Lucky Peach Editor Wants Stories Other Magazines Won’t Run

Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying. (Photo by Jami Witek.)

Lucky Peach, the two-year old quarterly that has already won a Beard award, contains personal essays, taste tests, rants, recipes, photo essays, and fiction. But there the resemblance to other food magazines ends.

A recipe might be written in haiku, stories are illustrated in rock poster or tattoo parlor style, and swearing appears often. A feature article might run 20 pages. Josh Ozersky of Time magazine says Lucky Peach is “powered by the fiery ardor and violent attachments of its presiding spirit,” whatever that means.

I disliked Lucky Peach at first because of the overwhelming boy’s club atmosphere, but I do appreciate the irreverence, the new subjects, and the writing quality. So I was thrilled when Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying agreed to be interviewed. The former publisher of McSweeney’s, Ying cooked his way through college at fine dining restaurants and Mission Chinese Food:

Q. How did Lucky Peach come about?

Lucky-Peach-Issue-1A. Dave (Chang), Peter (Meehan) and I had met a year before we started Lucky Peach. We worked together on a small project for McSweeney’s, writing about food, and we were looking for a new way to collaborate. Peter and Dave came up with a curated, single-subject user-driven TV show/ap, but we ended up collecting way too much info, so they thought, ‘What if we could also make a literary food journal?’

The app didn’t pan out, but we made the magazine, and it’s become our mainstay. Dave and Peter have been editors, developing themes, content, what to cover, and assignments.

Q. Are David Chang and Peter Meehan still involved?

A. Peter and I are basically partners. Peter is running the magazine, assigning the stories. I make more magazine-y decisions, like where things appear, what to cover, and assigning [Read more…]

What Makes a Good Cookbook Review?

Mark Rotella, senior editor of Publishers Weekly, edits Cooking the Books newsletter, which includes 8 to 10 cookbook reviews.

Mark Rotella, senior editor of Publishers Weekly and editor of the Cooking the Books newsletter, hires cookbook reviewers for PW’s newsletter, which carries 8 to 10 reviews per month.

(The pay is $25, and there’s no byline. If you’re interested, see info at the bottom of this interview.)

The reviews are aimed at bookstore and library buyers, so reviewers rarely test a recipe. The cookbooks Rotella selects are mostly from big names. I spoke with him about what makes a good cookbook review and why:

Q. What is the most important question to ask yourself when approaching a new cookbook for review?

A. See if it lives up to what it purports to do.

I tell my reviewers not to review the book on what they want it to be, but whether the author or publisher has accomplished what they set out to do, and whether they do it well. I usually cut out the part where the reviewer says I would have liked it better if they did this, except when ingredients are hard to find, or when the book needed an index or resource section.

PublishersWeeklyQ. How do you do see if it delivers on its promises? 

A. You’ve got the title and subtitle. You make sure all the information is there, and you figure out what’s different about this book and why would it stand out. Flip through to see how it’s laid out and what it feels like.

Q. How important is it to read the book from cover to cover?

A. That’s a good question. I expect [Read more…]

5 Tips for Dealing with Editors Who Change Your Work

YourWayMyWayMy client said she didn’t want to write for the magazine any longer. she thought  the editor had distorted her article, and she worried about what would happen in future pieces.

I listened from the other side. I was a magazine editor for years. I rewrote and reworked my writer’s stories in every issue. One guy wanted to go over every single edit, including grammatical ones. He didn’t last long. Most of the other writers just accepted my work, and they were the ones I hired over and over.

So when do you shut up and when do you say something, when an editor changes your piece in ways that make you crazy? From an editor’s standpoint, I have five suggestions:

1. Analyze the changes. Most edits are tweaks to tighten and enliven the piece, improve clarity, or to better reflect the voice of the publication. You might not like them, but you can live with them. Learn from the edits so you can do a better job next time.

2. Pick your battles. If an editor changed the meaning or emphasis of your work, or inserted inaccurate material, you have a case.

