Behind the Book: Testing and Single Recipe Shots.

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

Annnd I’m here with my behind the scenes book post that I promised… with huge blocks of text. GUYS. I am so wildly wordy in this post. I’m giving you all the details!

I just wanted to document so much more of this process than I did last time, so here it is.

Not only am I loving the process more this time, it’s actually going smoother and I feel a lot more confident about that. I believe it’s due to three reasons:

  1. I’ve done it before, so it’s not quite as intimidating
  2. I have less time than I did before
  3. I have lots of help

So.

MY OTHER RECIPES

Let me explain. The first one is obvious. I’ve been here before.

The second one? So my dad has always said “the more you have to do, the more you get done.” Even though I was working more than full time when I was writing the first book, I didn’t have a kid! I would seriously work all hours of the day, nonstop. I’d work 12 days at a time writing and shooting and testing, barely leaving my house like a recluse freak and sleeping a few hours a night just to recharge. I had no one else to take care of and Eddie was traveling a bunch at the time, so I had allllll the time in the world.

These days, I have Max so I find that I’m much more efficient with my time and work hours. I have so much more to do right now, so I have to be really prepared, really consistent with my work hours, confident in my recipes and sure of what I love.

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

Here’s an idea of how my process worked the first time:

  • I tested my recipes for a few months with no photos. Just testing, retesting, trying to decide what I loved enough to put in the book and what I wasn’t a fan of. I solidified a list of 150 recipes after testing around 250 or so. Oooomp. I wrote nothing at this time, other than recipes. My recipes were written on paper (you know I’m a big pen and paper girl) and not typed.
  • I planned hugely packed photoshoot days that took weeks. It was April and May, so it was light out until 7 or 8 PM, sometimes longer. I would plan to make about 13 to 15 recipes per day, starting at around 6AM, photographing them as I went, finishing around 8PM and starting the clean up process. These days were ROUGH. But I had my photos done! I still wrote none of the manuscript at this time. I drank a shit ton of coffee.
  • During the photography period, I ended up cycling through a bunch more recipes. Ones I no longer deemed “good enough” for the book. Testing and retesting here.
  • Once I had all the photos done, I started writing the manuscript. Since all of my recipes were handwritten with multiple testing and retesting notes, there were a handful of them that I couldn’t read or remember which notes were correct. This really sucked. I retested a few and tried to figure out what I had done to make the recipe so good since I couldn’t read my food-splattered chicken scratch. Most recipes came out in the end. A few I had to scrap because I couldn’t figure it out.
  • THEN, I finally sat down to write the manuscript. This was a challenge. If you heard me talk along one of my book tour stops or have heard me speak about this process, you’ll know that I really struggled writing the manuscript because for some reason, I felt that it had to sound weirdly, inauthentically professional since it would be a book. That was on a SHELF. IN A BOOK STORE. Possibly FOREVER. (if I could only be so lucky.)
  • After week of struggling, I approached my manuscript as I do my blog posts. I acted like I was writing to my friends about 150 recipes in my blog posts! This helped immensely.

That process worked the first time, but again, I had all the time in the world. I could do it whenever I wanted, I could work for 12 days straight for 20 hours a day and then sleep for 2 days straight and not be able to move. It didn’t matter! No one counted on me to survive! While I felt really close to the book, it was in a different way.

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

So now, here’s how I have approached this process, which is going SO well this time.

  • In the summer and fall of 2016, I tested my recipes whenever it was convenient for me. I made them for dinner, for parties, for breakfast, etc. When I had extra ingredients left over from testing freelance or blog recipes, I’d test what would fit into those ingredients. I spent a good six months testing and retesting and almost immediately felt REALLY comfortable and confident with my recipe list. (OMG YOU GUYS THEY ARE SO GOOD!) I think it’s also important to mention that I have another almost-five years of serious recipe development and cooking under my belt since this last book process, so I’m really confident about what I’m making. I took tons of notes too, obviously. Most recipes were tested three times. Some a lot more.
  • My recipes are TYPED! They are typed up fully in a huge document that is separated a few different ways. I have a full recipe list. Another recipe list by meal type (breakfast, dessert, etc). A recipe list with full, written out recipes. This may seem like a big DUH! moment and very trivial, but it is huge for me.
  • Right now I am photographing single recipes. I have the recipes printed on those days, and my team and I make about 12 to 15 recipes a few days a week. Since I’m having them make the recipes on their own too, it gives it another good test. Essentially as we’re making it, we’re testing things for the fourth time. We take lots of notes and write them down. I’m writing almost every single day, and writing portions of the manuscript here too! I write about the recipes that week so I’m insanely close to the recipe process. I’m not going eight weeks without writing like I did the first time.
  • Later in the spring, we will do some larger scale photoshoots that include multiple recipes together, parties, etc.
  • Once ALL the photos are done, I’ll be working more on the manuscript in one large chunk. This might seem backwards to some people, but I’m such a visual person that I love seeing the photos WITH the recipes. It helps me feel like the book is a full package. I will do lots of editing to the manuscript, and I may even take the approach as if I’m writing the entire thing from scratch. But I’ll have tons of notes and writing along the way. Something to edit!

