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Advice for writers

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Hi Jeanne,

Glad to hear you're doing a q & a here. One question I'm sure you get asked a lot, and it's worth asking again here, is what advice do you have to fledgling writers and freelancers who might want to take a crack at the Post's food section. What type of stories do you look for? Do you like "voice"? Turn-ons? Turn-offs?

Bill Daley

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Hi Bill: Though I haven’t seen you since the end of the three-days of eating ribs in Kansas City, it’s always good to hear from you.

Advice for fledgling writers: I confess I keep a list of absolutely dumb, misguided, idiotic query letters that I’ve received over the years. But let me summarize it briefly.

First and foremost, read the publication/newspaper/web site for which you want to write. I would hope that if you have just CASUALLY read  The Post’s Food section you know  that I’m not  interested in a story about your trip to France and your fabulous dinner in a four-star restaurant and the charming chat you had with the chef who sent all Americans his love after Sept. 11. (Yes, I actually got a letter like this.)  We NEVER run this kind of piece.  This is the genre that I call “I’m traveling and eating in a fabulous place—AND YOU’RE NOT.”

This is not the kind of piece that the almost 800,000 readers of Food are interested in. It’s not accessible to any but about 400 of them.  But are there things those other readers can learn from some sort of piece off of this topic? Yes. How to make a fish soup or how to sauce,  or a history of herbes de Provence or something! But not about what you ate, please.

Have we written about spring rolls? Or lemon zest? Or winter squashes? The writer should know before he sends a query about a piece he wants to write on those topics.

Second, and equally important: have reasonable expectations. If you’ve never worked with an editor before, what are the odds that she is going to accept a  3,000-word profile from  you on one of the top chefs in town? Look at the section. Does it run that kind of piece? And if it does, aren’t there likely to be staff writers at work on such pieces? What kind of pieces from freelancers do see the light of day? A piece on a specific ingredient or technique, or a first-person piece on a family tradition, a piece that maybe is the off-lead or even the third or fourth piece on the section’s front, not the lead. Then target your proposal toward that much more likely acceptance.

I can’t tell you how many times I get query letters from writers with whom I’ve never worked and who have little experience who are proposing to write A  WEEKLY COLUMN for the food section. Hellllllooooooooo and get real.

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