"Will Write for Food should be mandatory reading
for everyone who aspires to be a food writer."
Any food blogger worth their salt knows who Dianne Jacob is. Writer, coach, editor, blogger, speaker and teacher, Dianne has become something of a guru with a huge following of both amateurs and professionals seeking her advice and guidance on everything from writing to getting published. Her book, Will Write For Food, contains a wealth of information for both bloggers and professionals and her blog has become an extension of the book, the place for healthy and fascinating debate on a world of food writing-related topics. Plate to Page had the good fortune to sit down with her and ask her a few questions. We are thrilled to have Dianne as our guest as she takes the time to give us an inside look at her career and shares some valuable insight and advice.
Photo courtesy of Dianne Jacob
P2P: How did you get started? Tell us a bit about the evolution of your career...
DJ: I started writing stories and poetry when I was young because my dad, a frustrated writer, gave me and my sister writing assignments. In my 20s I went to journalism school and worked as an editor, writer and reporter at newspapers and magazines.
My second job out of journalism school was to become the editor of a restaurant magazine in a big city. I visited restaurants, interviewed chefs and wrote features. From there I worked on other kinds of publications but I did restaurant reviewing on the side. Once I became self-employed in 1996, I decided to start freelancing again, and that the subject had to be food, my primary obsession. I wrote columns, features, how-to pieces, interviews, essays and recipes. As I had always enjoyed working with writers, I added that to the mix, as a teacher and coach. I started building a business that specialized in food writing. I wanted to keep working with writers, because at that point, I had worked mostly as an editor for a few decades and I loved the editing process and helping writers shape stories.
I started working with writers as a freelance editor and began teaching food writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. My work expanded to working on book proposals, book manuscripts, and even coaching authors through the publishing process.
Photo courtesy of Trevor Hart Photography
I wear lots of hats: coach, editor, blogger, speaker and teacher. I love the variety. Each satisfies me in its own way. I find it satisfying to help writers reach their goals, and when they get a blog started or a book deal or a freelance article published, it's gratifying. I also love the intellectual challenge of editing a piece to make it tighter and clearer. For fun, blogging is a joy. It connects me with a big community of thoughtful writers from around the world, and together we work through trends, ethical dilemmas, recipe writing, and career issues. I also love social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook for that reason.
P2P: Talk us through your book, Will Write for Food...
DJ: The person who hired me to teach food writing said that I should have a book to boost my credibility. It was one of those slap-yourself-on-the-forehead moments, because there was no book on food writing then. Luckily, I knew a literary agent and she loved the idea. I had just a few months to write the first edition, which came out in 2005. I updated the second edition in 2010.
The book's staying power has been thrilling, and I never get tired of hearing that someone has just bought my book, or receiving emails that the book has helped them. Regarding teaching and speaking at food blogging conferences, I love to speak because those who attend are my target audience. I know what they're going through with their blogs and how they can move forward. I feel very lucky right now to have so many opportunities to travel and teach, many of them that have come from food bloggers themselves.
P2P: What has changed in the food writing profession over the past few years and how do you think it will evolve from here?
DJ: Food bloggers have gained credibility as successful freelance writers, book authors and self-publishers. At first, the publishing world didn't want to accept them because most started as hobbyists, but eventually food bloggers grew too powerful - and too talented - to ignore.
I'd like food blogging to evolve into a reasonable way to enable bloggers to make a living from it. Right now that is only possible for a select few.
P2P: What are one or two things you have learned along the way that are indispensable to the food writer - or a cookbook author, for that matter, seeing as you coach authors?
DJ: I used to think that food writing was all about describing food. Now I think it is all about the ability to tell a story, to understand what surrounds the food and gives it meaning. Writing this way draws readers in because it causes an emotional response.
P2P: Do you have any advice for those wishing to become professional food writers?
DJ: Oh yes, I have advice almost every week on my blog! There is paid work as a food stylist, food photographer, and marketer. What's harder is to get paid to write, although freelance opportunities do exist. It's a question of finding the right publication for your story, and pitching a story that is appropriate for the publication.
Then there's writing cookbooks, if you have a good idea and a big enough platform.
Follow Dianne on Twitter at @diannej and on Facebook at Will Write For Food