Cooking Up a Great Book

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Chef Thomas Keller said that “Success is about ingredients and execution.”

Yeah, right. That and a couple of thousand details.

Writing a great book is a lot like preparing a meal. On the one hand, it’s simple. Have great content and write your book well.

In real life, though, it’s not simple at all. There’s a lot of work and detail that go into developing great content. Writing calls on you to develop another set of skills. Writing a book is different from other kinds of writing.

Here’s what writing a great book and preparing a great meal have in common. It all starts with people.

Who’s Coming to Dinner?

You must know who’s going to consume what you create. You may love steak, but you won’t prepare a steak dinner for your vegetarian uncle. You might also avoid creating a fancy meal for that culinary institute-trained neighbor who will use it as the occasion to lecture everyone.

You must know why they’re coming. You’ll choose different food to prepare for an anniversary dinner than you will for a Super Bowl party. If potential readers are looking for a solution to a single question, that’s the book you should write.

Once you know the people coming to dinner, you can choose things that they want and like. You can do the same with the book. It may turn out that the people you want to reach prefer a medium other than a book to enjoy your content. Maybe they prefer a website or a seminar or a podcast.

Ingredients

Thomas Keller is right about both books and meals. It’s easier to create a great experience with great ingredients.

In your book, you can use stories and examples that others have used before you. Try to remember the number of times that you’ve heard the story of Tylenol as an example of how to respond to a crisis.

Fresh ingredients are best for food. They’re best for books, too. Make your book unique and fresh with original research. Use stories and examples no one else has shared. Many of them can come fresh from your own life history.

Preparation

Whether you’re preparing a meal or creating a book, you need to pay attention and adjust as needed.

Good cooks taste as they cook. They adjust the dishes based on what they taste.

There are two versions of tasting when it comes to writing a book. Most great business books go through three or more drafts. They’re refined and improved along the way. Many authors also use beta readers. Beta readers share their impressions and ideas about how your book could be better.

Technique

Technique is what you’ve absorbed over the years that’s not in the recipe. My wife learned to cook helping her grandmothers and her mother. She learned lots of little things that you don’t find in cooking instructions. For example, she modifies many recipes from before 1960. Most of those call for butter, by which they mean “salted butter.” She knows that if she’s using unsalted butter, she will probably add a bit of salt to the dish.

Good cooks also learn how to do things like adjust for the equipment. That can be an oven that’s too hot or a baking pan that’s too small. Along the way, good cooks learn how to get things done on time.

If you’re writing a book, you’ll confront situations and choices you’ve never had to make before. They’re about how to get the writing done, how to keep track of details, and how to do what’s necessary to get the book published. At that point, you have two choices. You can choose to learn what’s necessary, or get help, or some combination of the two.

Takeaways

Writing a great book is like cooking a great meal.

Know who you’re cooking or writing for.

Great ingredients increase the odds of a great outcome.

A great recipe increases the odds of a good outcome.

Preparation requires attention and adjustment.

Technique is what you know that’s not in the recipe.

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