Gastronomy student Jennifer Packard spent the last two years writing a book on food and musicals. Here is her reflection on the experience, as well as tips for those who may be interested in getting published.
Even when I say it aloud, I still can’t believe it. In January 2018, my first book, A Taste of Broadway: Food in Musical Theater, will be published. In the book, I explore how food is used in musicals as a plot device, a communication cue, or as a detail that reveals the food history or creative methods used by the show’s developers. Consider, for example, the importance of meat pies in Sweeney Todd, codfish chowder in Carousel, chow mein in Gypsy, and gruel in Oliver!.
In total, my book project took about two years. It required a huge time commitment, but it was a labor of love. Given that I’ve never published anything before, it was also a major learning experience. Because I know that many others in the Gastronomy program are interested in writing, I wanted to share some of these lessons.
Choose a Topic That Excites You
For any project that requires such a significant commitment, the most important thing is to choose a topic that excites you. Even with a topic that you feel passionate about, there will be times when the project feels overwhelming and tiresome. If you’re not excited about the topic, you will struggle to get through it. You must also be disciplined in committing your time to writing regularly. There were some days I just couldn’t get my mind in the right place to write, so I’d change up my tasks between writing, research, recipe testing, and tracking down permissions.
Understand How to Write a Proposal
Before even beginning the writing, however, the first step was to submit a book proposal to the publisher. The proposal includes a summary of what the book is about and who it’s for, a list of similar or competing books, and logistical information such as expected word count and timing. Essentially, the proposal is meant to convince the publisher that there will be a market for the book, so it should be a little bit salesy.
In my zeal, I originally estimated the book would be 100,000 words, but 70,000 was more in line with what the publisher expected. I gave myself eighteen months to get my manuscript to the publisher. The publisher warned me that I needed to figure in time for the content editor to review my work, which happens before the manuscript is officially submitted. In truth, I could have worked on this book forever. Every time I looked at it, I found something I wanted to change. I still do. The due date was helpful as a goal to keep me moving as well as providing a final cut-off date when I had to stop editing.
Throughout the process, I slowly learned about how to get permissions. Permissions are required when including images or photographs not taken by the author. They are also required for quoting someone else’s creative work. Given the topic of my book, there were many places where I wanted to quote song lyrics or librettos. This involved finding out who owned the rights, finding a way to get in touch with that person or organization, and then getting a written document describing how I could use the quote. Finding and contacting the rights holder took a huge amount of time and research. There are professionals that can be hired to do this, but they charge an hourly rate that I was unwilling to pay. Additionally, the rights holder usually requires a fee which can be quite steep. And sometimes the rights holder will not give permission at all. This meant that my use of lyrics and quotes were limited to those I was able to obtain and that I felt were particularly important. If I write another book, it will have a topic that does not require gathering a large number of permissions.
Believe In Yourself
Finally, if you want to write a book, believe that you can do it. My confidence wavered at every stage. Even with a signed contract in hand, I worried that the editors would hate the final manuscript and change their minds. It wasn’t until I saw the cover of the book that I let myself acknowledge that it was really happening. Though I’ve yet to hold an actual printed copy of my book in my hands, I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of my accomplishment. Regardless of anyone else’s response to it, I am content knowing that I’ve achieved an incredible effort in bringing my passion project to life.