Is Food Writing a Dismal Way to Make a Living?

Apr 172012
 

Your career ladder. Do you know what's on the other side?

Recently Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52 and a former New York Times food writer, said in Advice for Future Food Writers she could “no longer responsibly recommend that you drop everything to try to become a food writer.”

“Except for a very small group of people (some of whom are clinging to jobs at magazines that pay more than the magazines’ business models can actually afford), it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a food writer, and I think it’s only going to get worse,” Hesser concludes.

To which I would say, for most of us, it has been nearly impossible to make a decent living as a food writer for several decades. But here’s the thing: we’re still at it, enjoying ourselves.

And that’s our dirty little secret. Food writing is fun, no matter how much or whether we’re paid.

Hesser’s article offers lots of good numbers on what food writers make. Now, here are my three tiers of how to categorize ourselves. Recognize yourself in any of these?

Tier 1. Employees at national publications and big web names (5 percent)

These food writers and editors make a high five-to-six-figure living at a few big newspapers and national magazines, with expense accounts and excellent employee benefits. This category also includes a handful of self-employed web publishers, bloggers, and cookbook authors who pump out books annually and who probably consult on the side.

Hesser was at the top end of this first category at the New York Times as an editor and food writer. She assumed that if she told people how she moved up the ladder, that they could do it too. I don’t agree. Those people also need fierce ambition, obsessive work habits, and connections. Oh, and they need talent. Loads of it.

In the second category are bloggers and website publishers who rake in big bucks through advertising. One of their jobs is food writing, but it’s not how they would describe themselves. They’re publishers in charge of their online businesses and brand, like Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. These publishers excel at branding, technology, and networking.Oh, and they have talent. Loads of it.

Tier 2: Cookbook authors, freelancers and bloggers making less than they deserve (30 percent)

These are mostly full-time self-employed folks who may have been in the game for decades. They work hard at their profession and are respected, but they earn a teacher’s salary of $30,000 to $60,000 in a rare good year. Most of them take side jobs. They cater, cook in restaurants, teach classes, and consult. They enjoy their work.

The problem isn’t that these writers could make more money if they tried harder. It’s that the field just doesn’t pay enough. Hesser is right that their income probably hasn’t changed for years. For freelancers, pay has actually shrunk. They’re writing smaller stories for less money. And cookbooks have rarely been a good way to earn money.

Tier 3. Hobbyists and part-timers (65 percent)

Here’s where most food writers congregate. They write for fun and sometimes for pay, but it doesn’t add up to much. That’s okay — they’re not trying to make a living at food writing. They have day jobs, spouses, savings, part-time jobs, or inheritances.

Some decide to get more serious about money but will find it tough to move up a tier. If they’re bloggers, they might get book deals or enough income from ads to pay their monthly server expenses.

As for me, I’m in Tier 2 and I’m happy with what I’m doing. Sure, I’d like to make more, but that’s my trade-off. So to the question of whether food writing is a dismal way to make a living, I say yes, but it’s not the right question. A good income is not what drives most people to go into food writing in the first place.

My question is directed to people in Tiers 2 and 3, the majority. Should we demand to be paid well AND enjoy ourselves, or is that too much to ask? What will it take?

* * *

The great thing about Hesser’s post is that it’s started a conversation. For more perspectives, see

And you might want to jump in on Jonell Galloway’s Twitter chat on food writing on Friday, April 20 at 2 p.m. EST/ 8 p.m. Paris time. The hash tag is #futurefoodwriting. I’ll see you there.

(Photo by Nattavut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Share Button

  85 Responses to “Is Food Writing a Dismal Way to Make a Living?”

  1. Dianne, what I always like is that you bring facts and figures to the table, which makes it all the more easier for all to understand the situation better. Right now, I’m definitely in the third tier, but the thing is that I’m self-employed, so what takes up the rest of my time (graphic design & translation), I love as well. I am trying to steer my career towards the culinary world – ideally, all of my design, translation & writing gigs would be linked to food. I know that I probably won’t ever earn a living just by writing but if I could just have my professional life revolving around food, that would be quite close to perfect. I suspect that writers who need to do other jobs to make ends meet (cook, cater, speak at conferences, coach, etc) actually do like these side-jobs, and they probably provide lots of inspiration as well. I think the core of Amanda Hesser’s message was to diversify – and that applies to countless fields now, not just food writing.

