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Q&A -- How to be a better food writer


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David,

Thanks for all your great advice. Knowing how you try to promote your website, I feel a little less guilty for using one of your essays in my college writing class-- Lights, Camera, Recipes -- with very clear attribution and a link to the site for further info. It's a great way for students to see that they can connect to their families through their ethnic cuisines, and I've had students come up to me afterward and say that they want to do something similar with their relatives.

Along those lines, I'd like to add a possible market for food writers in college alumni magazines. If you find somebody with an interesting story, always ask about their education, and perhaps their college magazine will be interested.

Neil

Author of the Mahu series of mystery novels set in Hawaii.

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Hi David,

I had forgotten when this course was supposed to start, but I'm glad I'm not too far behind. :smile:

I wanted to ask: Does your food writing repertoire include recipe writing? We had exchanged PMs on the subject before the start of this course (nice job BTW) and I am thinking that if one gets into recipe writing then the article that goes along with it usually consists of the background on the recipe and the pitfalls, etc..much like what is seen in Fine Cooking, etc. Any info/thoughts on that?

About the web site/free writing: I've done some freebies on web sites, etc,. and it is a good way to build a portfolio. One thing though: be sure and save the HTML files of your work because if the site goes under, your work is gone and your MS Word documents won't look nearly as impressive as proof that you actually did appear on a web site. Also the HTML files can be placed on your own web site down the line. But I am not a big fan of providing too much free content as it takes the same amount of time to produce as ther paid stuff. :wink:

Also, on having your own site, try and get your own domain name as being on a freebie server with a www that is 3 lines long doesn't look too professional. There is alot of competetion out there for hosting so it can be found very cheaply. And, since the sites will be content driven and low on glitz, you won't need a super fancy hosting package. :smile:

As for Dreamweaver, you can download copies from macromedia.com. The actual software does not come cheap. If you have a buddy in graphic design, offer to cook a gourmet dinner in exchange for some lessons. :smile: But, if you have MS office, Front Page comes loaded. Personally I use D4, but I do have Front Page. I am assuming it has a tutorial.

P.S. I can't guarantee anything but If any of my "classmates" need a bit of advice while building their sites, I'm glad to answer whatever questions I can. :smile:

Edited by jersey13 (log)
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David - thanks for the tremendous essay on how to break into food writing (and for the kind words about my site), now I'm inspired to quit procrastinating...I think your advice in regards to grammar and turning in a perfectly done and edited piece is right on. My grammar is terrible (as anyone who may visit my site has probably noticed), but I have never really considered doing anything about it. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Another way to get your work on the web is to go to Blogger.com and start your own "blog". You instantly have your own website, and can publish your writings on the web in minutes. I use Moveable Type, which is also a "blog" type publishing software, but it requires a bit of html saavy. Although I haven't used it, the folks at Moveable Type have recently launched Typepad, which seems to be a very user-friendly version of MT (Arianna Huffington is using it to chronicle her campaign journal in the California recall election).

Websites really do work, I got a freelance gig when an editor read my site, and I get lots of emails from big-time writers, like that David Leite guy...which turn into valuable contacts.

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David, I guess the question that arises from all this talk of what editors want is when to comply and when to think outside the box. If the mission is to distinguish oneself from the pack, one way to do that is, obviously, to do exactly what editors say they want you to do. That will leave behind the 99% of the people who can't even focus enough to follow the clearly stated rules. But there isn't even enough work for that remaining 1%, is there? So what do you do, once you've followed the rules, to put yourself into the elite inner circle? You've mentioned developing a unique voice. Anything else? And do you think there are times when, to get through to editors, you actually need to break some rules?

Steve,

No, there certainly isn’t enough good work to go around, and, yes, a writer has to really stand out. Editors of major publications and of important publishing houses are always searching for the next M. F. K. Fischer, Jeffrey Steingarten, Elizabeth David, Amanda Hesser, etc. Moral: Being a great writer is always the easiest way to gain entrée into the inner circle.

To be a good writer, though, a person has to know his subject, his craft, and the business of getting work. This can’t be stressed enough. You can be a great writer, but if you know diddly about food, you ain’t going to get published. Likewise, you can be a walking encyclopedia of food knowledge, but if you can’t string together compelling sentences, you won’t see your name between the covers of major publications. And if you’re a wonderful writer who knows a lot about her subject but doesn’t have a business head, ditto on getting published. So it’s a trinity of elements that makes for an outstanding writer: Skill, knowledge, and business acumen.

