It didn’t hurt that said people happened to be warm, hilarious, and share my obsession with 90s hip hop, champagne, and celebrity gossip.) I feel so #blessed to have worked with them, and their photos truly captured the essence of The Dude Diet.
And Logan. (FYI, Matt had to ask Logan to slow down, take smaller bites, and try not to wiggle so much while photographing him eating these wings…)
After the photo shoot fun and games drew to a close, it was time to revisit my manuscript. The book editing process happened in a few different phases. The first two rounds of edits were just between my editor, Julie, and me, and all of these edits were done using trackbacks in Microsoft word. (Trackbacks make me mildly suicidal, but I’ll save that rant for another time.) Over the course of 2 months, we went back and forth, trimming and extending headnotes, clarifying language, re-working chapter intros, and generally buffing and polishing The Dude Diet to the best of our combined abilities. And then it got sent to the copyeditor…
The copyeditor’s job is to make sure you don’t have any embarrassing grammar mistakes or typos in your book, and that the recipes adhere to the correct style guidelines. For the record, my copyedits were straight-up terrifying. Dear God, so much red! However, as tedious as it is to go through copyedits, you really do learn all kinds of things about industry standards and your own writing. For example, it must always be “1 garlic clove,” not “1 clove garlic.” Also, I, have, an, extreme, comma, fetish. These are excellent things to know!!
Post copyediting, there were two more editing “passes.” These edits were made on actual printed slides of the book in red pen, which I found surprisingly fun. A lot of these edits had to do with design (which we’ll talk about next), like trimming 2 lines of text from a page so that a full recipe can fit, moving tip boxes around on a photo, or formatting all Dude Diet guidelines the same way. This type of editing appealed to my neurotic side, but I was also perpetually terrified that I would miss something. Plus, rereading your book infinity times makes you second guess EVERYTHING. There were quite a few sleepless nights leading up to the final pass deadline, but at some point (mandated by your editor) you just have to turn in the pages, kiss your book baby goodbye, and hope for the best. And that’s exactly what I did at the end of August.
Now we’re going to backtrack a little bit, since the book design and editing processes took place simultaneously. The first order of business on the design front was to create a really badass cover, which is farrrr easier said than done. Looking back, The Dude Diet’s cover “journey” is somewhat non-traditional. Many authors/publishers have a specific cover shot in mind—whether that’s a food or lifestyle shot—but we didn’t. We knew it would be just a food shot (too confusing to put me on the cover of something called The Dude Diet/too risky to put Logan on the cover since only Domesticate ME! readers would recognize him), but there wasn’t a clear frontrunner. This made the designer’s job tricky, to say the least.
The first round of covers included 6 options featuring 3 different photos and a variety of taglines and fonts. A lot of peeps’ thoughts and feedback were taken into account, and then a second round of covers were drawn up. I think it was somewhere during the third round that we decided on the Fiesta BBQ Chicken Nachos as the cover star, and then we went through iteration after iteration of logo, tagline, and font. After roughly 2 months of back and forth, what must have been a hundred emails, and one near breakdown (on my part), we settled on the final cover, which I’m really hoping you dig.
Just to give you some visuals, here’s what one of the first cover options looked like…
And this was an early iteration of what became the final cover…
A different designer was tasked with designing the interior of the book, and I have to say, I really lucked out with her. I remember clicking through the first layout sample and thinking, “HOT SHIT. Girl nailed it!!” I loved everything from the fonts to the color scheme, and despite a few minor tweaks to the recipe layout, there were very few changes to be made. MAJOR snaps for Leah.
PIMPING YOUR BOOK (aka PR AND MARKETING)
Once the book was designed and the editing process was almost complete, it was time to start fluffing the world for The Dude Diet’s arrival. Whoop WHOOOOOP. In late June (a little over 4 months before The Dude Diet’s release date), I had preliminary strategy sessions with my assigned publicist and marketing director at HarperCollins, and that’s when we laid out our goals for the book and talked through how The Dude Diet could/should be pitched to different retailers, media outlets and audiences. My publicist began reaching out to various magazines (aka “long lead” media) almost immediately, which felt crazy since we were still months away from having physical books in hand, but since magazines plan their content roughly 4-months out, we had to get right on it.
There was a little bit of downtime after the long lead pitches, during which I was encouraged to start getting the word out via the blog and social media. Needless to say, I was PSYCHED to finally share DD sneak peaks and the cover with all of you—I’ve always hated secrets and keeping the cover under wraps was a serious struggle. I also used this time to design some DD swag (t-shirts! koozies! sexy bookplates!) and launch The Dude Diet pre-order campaign. This was a blast, so if anyone out there happens to be in the trenches of a book project right now, stay strong!! One day soon you’ll get to make cool shit online with your face and/or logo on it, and all your hard work will be worth it!(?)
In addition to blog updates, social media blitzing, and pre-order giveaways, I also did a ton of personal outreach and shameless self-promotion. As much as I hate to ask for help/favors, I bit the bullet and contacted all my friends in the blogging world to enlist their help in spreading The DD word, and I reached out to a handful of individuals that I stalk online admire to see if I could send them a copy of my book baby. (Many didn’t respond to my request for friendship and book love, but whateva. I believe in leaving it all out on the field.) I also emailed every single friend and family member of mine (and Logan’s) begging them to pre-order a copy. The latter missives defs led to the most sales, so take note, future authors! Harassing your loved ones pays off. Just be sure to thank them profusely and offer to sign their books/chests/babies at any time. You don’t want them to feel like you’re taking advantage of their generosity. (Duh.)
And in the final week leading up to the launch? My publicist hustled to get online, print, and TV media placements for The Dude Diet. The marketing team focused on getting the book into as many retailers as they could. And me? I responded frantically to emails, mainlined coffee, smiled goofily a lot, made chicken fingies with Mario Batali, and generally felt 18 zillion emotions in anticipation of DD Day.
And then one day my book was out in the world for people to hold, and cook from, and laugh at, and spill shit on, and read on the toilet. I don’t actually know what that’s like yet, but I will TOMORROW. So you may want to check back in with me then…