    I look forward to the Twitter chat, thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Marie. Actually Hesser had a lot of figures in her piece, which I appreciated. Diversification is a good idea! Those of us in Tier 2 have been doing so, and yes, I think most of us like the diversity. Good luck on getting to a professional life based on food.

  2. Oh, and did you see this reply to John Birdsall’s essay? “What Amanda Hesser Got Right” via The Huffington Post? Read it here: http://t.co/oVc0nZnL Interesting too! As you said, the conversation Hesser started can only be beneficial for all of us.

  3. Diane,
    Ditto Marie’s comments about starting an honest conversation about the money behind food writing. Strangely, my checks for published features in a nationally recognized newspaper are bigger than they were three years ago. Ad space where my articles run has increased so maybe there’s a correlation. Being in tier 3, flexibility is key. Food touches so many different aspects of our lives, it’s fairly easy to branch out and write/consult in other areas such as science, health, fitness, nutrition, business, and tech. And, of course, being a good writer, regardless of the topic, is paramount to anything else. There are plenty of food writers out there that can claim to whip up a dish, but not many that can construct a grammatically correct compelling sentence. I have faith that as the field gets watered down, a writer with good technical and research skills will rise to the top and always find work and get paid, even if it’s undervalued.

    • That is fantastic about the size of the checks increasing, Sophia. Quite unusual. I like your positive attitude about branching out, and of course I agree that quality of writing is paramount –although sometimes a good editor can work wonders.

  4. I read Hesser’s article and found it to be interesting insight. So are the other post responses you linked to. Always many sides to a story!
    I’m currently in tier 3. Made just enough money last year to cover some bills. It’s tough trying to branch out with a full-time job and hobbies other than food writing that take up my time. Perhaps I just need to be more dedicated and focused.

    • Or maybe you can just enjoy being in Tier 3, since you have a full-time job. It’s hard to get to Tier 2 if you have a full-time job.

  5. I’m in tier 2 – for writing but not food writing. I am in the “majority” for food writing and like it there. What I also found interesting about Hesser’s article is that she acknowledged that the food writing world is in flux – there will be jobs to be had but the traditional way of operating is shrinking. But who knows what you can make of the non-traditional ways? That’s where some talented bloggers have fulfilled a need. Great conversation!

    • Thanks Claudia. I suppose being in flux is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at all the opportunities afforded to food bloggers that weren’t available only a few years ago, when people accustomed to print were not taking them seriously. Talk about a wake-up call.

  6. I love you for reminding us who share your passion that food-writing is “fun”.

    • I have written in other fields and I never had that feeling. Writing automotive, business and computer-industry trend pieces was interesting and challenging. But not fun.

  7. “The problem isn’t that these writers could make more money if they tried harder. It’s that the field just doesn’t pay enough.” — Amen!

    As a blogger, I try really hard to post new content, update daily (or multiple times per day), write about food, host giveaways for my readers, I really try hard and so do many, many bloggers whom I know. I have always said that at times, blogging pays worse than a sweat shop in China if you consider the recipe development, cooking the food, photographing it, editing, posting, grocery shopping for ingredients, doing the dishes (lots!), you name it, all those hours all add up and on an hourly basis, it would sure be nice to make more…but, I love it no matter what. I’m having fun, I love it, and I’d love to get rich but oh well if I don’t :)

    As always, great write-up. Wish we were ALL making more!

    • Yeah, me too. This can’t be the only field where writers are having a good time, is it? With your page views, Averie, you should be making good money from advertising.

      • No, food writing isn’t the only field where writers are having a good time. As one writer pointed out online recently, who wouldn’t want to be in an industry with a 90% profit margin?

        • Howard, you are in Tier 1 and having fun, even though you’re in a different industry. Why do you think it’s so hard for food writers to make a living wage?

  8. I love hearing everyone’s take on this topic, along with the more-or-less explicit gendered subtext.

    But I got stuck on the term “hobbyist” and am puzzling out an analogy to musicians. In music, hobbyists are people who just play for fun, and have never even asked anyone to pay them. Once you’ve been paid to play music, even if you could never survive on it, I think you get to call yourself a professional. A professional with other sources of income, sure, but still, not a hobbyist.

    Feel free to go poke holes in my analogy — that’s what it’s there for!