One thing that can help a writer stand out from the rest is to find a niche and work like hell to master it. That was the first piece of advice given to me. Melanie Barnard, a writer for Bon Appétit and a prolific cookbook author, led a panel about breaking into the business: Finding a niche was the point she hammered home. I took it to heart and began a one-man crusade for Portuguese cooking. Soon I was getting into publications with pieces about Azorean cuisine. Being an expert is a sure way of getting work. And when editors know that you’re the “Portuguese guy” or the “chocolate woman,” they seek you out, instead of the other way around.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Develop relationships with editors. When you speak to an editor at a party, conference, food event, etc., you make an impression. Your personality, charm, intelligence, and knowledge come through (for better or worse). Editors are smart people. They’re skilled at sizing up a writer, and they’ll be evaluating whether you’d be a good fit for their publications. So be prepared and know what you want to say.

One thing they teach at business conferences is the “elevator speech.” Imagine you have only 20 floors worth of time with the editor of your dreams. What would you say that would sum up who you are, what you do, and what you can do for her? I thought this was a bunch of bull until I tried it. I gave myself 30 seconds to sum me up, and I couldn’t do it. It took time to craft “my speech.” It may be a simplistic exercise, but it does point up the fact that most of us have diarrhea of the mouth, and we blather on when we should be making every second count.

Also, if you’re going to an event and you know an editor or writer you admire will be there, do your homework. Look over the previous few issues of the editor’s publication or do some digging into the writer’s career. It will give you something to talk about, and it will show the editor you know how to do a bit of research—a sign of a good writer. It’s all about being prepared all the time.

A writer should spend as much time promoting herself as she does writing. And I don’t mean beating a drum or wearing a sandwich board. What I mean by self-promotion is anything that keeps you visible. My day is divided in half. The mornings are when I turn outward and spend my time e-mailing editors and publishers, working on my site, sending out queries and notes, posting on eGullet, inviting editors to lunch, writing my e-newsletter, and so on. The afternoon is my writing time. It’s when I turn inward and focus on my assignments. The next day, it’s the same thing. This combination of external and internal work, of spreading the “gospel according of you” and doing the work at hand, keeps your career and your business moving along. Eventually, you’ll get noticed.

Lastly, you can break the rules to get to an editor as long as you know the rules you’re breaking. Sure it’s okay to toss a three-sentence query at an editor over his private cell phone while he’s running to his cardiologist. But you better be sure you know what you’re doing. You better know whether that editor takes verbal queries. You better make sure you know your stuff inside out so that if the editor is intrigued you can capsulize your idea in those all-important 30 seconds. And you better pray you have a kickass funny answer when he asks you how in hell you got his private cell-phone number. Again, it’s all in the preparation. And although I think of myself as an outrageous kind of guy, I wouldn’t risk breaking the rules with a new editor unless I knew her threshold for improvisation.

Another question is magazines versus newspapers versus online writing, from the perspective of a budding author. Given the ridiculously (and unnecessarily) long lead times of so many magazines, does it make sense for a writer who is trying to build clips to focus resources in that area, or should newspapers and online be prioritized in the clip-generation phase?

Newspapers are supposedly easier to get into, and that’s how I started. Lead times are very short, sometimes almost nonexistent, so a writer could in theory send in a query in August about truffle season. And because the turn-around time is shorter with newspapers, a writer can get paid faster (usually), as well as build up a clip file more quickly. Of course, online writing is even more immediate. Web sites can turn around a story in the time it takes the writer to write it. That’s the upside. The downside is most sites don’t pay well, if they pay at all. But clips accumulate very fast when you write for the Web. So, the short answer: If it’s clips you’re after in a hurry, online and newspapers are you’re best bet.

You've mentioned queries. I think a lot of people reading along might know what the word means but not have a good idea of what a query really involves. So, how to write one? Or, how to learn how to write one?

A query letter is a writer’s greatest tool. A well-written one can open a lot of doors; a poorly crafted one can end up as joke fodder at the next staff meeting.

There are lots of books out there about how to write the perfect query letter. I remember reading a good book by Lisa Collier Cool. I think it was titled “How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.” There’s a formula to follow that’s pretty standard:

1. Greeting. Make sure you correctly spelled the name of the editor. And make sure you have her right title. If you don’t know it, call the receptionist at the publication.

