I’ve been trying not to get too worked up by Amanda Hesser’s recent claim that food writing is dead. Partly because, let’s face it, every food writer has felt that way at one time or another and maybe she was just having one of those days. Also, I respect Ms. Hesser and how well she’s done for herself and hesitate to argue with such an accomplished gal. After all, I am one of those (old school) food writers she talks about who is still trying to bleed the turnip while she has (cleverly) moved on to other things. But still, while I don’t think Ms. Hesser is completely wrong, I will say that I don’t think she is entirely right. So I humbly submit the following.
A not-hugely-successful-but-regularly-employed-food-writer’s 7 tips for becoming a food writer:
- Don’t be so romantic—There are plenty of sexy food writers but food writing is not sexy. You will struggle for ideas, spend hours staring at a blank page, log days in steamy kitchens testing your failing recipes, argue with editors (who will always win) and beg for the chance to do it. If you picture anything more glamorous, please contact me for a sobering internship.
- Eat, Write, Repeat—No one should try to become a food writer straight out of college. The journey from childhood home to the college cafeteria to your dorm kitchenette is full of experiences, but not the kind that will make you a good food writer. You just haven’t eaten enough, traveled enough, or cooked enough in those four years to have a strong POV. Eat more, then talk about it.
- Fall in love—Good food writing is like good sex—neither side is faking it. If you want readers to respond to you passionately, you’ve got to be talking about something that really turns you on. Don’t bother writing about what you think might be cool, hip or trendy, write what you love and that will start trends.
- Forget about the Food Network—If you think that food writing is going to lead you to the path of rock star status, you are on the wrong path.
- Give good content—Don’t think of yourself as a food writer, think of yourself as a content provider. The world of publishing is shifting. Distribution channels are exploding and they will all need good content in the form of words, video, animation, apps, and probably platforms we haven’t even though of yet. Get skilled at reformatting your ideas to suit the growing list of publishing vehicles.
- Get away from your desk—“Build your platform” is industry speak for doing all of the ancillary things—speaking, teaching, demoing, being active in the food community, maybe even rolling out a product—that help gain exposure so one can attract more book sales. Or, in other words, doing the things that someone who is passionate about their topic would be doing anyway and sometimes in really cool places, often with wonderful people and with an audience full of people who love the same stuff you do. No one can write all day everyday without some creative input, get out and do stuff.
- Don’t get in it for the money–Yes, it is hard to make a living this way. But tell that to a farmer or a school teacher. Things are tough all over. I know a lot of people who have to use a little hustle to make ends meet these days and not just because they lost their expense accounts. Be prepared to have a humble, but delicious, life and you, too, can be a food writer.