Oct 092012
 

Eight-time Beard award winner Colman Andrews, now at the Daily Meal.

When a PR query from The Daily Meal appeared in my inbox, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the website’s accomplished editor about today’s food writing scene.

I was not disappointed. Below, you’ll see that Andrews is honest about how hard it is to be a freelance food writer, and why he feels fine about not paying for content.

I’ve been a fan of Colman Andrews since interviewing him for the first edition of Will Write for Food in 2004. Saveur magazine, which he cofounded in 1994, remains my favorite national food magazine. Andrews was its editor-in-chief from 2001 to 2006.

Now Editorial Director of The Daily Meal, Andrews has had a long career as an editor, author and writer. He’s an eight-time James Beard Award winner, most recently winning Cookbook of the Year in 2010. Here’s what he says about today’s food writing scene:

Q. You’ve done a lot of restaurant reviewing in the last few years. Is there enough work for freelance restaurant reviewers today?

A. It’s become crowd sourced. The power of Yelp reviews. There was just a study in the American Economic Journal about how a difference of half a star in a Yelp rating can make or break for a restaurant.

The issue there is whether there’s a place for a professional restaurant critic anymore. Would people rather Continue reading »

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Jun 052012
 

I have a theory I need you to confirm. I’m thinking that the days of giving away free content are waning.

I’m talking about when a website or media person wants to repurpose a blog post or asks you for free content in exchange for “exposure” rather than cash. As a result, you’re supposed to get more traffic and prestige.

If you’re not sure what I mean, here’s a website that asks for free recipes, and here’s a website that gets bloggers to post content for free.

I’m not saying it’s wrong. It seems to make sense to provide free content when:

  • You already published the blog post and a website wants to recirculate it
  • You want to be published outside your blog to grow your platform
  • You perceive the site to be prestigious.

(Where it’s not so cool, however, is when someone Continue reading »

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May 222012
 

Amy Reiley started a wildfire on an IACP blog post recently, when she said hobby food bloggers who don’t test recipes thoroughly and don’t charge enough are sidelining professionals like herself.

Here’s a sample:

“…We, the professional journalists, researchers, home economists, recipe developers, food stylists, and photographers are getting aced out of much needed work in our chosen field by stay-at-home moms and accountants with a cooking hobby.”

Enraged food writers — mostly bloggers — piled on in the comments, which led to closed comments and a new post trying to explain the old one, which led to more irritated comments. In other words, two excellent reads.

But this argument is nothing new. The old guard always competes with newer, hungrier people with less experience who charge less. Reilly thinks it’s not just the old guard that gets hurt, but Continue reading »

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May 152012
 

By now you’ve seen the announcements for the Oscars of food writing, the James Beard Awards for books, broadcast and journalism.

But have you read the pieces that won over the judges? I thought not.

I tracked down a handful of feature stories and explain why this is food writing at its finest. Here’s what it takes to win an award of this caliber, with links to writers so you can investigate who won as well:

1. Cooking, Recipes, or Instruction: Anna Thomas, Eating Well, for “The Soup for Life”

Here’s a sensuous look at how Thomas concocted recipes for green soups for her most recent cookbook, Love Soup. Her writing is full of action verbs (“a bitter wind was swatting down the last damp leaves”), evocative writing (“onions, slowly sizzling in the skillet, turned the color of Continue reading »

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Oct 112011
 

Associated Press Food Editor JM (Jason) Hirsch.

Many publications and media companies subscribe to the Associated Press (AP), which sends them food stories.

AP produces stories that appear in thousands of newspapers and the websites of television stations, new media companies, and radio stations. J.M. (Jason) Hirsch is the company’s food editor. And the good news is that he assigns food stories regularly to freelance writers.

Hirsch is no slouch himself when it comes to writing about food, having authored High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and writing the occasional feature for AP. He’s also the author of two blogs: Lunchbox Blues, documenting the meal he makes each day for his 7-year old son; and Off the Beaten Aisle, a blog for the Food Network that he writes as part of his job at AP.

I interviewed Hirsch about his job and opportunities for freelance writers at AP:

Q. How did you become AP’s Food Editor?

A. I was a reporter specializing in crime and juvenile issues. I loved to cook and began taking an interest in food writing. I started doing a column on vegetarian food. Then AP decided food was a big issue around 2000, and it became time for a dedicated food writer. I was given a lot of freedom to pursue great stories, and food became a bigger beat.

When my predecessor retired seven years ago, I was asked to take over as the food editor. Now I have writers across the country who cover food.

Q. What are you in charge of producing each week?

A. We produce a weekly package of stories that covers all facets of food, plus Continue reading »

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Sep 272011
 

Prolific food writer Melissa Clark writes cookbooks, freelance articles and columns, and a blog.

If you looked up the opposite of “slacker,” you’d see Melissa Clark‘s name highlighted in bold.

The prolific freelancer writes weekly recipes for the New York Times and Gilt Taste, among other freelance gigs. She has also written 32 cookbooks. Many are collaborations with chefs including Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, and White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. Her latest cookbook, out in October, is Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.

Oh, and in her copious spare time, she takes care of her young daughter and writes a blog.

In an interview, she spoke about her career as a food writer, including advice for those who want to be as successful:

Q. You’d been working as a cook and a caterer in New York. What made you want to become a food writer?

A. I always wanted to be a food writer. I started a catering business when I was in grad school. Food was in everything I wrote. It was my metaphor. This was the 1990s. People knew of restaurant critics and cookbooks writers, but food writing wasn’t a viable career. I felt like I was on an uncharted path.

Q. Is a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing a good way to learn about freelance writing and cookbook collaboration? Would you recommend it?

A. No. It’s a good way to find your voice as a writer. People don’t think about that. It’s just as important.

Q. As a freelancer, don’t you have to write the voice of the publication?

A. If you don’t even know who you are and what your voice is, it’s really hard to figure out how to make your voice fit into other molds. Voice has to have a point of view, the perspective that the piece is coming from.

It’s really good to know how to write in different perspectives (first person, second person, third person). You learn all different perspectives when you get an MFA.

I recommend that people take writing classes. It helps stretch you as a writer. It’s really good to challenge yourself.

Q. What was your first big break as a freelance writer?

A. I wrote for websites about food, including once a month for Hearst magazines. I wrote tons of content for Cuisinenet. They paid me real money. I could support myself if I catered on the side.

I also developed recipes for IMP, which put out recipe cards that went out in the mail, where they asked people to Continue reading »

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Aug 232011
 

Freelancer Cheryl Sternman Rule. She's learned how to throw darts that hit the target. (Photo by Paulette Philpot)

When I was a magazine editor, I wondered why freelance writers couldn’t figure out what I wanted. I rejected 95 percent of pitches.

Now that I’m on the other side, I see how difficult it is when you’re an independent writer, on the outside looking in.

At the recent Book Passage conference on Travel, Photography and Food Writing, food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule spoke about why pitching to publications is such an anxiety-producing process. What she said resonated with me, so I asked her to share it:

“As a freelancer since 2004, I’ve spent years both pitching and avoiding pitching,” explains Cheryl. “For me, pitching seems like a dark art. There’s black magic about it that often makes me feel like I’m throwing darts in the dark.

“Editors have editorial calendars, or ideas in their heads for what they’d like to cover. We writers are not often privy to this information. So we shoot story ideas out like darts and hope they’ll hit some mysterious, shrouded target. It’s a tough game to play, psychologically.”

That’s exactly right. You keep throwing until you strike the target, even when you get no feedback. You need a thick skin to be a freelance writer, not to mention an ability to see in the dark.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Continue reading »

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