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

(he found the chocolate shavings…)

There have been a few recipes that I’ve scrapped already in this process, but it’s nothing like last time. For example, I realized that I had a TON of butternut squash recipes (like an embarrassing amount – shocker, right?) and I took one out that I will probably share on the blog at some point once I retest it to make sure it’s perfect. Took out another that wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I am also still coming across recipes I love so much that I want to include in the book, so I add them in. For instance, I’ve been making this to-die-for Bolognese that we are loving so much. I’m trying to decide if it should go in the book or on the blog. IT’S SOOO GOOD.

Now for the best part: my team is saving me!

Colleen and Katy help me regularly, so we work well together. We have a flow that works in the kitchen, so it’s not like we are learning to work around each other now that it’s book time.

I also have Erin from The Almond Eater helping me style the recipes. THIS IS AMAZING!! First, I love Erin’s styling so much. She has an incredible eye. A few weeks ago, my friend Ashley told me that I had to relinquish some control, that styling and photography were so creatively intense (especially for 150+ recipes at once) and to have help in certain areas I wasn’t used to. It wasn’t like I needed permission, but it made me feel better, hearing from someone who has shot and styled multiple books recently.

Just having Erin here with me to help set up the shot and help me style things creatively is AMAZING. I am not a food stylist. I can style my own recipes for the blog, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. It’s really hard for me. It takes a long time. I can never match someone else’s style. The difference with Erin is that while HER own style is different from mine, she is capable of working in my own style and seeing things in my style. It’s life changing. I love her. If you are working on a book and need help with styling, I cannot recommend her more. Having someone there to even do a minor thing like help choose a color palette for one recipe or rearrange a fork has changed the game for me. I can’t tell you how many photos I reshot with the first book because I was unhappy with them. We’ve shot a lot already, and I love EVERY photo I’ve taken!

After Erin and I set up the shot(s), I take all the photos, back everything up multiple times and do a few quick edits so I can get my pictures looking sharp. I want to make sure that I love the photo and can see the book together as a whole.

Like I mentioned before, having help this time around is forcing me to stay very organized and prepared. I don’t have recipes strewn about or random notes of paper that I will never find! I want to make sure that all our time is used wisely and efficiently.

(As a side note, I also have a babysitter who comes and watches Max on these days where we do the large shoots. She is amazing and keeps him out of our hair. This is the hardest part for me because I want him with me at all times, so I love that he is still there. I steal a kiss like once every 30 minutes.)

Oh and lastly? Having this help assures that we really aren’t wasting any food. It always has somewhere to go! Unless it’s a super gross fail like these below.

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

Some things I can’t live without:

  • Desk calendars and planners! I have two desk calendars going right now. I always have one, where I map out my blog editorial calendar. So I have that. My second one is for our shoots and my manuscript planned out as a whole. I love these big calendars so I can see everything as a whole. I’m also using my day designer for really detailed book and work notes. I’m using the nourished planner as my life/overlook/appointment planner, if that makes sense.
  • Google photos. I had never used google photos before, but I have all my book photos in an album and LOVE the layout. I print them as well, and hang them on the wall, but seeing them in google photos gives me such a great idea of the layout, the colors I’m shooting, the feel and style that I’m shooting, etc. I’m obsessed. It’s also shared with my editor so she has an idea of what the photos are already looking like.
  • A super strict clean up and prop organization process. My team is probably laughing hysterically because if you saw my props, you’d die. They are a huge jumbling mess. Piled on top of each other. Falling over. But! We know where everything is. It’s easy to find. I am fully cleaning up the house and kitchen after every shoot (meaning, I’m putting props back exactly where they go, instead of piling them on my dining room table like I did last time). I try really hard to have the fridge completely organized every shoot day so everything can easily be found. I have one of those side-by-side fridges and they are the WORST. I cannot explain my hatred for them. They fit nothing. Things get lost and die in the back. So keeping it organized is key.
  • My canon 5d mark iv. I know I’ve mentioned this a million times since I bought it, but the touch screen is amazing. I don’t always shoot tethered because I find it restrictive and with the touch screen, I can easily zoom in by touching and make sure everything is in focus. I live and die for this camera. Best purchase ever.
  • My iPhone 7plus. I LOVE having the plus! It’s huge and I snap a photo of every book recipe on my phone for quick and easy access. All of these photos above were taken with my 7plus.

behind the book I howsweeteats.com

So that’s that! Super long and if you’ve made it this far, ummmm thank you, I love you beyond belief. I’ll be sharing these posts often and if you have any questions, leave ’em below! xo