    • Hmm. Lots of people write about food for fun and it has not occurred that they should be paid. So I call them hobbyists. Now, if someone pays them $10 to write a piece for a website, are they professionals? I don’t think so. I’d like to think professionals wouldn’t take $10 to write for that website, or that being a professional means more than getting $10 for a piece of writing. Am I being elitist? I don’t think so.

      • I’d agree.

        In some industries, one way of working out whether someone is considered a professional or amateur in that industry is to look at what percentage of their income they make from it. I’ve seen this often in the terms and conditions for photography competitions, for example, where the competition decides to judge professionals and amateurs in separate categories, or is open to only one or the other. Of course, the lines are often arbitrary, but usually involve at least 50% of one’s income…

        • I like that idea! However, that reasoning seems kind of strange when judging a photo. Can it not just be judged on its merits, or maybe photographers would get mad if an amateur beat them out? Are there analogies to the Beard and IACP awards, where blogs now get awards?

  9. Great post, Dianne. And thanks for including the links to the ‘other’ perspectives–I never knew about the two blogs. This is why I love your site. I always learn something!

  10. I am firmly and usually happy in tier 3.

    The rub comes for me when I think about ‘having’ to earn a living in the case of if my husband lost his job or something equally tragic. Even if I could jump to tier 2, a freelancers lifestyle would likely not allow me to afford health care or many of the luxuries I currently enjoy. I currently have a friend who is an arts writer in this exact situation – she’s very talented and sought after but can’t afford health insurance for her and her child.

    Happiness and enjoying what you are doing is one thing but being realistic about honing talents and establishing connections with only a small hope of earning enough to live comfortably is another. I guess I do want both, or at least the opportunity to do both.

  11. I find this conversation very interesting. Partly Dianne, because I asked you to write a chapter about food journalism for a big food studies handbook, which you turned down because it would be just for the fun of it (i.e. without pay). But oddly Amanda Hesser ended up writing it. I guess she can afford to. I have to agree with the What Amanda got wrong article though, with the long term perspective, that few people have ever been able to make a full time living writing about food. It’s just that many more people want to now. And there are many many more opportunities now, just not enough for the number that want to do it. I happily put myself in the third tier. Those who have a more than full time day job and write for fun. I would recommend it to everyone and I think so would Amanda.

    • Touche, Ken! I’ve only written for free for one small publication, a few times, because I was interested in an obscure topic and got to write what interested me, in exchange for a free subscription. The rest of the time, since 1973, I’ve been paid.

      How fascinating that Hesser ended up writing that piece for free. Maybe she thought it would be fun? Writing about food is more fun than writing about food journalism, in my book.

      You have the best of both worlds — a teaching job that includes travel to conferences, and the energy to write tons of books in your copious spare time. More power to you.

  12. Dianne,
    I am a big fan of your book, which was given to me by Bill LeBlond, actually. However, I gotta say, shame on you. To include cookbook authors and journalists in the same “tier 2″ as bloggers is not giving credit to those of us that meet deadlines, work with editors, and navigate the entire book making process, which I am sure you know is a long, tedious road. Some blogs are terrific, and those were mentioned in Amanda’s article. But most are pretty bad, written by people who imagine themselves food critics. Taking annoying snapshots while dining out and tweeting chef groupie pics, is not remotely in the same category writing cookbooks. The job requires a multitude of skills. But hey, Julia Moskin called it out. If Gwyneth can write every word of her book and test all the recipes by herself, there is hope for everyone!

    • I am not speaking for anyone else, including Dianne, but I didn’t read Dianne’s tiers as suggesting that the workload, skills or approaches were similar, between cookbook authors, freelance journalists and the tier 2 subset of bloggers but that the earnings they all earned were roughly comparable.

      I.e. the tier was a disparate grouping of those earning a certain amount, a living yes, but not a great one, not the kind of money she was talking about in tier 1.

    • Most of the people you reference are in Tier 3, it’s true. But there’s no need to be disparaging. Hobby bloggers are just expressing themselves and not trying to have a serious career.

      When I put bloggers in this category, I was thinking of someone I met in a workshop. She quit her day job and makes a decent living as a full-tme blogger, from her ads. She is as professional as the rest of us, and I admire how hard she works.

      • I think it’s completely legit to have both in the same tier when the discussion is pay scale – both are making a living (or not) writing about food, but using different mediums. It’s a vastly different playing field than it used to be, with far more opportunity for anyone to jump into the pool – 10 years ago there were few publications and those were difficult to break into, and if you didn’t already have a platform (ie TV show) it was next to impossible to land a book deal. (I do speak from experience, with 5 books – 2 self published that were eventually sold to publishers, and having worked with publishers in Canada and the US – I also write for newspapers, magazines and have a blog.)

