Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

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


Recommended Posts

Steve and fresh_a,

I'm happy to answer, especially because so many writer run for hills when the topic of money is mentioned.

You can make a living as a food writer. You won't get rich, unless you have a significant platform. (See earlier posts.) Right now the average rates for a beginning freelancer are:

Major newspapers: $350 to $600 per article; expenses for recipes not usually covered, but this is sometimes negotiable.

Major magazines: $1.00 to $3.00 a word. Recipe testing and expenses are covered.

Small reviews and blurbs: $30 to $75 (this is for local as well as national publications.)

Web: anyone's guess. It really varies.

But have heart; the more well-known you are, the more money you can command. (But we're not talking $10,000 a pop, though.)

David

P.S. Steve, I'm going to pass on your book-writing question. I'm still in the throes of figuring this out for myself, and I don't want to give wrong or hurtful information.

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

Link to post
Share on other sites

David asked me earlier this week to write something about book publishing, so Steven's question is a perfect lead to that. I hope that what follows is helpful. I am the cookbook editor of an independent, NY-based publishing company, for credentials!

In general, most of what David said about writing articles applies to books. Ultimately, you are trying to conclude a business deal so act professionally, including proper grammar, research, etc. You also have to network as much as possible, and attend every food-related event you can.

Make sure that our idea is well defined; you want your book to be unique, but not so out-there that it will never sell. Also be realistic with yourself: You may make fantastic crepes for your family, but does that give you enough substance for a crepe cookbook? Starting by writing articles on the subject will help you figure that out, and will also give you more weight when sending your proposal to publishers.

Most large publishing companies only work with agents, so if your book has a broad appeal you should definitely get an agent. To find one, look at the acknowledgments of cookbooks you like–you will see the same names coming back. If you belong to the International Association of Culinary Professionals, look at the membership directory for agents. You should also visit publishersmarketplace.com, and subscribe to publisherslunch.com. Usually you will start by sending them a query letter, not the whole proposal. An agent then acts as liaison between you and the editor. David should be able to elaborate on that.

Even if you get an agent, you should research the publishers who do the type of books you are looking to publish. Most houses have an established program, or a style of book, so familiarize yourself with all the main companies, but also with smaller houses, which may be more likely to sign an unknown or first-time author. You can do a little of that research on the Internet, but nothing beats going to cookbook sections in bookstores.

David has talked about building a platform for yourself, which is especially important for books. A publisher wants to be sure that you are “promotable,” meaning that the media will be interested in writing about you and your book, and that you will be able and willing to promote the book. If you sell crepe mixes by mail-order and on the web, you already have a customer base who may buy your crepe cookbook, for example.

I’m jumping forward, but once you do have a contract, make sure that you respect the deadline it sets. If you can’t work with a deadline two years from now, set shorter ones for yourself. You’ll write x amount of recipes per month, do so much research per week, etc. And during that time, see if you can publish something you’re writing for the book as an article.

I hope that this covers enough of the basics. If you have questions email me, as I don’t want to steal David’s show. By the way, eGullet is incredibly lucky to have him offer so much. He is unbelievably talented, and has an incredible voice that few can match.

Anne E. McBride

Link to post
Share on other sites

swissmiss,

Great job of condensing the book-writing process. The only thing I would add, from a writer's point of view, is to get the best possible agent for yourself. As swissmiss says, an agent acts as a liaison between you and an editor. On top of that a good agent will make it his business to shape your career. Some writers are meant to be cookbook authors, others food writers, still others food historians, etc. An agent worth his while will see your individual gifts and help to gently move you in that direction. He will also work with you to find the best book idea for you at this particular time in your career. And, most importantly, he will protect you and your work, as well as get the best possible price for your proposal.

How to find the right editor? Again, go to those conferences. Begin to understand what the whole agent-author relationship is about. Ask other authors whom you admire who their agents are. And, as swissmiss says, read the acknowledgment pages of food books. You see the good agents listed again and gain.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

Link to post
Share on other sites

David,

Thank you for so much great information. I know I'm hopping on board rather late, but I have a few questions. I have been an established food writer on a regional level for the past four years, but have not been able to expand my range to include national publications.

Are there any editors that you find most accesible when making this leap?

Do you have any knowledge of the wire services? Are the writers on staff or freelance? Do they get paid according to how many newspapers pick up the stories?

Additionally, I've been approached on several occasions by chefs and others about collaborating on a cookbook, but I am unsure of how to proceed contractually. Is a set fee paid to write a proposal and then further arrangements made as to how the profits will be shared?

Thanks again.

Link to post
Share on other sites

David-

I'd just like to add my voice to the chorus of thanks. You've done a great job of giving us both motivation and practical information.

