Will Write for Food: An Interview with Dianne Jacob

| February 8, 2011 | 5 Comments
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Will Write for Food
Are you interested in expressing your passion for food, but don’t know where to start? Never fear, dear reader — Dianne Jacob, Oakland resident and author of Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, is here to help. Today, she will answer the pressing question: “How can I get started in food writing if I have no formal background?”

As a culinary career coach, Jacob brings to the table an extensive background in writing, editing and teaching. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The San Francisco Chronicle, Gastronomica, Sunset, Salon.com, and a host of other media outlets, and she teaches classes at the local writing organization, The Writing Salon. To learn more about Dianne and hear her ongoing advice for food writers, visit her blog dedicated to the art and craft of food writing or follow her on Twitter under @diannej.


So many people out there want to share their passion for food but don’t know how. A food blog is the most obvious place to start. What tips do you have for someone just starting out in blogging?

Go for it! It’s fun, its easy, and you’ll have the tremendous satisfaction of seeing your work published as soon as you click the “Publish” button. Templates on WordPress, Typepad and Blogger are free and only take a few minutes to set up. You pick a title and background for your blog and you’re off. Start small. Write a few paragraphs, insert a few photos, and make it easy to keep posting. Write as though talking to a good friend. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but at the same time, edit your work to make it as tight as possible.

How can a food blogger spice up their writing so that it’s more than, “I ate eggs today. They were good. Last night I had a steak. It was juicy.”

Resist the kind of writing that’s based on “and then, and then, and then.” Tell a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. What was it about your eggs? Did you fry them in bacon grease with sausages, sprinkle them with smoked paprika, or scramble them with wild mushrooms? Did you eat one boiled egg because you’ve just started a diet, and how did that feel? Did you get halfway through when the phone rang, and you couldn’t bear to not answer? Paint a picture for the reader that includes your life, not just the food. Let them know something about you.

What different kinds of food writing are there? If someone is starting a blog, what areas could they possibly cover? Is it ok to mix and match, or should they stick to one “beat?”

Oh gosh, there are tons of ways to write about food: You’re enthusiastic about the Korean taco truck you visited, the new pasta dish you discovered on your last trip to Tuscany, or the salted caramels you served when entertaining guests. You could write about what it’s like to have a kid with celiac disease, planting a kitchen garden, spearheading an overhaul of the school lunch program, and about your day trips exploring farmers’ markets in the Bay Area. It’s really limitless. Some people have general blogs where they write about whatever appeals to them, and some people deal with a specific subject, like baking, nutritious meals, or travel. There is no right way.

Dianne Jacob. Photo by Pamela Zacharias

Dianne Jacob. Photo by Pamela Zacharias

How can a food blogger build a readership? Can you give us some basic tips?

Become a great storyteller. That’s the first secret, and the most important one. Find a like-minded community of other bloggers and food-obsessed types and get to know them. Read their blogs and maybe they’ll read yours. Get business cards printed with your blog name on it and hand them out at food-based events. Ask your friends to read and leave comments. If you’re a terrific photographer or videographer, often those skills can drive people to your posts. When you post, announce it on Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s a scenario: Jenny is a food lover who spends most of her time cooking, eating, or thinking about food. Her family is always telling her that she should write a cookbook, but she knows that’s probably not realistic since she’s never written anything before in her life. Still, Jenny wants to share her love of food. What would you recommend she do? Where should she start, and where should she hope to end up?

Jenny can take inexpensive classes on personal essay writing from the Writing Salon or Book Passage to learn how to express herself. Or she can just dive in and read food blogs to get an idea of how to start out. She also needs to figure out what kind of food appeals to her most. A general cookbook from someone who has never written before is not a winning combination. Is she mad about macaroons, bonkers for bread, or ravenous for raw food? A focus can be worthwhile.

Where should she hope to end up? If she’s lucky, she’ll be the creator of a popular blog people enjoy. She needs hundreds of thousands of readers across the country to interest a cookbook publisher, and a subject where she has something new to offer. If she’s been building that content and readership, publishers might be interested.

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, books, magazines, newspapers, food art, writing, music, dance, food bloggers and social media

About the Author ()

Stephanie is a writer and cookbook author recovering from her former tech-startup life. On the side she's also a media consultant, specializing in all forms of digital goodness: audio, video, print, design, and social media. After leaving the tech world nearly a decade ago, Stephanie made a career jump to her lifetime love, writing. She currently writes for the Huffington Post, KQED's Bay Area Bites, NPR, and other select media outlets. Her first cookbook,Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, is due out in fall 2013 on Little, Brown with coauthor Garrett McCord. Being a recovering techy leaves an indelible mark, and everything Stephanie does is infused with her deep fascination with digital technology. She has been blogging since 1999, before blog engines even existed and a great readership consisted of a handful of friends who occasionally thought to check out your site. In 2005 she started her first food blog, which she repurposed in 2007 to become The Culinary Life. Stephanie can be called many things: food writer, essayist, professional recipe developer, cookbook author, social media consultant, videographer, documentary maker, website developer, archivist of life. Despite all of these titles, she most commonly responds to Steph.
  • http://www.geezersisters.com/ Ruth Pennebaker

    What an excellent interview — so encouraging to people who love food and are just starting out, beginning to think about writing.

  • http://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/ Jennifer Margulis

    Thanks for this. I’ve had this book on my radar for a long time. Would like to read it…

  • http://www.MyKidsEatSquid.com MyKidsEatSquid

    I’m so glad there’s a revised edition available. I checked the older version out from the library, now I’m going to buy this one. Thanks for the review!

  • Sheryl

    Great interview. Makes me want to start writing about what I eat. When you think about what enters into your culinary choices, how they’re seasoned,cooked and served, there is indeed a big story.

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