2. Grab them. The first paragraph is where you entice the editor. I prefer to treat this as if it were the lead to the actual story. And in some cases, I’ve used the beginning of a query for the opening of the article. Make this paragraph compelling, startling, interesting—anything to make sure the editor will read your second paragraph.

3. Lay it all out. Once you’ve grab the editor’s attention, you have to explain your idea. Be clear and concise. Show by how you present your idea that you know the voice and point-of-view of the publication. Outline the whole article in just a few sentences. This includes who you’ll interview, where you’ll go, and most importantly: Why you? Why are you the perfect person to write this story? Do you have some connection to the topic (as I do with Portuguese food)? Do you have contacts that other writers don’t? Do you have an expertise that makes you uniquely qualified?

4. Boast a bit. Close the letter, which should be no more than one page, by telling something about yourself. This isn’t the place to dredge up childhood traumas but rather to summarize your writing career. If you’re new, don’t try to hide it. List related experience, if you have any. If not, just say that you’re starting out and you appreciate the editor’s time and consideration.

5.Contact. Funny enough, writers will angst over a query letter then forget to give contact information. Make sure you list your telephone number, e-mail and snail-mail addresses.

And the larger issue: how does one learn to write well? Can it be taught?

To be blunt, some of us have a way with words, some of us ain’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to write well. I’m confessing this for the first time in public: I sucked at writing until I was in my early thirties. When I entered college and took the English placement test (the one that determines whether or not you can skip freshman English), I got a C+. And when I had to write all those stupid papers for English class, I never got an A. Or even an A-. I simply sucked. I think it was all my journaling that helped improve my writing. It certainly wasn’t reading, because I hated to read until I was an adult.

But, of course, becoming a skilled writer doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. One of the best ways to learn to write well (not just technically well) is to attend a writing class or group. By reading other people’s work, as well as writing your own and getting feedback, you learn what makes a good essay, or article, or book. The different elements are broken down—exposition, plot, narrative arc, dialogue, character, etc.—so that you get a better understanding of what makes a piece of writing work. And I suggest you take classes in fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, and in any and all forms and genres because it will inform your work.

Finally, will you share with us some of your most disastrous gaffes as a writer? This will help us all (except you) to feel good about ourselves.

My most disastrous gaffes? Hmmm. Well, in one of my first articles, which was about tea, I must have gotten a bit creative with geography because I made it plain and clear that China was not a part of Asia.

In a piece about champagne, I let my spellchecker do my work for me, and I ended up spelling Veuve Clicquot as Verve Clicquot, and it was published as such.

At a writer’s conference, while chasing after an editor, I fell down a short flight of stairs. (Damn those new shoes!) When introducing myself to the group at the same conference, I forgot the name of my Web site.

For one article, I had to interview this very important person, and I never turned on the tape recorder. So I had no record of our one-hour interview. I had to call under the guise of checking quotes (something you NEVER do), and I re-asked some of the questions.

Shall I go on?

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David,

Thanks so much for all of this great advice! I first found your website after the Writer's Digest award, and have enjoyed it ever since. And thanks for the gaffes!

I have a couple of questions about approaching editors. First, there are lots of sample query letters out there to see, but I have never seen an example of an introductory letter sent with clips. What should this type of letter include?

Also, I have done food writing for years in various weekly newspapers, but now I'd like to move up and try to get into weekly food sections in the daily newspapers in my region. I have read conflicting information on this. You just mentioned sending queries while others say the only way to get in is sending a completed manuscript. What do you think is the best way to approach daily newspapers?

Thanks,

Tammy

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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Hi, David-

Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience! Your advice so far has been extremely helpful.

You mention in an earlier Q&A response that you need to know about food as much as you need to be able to write. My question is, Does one need to have culinary training to be a better food writer? Would i be better off with a certificate or cooking classes under my belt, or is simply reading everything available and cooking as much as possible enough?

Now that your name is out there, do you find editors soliciting you with assignments? Or is your writing mostly original work at this point?

Thanks,

Patti

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David,

Thank you for so much wonderful and candid information!

First question: how did you become interested in food writing? (as opposed to writing in general)

Second, related question: In your opinion, how important is actual food experience in becoming a food writer? I've read so many writer bios in which the journalist first spent years in culinary school, as a chef, etc., before becoming a food writer.