Do have one question, though, about recipes. In general, how much testing do you do before you include a recipe in your article. I used to write a small food column for an even smaller magazine, and what made me feel really swamped was not the coming up of an idea once a month, but having to get into the kitchen to work it out. How do you cope?

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites

To E-G and Professor Leite:

What excellent timing for this class! I am a reporter for a small newspaper but want to do more. The advice you gave is invaluable, so I am now working on getting a Web site up and running to start showcasing my work. I also agree with what you say about writing habits. I write every day. It reinforces my dedication to the craft.

Thank you!

Trish

Link to post
Share on other sites

The eGCI Team would like to thank David for an amazing class. He is truly an amazing instructor and we thank him for his time and commitment to this class.

This class is officially over -- which means that this concludes the formal Q&A for this course.

You may continue the discussion, but please realize that the instructor will no longer, formally, be available to answer questions.

Link to post
Share on other sites
David,

Thank you for so much great information.  I know I'm hopping on board rather late, but I have a few questions.  I have been an established food writer on a regional level for the past four years, but have not been able to expand my range to include national publications.

Are there any editors that you find most accesible when making this leap?

Do you have any knowledge of the wire services?  Are the writers on staff or freelance?  Do they get paid according to how many newspapers pick up the stories?

Additionally, I've been approached on several occasions by chefs and others about collaborating on a cookbook, but I am unsure of how to proceed contractually.  Is a set fee paid to write a proposal and then further arrangements made as to how the profits will be shared?

Thanks again.

suzz,

It really depends on the editors. and, as you know, they change all the time. Again, I was successful by meeting editors face-to-face; it was easier to get their attention. I also find it easier to develop relationships with new editors, those who have just arrived at a publication. Often times, they’re looking to establish their own stable of writers. Short of that, I would suggest revisiting your queries and seeing if they’re as targeted as possible for the publications you’re interested in. Most newspapers aren’t looking for just another food-news piece from a freelancer; they have experienced staffers and stringers for that. Usually the “Special to [name of pub here]” pieces are something different, personal, or specialized.

I’m not familiar with wire services and their payment methods. They tend to deal with hard-news food stories, which is something I don’t write.

As far as collaborating, it’s best if you speak to an agent or a literary attorney. There are so many arrangements that can be made, that it’s limited by only your imagination. In fact, I don’t know if I heard the same arrangement twice. But make sure you never represent yourself in negotiations; you could end up being one of those writers they “got for a song.”

I think you’d really benefit from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Best,

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

Link to post
Share on other sites
In general, how much testing do you do before you include a recipe in your article. I used to write a small food column for an even smaller magazine, and what made me feel really swamped was not the coming up of an idea once a month, but having to get into the kitchen to work it out. How do you cope?

Mike,

If I’m featuring a recipe in an article, I test it a minimum of three times. It requires that many times to make sure it works and isn’t just a fluke. (Which can happened. There have been plenty of occasions when I hit it right out of the gate. Then I invite a bunch of friends over, and I'm all puffed up over my new creation. We sit down to dinner, and invariably it sucks. Go figure.)

I don’t write a regular column, so coming up with new recipes really isn't an issue for me. I do have a friend who writes a column every other week, and I’m always amazed that he keep coming up with stuff. But I think it’s no different that any other kind of writing. To get ideas you have to read everything you can get your hands on, keep an eye out for the unusual or different, and pick the brains of everyone you know. Be annoying—it’s one of the better writerly virtues.

David

David Leite

Leite's Culinaria

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 6 months later...
  • 10 months later...

Hello Everyone,

I love to write, I'm not particularly talented at it and I don't give a toss if I ever get published but what I would enjoy would be to post some of my stories on eGullet to see what people think. Is there a forum for this? I have been looking but have not found anything so far.

The other question I have is concerning copyrights. I have noticed that the bottom of every page says:Copyright © 2001-2004 by the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, All Rights Reserved. If I post my stories do I loose my copyrights?

Thanks for your help, Ed McGaugh

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ed, this is from the user agreement:

You as the creator of your messages retain the rights to your messages, with the exception that eGullet.com and its present and future affiliates or assigns will always retain the right to publish, reproduce, and otherwise use your messages once they are posted.

Does that help?

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ed, this is from the user agreement:
You as the creator of your messages retain the rights to your messages, with the exception that eGullet.com and its present and future affiliates or assigns will always retain the right to publish, reproduce, and otherwise use your messages once they are posted.

Does that help?

Ah thanks Dave, very helpful! I wonder: if I sold an article to a magazine, would that magazine normally demand an exclusive copyright?

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the most basic, if you will, tips in the lesson is to keep taking classes to improve grammar and writing. This is something I've been wanting to do for some time, but living in a non-English speaking country it is somewhat difficult to find an opportunity to do so.

I noticed there are plenty of online writing classes with a wide spectrum of classes. Does anyone have any experience with these or at least know what their reputation is?

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...