The bright white square book
rests stately on the wrought iron stand
weighting down the corner of my kitchen counter.
Its friendly blue font and
crisp Norwegian stitchery
frames a smooth kitchen tile
with a carefully handwritten recipe.
A simple book
teaching me so many
Feeding my soul.
We call the book Made with Words: Stories and Recipes from a Kitchen Wall. It’s filled with favorite family recipes that were handwritten by my mother-in-law, Barb Blue, onto glistening white kitchen tiles. I interviewed Barb about each of the recipes and the cooks that shared them with her. My daughter, Julia, artfully photographed each tile. These 1960s masterpieces graced the kitchen of my husband’s childhood home at Grange Avenue and 33rd Street in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you have a recent connection to Augustana University you may know it as the theme house called “Heritage House”—apparently my mother-in-law’s gifts for hospitality remained in that small red brick house even when filled with college students. Wink, wink. The house had served its purpose and was razed about a year ago. Our family was grateful for the invitation from Augustana to remove the tiles before the house came down.
You can read more about the stories of the tiles here in my previous blog post. If you’re already sold on the idea of some classic comfort food recipes and sweet stories as side dishes, click here to buy a book or two or three. I’ve been giving them lately as wedding and shower gifts. They are basically something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. A perfect gift for anyone who has a sentimental heart and cravings for a grandma’s cooking. Remember when Kramer on the TV sitcom Seinfeld made a “coffee table book” that was shaped like a coffee table? Well, this makes a perfect “kitchen counter book” although I didn’t make it in the shape of a kitchen counter—well sort of, it’s flat.
Today I want to share what I learned from writing and specifically self-publishing a book. Keep reading even if you have no desire to write a book—I think it’s always good to know the processes and efforts that are behind the things we use every day. This is probably why I have always been a fan of factory tours and television shows like Unwrapped. If you’re the curious type, here’s my current take on what I think I learned from writing a book. Subject to change.
Ten things I learned before, during, and after writing, Made with Words: Stories and Recipes from a Kitchen Wall:
1. You don’t know where your inspiration to write a book will come from. This one began as a photo book Christmas gift for my mother-in-law and our family. Be open to the possibilities!
2. For the lack of a better phrase, “just do it.” I’ve spent my life dreaming about writing a book. I always pictured a book of poems or a children’s book or a collection of devotions—not a cookbook. My husband gave me this laptop I’m currently typing on (probably five years ago) to use to write a book. It was time to make good on the gift.
3. This is my FIRST book. It doesn’t have to be the one I always thought I would write. It just has to be the one to get me started. A baby step. My next book, well, it will be my NEXT book and hopefully more will follow.
4. Tell people about your book idea. Writing is so personal and the thought of sharing it with others is often scary. I had several coffee dates with a variety of folks who are writers and readers to get their reaction and advice. You know who you are, thank you!
5. See yourself as a creative person, an artist. I think this is a challenge for both my daughter and me. We have both chosen vocations that are in the healthcare field. Practicing a certain vocation does not preclude a person from also identifying as an artist. I know this is common sense but do you believe it for you? I just discovered that my favorite poet, William Carlos Williams, was a pediatrician. Those plums in the fridge . . .
6. Proof, proof, and proof again. I am sure I had at least ten people edit and/or proofread my book and each one would find errors or inconsistencies that weren’t caught by a previous reader. My favorite was the English professor who kindly proofed the book. She observed the photo of a box of blue birthday candles labeled “peppermint” but keenly noticed that I referred to them in my story as “spearmint”. Writing and editing requires some major brain power (and for sure more than one brain). Thanks, friends.
7. Explore all options for publishing. This is going to get a bit wonky but here goes. I explored a couple of local publishing houses which didn’t work out so I decided to self-publish. There are numerous self-publishing options including Amazon’s Createspace, Blurb, and LuLu to name a few. This was really where the learning curve kicked in for me.
I had no idea of the limitations and expense that is involved in creating a simple sixty page book the way I wanted it. An affordable solution would have been an eBook but that didn’t hold much appeal to me. Additionally, I was not willing to give up my desire for a square book (don’t ask me why, I’m a Libra, I like balance.) I was not willing to give up a hard cover and full bleed colored photos (photos covering the full page). So, for me, my best option to get all the things on my wish list was to go to a local printer here in Sioux Falls. I used AlphaGraphics and was very pleased with their work. I was especially pleased with the customer service provided by Sarah. She was so patient with my requests and numerous edits.
Self-publishing is not a cheap endeavor, had I been willing to use a printer outside the United States, my costs would have been significantly less. However, I wasn’t inclined to not having hands on access to the project and I simply prefer to shop locally. This is a South Dakota story, a Sioux Falls story, and it should be made here.
8. You mean I have to sell it? If you know me well, you will understand when I say that I would prefer to just GIVE all the books away. That’s probably not a good option related to the paragraph above. Selling books has been a learning curve. The most fun has been connecting with local business owners who have been excited to share it in their retail spaces: Plum’s Cooking Company, Maxwell’s Food Equipment, and the Center for Western Studies on the campus of Augustana University. Our Sunday morning cooking class in Plum’s beautiful demonstration kitchen was an honor and a joy. Watching my mother-in-law, Barb, teach a group of over twenty home cooks of all ages how to make her pie crust is a memory I will always treasure.
I love selling to people face-to-face. I’ve considered a lemonade stand approach but this is 2018. We’ve dipped our toes into online selling using Gumroad as the platform. I’m getting to know the world of state and local sales tax in South Dakota. I’m definitely a little fish—maybe even a tadpole—in a big pond where all fish are treated equally. I’m learning and observing.
9. Enjoy the journey. The joys of writing and sharing the book are still percolating and rising above the occasional frustrations and hassles of such a small enterprise. I think this just means I need to write more books and use what I’ve learned.
10. Be thankful. I have to remind myself that to have this rare time to spend with my daughter, Julia, and my mother-in-law, Barb, in recording and sharing these family stories and recipes is a gift in itself. Also, hearing from people who have the book and are making the recipes is a delight. I’ve referred to the book as a culinary walk down memory lane. The stories I am hearing from our readers have affirmed that sentimental journey.
Finally, at its core Made with Words: Stories and Recipes from a Kitchen Wall is about feeding souls. The ultimate gift for me would be to inspire your sweet soul to write a book. Let me know if I do.