Epicurious EIC Recommends You Do It Yourself

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Editor-in-Chief Tanya Steel was in town recently to promote Epicurious.com, home of 30,000 recipes, at the farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza. I thought I’d stop in to get her thoughts about today’s food writing scene.

Over spearmint tisane (for me) and coffee (for her) from Blue Bottle, she said she tries to keep her ear to the ground, stay ahead of trends, and innovate. To do so she scans 10 to 12 blogs and aggregate sites from around the country every day, including The Food Section, Cold Mud, and newspaper food section blogs. Her staff scours social networking sites.

It must be working. Her latest accomplishment, the free Epicurious app, available for the iPhone, iPad, Droid and other mobile devices, has more than 2.5 million copies in circulation, making it a leading app.

When asked how today’s food writer could get ahead, she said every writer should be learning “on a parallel track.”  You must be “platform agnostic,” she advised.”Think of yourself as a brand and expand your writing into every platform.”

There’s no such thing as enough, she continued. Writers should “have a website and blog every day. Whatever excites them is what they should blog about.” Food writers should also be building up expertise at the same time. So “if you’re passionate about meat, take classes on butchering and grilling.”

Today’s writers have to be tech and social media savvy as well. “Everyone should know what SEO is, how to submit to Digg, how to Twitter when you put something up.”

Steel, a former magazine editor turned website editor and apps developer, walks her talk. She has also pushed into a yet another new area, publishing her first cookbook. For less experienced writers who want to write books, however, she’s big on self publishing because there are “so many ways to sell content online.” “You could bypass any publisher and create an e-book, then sell it on Amazon, and with the right keywords and tags you could be on the front page.” She also suggested food writers explore self publishing through sites like Blurb.

When asked about freelancing possibilities for Epicurious.com, she said the daily online food publication already uses “a ton of freelancers,” who write about restaurants, wine and drinks, travel and health. They include many writers she has known from her print days as an editor at Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. “We try to go with people who are experts in their field, people who have a track record and are well established,” she said. Like other national magazine editors, she rarely takes a chance on a new writer.

Is her advice doable or implausible? Exhausting or exhilarating? Profitable or income-starved?Let me know your thoughts.

p.s. Want to win a copy of my book? Head over to Wasabimon and enter.


  1. says

    Love your post. I’m about to submit my upcoming 400 recipe cookbook to my publisher in September. It’s very difficult to do a book, freelance, blog and be involved in social media. I’m doing all of these things every day, and great things are happening. I think all of her recommendations are fabulous!

  2. says

    she certainly has some great advice.however, i am not sure the “expand your writing into every platform” works for everyone. in my case, i was featured in a national newspaper and asked to write for a national magazine because my writing (my blog) had a very specific focus-my heritage (my blog is written in a food memoir-style). if i had been blogging everyday about things which excite me (as per her advice) i am not sure i would have been able to publish any work. there are so many fascinating bloggers out there- they have gorgeous photographs up, they write very well, they are well-traveled- so the competition is very stiff. in my personal experience, and this may not be the case for others- the fact that i wrote about something extremely specific, has been very helpful in helping me advance as a food blogger/writer. best, shayma

    • diannejacob says

      Congratulations on breaking into print, Shayma. You are already a blogger. And I saw video on your site. So you’re already featured in three mediums. Now you will have to decide what is next.

  3. says

    Thank you for sharing this great info, I find it very useful as an aspiring food writer. I think that writing about what your passionate about is the best way to get started in food blogging.

    • diannejacob says

      Agreed. The passion comes through in your writing, and that’s always a good thing.

  4. says

    Is Digg still relevant? I don’t even think twitter is that useful anymore. To me, Facebook has emerged as the only social site worth being on. Twitter is good for news people though, but mostly the posts become meaningless there.
    I agree that you have to get an expertise. It makes you stand out from the crowd.

    I haven’t found blogging specifically to be profitable, but it’s a good way to get your name out there and give you some credibility.

    I also recommend a book by Strunk and EB White, Elements of Style. Many bloggers need to clean up their writing.

    • diannejacob says

      I don’t know much about Digg. Facebook is fun but I like Twitter best for getting stuff out there.

      Definitely, blogging is not profitable but good for your platform.

      Elements of Style is a classic. I love that book. Good call.

  5. says

    I think that there are definitely people who need to clean up their writing, but it also hard to edit yourself. When I was writing at a university, everything had to go by at least three pairs of eyes before it went out the door.

    Dianne, I keep missing you! I couldn’t make it to your class due to travels, and it sounds like you met Tanya right before I got to the booth. Hopefully I can catch up with you at IFBC.

    But to answer your prompt, I think that Shayma makes a great point. The issue with blogs, *particularly* food blogs, is that they are very individual. Blogs about blogging have lots of inter-connectivity and guest posting, while food blogs are usually single-author platforms.

    I think what Tanya meant about being platform agnostic is not just that you should also have a blog, but that you should be writing online, and a blog is a starting point. Writing for other online magazines or larger food sites will give you more creditability with print editors. And then there is the blog-to-book option as well.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Gaby, sorry to keep missing you.

      Absolutely, you could blog as a starting point, and then move into these other areas once you have work to show an editor. Blog-to-book is possible but more likely if you have built a big readership.

  6. says

    Maybe it was simply convenience, but I find it interesting that you met Tanya at a farmer’s market. Certainly farm-fresh food has become a trend to watch. To get back to Shayma’s point maybe part of the reason Tanya urged a cross-platform approach is that food has the potential to apply to so many other markets that aren’t specifically identified as “food writing.” Profiles of chefs, healthy eating, picky eating all have potential markets beyond foodie zines. And those articles might point readers to your blog. Interesting the mention of Elements of Style, Ted Koppel was interviewed on Talk of the Nation on NPR last week and said exactly the same thing. Better dust off my copy!

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, good point. Even if these articles are all in print, they could appear in a variety of publications. You never know where your next reader will come from.

  7. says

    Great post and thanks for the suggestions and links. In my opinion, recipe writing/developing and publishing a cookbook are separate from food writing, whether it be food stories/memoirs, restaurant reviews and other types of food writing. I’m not sure that publishing a cookbook is quite the same as getting food writing published, whether in magazines or in book form – although, Dianne, you are much more of an expert than I. I agree with Shayma that the non-blog writing takes time away from our blogs as does the time to compose submission letters/queries, etc. I try and post on my blog as often as possible but there just isn’t time anymore to post as often as I would like or should. I have been toying with the idea of self-publishing a first book and Tanya’s advice has me thinking about it again and maybe in a more positive light. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!