Is it a good idea for aspiring (or established) food writers to attend c-school? Or can the relevant info be learned "on the beat"? Or is an objective, non-chef viewpoint an advantage?

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David, you mentioned the importance of having a writing partner to help keep you moving forward. How do you go about finding a compatible one?

Also, I second the question re: whether formal culinary training is needed. Should a food writer attend culinary school? Or would systematic self-study (a la "The Julie/Julia Project") be sufficient?

Side note: thanks again for your helpful advice here! So, when is Toni Allegra going to bring you in as a speaker? :wink:

Edited by ChocoKitty (log)
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Hi Tammy,

Thanks for being a loyal reader of my site.

Good question about an introduction letter. To be truthful, I've written only one and that was to Bon Appétit, in response to Barbara Fairchild’s request for clips. (Again, please don’t send anything to her. Always call the magazine and ask to whom you should submit your clips.)

But I would suggest starting the letter by introducing yourself and explaining that you would like to write for the publication. Then follow with a summary of your writing experience, which in your case is considerable. Include five of your best clips and add that you would like to know if there's anything else you can do to assist the editor in evaluating your work, such as additional clips, a reference, etc. Then close by saying you'll give a call or drop an e-mail in a month or so. Then resist picking up the phone until then! Remember, your clips speak for themselves. They're the most important part of that packet, aside from getting the editor’s name and title correct and making sure the letter is letter perfect.

And clips vs. a manuscript? If you have clips, send them. And if an editor has really messed with your copy and you think your original copy is better, attach it to the clip and write a small note explaining why. The only time I suggest sending a manuscript is when you don't have clips, or if you've been, say, a financial writer for years, and you want to move into food writing. But in both cases, make doubly sure the manuscript is great and perfect for the publication. This is your one and only chance to shine, so don't blow it.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David, thanks for all your insights.

I am in the process of developing a Newletter on food, wine and travel. I have never done any writing before, so I thought this would be a good place to start. I was going to start at one page, and do articles of 50 to 250 words. Since I was doing this on the internet the cost would be near zero. Can I write? Who knows, but I thought I will never know until I give it a try. I am sure as my subscription list grows (the newsletter will be free), I will get loads of feedback.

Do you think this is a good way to gain experience? Also, do you think it is a way to build crediblity?

Thanks again,

Ed

Ed McAniff

A Taster's Journey

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pattimw, alacarte, and ChocoKitty,

The word from almost every food editor is that culinary training can't hurt. But that doesn't mean you have to spend $30,000. You can cobble together a very good education from lectures; classes; being a mentee; and reading, reading, reading. I was always paranoid that I couldn't write a word until I knew everything there is to know. But I soon found out that's not very profitable. So I decided to focus on one topic (Portuguese food) and began learning all I could. But I was wobbly about a few subjects, so I turned to the experts, which helped me make sure my writing was up to snuff. One tip: The faster you learn to be a good researcher and fact checker, the better off you'll be. So, definitely get an education, but do it in a way that works for you.

How did I become interested in food writing? Well, I love to eat, and I love to write. I decided I had enough of writing about underarm deodorant, penile dysfunction, the Democratic party, and toothpaste. So I tried my hand at food writing. I had this need to write about my family, especially my grandmother. I never thought I would write more than one article, but when I saw my byline, I was hooked. Becoming a food writer just kind of happened to me. It was a bit Forrest Gumpish, really. Speaking of culinary education, I had to do some pretty fast learning back then, because I began querying everyone about everything. So for a while there, I was in over my head. But sometimes I think that’s the best way to learn: Throw yourselves to the lions!

pattimw, yes, now that editors know my writing and are familiar with my site, I am being solicited for work, which is a great feeling. It makes the whole process a lot easier.

ChocoKitty, getting a writing partner can be tough. You have to find someone who is willing to devote time to you, as you are to her. And she has to be someone you trust. An admired member of a writing class is good choice, as is a writing or career coach—Toni Allegra helped me a lot. You don’t even need a writer to do what I suggested. Find a friend who is willing to support you. Call or e-mail him and tell him you’re going to write for one hour without interruption. When you’re done call or write back. What this does is create accountability. Somehow we’re less likely to disappoint a friend than ourselves. (I learned this exercise, as well as many other things, from Toni.) But if you’re looking for someone to comment on your work, make sure he’s someone whose opinion your respect.