3. Be polite and thorough. In an email, make a clear argument with up to three points of disagreement. Don’t call and don’t make accusations. If you write down how you would like the sentences rephrased, it’s easier to cut and paste.

4. Accept change graciously whenever possible, and move on. This guy did not, which is what inspired me to write this post. Obviously, he had a point and an axe to grind. Don’t blast your story all over social media unless you want editors everywhere to wonder if you will be difficult.

5. Decide whether to keep writing for the editor. The freelancer I coached decided not to pitch more stories, because she felt resentful. That’s the right decision, because her attitude would come through. I have had disagreements with editors as a freelancer too, but we worked them out and continued working together. I’m not saying I’m right — maybe I just have a higher tolerance for changes, having been on the other side.

(Photo courtesy Thanks to Sally Prosser for alerting me to the post.)

5 New Food Magazines to Pitch

Modern-FarmerPerhaps you’re in a rut, writing for the same publication, and it’s time to branch out? Or maybe you’re comfortable blogging but you’d like to try writing for magazines?

Whatever the reason, it’s always exciting to see a new crop of magazines. Here’s a short list of what emerged recently, followed by tips on how to pitch:

  1. Alo. A Middle Eastern lifestyle and culture magazine with a food section.
  2. ACQTaste (As in “Acquired Taste”). A Canadian journal of food culture and lifestyle, focusing on chefs and restaurants, not necessarily in Canada. A recent issue focused on New York food artisans and chefs.
  3. Cherry Bombe. Here is a bi-annual magazine that celebrates women, high fashion, art and food. Issue one includes articles on food stylist Victoria Granof, pit master [Read more…]

Get 3 Assignments to Make Travel Writing Worthwhile, says Amy Sherman

Travel writer and food blogger Amy Sherman (middle) with a translator and guide (left) and Chef Amina (right) at a cooking class in Marrakech.

Soon after San Francisco’s Amy Sherman started her food blog Cooking with Amy in 2003, she wrote about vacations, which — being a food obsessed person like the rest of us — focused on eating the local specialties. That led to writing travel stories for websites, publications, and blogs, and now Amy goes on trips once or twice a month. (Here’s a list of recent stories she’s written for Fodor’s, CitySearch and others, using, a free website that showcases writers’ work.)

I asked Amy about who invites her on trips, how to be taken seriously, and how to make travel writing work as part of a food writing career:

Q. You’ve been comped to take some amazing trips, like a food truck festival in San Antonio and cooking classes in Morocco. How do trips like this come about?

People contact me, especially the convention and visitor’s bureaus. Sometimes I’m invited on trips because I’m a food blogger, like going to [Read more…]

Who Won 2013 Beard Journalism Awards and Why

When the James Beard Foundation awards unfurled recently, I watched the live Twitter stream from home on the other coast in California, just to be part of the excitement. It’s fun to see who won, who lost, and read about the drama (mostly about chefs, because apparently writers aren’t that exciting).

Then I read most of the pieces that won, because I always like to read what judges think is the best writing out there (or at least, the best of what was submitted.)

If you have time, I suggest you do the same. In the old days, we’d have to buy many magazines. Now we can read most of the articles online and learn why they won. I put in the links below, not just to the stories, but sometimes to the writers so you can learn [Read more…]

Secrets of Writing Recipes for Big Food Magazines

Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, ran the test kitchen for 20 years.

Guest Post by Kristine Kidd

When Kristine Kidd was food editor of Bon Appetit magazine, her staff tested recipes from writers and recipe developers, and she decided which ones would run.

A 20-year veteran of the magazine, Kidd is now self-employed and the author of several cookbooks, most recently Weeknight Gluten Free. Here are 14 insider tips. — DJ

At Bon Appetit, we tested hundreds of recipes every month. The ones we published were the ones that worked best in the test kitchen.

We rarely gave a new writer another chance if the recipes did not test well or if we had too much trouble with them. Editorial schedules are jammed and [Read more…]