A guest post by Amelia Levin
No, it’s not Bon Appetit or Saveur or Food + Wine. It’s trade food magazines like FSR, Plate, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, restaurant development + design and Foodservice Equipment & Supplies.
Welcome to the world of food trade magazines. These are magazines written for people in the industry (also called business-to-business), not consumers.
This blog post came about after I read Dianne’s newsletter. She credited the book Big Magic for helping her realize that just the act and process of writing and editing keeps her happy and fulfilled. Coincidentally – and I mean literally that day – I also had a soul-searching moment. Maybe it’s because I’m eight months pregnant and a little emotional. But I too, questioned whether just the act of writing was enough for me. Few outside of the industry read my work, know my name, or really understand what I do. But do I really need all the glitz and glamor of consumer publishing to be happy?
You see, the majority of my work comes from writing for seven or more trade magazines:
- I am the food editor for FSR, a national trade pub covering full-service restaurants, for which I write monthly chef profile and food articles.
- I also contribute to its sister pub, QSR, covering quick-serve restaurants.
- Before I went freelance seven years ago, I was the associate, and then the senior editor for Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine and still write the bulk of its content today.
- I write for its sister pub, restaurant development + design magazine.
- I also contribute to other pubs like Sizzle, the magazine for the American Culinary Federation; Progressive Grocer, covering retailers with progressive foodservice offerings, and occasionally, CSP, which covers convenience stores.
I’ve written for other food and beverage industry magazines throughout the years, too. But sometimes my options are limited because of competing contracts. FSR competes with Plate and Restaurant Business, for example. So I don’t write for them, even though I’m friends with the editors because of our trade magazine association (more on that later).
Call this post a therapy session, a rationalization, or a rant. But writing it gave me the opportunity to stop for a moment, shine a mirror on myself and realize that what I do – though not saving the world or racking up the James Beard awards – is what I love.
Trade writers are talented, skilled and experienced writers. I stand for everyone in our little group when I say that we all adhere to the highest level of journalism integrity, the same ethics and standards to which the New York Times or Wall Street Journal adhere. We don’t give our advertisers a bunch of press, for example, just because they bought an ad. And, most of us have journalism degrees and advanced training in writing and editing. Like me, many have worked as newspaper reporters and some hold culinary degrees.
We win awards at the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) “Azbee” awards. Some of us belong to associations like IACP and Les Dames d’Escoffier, and all of us belong to IFEC, the International Food Editorial Council, where I’ve made great friends and I get a ton of steady, reliable, well-paid work. In fact, when a publishing company I worked for closed, the executive director told our group I was going freelance. The work poured in and I am forever grateful.
Before I became a food industry writer, I met Clinton Kelly, former host of the TV show What Not To Wear. When I asked him how to how to break into the fashion-writing world, he said, “Get a job at Women’s Wear Daily,” a trade magazine. He didn’t tell me to go to Vogue.
Here are the worthwhile benefits of writing for trades:
1. You make a steady, good income. Most trades pay decently if not downright well. I usually make $.75 to $1 a word or more, depending on the article. I’m usually paid within 30 days.
But what’s really great is the opportunity for volume. Once you’ve written for an editor and done a good job, you’ll likely get more work. This can be the case in in consumer publishing, but sometimes not, due to space constraints or editor changes, or other outside influences. Even though food trade magazine editors change (less frequently), they seem to stay in this tight knit group, which means our work relationships stay safe.
And yes, I still get the same invites to all the cool restaurant openings, where I can meet the chefs, eat well and drink cocktails. When I’m not pregnant like I am now, of course.
2. You get great creative freedom. Yes, I get to pick what I write about for the trades. Sure, there are advertiser-set editorial calendars, but honestly, those are pretty loose. For example, for FSR, I knew the March issue would center on “ethnic cuisine,” but it was up to me to pick whatever I wanted. So I wrote about Filipino cuisine, which seems to be trending at the moment. In the past I’ve written about poke and Hawaiian seafood, indigenous foods, live-fire cooking and more.
Trades may not get the street cred that consumer pubs do, but I interview the same James Beard award-winning chefs consumer magazine writers do. Plus I get to discover new and upcoming chefs around the country. And, I can kick it old school with long-form journalism, taking a deep dive into issues with multiple interviews and research.
3. You’re constantly learning. I cover a wide range of other industry topics besides food, including restaurant operations and design. It’s fascinating, and I learn new things all the time. Sure, there are mundane aspects of the job (writing about replacing foodservice equipment for what seems to be the second, third or fourth time). But that forces me to work harder to find a new, creative and interesting spin. Also, since it’s in my job description to be an expert in my field, I have to get out there. I talk to a ton of people, interview everyone, attend regular conferences and events, and take classes in my field.
4. You become a better and faster writer. Though I may work months in advance for some magazines, the deadlines are constant. I’ve lost that “angst” common among perfectionists. There is no procrastinating in trade magazine writing because there’s no time. You have to work fast and efficiently.
I’ve even learned how to responsibly and ethically repurpose extra content I didn’t use for one magazine for another. (I never use the same quotes from the same sources and treat the content differently if used in a different way.) Maybe this is why I don’t blog as often as I probably should, which you’ll notice right away if you visit my website.
5. You get to have a lot of chef and industry friends. As a food trade writer, you’re never a critic. Your job is to help other chefs stay on top of trends and learn from their peers, and help restaurant owners run their restaurants better. So, naturally, you have many industry friends and no foes. And the pressure is off when calling from the trade versus a consumer mag or newspaper. You can have super casual conversations and build solid relationships.
Sure, there are drawbacks to trade magazine writing. I can’t spend two months in the Philippines or in Norway researching a cookbook, though I’ve gone on plenty of press trips. And I may feel really good about something I wrote, but sadly, most of the consumer world will never see it.
Still, for all the reasons above and more, I love the trade world. And – you guessed it – I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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Amelia Levin is a Chicago-based, award-winning food industry writer, cookbook author, certified chef and editor. She has a background in hard news reporting and business-to-business magazine production. She serves as the food editor for FSR magazine and contributes regularly to a variety of other food industry trade publications.
(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)