And about getting Toni to bring me in as a speaker at The Symposium for Professional Food Writers? I trust her implicitly, so if it’s meant to happen, she’ll call, which I hope she does someday.

Best,

David

P.S. A note to everyone: I’m trying to answer your questions as quickly and comprehensively as possible. If I missed a question or don’t answer one as fully as you’d like, please post it again. I’ll do my best to get to it.

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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Do you think this is a good way to gain experience? Also, do you think it is a way to build crediblity?

Ed,

Absolutely. You'll find out very quickly if you can write; readers on the Web are very vocal. By writing the newsletter, you'll gain experience and expertise. In time, if you write well and your subscription list grows, you'll have something to show editors.

One word of advice: Take a look at similar newsletters and see how you can carve out your own niche. If you're offering up the same information as others, why will readers go to you? The answer is simple: Present the same content in such a compelling way, and in an appealing voice, that you become the source for food, wine, and travel information. You can also flip the entire genre on its head and do something no one has done before. It’s hard, I know. But people do it all the time.

Best of luck.

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David, I had one more question if I may. You mention that we need to develop a voice. Well, my original thought on my newsletter was to call it "my 2 cents" since the voice I was using was my actual opinions. Althought I have changed the name, I still want to offer my opinions. I would assume that this may be the easiest writing style since it is consistent and comes from the gut. But I think what you were saying earlier is that can be good if it is interesting. If my opinions are not compelling to a reader, then I will sink quickly since nobody knows who I am to begin with. But I think it will be hard to judge myself until I get the final result on paper.

I am looking to send out my first issue next month (although October may also be the date). If you are not too busy at the time could I ask you for your feedback?

Ed McAniff

A Taster's Journey

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A few questions about business cards... Does sending business cards with a query help, hurt, or not matter either way? Do you use business cards? If so, with queries or just when you meet people in person?

Tammy

Tammy,

I use business cards all the time. I attached them to paper queries, hand them out at a food events or at lunches with editors or publishers. I also have an electronic signature for my e-mails that is similar to my card. Bottom line, use business cards. But like everything else. make it memorable. I know of people who hang onto business simply because they love the design. Remember, it's another piece of communication.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David, I had one more question if I may. You mention that we need to develop a voice. Well, my original thought on my newsletter was to call it "my 2 cents" since the voice I was using was my actual opinions. Althought I have changed the name, I still want to offer my opinions. I would assume that this may be the easiest writing style since it is consistent and comes from the gut. But I think what you were saying earlier is that can be good if it is interesting. If my opinions are not compelling to a reader, then I will sink quickly since nobody knows who I am to begin with. But I think it will be hard to judge myself until I get the final result on paper.

I am looking to send out my first issue next month (although  October may also be the date). If you are not too busy at the time could I ask you for your feedback?

Ed,

It's not a matter of writing opinions that people like; as long as you have a strong voice, you can praise of pan anything, and people will read. Take Bourdain, for example. I can't think of a more misanthropic writer (sorry, Tony), but what he writes is compelling. You may balk at what he says, but you have to give him credit for presenting it in a fresh, inimitable way.

Think of voice as branding. Lexus has a very different brand image than, say, Volkswagen. What works for one won't work for the other. And how each brand communicates to the public is different. (This is all coming from my advertising background.) Once you discover your voice, your brand, everything you do—from articles to columns to business cards—should have brand cohesiveness. It takes awhile, sometimes a long while, before you find your voice. Writing classes and workshop are a good place to start. Any new writer need feedback. For example. I took a fiction course once, and I wrote several pieces. The comments I kept hearing over and over again is that I use humor well and that I write very good dialogue and characters. I took that information and have tried to use it in my writing to strengthen my voice.

I hope this helps.

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David,

Thanks for all your great advice.  Knowing how you try to promote your website, I feel a little less guilty for using one of your essays in my college writing class-- Lights, Camera, Recipes -- with very clear attribution and a link to the site for further info.  It's a great way for students to see that they can connect to their families through their ethnic cuisines, and I've had students come up to me afterward and say that they want to do something similar with their relatives.

Along those lines, I'd like to add a possible market for food writers in college alumni magazines.  If you find somebody with an interesting story, always ask about their education, and perhaps their college magazine will be interested.

Neil

Neil,

Thanks for using the article. And thanks for all the proper attribution. So many people use content from the Internet and never give credit. Hell, one guy actually used the content of one of my articles and put his name on it. Ouch!

