A decade ago, aspiring to a career in writing would earn you cross-eyed glances from parents, teachers, principals – even dentists, who might wait until their rubbery fingers were in your mouth to politely suggest “getting a real job”.
Any career that was vaguely creative was deemed impractical, unstable, and a pipe dream – and many people’s thinking still reflect this opinion, even if the reality doesn’t match.
The reality is, with the Internet, our world is more text driven than ever before; and there is actually A LOT of writing work, if you can find it and take advantage of it when you do.
Dianne Jacob, of the blog Dianne Jacob… Will Write For Food, is a former journalist and current food blogger, editor, and writing coach. She has also written an instructional book on writing about food, as well as co-authored several cookbooks. She also helps people write for a living.
She took a moment to tell us about the rising field of writing about food, advising against describing something as merely “delicious;” as well as ways to establish yourself as a writer in whatever it is you’re passionate about – to turn your pipe dream into a reality.
Can you introduce yourself? Can you tell us a bit about your background in writing and editing? What made you decide to branch out and become a full-time writing coach, writer, and editor?
I am a journalism graduate who spent the first 25 years of my career writing and editing for newspapers and magazines as an executive. I have also been the editor of an electronic book company, and I have co-authored cookbooks. I coach and edit writers specializing in food. I love to speak and teach on writing and have done so all over the world.
You are the author of a book, Will Write For Food, a handbook for writing about food. How did that book come about, and how has it been received? What has it done for your career?
I started teaching food writing more than 10 years ago based on my own experiences as an editor and writer. Someone told me a book on the subject would enhance my credibility. The book won two international awards and is still selling well 10 years later. It made me an expert in this topic and has led to paid work and many invitations to speak and teach.
In the description of Will Write For Food, it talks about the success of the movie Julie & Julia, and how it highlights the trend for writing about food. Why do you think food writing has been catching on so much?
We are all obsessed with food. We eat out more than ever, we have opinions about special diets (low-carb, gluten-free, etc.) and we watch television shows about food as entertainment. People who love to cook, eat and take photos find that trio is a perfect combination for blogging.
What would you say to someone who is considering writing about food for the first time? Do you have any advice for someone getting started?
Take into account the value of being a good storyteller, assuming you would like to have some readers. Aside from that, have a great time! Otherwise, what is the point?
How important is having a blog for any author, regardless of the genre they’re working in? What are some of the reasons?
Blogs give you a way to write regularly, communicate with your readers, try out new material, and increase your visibility. I started mine 6 years ago and have never regretted it.
Do you have any advice for writers as far as how to find work? Any resources that you’re particularly fond of? What should they be doing to build their resume?
That is a very broad question. It depends what kind of work these writers want. Some people write articles, some books, some get paid to blog. If no one will hire you, write pieces you’re proud of on your blog on the subject you’d like to write about most, and use them as a way to entice editors for assignments.
Writing about food is a very personal, subjective topic – the facts alone are not enough to convey the entire experience. How important are passion and personality when writing about a topic, and do you have any advice for writers as far as balancing the personal while still conveying the pertinent information?
Voice and personality is essential to most food writing, unless you’re writing for magazines which have their own voice. Otherwise, who cares what you have to say about kale, kimchi or your neighborhood farmer’s market? There are millions of pieces to read on those subjects, and they often repeat the same information. You have to break through all the noise with your own voice. Blogging is an excellent place to develop your persona.
What are some of the topics you go over with your coaching clients? What are some things people should be thinking about when trying to become a better writer and build their career?
I coach on a variety of topics, depending what people need. Right now, I’m working with a cooking teacher who want to write cookbooks, a freelancer who wants to pen articles based on a memoir coming out later this year, an executive who started a new food-based website, a Fullbright scholar interested in women farmers, and an executive who wishes to start a food blog as a hobby. Few people are full-time food writers, since it is difficult to make a living. Most food bloggers write as a hobby or a form of self-expression.
Write what you want to write about – what you’re most passionate about or what to learn – and start building expertise. Please pick an angle that is more specific than just “I love food.” Then use this work as a springboard for paid work. Build your social media presence as an expert. You’re going to have to narrow it down, which is a good thing. For example, there are experts in barbecue, bacon, allergy-free cooking, Turkish food, and the relationship between food and social justice.
You have a presence on most of the major social media networks. How can social media be used to become a recognized authority in the field you’re writing in? What are some ways that social media can be used to get freelance writing work?
On social media I announce my blog posts, converse with readers, and pass on articles that might interest them. It’s not all about me. I think about what would be useful to them. Since I come from a journalism background, I focus on serving the needs of my readers as well as entertaining them.
These days, magazine and online editors have social media accounts and it is easy to follow them and get to know them a little. It is your entry into a world that was closed previously.
Search engine algorithms are changing – no longer just looking for keywords and density, but taking into account backlinks and social sharing. How does quality writing play into this equation? How can a person’s writing reflect, and take advantage of, this fact? How is food writing in particular affected by this change?
Food writing is no more affected by this change than any other kind of writing. Quality writing will always shine through and be appreciated, even if you never build a huge audience. I have a relatively small audience, but it is influential and loyal, and that satisfies me immensely.
For more updates from Dianne Jacob, like her on Facebook, connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Google + and Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.