I had a chat with Jane to find out more about the project and how she managed to turn her lightbulb moment into an actual book with pages and everything.
IB: Tweet Treats is such a good idea for a book that I can’t believe no one thought to do it before. Tell us a little bit about the premise and how the idea came to you.
JT: Why thank you! (pauses to preen briefly)
It really was a lightbulb moment. I had just finished rewriting my first novel, one that I had tinkered with endlessly already. I turned back to the beginning to read it – and it sucked. Every word made me cringe.
I cried on Twitter’s shoulder (one of many reasons why I love Twitter) and all my writing buddies basically said, ‘Jane, step away from the MS. You may not look at it for at least three weeks. It’ll look better then.’ I had no idea how I would survive without writing for three weeks, but I walked away from the computer.
I sulked my way into the kitchen where I realised the child was eyeing the smallest dog hungrily, it was already 6.30 and I hadn’t even thought about dinner. I took a packet of chicken thighs out of the fridge and stared blankly at it for about 10 minutes. Time was of the essence, I didn’t have time to trawl through reams of prose in traditional cookbooks for inspiration, and I was totally stuck. Once again, I tweeted.
‘Any suggestions for what I can do with a packet of chicken thighs? No rude ones, please!’
Within a minute I’d received four or five perfect little recipes, each one tweet long, all different and a lightbulb pinged on over my head – how many such recipes could I collect, I wondered? Would people be willing to contribute? Could I fill a book, and donate the royalties to charity? And most of all, would this fill the awful hole in my life while I was on hiatus from the novel?
So off I went. Two days later I had the blog up and running, a hashtag going strong and had collected over 100 recipes.
So this is a book with contributions from other people. Did you consider writing the 140-character recipes yourself?
Good lord, no. I am the person for whom this book is written – harried, cooks because I have to feed my family, wants easy ideas but doesn’t want to make the same thing over and over again. I contributed some of the recipes, sure, but I’m no cook!
I knew straight away that if I didn’t get help from the Twitterverse I was sunk. I only hoped I could hold people’s interest for long enough, since Twitter moves so fast. I was really afraid that the whole thing would fizzle out in a couple of weeks and I’d be left with a bunch of recipes, but not enough to do anything meaningful with.
So what about the celebs? *swoon* You have a lot of big names who have contributed to the book. Was this the plan from the get-go or something that came later? What do they bring?
I always hoped to snare a few celebs! One of the many great things about Twitter is the accessibility of people that you may look up to or have an interest in.
Many celebs took to Twitter like ducks to water, enjoying the fact that they can chat openly with fans without having to run the gauntlet of press, paparazzi, etc. Twitter really levels the playing field that way, so I had high hopes of snagging a few.
I didn’t anticipate what actually happened, though. I put the call out to get some help with targeting celebs, since I couldn’t do it all myself. A group of friends suddenly banded together, declared themselves to be Team Tweet Treats and set about tracking people down.
They were relentless! In a nice way, I mean. Suddenly they were bringing tweets and good wishes from huge names like Milla Jovovich and Paula Abdul, Boy George and The Script.
Mostly what the celebrities bring is themselves. The use of their name is valuable to the book, sure, but what’s really enjoyable is the fact that so many of them manage to convey their own personalities, along with a recipe, within 140 characters. Paula Abdul’s recipe is a perfect example, wait till you read it.
The celebrities tweeting and using the hashtag also hugely raised the profile of the project. One retweet from a big name could lead to hundreds of hits on the blog, for example, and encouraged fans to contribute also. I’m hoping that that loyalty will also translate into sales.
Finally, through tweets and retweets from celebrities, we’ve managed to raise the profile of Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) – many people who contributed had never heard of the charity previously.
Tell us more about Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) and why you chose that charity?
I’ve known about MSF for about 10 years, ever since some friends who were getting married asked for donations to that charity in lieu of gifts. I looked into the charity and was very impressed with the work they do.
They are a global charity who provide healthcare in places where it is needed most, countries stricken by war, famine and natural disaster. The charity is utterly non-partisan and without any religious or political affiliation; if someone needs help, regardless of beliefs or background MSF will give it. I really respect that.
When I thought of the idea behind Tweet Treats, I knew I’d get submissions from all over the world, so I wanted to chose a truly global charity to be the recipient, one without an agenda that some people might find objectionable. MSF was the obvious choice.
Fantastic. So how did you get the book published? It’s one thing to have an idea and get people enthused, but it’s quite another to see it through.
I was lucky to have Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie in my corner, she gives a lot of help and advice to new writers. She told me to write a proposal once I’d collected all the recipes, then kept sending it back to me saying it wasn’t good enough, to add certain information, etc. It was hell, the hardest part of the whole process – blood and sweat went into that dratted proposal!
When Vanessa was happy that it was good enough she put it on Michael O’Brien’s desk at O’Brien Press and told Michael that he should have a look. Ten minutes later I had a phone call from Michael O’Brien…
Obviously, thrashing out a deal, deciding on format for the book, etc took longer, but I was genuinely amazed at how (relatively) easy the process was. Previously I’d tried to get some fiction published, but I know now that it’s considerably easier to get non-fiction accepted for publication.
Blimey, that sounds like a very straightforward and highly unusual happening! Has the editing process helped with your own writing at all?
I don’t think it’s helped with my fiction writing. In fact, I got so absorbed in all the nerdy little details involved in producing a book like this that I didn’t write anything new for months!
However, it’s been a fantastic introduction to the world of publishing. I now have a pretty good grasp of how it works, who does what job and when. The whole business has been demystified for me a great deal, and I feel more confident about being able to do it all again.
Tweet Treats is a fantastic idea and I highly recommend you support a great cause and buy yourself a copy right now.