Getting Hired as a Food Writer
Free Sample Chapter
The first step to getting hired involves devising a
self-marketing strategy. At the minimum, you will need an employment
packet consisting of a well-thought-out resume, clever cover
letter and writing samples.
The resume and cover letter are covered in the complete
Your Writing Samples
The samples you show to your prospective employer will
ideally match the medium and content of what is required
in the job you are seeking. For a radio spot, experience writing radio
news would be a good example. National magazines will expect to see
published clips from regional or small circulation magazines.
Go over everything you’ve had published so far. If
nothing relates to food, don’t despair. Offer your potential employer
three solid writing samples, whether they are humor, investigative
reporting or an editorial for the college newspaper. Do you have
professional writing experience? Previously published writing clips
will show your abilities; food-writing samples can push you to the
front of the crowd.
If you don’t have any writing samples yet, keep
reading. This guide covers a number of ways to amass a collection of
clips such as posting your work online, starting your own newspaper or
newsletter, offering to review restaurants for free, self-syndicating,
freelancing food-related articles as well as tons of advice about how
to come up with ideas for a story. All this and more is still to come
in this guide. ...
Each major city has a daily
paper; most communities have weeklies. Really big cities have competing
dailies, alternative papers and papers in the suburbs. The variety and
sheer number of papers make them a good place to start a job hunt
or begin a career in food writing.
For example, I live near a
mid-sized city. There are two daily papers, one large chain of
community weeklies, a number of independent weeklies, a paper devoted
to food and restaurants, a weekly paper on music and arts in the area,
senior citizen newspapers, community newsletters and free shopper
newspapers in every grocery store and gas station, as well as a
business journal. While not all publishers are interested in my story
ideas on food and dining, there is still a lot of fertile ground to
sell my writing.
Look around your region. Do
the dailies have an established restaurant reviewer? See this as a
challenge, not an obstacle. Your best bet for breaking in is to
establish a relationship with the paper first, so contact the
feature editor and pitch a food-related story. This doesn’t get you
a food writing job immediately, but you’ll make a contact in the
newspaper business that may lead to other contacts, and if he likes the
story, you will end up with at least one published food article to add
to your writing clips discussed earlier.
Begin with a list of
publications that might be interested in your story idea. If the papers
don’t overlap in readership, you might even be able to sell the story
idea to more than one publication. You should try to contact the
editor to pitch your idea—sending unsolicited ideas is not as
successful because the editor does not have the time to read them all.
How do you make the initial
contact? My experience has shown that e-mailing an editor has about a
50-50 chance of success: half will read it and answer; half will never
read it because they don’t really use their e-mail or they’re too busy
with other things. The quickest way to determine if you stand a chance
selling a story to a newspaper is to pick up the phone and speak
to the editor in person.
This can be a simple
question, “Do you use freelance writers?” or “I would like to write an
article for you on the buffalo farm in Carlisle County. May I send you
an outline of my story idea?” The decision might be made right over the
phone if the editor is interested. Be ready to run with it if you hear,
“I like the idea; I need it by next Wednesday.”
TIP: Some publications rarely use freelance writers; many more
have regulars they use. Calling will save you time trying to figure
out if it was your story idea or your writing experience that the
editor didn’t like, when in reality it was the simple fact that they
don’t use freelancers.
How do you hook an editor
with your story idea? Just like you hook a fish using its preferred
bait, hook an editor using something he or she can use. Study the
publication you are planning to contact. Have they published a similar
story in the recent past? Who are this particular magazine or
newspaper’s readers and why should they read your article?
Answer these questions first for each publication you approach and
you’ll spend less time sending out unanswered article queries.
Here is a sample story idea:
It’s summer in the city…
do you believe in magic? Zal Yanovsky, former guitarist of the Lovin’
Spoonful, certainly must. His restaurant, Chez Piggy and bakery, Pan
Chancho are the hit of the Kingston, Ontario downtown scene. It might
be his flamboyant style that keeps residents coming back and tourists
seeking out his businesses. Whatever it is, he is a success as a
restaurateur and I want to tell your readers how he made the
transition from wild-living musician playing with the likes of Cass
Elliott, Denny Doherty and John Sebastian to admired, respected
businessman… who just happens to be a member of the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame.
The article will be
based on a one-on-one interview with Mr. Yanovsky, as well as a day
spent in his restaurant and bakery. I will include a mini-review of
dinner at Chez Piggy as a side story.
I will have the completed manuscript in your hands within three weeks.
If you intend to use your
creative writing as a food writer, it’s none too soon to begin thinking
creatively. Brainstorm for stories you can suggest to the editor:
- Do you have the inside track on a food industry issue, a new food trend or celebrity chef?
- Search out organic farms in the area or introduce yourself to the exotic mushroom farmer in
the next county.
- Suggest you cover a local food event.
- Write an informational article on a winemaker’s dinner that a local restaurant is hosting.
- Is there a winery in your expanded area? Write about your day at the winery—touring, dining and tasting.
- Report on the farmer’s
market at the beginning of the season, or on the judges at the state
fair’s canning contests.
- List your favorite bread baking books and include three excellent recipes.
- Write on a particular cuisine—e.g. macrobiotics as medicine—and offer links to websites and
mail-order resources, as well as the nearest restaurants that offer this type of food.
Another idea is to choose a
food topic that stands alone — bread, for example. Jeffrey Steingarten
in his book
The Man Who Ate Everything
devotes an entire chapter to
finding the right water, the right temperature and the right flour to
create a sponge that will cause a yeast-free bread to rise. He travels
around the country seeking advice and watching the experts—as food
writer for Vogue magazine, this is all part of his job.
Once you hook an editor with
your story idea and deliver an exceptionally well-written article,
you’ve made inroads into the job of your dreams. Even if no other
opportunity comes from that article you’ve got a wonderful clip to use
on your way up. Alternative weeklies pay around $50, while an article
at a daily newspaper should bring in $75 to $150.
The above is only a small sample of the valuable
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