Interview with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food

D-1. Jacob.mug.web.2008 If you are a food writer, most likely Dianne Jacob needs no introduction. Her bestselling book Will Write for Food is the comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about food writing. Recommended and praised by industry contributors, Will Write for Food is knowledgeable in fact and generous in advice. Whether you are a newbie contemplating a leap into the food writing pond or an established food writer interested in improving your craft, this book is for you.

Last year Dianne launched her blog, also called Will Write for Food. Her “pithy snippets on food writing” address the latest force to be reckoned within the food writing industry – the food blog. Recently, I spoke with Dianne about writing and blogging:

TF:  Since you published your book Will Write for Food in 2005, what has changed the most in food writing?
DJ:  Blogging and the advent of people writing about food on the internet.

TF:  How has blogging affected the food writing landscape?

DJ:  If you are going to write a cookbook now, you need to look at how to make it different from all of the recipes on the web. You can type in an ingredient on the internet and get recipes but not a lot of in-depth information. The cookbook has to be about what surrounds the recipes. Also, there are lots of websites to write for, but they pay quite a lot less than print. Ruth Reichl told me that a full page ad in Gourmet Magazine cost 40,000 dollars, but an ad in their online magazine cost a fraction of that. The internet is not paying writers, and there is an accepted model that electronic versions are worth less than print.

Will Write-3.hi-res TF:  What do you think is the future direction of food blogging?
DJ:   I would like to say it will get more monetized for those of us who don’t have a huge number of readers, and I am hoping that it will get more professional in terms of journalism standards. I am not sure either of these things will happen.

TF:  Why not?
DJ:   Anyone can start a blog even if no one reads it. Some bloggers are writing for free for websites and in print. I’d prefer that they didn’t, but there are always going to be people who don’t care if they are paid because they think it’s fun, or they think it’s worth it to get their career started. For most people, food blogging is a hobby rather than a business, so they don’t realize the consequences of writing for free when they are competing with writers who like to be paid. It’s understandable to be paid less, when they”re just starting out, but that’s different from writing for free. It’s a dismissal of their skills and effort — not only by the publisher, but by themselves as well. On the other hand, I worked a blogger who could only get published if she agreed to do so for free, so she agreed.

TF:  With so many blogs in the blogosphere, do you think there is room for new blogs to make it big?
DJ:   There are some very successful blogs that are businesses that are doing very well. They are successful, because they have a huge database which they started building long ago. So, if you are searching for a recipe on the internet, it will probably pull up one of their recipes. It’s all about google ranking. If you are a new blogger, it’s important to build traffic to your site to increase your google ranking. You can do this by building community with other bloggers and sites, and trading links to attract others to your site.

Developing your voice is important, too. It takes a long time to develop your voice and a conversational manner. One way you can do that is to imagine your target reader sitting on the other side of the computer and write your post the way you would talk to them. When you have your voice, your blog will be unique with a niche. Your posts should invite comments. My blog Will Write for Food is 8 months old, and I have developed a good relationship with people where they feel compelled to comment, and I am happy about that. In the end, though, it all depends on how good your content is. You can’t get away from that point.

TF:  Nowadays, if you have a blog it requires more skills than just writing.

DJ:  You need to be able to write well. Food writing is just a type of writing. Like all writers you still need to be a good story teller, know what a lead is, keep people moving through your text. You need to know how many adjectives to use and how to use a good quote.
If you want to be a good blogger you also need to know how to run a business, be a good marketer, photographer, videographer and tech support department. It’s like self publishing.

TF:  When should you self-publish?

DJ:   Self-publishing is good for three reasons: If you have a story you want to make for your family and friends. If you are an amazing promoter and can sell the heck out of your book. If your are a teacher or speaker in front of a regular audience who would buy your book.

TF:  Are long form articles a thing of the past?
DJ:  No. I attended the Greenbrier Food Writers Symposium last year where an editor of Cooking Light said that long form is a thing of the past. I contacted her recently, and she told me that Cooking Light has a new editor who likes long form articles. I think it’s about whatever mood or fad is going on. It’s harder to sell a narrative long piece without sidebars or lists, but I don’t think it’s going away.

TF: Do you get writers block?
DJ:  I really don’t have that problem. I might procrastinate, but I always meet my deadlines. Being trained as a journalist, I learned to deal with it. For my blog, I would like to be more organized. I feel like I write by seat of my pants, and I don’t have a lot of posts lined up. Sometimes I start a post, and then I don’t publish it. I started my post about Yelp and then I got wind of a story of twitter getting slapped with a lawsuit, and I knew I had to get that up because it was breaking news.

TF:  Who are some of your favorite food writers?
DJ:   In terms of blogs, I tend to read those written by people I like personally. If I don’t know them, I don’t feel invested in their story. There isn’t one cookbook author I adore and collect all of their works. I did a survey on my blog on who was everyone’s favorite food writer of all time, and it was a tie between David Lebovitz and Ruth Reichl. Those two are also at the top of my list.

TF:  Do you find writing a blog as satisfying as writing a book?

DJ:   It’s much more satisfying to write a blog, except for the money. With a book you toil away for months, send it in and don’t hear anything for a long time with few comments. With a blog I get immediate feedback. People will argue with me and give me more information. It’s very delightful and quite an obsession.

TF:  Thank you Dianne.

Note: A special thanks to the food bloggers and writers who submitted questions for Dianne when I posted about the upcoming interview via twitter/facebook.




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