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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Mar 152011
 

In the wake of The Huffington Post‘s $315 million sale to AOL, two arts writing groups will no longer provide free content for The Huffington Post website until they are paid.

Fat chance, snorted Ariana Huffington. According to a news article on thewrap.com, Huffington “dismissed the notion that all bloggers should be paid, given the wide platform HuffPo gives them. She argued that blogging on the Huffington Post is equivalent to going on Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart or the Today show to promote their ideas. And, she said, there are plenty of people willing to take their place if they do.”

Sound familiar? It’s the same argument food writers get about why they should not be paid (or paid almost nothing) to write guest posts and web content. It’s all about the exposure, dahhhlings. Doesn’t everyone know that? (See this recent post from colleague Sarah Henry on that topic.)

Steam came out of my ears as I read Huffington’s assertions. But I was also curious. Is the HuffPo food section all about self-promotion? I headed over to  find out.

Here’s what I found: Bloggers write short posts and link to their blog sites or promote their books. Authors write Continue reading »

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Nov 012010
 

While at a doctor’s office last week, I read  an editor’s letter in Conde Nast Traveler, about the importance of telling readers the truth. I tore it out (sorry) and brought it to my desk to ponder.

I started out thinking her credo was noble, but then lost out to cynicism.

Editor Klara Glowczewska invoked the words of the founder in her editorial: “We are wholly independent. We pay our way. We have no hidden obligations. We have no higher obligation than the one to you: to provide truth in travel.”

This philosophy, she wrote, is even more relevant now, “with the proliferation on the Web and in other digital formats of travel advice from thousands of unexamined sources, a tide of unfiltered bits of data masquerading as reliable guidance and clamoring for our attention.” Translation: she doesn’t respect web writers.

She’s tough on freelancers. They can’t even fly at a “discounted rate.” “If we discover that a reporter has accepted favors while on assignment,” she writes, “…that person can no longer work for this magazine.” Traveler correspondents must always be anonymous, too. “If we were to accept favors, our views and recommendations would lack authority — and we pride ourselves on Continue reading »

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Oct 122010
 

That's me, barely visible on the left, talking in the demonstration kitchen of Kendall College in Chicago. My book, Will Write for Food, came out in July and I'm still in promotion mode.

At a recent talk at a culinary school in Chicago, I told the audience of food writers about an outrageous request a company made of a food blogger, showing that food bloggers aren’t taken seriously when it comes to pay. A woman raised her hand and asked whether to omit that she is a food blogger when pitching a publication for a story.

“That depends,” I responded. “Are you already established in print?”

She said she was. And then I thought: This woman in the audience is brilliant. Because she will be taken more seriously and offered more money than if she says she is a blogger.

Signing books after the talk. That's Scott Warner on my right, program chair of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, host of my talk.

How do I know this? Print publications sometimes ask bloggers to work for free. And while many print food writers have started food blogs to stay current, saying so might Continue reading »

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