Great idea about the alumni magazine. I would have never crossed my mind.

David

P.S. Didn't you have a question that you sent me prior to the class?

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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Does your food writing repertoire include recipe writing?  We had exchanged PMs on the subject before the start of this course (nice job BTW) and I am thinking that if one gets into recipe writing then the article that goes along with it usually consists of the background on the recipe and the pitfalls, etc..much like what is seen in Fine Cooking, etc.  Any info/thoughts on that?

jersey13,

When you include recipes in an article, it doesn't mean that the article has to be about the recipes. Granted, many feature stories consist of a 200-word lead and ten recipes. But other pieces use recipes as an illustration or a counterpoint. For example, profiles of chef or cooks often include recipes, but they aren't the thrust of the story. Look at some of the travel/food pieces in Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Gourmet. The recipes illustrate the story, are examples of that country’s cuisine, but they don't weigh down the piece. Publications such as Fine Cooking and Cook's Illustrated are teaching magazines. They take readers by the hand and teach them techniques, so the corresponding text needs to be explanatory and self-referential.

About the web site/free writing:  I've done some freebies on web sites, etc,. and it is a good way to build a portfolio. One thing though: be sure and save the HTML files of your work because if the site goes under, your work is gone and your MS Word documents won't look nearly as impressive as proof that you actually did appear on a web site.

Very good point. I’d add that you should get your pieces professional outputted on an Iris printer (I think), or some printer that creates sharp, glossy prints. That way when you make color copies, they will be top quality. One tip that was given to me: If your articles are in color, copy them in color. It makes for a better clip package.

As for Dreamweaver, you can download copies from macromedia.com. The actual software does not come cheap.  If you have a buddy in graphic design, offer to cook a gourmet dinner in exchange for some lessons.  :smile:  But, if you have MS office, Front Page comes loaded.  Personally I use D4, but I do have Front Page.  I am assuming it has a tutorial.

If I’m not mistaken, the download is time dated, meaning it works for only 30 days. After that, you need to buy it. But it’s a great way to see if you like the software without having to put out. Money, that is. FWIW, I think FrontPage sucks. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, and I’m pretty good with this kind of stuff.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David-

The more I read these questions and your answers the more I am interested in the subject, Thanks again for the comprehensive responses.

For a newbie to food writing like myself, I have to ask (even though it might be painfully obvious),

What exactly is a:

Query: (I believe you already answered that)?

Clip: (Is this just an excerpt from and article you wrote that you attach to an e-mail)?

Manuscript: (does this refer to the whole article that you want to publish)?

Are there any means to deliver your query that are more effective than others (is e-mail better than snail mail or fax...)?

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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What exactly is a:

Query: (I believe you already answered that)?

Clip: (Is this just an excerpt from and article you wrote that you attach to an e-mail)?

Manuscript: (does this refer to the whole article that you want to publish)?

Are there any means to deliver your query that are more effective than others (is e-mail better than snail mail or fax...)?

Elie

Elie,

Your questions are great. Sometimes I take for granted that everyone knows these terms.

A query is a letter or e-mail that presents an idea to an editor to see if she’s interested (hence "query”). It contains a lead, which hopefully engages the editor, and information about the idea (how you'll do it, who you'll interview, etc.) It closes with a brief synopsis of your writing experience.

A clip is a published article. It's called a clip because you cut or “clip” the article out of the publication to add it to your portfolio.

A manuscript is a completed article that's ready to be published.

Editors are very, very particular about how a query should be sent. Some prefer snail mail, others e-mail, others fax. It's always good form to call and ask the best way to send it.

Hope this class inspires you to start writing.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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David- I have two more questions.

If I am working on an article which requires research (Say history and recipes), and most of it is culled from the Internet, how/where is it appropriate to cite sources?

If I use a recipe that is not mine, how do I give credit? Below the title?

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Tanabutler, you also touched upon a topic that I neglected to mention: design. Having been in the arts all my life, I kind of take it for granted that everyone has a good eye. Yes, poor design is a real problem with so many sites

David, I think your statement that you've been in the arts all your life is telling. It's what informs you as a person, and it's what gave you your basis for having a good site. It's a chicken-and-egg thing: were you drawn to the arts because of your good eye, or did your involvement with the arts give you your sensitivities.