        The internet provides opportunity for everyone to build their own platform and audience, and if they can build enough of an audience to make a decent profit from selling ads, that’s as legit as writing for a publication that prints magazines or newspapers and sells ads. It’s true not all bloggers are journalists, but there are beautifully-written and photographed blogs as there are bad ones, and plenty of bad writing in print out there too.

  13. Thank you Dianne. This article nicely breaks down the business of food writing. As a blogger, I have seen many bloggers trying to succeed in this business. It’s hard and I have always said do it for the love of writing not for the money. Aim high yes – but keep at it for the passion. So this article is a fantastic guideline/eye-opener for many.

  14. As Ken says, there are many more people interested in food writing now, and I think, with the rise and rise of blogging, many more people who’ve had a taste of writing, found that they enjoy it and love the idea of leaving whatever version of the ratrace they are in and hate for something they enjoy instead.

    But I think many are quite delusional about how many paid opportunities there are out there, and how much there is to be made. People can earn a living, yes, but it’s not easy and as you say, they have to have a lot of talent and be willing to work hard. Not just at the writing but at the networking, the research, the pitching, the business side…

    “My question is directed to people in Tiers 2 and 3, the majority. Should we demand to be paid well AND enjoy ourselves, or is that too much to ask? What will it take?”

    I’m assuming this is tongue in cheek, as of course, the market will pay only what the market needs to pay. If I were an editor looking for writers, knowing that there are many, many talented writers out there, I certainly wouldn’t pay over the odds. I think, in this industry, right now, it’s a buyer’s market, not a producer’s.

    For me, I know I don’t have what it takes to make food writing into my paying career, though I enjoy it immensely as a hobby.

    Great food for thought…

    • Yes. I was at a workshop a few days ago where so many bloggers were looking to “monetize” their blogs. Good luck with that! We’re still trying to figure it out. There are a few opportunities, but for most, nothing that would elevate them from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

      Yes, it’s a buyer’s market. Having been an editor most of my career, I paid less when I could and I paid well when I really wanted someone. So the challenge is to be that person.

  15. [...] Dianne Jacobs: Is Food Writing a Dismal Way to Make a Living? [...]

  16. Dianne, thanks for another great post. I always appreciate your perspective and the links to other posts as well.

  17. Can I ask where those statistics came from? I would have guessed that a lot more people would be categorized into tier three…. I read the Foodista food blogging survey, but that only included bloggers. Their survey reported 95% of food bloggers making less than $200/month from their blog, and only around 14% of all food bloggers had a professional writing background. Nearly half replied that they blogged to make a name for themselves in the food world or in hopes of turning their blog into a job, which makes me think there are a lot of hobbyists out there who do not want to be hobbyists. I realize the comparison isn’t quite equal since the survey only looked at food bloggers, I’m just very curious about the statistics. Several industries now are dealing with the pains of over-saturation of the market due to lowered or no barrier to entry, but the food world captivates and reaches everyone, and thus so do its challenges.

    • These are my broad categories, based on my own knowledge of the industry, which includes more than food bloggers. Definitely the majority of food bloggers are in Tier 3 and as I said, many are looking for ways to “monetize” their blogs. What I conclude from this survey is that the people who attended the IFBC conference are more ambitious than the average food blogger.

      I didn’t know about this survey, Jenn. Thank you so much. I look forward to reading it.

      • The Foodista survey is really informative – it wasn’t for attendees of IFBC, just conducted by the organizers of IFBC – it was an online survey open to any food blogger – I think you will definitely find it an interesting read.

  18. I started blogging to find a voice and share with my friends what I do to help stretch my food dollars. Being a single mom that works out her home, money has always been tight. Unexpectedly, I found this great food community that is such a support. I knew I liked it when I did not give up doing it in a month. By sharing my blog with all my friends, I got referred to a job in social media for a food company. I wrote a proposal and got the job. I work out of my home and support my son doing this job. I would of never of gotten this job without a blog. I also would of never guessed that this was possible livelihood for me. Now I am working on growing my business. There are many ways to skin a cat as they say…

  19. Thanks for this insightful piece, Dianne. I’m not quite sure where I am, probably in between the last 2 tiers. And I’m loving every minute of writing about what I cook, eat and experience. I always say in my affirmations “Do what you love, it’s what you were meant to be.”

