7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:

 

ayn rand quote art print

 

Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!


And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.


What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!

Why and How to Take a Writing Sabbatical

Happy Monday! I know that’s not a thing, but I so rarely pop in to say hi to you all on Mondays that I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone had a great weekend (we went camping!) and is feeling great about what’s on deck for the week ahead.

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

Personally, I’m feeling fantastic about this week. And that’s because I’m changing up the routine.

I will be taking a blogging sabbatical for several weeks to do some much-needed refocusing and rebalancing.

This September I came back from our wedding and mini-moon blurry-eyed, blinking, wondering what’s next, yet still digging out from the to-dos that were pushed off for a year until after the wedding. We started a lot of sentences this year with “after the wedding,” and now that “after the wedding” has arrived, I feel like I need to shake off the head-down, just-get-it-done fog that’s been over me for much of this year. It’s time to resurface, look around, and get clear-eyed again.

It’s only September, but I’m already wondering where this year went. Maybe you are, too? Maybe you see the colors outside starting to change, but your eyes are pulled back to the computer screen before you can fully register them? Maybe you’re certain you don’t have time to stop and take a walk outside to enjoy the fall air? There’s so much to do, and walking isn’t very productive, right?

I hear you. I’ve spent most of the past year trying to maximize my output, and now that I’m finally over the hump and coasting down the hill, I want to hold on to that feeling a bit longer. I want a little more wind in my hair and a little less hunching over a screen.

a sabbatical break for writers

If you’re feeling that way, too, you might want to consider taking a sabbatical from writing, blogging, or other creative work. A sabbatical can teach you just as much as a work-packed month, and it will allow you to:

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4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video

instagram stories video for writers

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out (Ian Parker for The New Yorker): This is a fun and fascinating profile of Pete Wells, “the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup.” It’s a great inside look at the massive influence traditional media still holds, and it’ll also make you hungry.

Instagram Stories: Your New Favorite Way to Engage With Readers? (Martine Ellis for The Write Life): “If Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, what’s the point? Authenticity, engagement, and exposure. Unpolished snapshots of someone’s day are far more interesting than a carefully crafted flat lay featuring scattered rose petals and a strategically placed — albeit irrelevant — pair of vintage scissors.”

How to Be Active on Social Media without Losing Your Mind (Kirsten Oliphant on Jane Friedman.com): “The biggest issue I hear from people struggling with online marketing is TIME. Many writers struggle to balance social media and writing or creative work. Since we don’t have the option to go back before the age of Twitter, we are left with a few options…”

Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers (Brain Pickings): “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video (And Happy Pub Day to Damn Delicious!)

Hey everyone!

I’m baaaccckkk. After two magical weeks of being away for our wedding and mini-honeymoon, Jarrett and I are both back at it.

First things first: yes, I will be sharing wedding photos with you all here! I’ve had a few requests for them already, and I can’t wait to see them myself the very second they hit my inbox. With any luck, we’ll all see them by next week.

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A Zen Method to Cope With Rejection

Literary agent rejections

The publishing stories worth reading this week: 

Publishing a Cookbook: Editors and Closing Day (Rachel and Polly of Thriving Home): This is a fun one for you! My authors, Polly and Rachel, give a great behind-the-scenes look at what really happens when we’re selling a book at auction. If you’ve ever wondered how a cookbook deal gets made and what happens when many publishers are interested, this is the perfect read for you.

The Effortless Effort of Creativity: Jane Hirshfield on Storytelling, the Art of Concentration, and Difficulty as a Consecrating Force of Creative Attention (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers? (Lynn Neary for NPR): I love this idea of tapping into the popularity of binge watching and bringing it to books, but I’m not sold on the idea that a book = an episode. Actually, I think a chapter = an episode. People are already binge-reading when they can’t put down a book and race through it quickly. If anything, serializing a book (chunking it into sections and releasing them one-by-one) is the opposite of binge-reading, which requires you to have back-to-back access to the whole book/series.

A Key to Writing Books that Sell and Sell and Sell (Chad R. Allen): I’m often asked what the correct balance should be between storytelling and practical information in a nonfiction book–here’s a great explainer on this from Chad Allen!

Collards And Canoodling: How Helen Gurley Brown Promoted Premarital Cooking (Nina Martyris for NPR): “The Single Girl’s Cookbook sold close to 150,000 copies. But how did an editor who couldn’t cook and who described herself as a ‘grown-up anorexic’ end up writing a cookbook? She didn’t. The recipes were ghost written by cookbook author Margot Reiman. Gurley Brown simply added the garnish.”

 

A Zen Method to Handle Rejection

Literary agent rejections

Do you know the one thing I hate about my job? I hate writing rejections. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Please have me do anything else, including contract review, as long as I don’t have to say “no” to someone’s hard work.

The very thought of writing rejections makes me miserable. Because I know how hard some people take them—I see it with my own authors. I see the self-doubt and blame that springs up around a “no, thank you,” and I hate the very thought of afflicting that on someone else.

But I do it. And I do it because I believe in one thing: the best yes. Every time I say no to something that’s near-perfect for me, I’m saving room on my list for that project that’s 100% perfect for me. And I’m protecting my time for my authors, who deserve to have me there for everything they need.

That’s also how editors see it. That’s how sales, publicity, marketing, and everyone else who weighs in on an acquisitions decision sees it. We can only make magic when the very thought of a book makes us come alive. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to the author and the reading public by putting something out into the world that we’re only somewhat excited about.

And here’s a secret: Everyone in this industry gets rejected. It’s not just writers, I promise! An editor can have a book she loves rejected by her team. A marketing manager can have her new ad campaign denied from on high. A publicist can get hundreds of rejections (usually in the form of silence) from a press mailing. Agents and authors can get rejected by editors, and editors can get rejected by agents and authors.

There are thousands of things that can go wrong or get blocked by anyone along the entire acquisitions chain. Rejection is in the undercurrent of any media industry, and it’s the cardinal rule for anyone who creates and shares their work: you will get rejected. You’ll get stomped on; you’ll get battered; you’ll get tough.

Yet too many people let these disappointments destroy them. So let me say it now: I’m not going to let that happen to you. I’ve coached dozens of authors through rejections, and I know that how they handle it is what separates the career writers from the hobbyists.

If you’re serious about your work, you know there’s no Plan B to fall back on, no other career that will be good enough. The only way onward is through the wilderness of rejection. Here’s how I would coach you through each step along the way:

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