My last post was over six months ago. I promised you guys big, grand news back in January, and then I gave you half a year of silence. I honestly cannot believe that much time has gone by. It’s a gap that, when quantified, scared me a little. I asked myself questions like, “Can I even pick back up where I left off?” and “Do I truly want to?” I’ve spent the better half of a month mulling over these thoughts, wondering if this space could have run its course. But amidst all those doubts, one thought continually pushed its way through: “I miss my blog friends.” My little corner of the online food community has come to be an important part of my life over the years, and letting that fade away would be a damn shame. So, I’m back! With “hi!”s, “sorry!”s, and “I missed you!”s. And a not so short explanation of what I’ve been up to these past six months.
So…let’s start with that big, grand news. I was writing a cookbook. Was = operative word. Way back in November of 2013, I received a very nice email from a publisher asking me if I had any cookbook projects in the works, or if I’d given any thought to writing one. Needless to say, I was flattered. To the point where the question “have you ever thought of writing a cookbook?” didn’t elicit my usual response of “HELL NO.” (Which, up to then, was a stance I’d firmly taken thanks to many years in the book publishing industry, looking at books on computer screens and talking about books on the phone and discussing books in emails. Books books books all day forever. Please don’t make me write one. Thankyouverymuch.) But that email landed in my inbox at a very optimistic time in my life. Fall air. A new relationship. A new year on the horizon. So, could this new, optimistic me really quit her of job almost 10 years, set out on her own to do all the freelance-y things she’d been dreaming of for way too long, and write a freakin’ cookbook? Idealistic answer: Yes. Why the heck not?!
Real answer: Not quite. But let’s back up for a second and talk about the book deal. My answer of “yes” came after a bit of back and forth between the project manager and myself, and was not without hesitation. And when that official contract landed in my inbox, I felt all sorts of clueless and overwhelmed. (Real talk: Negotiating a book deal without an agent is scary as hell. I would strongly advise against it unless you know [or a reliable source can tell you] what should be expected in all aspects of a book deal, from the advance/royalties to the rights to the timeline to the consequences of the deal falling through. And if the contract doesn’t meet those expectations in any way, you need to be prepared to negotiate. Firmly.) I wound up getting in touch with a lawyer who was familiar with cookbook publishing and sending my contract out to him for review. He replied that, across the board, the percentages were a bit lower than he would like to see, but that unfortunately tends to be the case with image-heavy color books due to printing costs. I could go into great detail about everything that was questionable about this contract, but I will instead direct you to Alanna’s post on the matter. She and I went through very similar rollercoaster-esque experiences, and she has summed it all up perfectly.
Still, despite it being far from the deal of the century, I decided to go ahead with the project. That might seem crazy, but this cookbook had begun to represent things for me that I saw an enormous amount of value in. (Certainly not profit. I knew at best I’d be breaking even after all was said and done.) This book was a reason to quit my job. The job that kept me tethered to my computer 40–50 hours a week. The job that taught me that no matter how many times you might explain something to certain members of sales and upper management, they probably won’t listen to you. To be rid of all that stress/frustration was motivation enough. I also saw an opportunity to push myself. I, master of fleeting ideas and half-finished projects, was going to force myself to do something epic. And for those reasons, I said yes to the deal.
Fast forward about a month after signing the contract, and I’m already feeling frazzled. The timeline I was given for the book was crazy short. I had six months to submit a finalized manuscript, and another month and a half to submit all of the photos. This worked out to developing 4–5 recipes per week, which made my head spin. On top of all that, other work was rolling in like crazy. My favorite big client from my previous job transferred all their work to new freelance me, and it was piling up fast. Then EatingWell magazine booked me for a three-day block of propping and styling for an upcoming issue, and I began to feel very overwhelmed. I decided to sit down and write out a very detailed calendar for the next month, which usually calms me down when I’m in work overload. Instead, it felt like I was trying to put together a puzzle that had about fifty extra pieces. I called my mom to stress-vent, the line was busy, and I just burst into tears.
After a solid five minutes of therapeutic sobbing, I calmed down and did some level-headed assessing of what pieces could not fit into my current puzzle. I had been daydreaming about quitting my job for the past several years. When I talked about it, I would invariably say that I wanted to do two things: (1) Continue to work with my favorite client(s) on my own terms. (2) Branch out into professional photography and/or food styling. Done and done. Had I ever said I wanted to write a cookbook up until a couple months ago? No. No I had not. It was pretty clear what had to give.
Needless to say, my project manager was NOT pleased. I was roped back in briefly when he offered to extend the schedule and pare down the focus, but it quickly became obvious that my heart wasn’t in it, and we parted way after a terse break-up phone call. I spent at least a month feeling like kind of a failure for giving up on the project, but it’s clear to me now that it was so totally the right thing to do. I have learned to accept and embrace the fact that there are just some things that aren’t for me. After I’d officially backed out of the deal, I spoke with my mom about it for a while on the phone. She then handed the phone off to my dad, who I’ve joked about inheriting most of my brain genes from over the years. Our conversation was brief, but the first thing he said to me was, “you know, Carey, this is exactly why I avoid things that involve deadlines.” Thanks, Dad. My brain simply isn’t hardwired to handle epic projects with firm deadlines, and I’m ok with that.
It is interesting to think that back in January, I declared 2014 to be all about saying “yes”, when it was, at first, very much about saying “no”. No, I cannot write this book. No, this relationship is not working for me. “Yes” is scary, but “no” can be even more frightening. And there were so many “no”s in my life for the first few months of the year. It felt negative, stagnant, and frustrating, but it made room for “yes” to start creeping in. And I can honestly say that my life feels pretty great these days. Freelance life is fantastic. I’ve had the opportunity to work with EatingWell on the past several issues, which is super exciting for me. Both the food and creative teams there are awesome, and I’m having a blast working with everyone there. There’s also a new boy in my life. (I know things like this seem to be nothing but shiny when they’re new, but I don’t know…this one is like seriously super shiny, you guys. Omg, I’m so dumb. I hope he never ever reads this!) So in short: great great great, yes yes yes. Yay!
Also, despite being absent from here, I haven’t been completely silent. If you’re curious what I’ve been up to the past few months, you can check out the tasty things I’ve been making over at Food52…
And you can pick up the July/August issue of EatingWell and see some of my prop styling in there!
In closing, let me apologize again for being gone so long. I did, admittedly, experience serious food burnout from the cookbook recipe development, and am happy to say that seems to finally be wearing off. I am still not entirely sure what the future holds for this space as I continue to adjust to my new freelance life. But I do know that it feels really good to be back here, saying “hi” to all of you. ♥