  20. I find it a strange question, is money the only way to gauge what we do? I am often asked why I have a blog if I don’t make any money from it and the answer is because it gives me a lot of satisfaction. I am an English woman living in France and it allows me to explore the food and culture of that country and to share it with others and to interact with the local people. I also work in the film business and work on projects that interest me there. Surely life is about living, being passionate about what you do, not about how much money you make from it, you could always go into banking if that’s what you’re after……..

  21. JoAnn’s comment reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman at last year’s La Cocina press party. For those non-SF residents who might not know, La Cocina is a small food business incubator, and helps mostly women (of minority) get their business off the ground by offering kitchen space, business tutorials, etc. The room was filled with media folks, and yes, probably lots of bloggers. One woman at our table made a point to express that she was a journalist, not a writer or blogger. She informed me that she had written articles for national publications (Town & Country) and did not classify herself in the same category as a blogger. Maybe it’s a generational thing. What makes a journalist, and not a writer? Is a blogger not a journalist or a writer? And yes, are we defined by our income?

    • I would classify a journalist as someone who writes, who provides critically-observed and verified information for the masses on a larger scale – whereas a writer is someone who can find a niche in a type (or several) of readership (sometimes one large enough to support themselves through publishing books or ad dollars on a blog). I would say that we do not have to be defined by our income – the food journalists and writers ‘clinging’ to jobs (as Amanda put it) do it because they love it, and so do the bloggers. Some have just worked harder and longer to produce a better product than others, in both cases.

      Please join as at #futurefoodwriting on Friday, everyone!

      • I can add to this definition. Journalists are typically reporters who write news and trend stories where they quote people. They also include magazine writers who write longer-form pieces that are less news oriented, but which involve research and investigation.

        People in all three tiers can work long and hard to “produce a better product,” but that does not mean they will be paid well — or anything, in some cases.

        • I’m just a reader, not a pro – but perhaps this is true (?) if they are only working long and hard at developing their writing – and not the other skills that are crucial to a decent career in any field, now that people are losing confidence in classical forms of education. I suppose I should have said “worked longest and hardest”, which is obviously becoming harder and harder with the overflow of information (and writers) in the online world.

          • Good point. It’s one thing to work long and hard on writing, but one must also network, understand how to grow a career, etc. to succeed. Sitting behind a computer all the time won’t cut it — although a lot of networking occurs online.

  22. As always Dianne, thank you for another great article. Thought provoking. And I read every comment. Interesting to read everyones perspectives. When I first read Hesser’s article it dampened my spirit. Then I read the post on Chow and tried to balance the two in my head and heart. Its hot topic for all of us in the world of food writing and blogging.

    Although I am currently in tier three, I do not consider myself a hobbyist. I’m not making but a few dollars a month and like many, am hoping to change that as traffic grows and opportunities arise. I will keep at it and work hard. I love blogging, and nothing feels better than getting a really good post published.

    I am serious about my blog and providing solid recipes, information that will help readers and beautiful photography. But publishing a good blog is an incredible amount of work. Only another blogger understands this. Every weekend, as we spend many hours creating the next post, my husband tells me I’ve got to make some money at this because its just too much work. That’s my businessman talking. It sure feels good to get a beautiful post out though, one that you are proud of. And it’s even better when people write and comment that the recipes work and they love them. That makes me happy.

    When I jumped into the world of food 51/2 years ago and started my business I figured my income would be diversified. Then 2 1/2 years ago I started my blog. As I wind down my PC and catering business (although I love it its back-breaking) I want to ramp my blog. Still, I have much to learn and get better at.

    There were some good sessions for bloggers at IACP. I am working through my notes and plan to prioritize and implement as much of what I learned as possible to try and reach my goals. I’d like to get into tier two.

    To your question, should we be paid well? “Well” is a relative and personal concept. My goal is just to cover our mortgage. And yes, we’ve got to enjoy it or there is no point, right?

    • Interesting, Sally. Even though you don’t consider your blog a hobby, you are not making money from it. I hope you are right that it is just a matter of time. I think it is difficult for bloggers to make enough to get them into Tier 2, but not impossible. You are ambitious, talented, and a hard worker, so if anyone can figure it out, it will be you.

