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5 ways to grow your writing career (or my IACP conference takeaway)

Posted Apr 10 2012 8:52pm

Marie and I sit at O’Donoghue’s Irish pub for our last round of cocktails before leaving New York. We met last year in another Manhattan bar at the regional conference where we found immediate kinship. The past five days blur into one another. From what I’ve seen, most of us here run on a steady diet of coffee, booze, and rich foods in between four daily conference sessions followed by plenty of nightly festivities including an opening reception, book signing, cocktail parties, and dinners.


A woman seated next to us at the bar half listens to music through dangling headphones while dispensing career advice to the early 20-something bartender. Above the mirrored bar, I catch a glimpse of the afternoon market news. Apparently the economy is still in the can. One of the waitresses sneaks over to the front corner to make a phone call to the Food Network . She wants to find out if they in fact received the application she sent out to be a contestant on their show. Strange coincidence, I think since she’s right across the street from the conference hotel where the editor of Food Network Magazine spoke on Friday. It’s easier to take in the bar scene than make sense of all the conference buzzwords in my head: platform, personal brand, culinary trends, story hooks.


Marie tells me about her trip to Saveur’s office earlier in the day before I recount my speed dating mix and mentor agent session. Neither was what we expected: at Saveur, some stories accepted for publication can have a long shelf life before seeing the light of print; and according to one New York agent, a brilliant book title, story hook, and engaging writing voice is a must if you want to get a book deal with or without a platform to stand on.


Over the last week, I’ve had a number of engaging talks with old and new friends alike as we discuss our session panel highlights with one another, sharing tips about how to write for online magazines, turn your freelance work into a real career, and predicting the future of online and print magazines. On average, I attend four 1 1/2 hour sessions a day, met with a number of familiar and new friends who’s work never fails to inspire me: Amy M. , Amy T. , Andrea , Casey , Cathy , Cheryl , Christina , David , Eagranie , Faith , Karen , Kristen , Luisa , Maria , Marie , Marnely , Rachel , Stephanie , Tara , and Winnie .


If I had to choose one conference to attend each year, IACP is it. I could continue on at length about stand out dinners at má pêche , Fonda , and Hallo Berlin , but I’ll leave you with the highlights found scribbled in my notebook.

Here’s 5 ways to grow your writing career (or my conference takeaway):


1. “You have to look inward, trust your voice, and tell the stories you want to tell,” says Chef Marcus Samuelsson during Friday’s featured session on The Fashion of Food. While Samuelsson specifically references telling stories on the plate at his newest restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem , it’s essential to remember this in all forms of storytelling be it on the page, screen, wall, book, plate.


2. If you want to break into writing for online magazines, write simple and relevant evergreen pieces, such as “How To Roast a Chicken” or “How To Make Creamy Ice Cream with Just One Ingredient,” explains Faith Durand, managing editor of The Kitchn. Research (as you would for print publications) the tone, sense of interaction, length, and style for each online magazine. While most online publications offer low pay, session panelists including web and magazine editors Lynn Andriani , J. Kenji Lopez-Alt , and Maureen Petrosky agree that another way to write for online publications is to stand out by creating a niche. Such cookbook authors, experts, and bloggers are regularly featured on their sites as content providers.


3. Diversify your food writing skills by learning to write concise informative pieces for today’s “short form” audience, says Andrea Nguyen , James Oseland , and Molly Stevens . It’s a great exercise for long-form narrative pieces as well and will make you a better writer and editor in the end. As technology grows, so does our appetite for quicker and shorter bursts of information in print publications such as cookbooks, magazines, and newspapers, and also in ebooks, apps, social media, video, and TV. Read your writing out loud and edit extraneous words. Illustrate techniques with step-by-step photos and videos.

woman and dogs in the east village

4. To transform your freelance work into a writing career, you need to “find a way to be original,” says cookbook author, writer, and blogger Domenica Marchetti . For food writing, “write original recipes with headnotes, connect with readers, choose projects that work for you and your platform.”

Calexico Mexican Food Truck (Manhattan)

5. Before you can sell a book or get a publishing contract in the current marketplace, you need an audience and a way to reach it (aka your platform). Think about platform in terms of flavors: TV, radio, podcasts, social media, websites, blogs, products, classes, etc.


Marie and I pay for our drinks and share a cab ride to Penn Station. So long, New York. 

p.s. I hear IACP will be in San Francisco next year (in case you need more incentive to go)…

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