Dec 112012

I know. If we’re going to talk about books, you want cookbooks, preferably with luscious photography. Fine. Here are two lists of favorite cookbooks of 2012 from The Washington Post and The Kitchn.

Now that you’ve got that out of your system, we can get on with today’s post. In the past few weeks I’ve paged through and marked up six how-to books sent to me, at my request, by inquiring publishers. I’m here to report on how or whether they’ll help you improve your writing, freelancing, photography, book promotion and public speaking.

Despite reading an essay on how writers don’t need to read how-to books and attend conferences, I am a big fan of how-to books (and conferences). Whenever I read one, I find something valuable I can immediately use to improve myself. Besides, people learn and progress in different ways. Some read books and practice with exercises. Some take classes and attend workshops. And some just stumble through, learning by doing. That’s what writers always say in interviews, right? “If you want to be a writer, write.” I’ve heard it a hundred times.

Well yes. But some of us need help, encouragement and inspiration. We need to learn from people who have been there or done that. We need new skills, like how to write literary narrative, photograph food, promote books, and pitch articles. So if you’re the type who learns by reading, here’s a handful of books that came across my desk recently:

1. Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling, by Helene Dujardin of Tartlette. Shame on me for not recommending this book as soon as it came out. Dozens of luscious photographs will lure you into understanding how Dujardin works her magic, and how you can do it too. This is a full-color book full of photos that teach you how to set up a shot, find the light, diffuse it, understand non-automatic camera settings, be an effective food stylist and other subjects valuable to food bloggers.

2. Talk Up Your Book: How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences and More, by Patricia Fry. Finally, someone had the courage to join the two topics writers dread most: promoting their books and public speaking. Fry, the author of Continue reading »

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Oct 162012

Hey, cause for celebration, possibly. I just found out the Kindle version of my book, Will Write for Food, is the 16,620th Most Highlighted Book of All Time on Kindle — just a few points below The Qur’An and Start a Cupcake Business Today.

Is this good news? I have no idea.

But it’s info I didn’t have before, and potentially helpful. Now I can look up what people highlighted and see that they tweeted quotes from my book. (That’s how I found out about this phenomenon. Someone included @diannej in the tweet).

Kindle users sign an agreement granting Amazon permission to store information, including the Continue reading »

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Oct 022012

Lunch at BrookLodge in County Wicklow, where we feasted on roast pig and dined in an apple orchard.

I’m just back from a fabulous trip to Ireland and England, where I taught two food writing workshops. They were in the planning stages for a long time, and I can’t say enough about my hosts.

I’m pushing through jet lag to tell you how it went and show you a few photos. The main part of the trip was to Ireland. Like me, you probably knew about the rolling green farmland, the charming towns and pubs, and the narrow country roads. But did you know about the how friendly the locals are, and how proud they are of their excellent Irish food? That’s what I discovered.

Dorcas Barry and me. (Photo by Owen Rubin.)

Chef and blogger Dorcas Barry was a generous host. She arranged for sponsorship by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board; and Failte Ireland, which promotes Irish tourism. She also hosted my husband and me for dinner, making a traditional Irish meal of ham, cabbage, potatoes and parsley sauce.

My class took place in County Wicklow at BrookLodge, a hotel complex built around an organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree. The night before, a group of us attended a private farm-to-table wild and organic dinner that included Continue reading »

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Sep 042012

Peter Reinhart is a baking instructor and faculty member at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Peter Reinhart has authored eight cookbooks, including the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, winner of two national awards. That cookbook alone has sold more than 100,000 copies.

You’d think he’d have an ego, but during our interview Reinhart came across humbly, talking about the value of working with a team and not burning bridges.

I caught up with him as he taught baking classes in California to promote his latest book, The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, co-authored with Denene Wallace. It’s his first book on low-carb breads, pastries, cookies, and cake for those sensitive to gluten, diabetics, or those who need to reduce carbs to prevent weight gain. The focus is on baking with nut and seed flours and non-sugar sweeteners.

In this interview, he talks about the value of sticking with the same publisher, learning a new subject, and why you need a thick skin to grow as a writer:

Q. Why did you decide to write a gluten-free, sugar-free baking book? You are a bread and pizza guy.

A. Ten Speed asked if I wanted to do a gluten-free book, and I said only if we cover new territory. They told me gluten-free and allergen-free was the hottest new category. It was nice to be asked. I felt like I had arrived.

Q. You’ve been with Ten Speed for a long time.

A. It’s common to jump around to publishing houses, but it feels traditional to be with a publishing house where you feel like they’re part of your family. There’s a comfort level there and a trust level there. I’ve been with them for 12 years.

I got lucky when Random House bought Ten Speed because they got bigger distribution but they kept the same team. My former editor, Aaron (Wehner, publisher), is a great idea man. He stays engaged and I have access to him. Melissa (Moore, Food Editor) is the new Aaron, very collaborative. This is our third book together.

In the old days you read about Judith Jones and Julia Child, where people were together for years. I feel like I’m in the stable with thoroughbreds. And if I want to do a non-food book I can stay within the Random House family and go with an imprint.

Q. What makes an award-winning cookbook?

A. Writing a book is not a solo effort. Sometimes the magic is just there with the editor, the publisher, the design, the photography — it’s like putting a movie together. Everybody contributed something. Having great recipe testers has been invaluable too.

From the writer’s standpoint, it’s important to appreciate that process. I know a few writers who have fought the process, to their Continue reading »

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Aug 282012

Food memoirs are shaping up as “quests” these days, quite tidy and well organized. If you can master the form, there’s room for your story.

But first, as always, you’ll have competition from chefs, who are still writing traditional memoir. Typically, these books bore me (except for Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential). But then I read Blood, Bones & Butter, an adrenaline-fueled memoir of Gabriel Hamilton’s relentless ambition to make good food and find love. It won the Beard award for Best Writing & Literature earlier this year.

Like Bourdain, Hamilton has the writing chops to craft an exceptional story. Lest you think these two were both just chefs when penning their memoirs, The New Yorker published Bourdain’s first story, and he had Continue reading »

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Aug 132012

Julia Child (Photo courtesy Knopf Publishing)

Julia Child would have been 100 this week, and festivities and tributes are everywhere (see list below).

I am one of the few in our industry who never met Child, despite an opportunity. I saw her hulking presence at the IACP conference, but I was too scared to introduce myself. I also did not cook my way through her books as a young woman, as French cuisine was not in my consciousness in my 20s and 30s.

But I have read Julia Child’s writing, full of gusto and conviction, and doing so always thrills me. Over her career, she wrote or co-wrote 18 books with sales totaling Continue reading »

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Jul 312012

One of the few at the conference comfortable with a mic, apparently. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Pollack Photography))

I’m just back from St. Louis, MO, where I taught an all-day food writing workshop for about 70 people.

(The sold-out Food Media Forum came about after Stephanie Pollack of The Cupcake Project invited me to teach. Then it morphed into a 2-day conference. My workshop was the most elaborate I’ve done yet, with coffee to order, wine at lunch and a guy who pedaled in on an ice cream cart during the break.)

I like to start the day with writing prompts, while people are fresh (as opposed to after wine at lunch). I ran around the tables asking for volunteers to read. Some people were so nervous that they shook. Some stammered. Some hesitated. Some even tweeted about being nervous:

Robyn Wright of Robyn’s Online World was the first to read her writing out loud, and the crowd Continue reading »

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