  23. Re professionals vs. hobbyists — I think there’s an interesting distinction between:
    - people who are seriously thinking about what their readers want to read (and what their readers might want to buy), and
    - people who say what they want to say, and hope someone is interested.

    To me, the former is working in the field (even if currently at the apprentice level), while the latter is playing. Of course, the field has room for both (and our lives have room for both :-).

    • I’m not sure. I think lots of people in the top do a combination of both. They need to pay attention to their readers, but they also have a point of view and the confidence to put their interests out there and hope other people like what they like.

    • That depends all upon how you define “seriously thinking about what their readers want” as well as how you define “people who say what they want to say”. I see so many bloggers in that first category who produce content apparently aimed purely at driving traffic and getting attention in the desire to make money, responding to what the majority of blog readers want. Is this what they really want to say or is it purely business? Yes, one can argue that these are professionals running a business. But why not those who “say what they want to say”? I fall into this category and although I do not make much money off of my blog I consider myself a professional writer (thus writing what I want to say, having created a style and a niche that I then “sell”). And as Dianne said, writing my blog is “playing” – I love writing, enjoy it and even the paid jobs I consider fun. Does this make me less a professional? Or should I say, does it no longer count as “work” ?

  24. Great article. I find it interesting that the conversation is just for food, since i think all of what has been said in both articles applies to writing in general. I’ve been a reporter at a newspaper for more than 5 years, an editor at a newspaper and I’m a food blogger as well, so I would say it applies to any of these gigs. Writing is not well-known for its great pay, but it’s fun and allows people to do things and try things they wouldn’t otherwise get to. Writing gives people a reason to let you in the behind-the-scenes of their business.

    • Thanks, Tiffany. Writing is definitely not known for its great pay — I’d agree with you there. Hesser was part of a very inside, very NY business with top rates of pay that don’t apply to the rest of us. But we’re still here, working away. And enjoying ourselves.

  25. One of the comments on Hesser’s food52 piece made me very sad. It was from a woman who had gone to talk to NY editors about breaking into the cookbook editing business. She was told to ‘forget it’ because the industry was changing. Whatever that means. Those editors she spoke with probably didn’t want the competition! I’ve been working in publishing since 1992 (cookbooks since 1997) and publishing hasn’t ever NOT been changing. Today, I wear more hats as an editor than I ever imagined and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all.

    • That is sad, indeed, but people on information interviews are forever asking, “How can I get your job?” and it is a bit unnerving. The way publishing seems to work is unchanged for decades. You graduate from college and start as an editorial assistant, then move up. It’s close to impossible to get in any other way.

      As for wearing hats, it’s certainly an exciting — if not exhausting– time for many editors, who are also in charge of the website and social media.

      • True about starting from the bottom–most of the time. I started at the bottom twice, meaning that I had to take a step back on the publishing ladder to transition into cookbooks. Yes, it was a bit frustrating, but also an unbelievable opportunity so I didn’t think twice. And there are exceptions. Wasn’t Beth Wareham a publicity director before she made the move to cookbooks at Scribner where she edited the Joy of Cooking (and many other great books). A food blogger I happened to meet on Twitter contacted me for an informational interview. When I asked what she did for a living, turned out she copyedited–and we were in the market for a staff copyeditor. She works for us now!

        • Yes, there are always exceptions. I didn’t know about Beth Wareham. What a wonderful story about the blogger/copy editor.

          I guess I started at the bottom when I became self-employed 16 years ago. I still do everything myself, so in some ways, I am still there!

  26. I’m thoroughly enjoying the conversation which has been launched by Amanda’s initial piece. Seems like there’s plenty to say about this topic. I fall into the last category and am fine with that. I went into this with my eyes wide open and never expected to make my fortune (although my husband is a little miffed about that). I love doing what I do and if I occasionally get paid to write, then that is icing on my cake – I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m having fun and it’s not costing me anything!

    • I like your attitude, Amanda. Re getting paid to write, the people in Tier 2 might be miffed about Tier 3 people who undercut them when it comes to writing assignments, but typically we’re talking small writing jobs that don’t pay much.

  27. I’m in the bottom tier, hoping to write a cookbook. The motivation to write a book is more about capturing family culture and history, pen has not hit paper yet though. This idea is in the gathering stage, both on the recipe side and historical data side. I started blogging to keep track of all the experiments I do in the kitchen, testing old family recipes, and discovering others through cookbooks. I love to cook and bake, the blog is merely an extension of that passion. Blogging also gives me a sense of community, which is lacking in our modern fast-paced society.

