I fell into food writing by accident, which, when you speak to food writers, is how most of us got into it. It’s a rare thing for someone deciding on a career in food writing on leaving college, so, whether your 21 or 65 the good news is: it’s never too late!
I started writing about food in 2013 on my blog, The Flavour Files, and soon after launched my business: Flavour.ie. I’m one of those West Cork blow-ins, and my blog recorded my love for West Cork food, it’s people and landscape. Then, artisan produce was still largely the preserve of restaurant menus with very few cooking with it at home in the everyday sense. The Flavour Files lifted the veil, creating easy to cook homemade recipes using extraordinary ingredients and incorporating stories of the people behind the produce. I started to garner the attention of editors: the phone began ringing and emails dropped into my inbox with commissions for feature articles.
Not coming from a journalism background, the learning curve was steep, but I recognised the importance of creating solid relationships with my editors. I now write for four publications regularly, five on an ad-hoc basis, plus copywriting work for small food businesses utilising print and online media in local, regional and national press outlets. In 2017, I was commissioned to write The Artisan Food Guide for A Taste of West Cork Food Festival, and in 2019 I was invited into the Irish Food Writers Guild.
My unorthodox route, learning quickly on the job, finding success and, importantly for any writer, peer recognition for my work, I’d like to share some nuggets of advice for aspiring food writers!
1. What kind of Food Writer are you?
Despite what many people think, food writing isn’t just about restaurant reviews. A food writer is a writer who writes about food, so review the different types of food writing and figure out which one fits you. Are you a food historian interested in food culture or an investigative journalist of topical food issues; cookbook author, editor, blogger, vlogger, commentator or critic. Food scientist writing academic papers or an activist for food justice? Food philosopher or collating a weekly column about local food events? Is your focus farms, production, people, ingredients, experiences, travel or places to eat? My specialism? Food producers.
2. Build Your Network
Now you know what kind of food writer you want to be, start to build your network. This is where you’ll fish for ideas/articles to pitch. Editors need to be in that network too. LinkedIn and Twitter are where other writers, editors and sub editors hang out, so follow them, join in their conversations and add value to them or make an interesting point. Even if they never like, comment or reply, when the time comes to email your pitch to them, your name will be familiar.
i) Only pitch to one editor at a time, in order of preference, ideally where you have an established contact.
ii) Make the pitch enticing; provide context, not just one line. Sound engaged with your own idea – this is a sales exercise after all!
iii) Never give copy away for free unless you are getting something in return that benefits you. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, so value your worth as a writer: your time is money and every word written counts.
4. Get Organised
It’s usual for freelancers to wait several weeks to see payment for published work. If you want to turn freelance writing into a paying career, you need to get organised. The more regularly you submit articles, the more regular the money will come in. I organise my time in three-month blocks, allowing me to do my research, generate the idea, pitch, get commissioned, arrange the interviews, write, edit, submit and get paid. This also allows me to take breaks knowing I have articles banked at various stages, either waiting to be published or paid, and new commissions agreed.
5. Be Good To Your Editor
You’ve gone to all this effort to secure a commission so deliver. Editors are busy people. Make yourself indispensable by doing the heavy lifting for them. Keep to pitch, word count and spend twice the time editing as writing. Good writing is good editing: ideally submit your article so all the editor has to do is lift your copy and place into position.
6. Be You
Be you, always. Find your voice and practice style – these are your identifiers. Emulate other writers you admire, take cues from their style of writing but avoid copying. Consistently show up with your style and voice and hone it. Writing is like a muscle: write daily to keep it loose; but also give it a good work out sometimes. Invest in yourself: attending workshops with experienced writers is our equivalent of professional training, an essential part of being a writer and expands your network too.
(c) Kate Ryan
Food Writing Workshop & Food Tour
Between 8th – 11th October 2020, I am hosting Food with a Story to Tell… a Food Writing Workshop and Food Tour with US-based award-winning food writer, Dianne Jacob, in West Cork.
Dianne is author of Will Write for Food, the seminal book for any aspiring food writer. Dianne will guide our writers on how to find their authentic writing voice through personal essay and first person writing and developing the importance of story in food writing.
At the end of Food with a Story to Tell, participants will leave with improved writing skills, a better understanding of the importance of story in food and how to use it, and practical, inspiring advice on pursuing their own writing projects.
An Early Bird offer is currently running until 31st March. Spaces are limited to 15 and are already starting to fill! For more information on Food with a Story to Tell, and to book your spot, visit www.flavour.ie/workshop
About Will Write for Food:
For more than 15 years, writing coach, editor, and blogger Dianne Jacob has taught food lovers how to take their passion from the plate to the page. Now, Jacob has revised and updated her award-winning guide. Whether you’ve been writing for years or are just starting out, Will Write for Food offers what you need to know to succeed and thrive, including:- A new chapter dedicated to making an income from food writing- Updated information about self-publishing and cookbook production- Tips on creating and sustaining an irresistible blog with gorgeous photos- The keys to successful freelancing and reviewing- Advice from award-winning writers, editors, and agents- Engaging, fun writing exercises to get the juices flowing.
Order your copy online here.