First Time Authors

Pickles and the setting sun

“You’re right on track. It takes an average of six years to write your first book,” a friend told me recently. 

“Where do you come up with this stuff? Never mind how I feel about statistics, the way I see it your statistic is in our favor and puts us ahead of the curve,” I said. 

Three years ago this month we broke ground on the idea of a fermented vegetables cookbook by writing our first book proposal.

The thing is, everything about this project has been a first. The first proposal was followed by the first rejection. Because that rejection came after a few enthusiastic calls with the editor it was a bigger disappointment than the form letter we had prepared ourselves for.  However it spurred on attitude: well-we’ll-show-them-and-write-the-New York Times-Best-Seller-of-sauerkraut—and we were prolific. This writing burst was soon followed by the first 10-month hiatus because we were too busy making the ferments and hocking them at local market (and holding down the day job). That was the first year. The second began with another few months of bad attitude (by one of us and we won’t name names) and then a genuine commitment to the project. 

This took us down the path of self-publishing, which brought on meetings (more firsts) with a distributor, a designer, some editors, and four print houses, but we stopped short of the meeting with a loan officer (the price tag to do it right was a daunting obstacle) and decided to create our first e-book. This time last year as we rounded project year two we thought our book was pretty much finished. Colorful glossy pages slid past on the screen with each swipe of a finger—we had a pretty little iBook.

The more people that we showed the book to, the more encouragement we got to submit this labor of love to a few more publishers. We began the third year with our first meeting with an agent. We experienced our first accepted proposal, our first contract, and our first advance checks.(This is our preferred bank visit). Then it was on to our first deadline, followed by more deadlines, and as the third project year neared, our first professional photo shoot on location here at the farm.

We had no idea what to expect. We did have a call sheet/shoot list (our first)—eight pages describing the photos. We made about 60 different ferments. Some of these were made in intervals to illustrate the visual changes that take place as the vegetables are curing. Of course there was also the cleaning—tidying the house, mopping the floors, and washing the windows in the commercial kitchen.

Our editor, the photographer, and her assistant, arrived in the morning. They got out of the car to the sun peaking over the ridge and a river of fog flowing along the creek below our house. We all acknowledged the beauty of the scene. We introduced ourselves since we were all meeting for the first time. But there was no time to leisurely take in any of the pleasures of the moment as the two days to get through the shoot list was a super ambitious schedule. (Not that we knew that—we do now. The shoot was finished after dark on the second night.)

“Come on in. I’ll show you the space.” I told the photographer. “This is the production kitchen.” I said as we walked into our “kraut” kitchen where we assumed the work would take place.  “I’ll show you the rest of the house and you can see the spaces we have in case you want to do some of the work in a different scene.” I added.

Transformed office to studio

She surveyed the spaces and asked if we could use the office—a bright south facing space with east and west light. “Of course” we said. While the photographer and her assistant brought in tall lighting stands, black bags full of equipment and props we moved the Pilates reformer and some other furniture—swirling dust bunnies disturbed—the only room we hadn’t put much time into cleaning. The pace never waned and we felt so studio-urban in our provincial setting. The gold warm-hued wood of the room’s walls, floor, and furniture was transformed with lighting; wide black and white screens to filter and redirect light, multiple mac books, and the cannon camera perched on its tripod turning the scenes into images.

The rest is almost a blur of activity and action punctuated by stories. Our visitors shared stories of location photo shoots from around the world, which captivated our imagination. We learned that: There is truth in food photography now; no more Elmer’s Glue as the stunt double for milk or mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream. That said ice cream when it melts just right can be thought to look “too sexy.” We found out that an old weathered barn door that had escaped the most recent burn pile would rent for $500 dollars a week from a prop provider. Some sets can include more than twenty people—production assistants, food stylists, lighting people and prop people. The five of us did it all. We watched well-placed lights and screens transform dusky evening light into bright morning sunshine on the page.

The photos appearing on the screen gave tangible life and proof to this project that has been lodged in the creative imaginations of all who have worked on it. It finally feels as if it really is happening in the beautiful artistic way we’d hoped. Meanwhile we have another deadline…