    Those who really want to make a living as food writers have to find their path to do it. Networking and honest hard work will probably help.

    • I think you’re on the right path by starting a blog first. It’s a good way to test out your cookbook concept and see if anyone’s interested. Good luck with it.

  28. Brilliantly essayed. To be able to demand something from somebody, one needs to display a value that they may not get from elsewhere or a sense a gap in the market and then try and fill it. Basically create blue oceans.
    Only then the tier 2, 3 lot would be able to demand what they truly deserve.
    For eg. There are so many regional cuisines that are still haven’t seen the spotlight. Anyone picking up the skills in regional cuisines and bringing it in the forefront through their blog etc, would find that their work will have many takers.

    • Thanks Anita. I sense that a lot of writers don’t really know what they truly deserve. It’s an education. Re regional cuisines, it depends which ones you mean. Some are underreported and some are of little interest to a large enough audience.

  29. hi dianne, as always a very insightful post. i would like to bring one thing up which the famous blogger Liberty London Girl addresses in her tweets; she says that the Amanda wrote ever so succintly, was more relevant to the US than any other country/economy. i tend to agree with her, bec the 75c / word Amanda said was dismal, is pretty much standard in the UK (which Liberty London Girl also agrees with- she is one of those bloggers who have made it big with her blog generating income for her, too).

    • I think it’s pretty standard here too. Jobs and salaries have been stagnant or shrinking for years here. I stopped working as and editor in the 1990s and probably the pay range hasn’t changed. I’ve heard this is true for other writing fields as well, such as sports writing.

  30. Great subject, great information and comments, all.

    There is one thing that still nags at me about this subject, even after reading Amanda Hesser’s article and all of its recent progeny.

    I simply cannot believe that anyone who writes about food, or anything else publicly for that matter — from hobbyist bloggers all the way up to Amanda Hesser and the like — isn’t seeking something more than the pure love of the act of writing, the pure love of food. If it were merely for one’s own private satisfaction, and the writing and the food were reward enough in and of themselves, wouldn’t we just write in a private journal then put it in a drawer, happy just to have written it? I, for one, readily admit that there is absolutely no way that would be enough for me. And I have always loved writing (as an English major in college, as a practicing lawyer for 12 years, and now as a blogger/cookbook author), but the practice alone is simply not enough. I want a measure of success, a more tangible reward. Some recognition for a job well done. And I’m not ashamed at all of my ambition to make a change, to make my mark. It fuels me.

    I think we all want something to come from our writing. Some want more, some want less. But there seems necessarily to be some sort of ambition involved in writing publicly. Try as I will, I simply can’t seem to make sense of it all any other way. And I think that, without ambition, we lose traction.

    Regardless, I didn’t read Amanda Hesser’s article alone as revolutionary. But I think the debate and discussion it has sparked is very, very good. The more we speak of such matters openly, the better off we will be. At least in the long run. Cheers to that.

    Nicole

    • I”m with you, Nicole. Some people want a career, some people just want to share what they’re excited about. If it was just about the pure pleasure of writing, that could happen in a journal.

  31. When I first read Amanda”s piece I thought two things: that she was talking mostly about full-time salaried employees and that she was talking about people in the business who were capable of wearing many hats as she is (every editor should be able to write but not all writers know how to edit. Ditto cookbook authors). But I also, putting my own career as a food writer into her perspective, agree totally with her advice that we must be able to do many things all at once – but then, that is the nature of freelancing, isn’t it? Building up my “resume”, visibility and reputation has been a juggling act of writing for free or very low pay, organizing and speaking at conferences, teaching at a workshop and now that I have finally made my contacts and received my offers I am still juggling several writing assignments for different platforms with different voices, styles and readerships. As I said, this is the nature, as I see it, of being a freelancer. And I am not even sure I would want one fulltime job only writing for one outlet. I also love teaching writing and I have been doing some editing privately. I make little money for now (ha! I stress “for now”!) and I am not sure that I’ll ever be able to support my family on what I’ll one day earn, but I am lucky that I don’t have to. I do this all because I love – and I mean really love – writing and everything attached to it (researching, connecting and networking, the inspiration and excitement of writing for different platforms, teaching). As you say, one must love it and one must be willing to do many things at once if one is to survive as a food writer. Thanks for a fantastic post and discussion!

