How to Write a Number One Cocktail Book

tequila mockingbirdHere’s how this post happened: my friend Tim Federle wrote the bartending book Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, it spent several weeks as the number one cocktail book on Amazon, I told him I wanted to write about his experience writing a bartending bestseller for Food Riot, Tim asked me if this meant we got to hang out on the phone for a half-hour, I said yes, he agreed, poof, post.

How did the book come about?

Tim Federle: My book agent Brenda Bowen, who works almost only in childrens’ publishing [Editor's Note: Tim's first book was middle-grade novel Better Nate Than Ever, she sold the book GOODNIGHT iPAD, so she asked me about doing a parody children’s title. I said I’ll get thinking about this. Then I was walking through Chelsea and I thought of this pun- what if I wrote a book called Tequila Mockingbird about book-themed cocktails for the Urban Outfitters crowd?

Then you kept thinking of puns.

Joy Luck Club Soda, The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, Are You There God, It’s Me Margarita…

What did you want the feel of the book to be?

I wanted a novelty handbook that felt like an old gentleman’s handbook. My brother gave me the Savoy Cocktail Book a while back- three color illustrations and gorgeous. I wanted a book that felt like it could be on your grandfather’s bookshelf.

So you write the proposal and land the book deal: what’s writing process look like?

The drinks often started with the puns, and then I worked on the recipes from there. Like Confederacy of Ounces is based on Confederacy of Dunces. The book takes place in New Orleans, so I started with a classic New Orleans recipe, took a whiskey drink with liquors and bitters and made it my own.  Everyone has their own twist on it but it’s a classic recipe so widely used and available, it was just easy to adapt.

Then for other ones like Paradise Soft, got a little more creative with that, all about Adam and Eve, because of that aspect, decided to do apple-tini.

For half the recipes, I could put together based on being amateur cocktail enthusiast, and for the other half, I connected with fabulous SF mixologist Victoria D’Amato who consults with a lot of restaurants in SF. She has her own cocktail consulting company, so I would consult with her on a concept and she would say something like “How about elderflower liquor?”

I learned so, so quickly that the bartending business is like being a writer. You have to have the heart of a freelancer. You have to be an entrepreneur. That was a cool parallel I discovered writing the book- how similar writing and restauranteur-ing are. You’re only as good as the last dish you put on the table/the last thing you wrote.

 What does your ideal audience look like?

The number one audience I wanted to reach was book nerds, people that might not even make the recipes but would love the Snapple Fact anecdotes. At the same time I wanted to make sure they were drinks that legitimate drinkers would be able to look at the book and get a lot out of it.

So now we’re hoping that Urban Outfitters stocks it on their book table next to the rack of fake glasses and bad hair day beanies?

UO buys new books in the fall, fingers crossed.

pitcher of dorian grey goose


So what did we learn? Gimmicks works if they’re rad, puns also work if they’re rad, hipsters like owning things that look like they belong on grandpa shelves, you’re allowed to used a mixologist to tutor you while trying to pass your “writing a bartending book” test, there is a serious Venn Diagram between readers and drinkers. Yes, I agree with all these things.





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  • Dana Staves

    That book is too awesome and I want a copy.

  • http://heidenkind.blogspot.com/ Tasha B. (heidenkind)

    I’m reading this book right now! I’m loving the puns and the illustrations, although I haven’t had the chance (or the ingredients) to make the recipes. I think my favorite is the recipe for The Turn of the Screw. Definitely a cocktail book for lit nerds. :)