Becoming A Published Food Writer
June 22nd, 2009 · No Comments · Posted in Blog
Remember the real media?
That would have been publications before personal blogs, the ones that actually pay you for writing stories around food and recipes. I have a dim recollection of those days and writing what seemed like a non-stop stream of articles for The Washington Post’s food section. The first, as I recollect, was about catering your own dinner party–the basics of smooth, effortless hosting. There was another about reviving the art of spit roasting, something I had picked up from my father. Another about the secret lives of squid, also known as calamari. The one that never got published was something I had spent months researching and testing on my friends–Mexican pozole, the incredible soup/stew of pork butt and corn hominy. To this day I think it was one of my proudest achievements, and I still don’t know why it never made it into print (even though I got the usual check for it).
Behind all of those stories was an editor who took my roughly hewn recipes and turned them into gemstones. Her name was Renee Schettler, and after a couple of years of non-stop food article writing she became like a second voice in my head. Renee was a terrific writer in her own right, bringing grace and class and a relentless yearning for authenticity to those pages.
At a certain point, Renee left ThePost and I stopped writing for the food section as well. I lost track of her. Then, browsing magazines in the checkout line at the supermarket one day, I noticed her name in the masthead of Real Simple magazine, where she had landed as food editor. Months went by, then I got a note from her with a new address: Martha Stewart Living magazine.
I never had to pitch stories to Renee when she was at Martha Stewart. The assignments came down to me and often they were more difficult than what I had been used to, because in the world of food magazines, the writer is usually the last person involved. Those gorgeous photo spreads have often been years in the making. A staff of kitchen researchers has spent months developing recipes. By the time I saw it, the layout was complete–with holes left for me to provide the text.
Oh, and how precious those words were. I struggled mightily trying to conjure them up. Again, Renee was always there to nudge me in the right direction, offer encouragement, turn my pathetic prose into pearls.
Renee has since left her deputy editor post at Martha Stewart Living to freelance her own articles. But you can still learn the tricks of the trade from her. She’s teaching two on-line coarses at at the James Beard Award-winning food site, Leite’s Culinaria. On July 7, Renee will be leading a one-night seminar on “How to Write the Perfect Recipe.” The following evening, July 8, she’ll be spilling the beans on “How to Write a Winning Pitch Letter.” Here’s a bit of the course description:
After spending days, if not weeks, of your life researching, writing, and rewriting your first article or essay, you’ve completed it. But before your carefully crafted words can make it into print, you must persuade an overworked and often overwhelmed editor who’s racing through her inbox at all hours of day and night to take the time to read past the first sentence of your unsolicited e-mail. Accomplishing this requires yet another creative writing assignment: a compelling query letter.
The price for each coarse is $85. If you’re serious about getting your stuff published, this may be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.