    • That is definitely the nature of freelancing, Jamie. Very few people can do only 1 thing when they’re self-employed. Besides, I would find that boring!

  32. I read Amanda’s article the other day and this one just now. I get the feeling from some of the comments here, there and elsewhere on this subject that many in tier 1 and 2 wish tier 3 didn’t exist. We’re the riffraf of the food world.

    The truth is, the Internet is changing how we do most everything and there’s no going back. I’m one of those who has a passion for cooking and entertaining. I live in Australia and my children and the rest of my family are all in the states. I started my blog so I could share what I was cooking with them as a way to feel closer. Over time, I’ve met a lot of non-family people who follow my blog and I’m pleased with that.

    I met a woman online last year who asked me to write a review of her website. I say website because she was emphatic that I not refer to her as a blogger. “I’m a food writer,” she said, “Nobody takes bloggers seriously.”

    Perhaps not. I’m perfectly okay with people telling me they’re better than I am because they get paid a salary for what I’m happy to do for nothing just for the joy it gives me.

    The rule that cream always rises to the top is the one I live by.

    • There’s room for everyone, Maureen, and if you want to blog for your own pleasure, more power to you. I hope no one’s telling you they’re better than you if they have a salary (and they are in the minority anyway.)

      I’m not sure it’s just pure talent that makes the cream rise, BTW. Sometimes it’s more about connections and ambition.

  33. I just found your blog and enjoyed reading your comments on food writing. Not sure where I fit in the grand scheme of things but food crosses every barrier known to the human race so it must be interesting to read about.
    Brendan

  34. After reading this article, Trish Deseine’s article, and then–last–reading Amanda Hesser’s, I must say I was surprised that her tone was perceived as being so negative. I felt that Hesser’s article simply leaned toward the pragmatic, realistic, don’t-kid-yourself camp. It did not, though, seem to me to be a discouraging piece. Rather, I felt it was a refreshing nudge to would-be food writers to remember to keep our options open, to always be willing to expand one’s culinary and literary horizons, and to not box ourselves in. She’s telling it like it is, and she’s not delivering the info like a perky career counselor who’s afraid to convey the unvarnished truth to a bunch of shiny faced kids. To me, that’s not a negative approach–that’s like arming those same kids with the knowledge that they need to be on the prowl for new ideas and experiences all the time; that they need to continually connect the dots between their various food-related interests and jobs; and that, most of all, they need to cultivate resilience and flexibility. I figure a good sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. I can’t think of many career models of any kind that have remained static over the last five or ten years. This is just one more example of the need to stay alert and keep on swimming–and to make the effort to swim well and enjoy the waves–so you don’t find yourself sinking!

    • Thanks Jane. Of course, we media types seized upon the dismal news in her lead. But just because there are few well-paying jobs in food writing doesn’t mean new writers can’t succeed, by whatever means they deem successful. I like your summation. Resilience and flexibility are two characteristics worth cultivating.

  35. I am stolidly in the ‘Third Tier’ so hesitated before sending this off. There are, after all, plenty of opinions out there. I’d just add two points to the discussion:
    - Like my Mama Hart said, “Be careful what you wish for. It’s usually tougher than it looks.” This information was passed on to me when I suggested that I might like to play shortstop for the Boston Red Sox but generally speaking, she was right. The higher we climb up the food chain, the more demanding or grinding the work. Those folks up in the First Tier have to work very hard to stay there. And they have to come up with more fresh, new ideas….every day. Fresh stuff EVERY day is tough…
    - Pushing the old sports metaphor one more time, there are simply a lot of ways to keep score. We can cetainly, easily measure success by our pay rate or by what tier we find ourselves on but there’s also that pleasure in the ‘craft of the doing’ and the learning to do it well. Finally, there’s also the pleasure of envy. If someone, anyone, lights up a little and thinks what we’re spending our time on is ‘cool’…..its a win.
    So, am I a writer?
    Like Chou said, “Too soon to tell.”
    -

    • I’m glad you pressed the button, Rick! Thanks for this comment. Definitely, the people at the top are intensely competitive, super-hard workers, fast learners, good marketers, etc. etc. We have to be happy with where we are, while trying harder.

      If you write every day and try to improve, you are a writer. You can write for fun or for publication — it’s up to you.

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>