I have to chuckle at some of the sites that lead the list on Chef2Chef’s 100 Top Culinary Sites. They’re appalling.

Well, that made me laugh!

>>“You know who you are, Mr. "I Have Your Cookbook."<< Tanabutler, you have peaked my interest! Is this meant for me?

It was actually meant for a food writer I'm going to be meeting soon, I think—I am bringing the cookbook to get it autographed, and I didn't want him thinking I'm a suck-up. Even if I am a suck-up, it's not to get a writing gig. :biggrin:

David, I have a question for you. You wrote this:

I started chatting up Anne, the woman next to me, and she in turn introduced me to her friend Stephen. Later a friend pulled me into a corner and asked if I knew who I was speaking to. I said no. She told me I was chatting with Anne Mendelson, author of Stand Facing the Stove, the biography of the creators of The Joy of Cooking. Her friend was Stephen Schmidt, food writer and author of tons of cookbooks.

Do you ever get daunted by people who've spent their lives passionately pursuing good food and wine, who know all the names and vintages and importance and context and every little thing on earth? I do. The collective knowledge here at eGullet alone makes me feel very young (not young and lovely, just green) and shallow and ignorant. I have some food writers encouraging me privately, but I get very nervous about the depth of my shallowness. :wink: I don't have any formal education, and I don't know how far enthusiasm and passion can carry me.

So how do you handle the idea that you might be thrown into circumstances in which your own ignorance might be revealed? Or is that what good editors are for?

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David- I have two more questions.

If I am working on an article which requires research (Say history and recipes), and most of it is culled from the Internet, how/where is it appropriate to cite sources?

If I use a recipe that is not mine, how do I give credit? Below the title?

pattimw,

Be very careful when using the Internet for research. It's a great tool, but there's a lot of sloppy, inaccurate information floating around out there. I use the Web for initial research, to gather titles of books, addresses, travel info, general food facts, etc. But I always make sure that I cross reference with reputable sources. And some of those sources can be found online—site that belong to universities, companies, publications, etc. Just be vigilant.

When you use anything from another writer, you shoud always attribute. In the case of a recipe, the name usually goes under the title. This is how I do it:

Lemon Cake

by Ina Garten

from Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes for Parties That Are Really Fun

(Clarkson Potter, 2001)

Makes two 8-inch loaves

Always include the publisher and year of publication, if it’s a recipe from a cookbook. If it’s a recipe that you got from someone, then this is fine:

Lemon Cake

by Ina Garten

Makes two 8-inch loaves

If the person owns a restaurant, you may want to include it, too.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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Do you ever get daunted by people who've spent their lives passionately pursuing good food and wine, who know all the names and vintages and importance and context and every little thing on earth? I do. The collective knowledge here at eGullet alone makes me feel very young (not young and lovely, just green) and shallow and ignorant. I have some food writers encouraging me privately, but I get very nervous about the depth of my shallowness.  :wink: I don't have any formal education, and I don't know how far enthusiasm and passion can carry me.

So how do you handle the idea that you might be thrown into circumstances in which your own ignorance might be revealed? Or is that what good editors are for?

tanabutler,

Personally, I find people who toss out their food and wine knowledge for the sake of showing off to be odious and tiresome. The upside is I usually get a good ten minute's worth of cocktail chatter out of recounting the meeting. (This is usually accompanied by several rather good impressions.)

But when I meet someone who truly knows her stuff and it's not meant to impress but rather to inform, I'm in awe. Of course, my first instinct is to crawl into a corner and nurse my quickly dwindling fragile self-esteem. While I’m nodding away furiously, I make all kinds of promises to myself to read the entire Larousse Gastronomique in one sitting and to farm myself out as a scut to any chef who will have me. Then I usually get over it and utter the most powerful words I have: "I'm sorry, I don't know what that is." I find that when I'm in over my head, and I'm talking to a truly knowledgeable food person, admitting ignorance isn't looked upon as a genetic defect but rather as a chance to teach. And I've learned quite a lot in those situations from some very good teachers.

Now, if the person looks at you with slitty eyes and fairly screams, "Darling, what do you mean you don't know all the dishes that were served on opening night of Taillevent," you have my permission to accidentally spill your glass of wine on him. And you get extra points if the wine is red. Double points if you try to mop up the stain with you napkin, which just happened to have the remains of a greasy mini crabcake topped with red-pepper coulis.

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

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