About two years ago, I decided to switch gears in my professional writing life. I wanted to take a risk and reinvent. In 20-plus years as a journalist, I’ve tried my hand at many different things.
I worked for an investigative reporting shop for close to a decade. I’ve been a staff writer for a national health magazine. I’ve survived and succeeded (mostly) for many years as a freelance writer.
I’ve also contributed to books, ghost written a book, and taught writing to college students, who expect to land an assignment with Vanity Fair the minute they get a degree. Good luck with that.
Somewhere along the way I picked up a lot of gigs cranking copy for a range of health outlets on the web. These contract jobs paid the bills and gave me the chance to work part time and hang with my son when he was young, for which I will always be grateful.
But, to be honest, this line of work did not feed me. I wanted to get back to doing creative work that combined my professional writing background with my personal passion for food, with an emphasis on covering the growing food movement and the social justice aspects of feeding people well.
I landed in Berkeley, started volunteering at the Edible Schoolyard, and shortly after began teaching afterschool cooking classes to kids at my boy’s school. All this made me very happy.
So why not write about it? When I started taking baby steps towards telling food stories one of the first people I approached was Dianne Jacob. If you’re an established food writer, Dianne needs no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this editor, coach, and cookbook author, and you have any interest in writing about food, click on over to her blog Will Write for Food, once you’ve finished reading this post, where you’ll find pithy snippets with a food-writing focus that frequently elicit vigorous debate in the comment section.
I was briefly a client of Dianne’s. She helped me figure out a game plan for my new beat. We started our blogs about the same time, some 18 months ago. She gave thoughtful feedback on the manuscript I was ghost writing of the self-published memoir (just out!) of the co-creator of Rice-A-Roni. I found Dianne to be the real deal: A pro with a deep understanding of the food-writing biz.
Dianne’s advice for food writers everywhere: 1. Start a blog. 2. Take a writing class. 3. Find a niche.
To find out more about all three, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of her book.
Dianne’s also one of the most generous people I know. We’ve become pals, and, since we live in the same area, go to food-related events together. (If you want to catch her at one of her book signings this fall, check out her event appearances here.) She wrote the sweetest note to me in my copy of the first edition of her book Will Write for Food, which I think of as a bible for food scribes. (For Sarah, A star writer who doesn’t know it.) Just the self-confidence boost when I needed it. If she wrote exactly the same thing in YOUR first edition, please, please don’t tell me.
And, ego check: She has, um, strong opinions and no problem telling it how it is. If she thinks I need a boot up the bum, or if something doesn’t work writing wise, she’ll let me know, kindly but clearly. She questions some of my assignment choices and hassles me to meet deadlines, so it’s not all a warm and fuzzy love fest here. But for me, that’s the mark of a good editor-coach.
You need more endorsements? Check out what Epicurious.com has to say about the second edition of Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Da Capo Press). “Mandatory reading for food writers,” says it all, really. Just yesterday Molly Wizenberg (anyone heard of her?) offered similar praise at the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle.
The latest edition of WWFF includes major updates on the food writing landscape — which is changing so quickly — and an entire new chapter on the business of blogging and social networking. All this and advice from a bevy of big shots in the food writing world.
I’ve just returned from the weekend-long blogger bash thrown by Foodista and somewhere during the course of the conference someone said there are five million food bloggers. Is that true? If you want to find a way to distinguish what you do, this book is for you.
On a publishing panel at the very same conference Victoria von Biel, the executive editor of Bon Appetit, talked up the absolute necessity for food writers to have a presence in the social media world. She joked that her hubbie, Benedict Carey, who has a new book, is resistant, like many old-school writers, to such moves. (In the small world department, I spent a year working at a magazine where the wildly talented and very funny Ben was also on staff. A New York Times reporter, he’s just penned a book about math for middle schoolers — who knew? — perfect for my son who starts school this week.)
Kirsty Melville, president of the book division of publisher Andrews McMeel and a cookbook czar, seconded that advice. More small world stuff: Dianne served as an editor and mentor on My Nepenthe, the beautiful cookbook and mash note to Big Sur by Romney (Nani) Steele that Melville published and raved about at yesterday’s session.
Enough with the praise. You’re itching to get your hands on this guide, right?
Here’s how to win a signed copy of Will Write for Food:
3. If you subscribe and follow (x2) a big thank you, then please post the following tweet on your Twitter feed: Win a copy of @diannej’s Will Write for Food @lettuceeatkale … http://tinyurl.com/2d7tpdt
Once you’ve done one — or all of these things, why not? — please leave me a comment on this post to let me know you’ve joined the mailing list, started following me via Twitter or Facebook, and/or posted the tweet. And if you’re new to Lettuce Eat Kale, please tell me a little about yourself. It’s always nice to meet my readers and fellow food bloggers.
Entries must be received by Monday September 6 at 10 p.m. PT. A winner will be chosen at random. You’ll have a week to claim your prize.
Update: Congrats to Paula Thomas, a copy of Will Write for Food is on its way to you. Thanks to all for playing and check back later this month for a cookbook giveaway.
[Photo of Dianne Jacob: Pamela Zacharias.]