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Dec 21, 2007 08:25 AM

Advice for aspiring food writers?

Besides sharing a passion for food, cooking and exploring new restaurants within my family we have often discussed food writing and my aspirations to write a regional cookbook. The last book I found that was published, in English, specific to our region came out in 1978. I think I have found three others in Italian and one in German that cover the cuisine of the Trentino-Alto Adige. There are a few books on Northern Italian cooking that contrain recipes for a few of the more common dishes but many describe the region as "the least italian" and perhaps it just doesn't fit neatly in to books on "Italian" cooking. Admittedly, within the region there are two distinct capitals (they hand over the reigns from time to time) and two or more cultures, don't forget the Ladin...

So to the meat of my question, besides reading (and, of course eating) all that I can, where should I look for direction in both food journalism and the writing of a cook book. One of our local Culianry Institutes once offered a food writing class but it seems to have been dropped. It's times like these I miss New York and the FCI...

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  1. Not quite what you're looking for, but these posts by Heidi Swanson about self-publishing cookbooks may be helpful.

    1. If you don't want to self-publish, you need to write a really solid proposal. It's almost as important as the book itself. There are books about how to do that. You also need a good query letter to send with the proposal. Once you have that, you can query agents specializing in cookbooks, or query smaller publishers directly. There are books about agents in the reference sections of libraries, and also sites online with the information. If your subject is of interest, you'll probably get a nibble.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Glencora

        Glencora and Melanie,
        Thank you for this information. I am also thinking of enlisting the assistance of a few relatives in Italy. Our relatives own a hotel, have connections to some of the local farms and include one long time politician I hope to tap for information - as well as a somewhat colorful family history. I would like it to be more than a collection of recipes. I would like to speak a bit about the history and traditions of the area and how this influenced the regional cuisine(s).

        1. re: vonwotan

          You may find this website useful,

          both for the specific book it talks about, "Will Write for Food," and for Dianne Jacobs's general program regarding food writing.

          1. re: Barry Foy

            Thank you for the link. Dianne's coaching and advice sound just the thing to get me organized and keep me on track.

      2. candace Dempsey italien woman at the table, google her. She has an online writing course.

        1. Have you thought about blogging to get your feet wet? It might help you refine your writing skills in a no-cost medium as you get an immediate response as to what people like/don't like.

          A number of chowhound regulars also blog and deliver some really great stuff - be it local coverage/reviews or just cooking topics in general.

          As a consumer, I find myself turning less to cookbooks and more to online recipe searches. I also give as much creedance to certain regular local blog critics as I do the newspaper critics in my city. It can be argued that a newspaper critic only turns out one review a week whereas a blogger can run several. Similarly, a mainstream newspaper critic can be explorative, but for the most part has to appeal to a larger, general audience. Thay can't always feature the fab hot dog vendor or divey taco stand in a shady strip mall.

          1. Food writing/journalism and doing a cookbook are two different things -- related, but different. The former comprises descriptions, commentary, observations and/or critiques of food and food-related topics. The latter involves researching and testing recipes and writing them down in a clear, consistent way that is comprehensible by the average home cook.

            Sad to say in publishing these days, just a good idea and an outline don't cut it anymore. To get a book published, you need a "platform" that will persuade an agent and eventually an editor that YOU are the ideal person to do this book. Your outline needs to include not just your concept for the book but also needs to indicate in your outline what kind of an audience you have built, what contacts you have made and what sales, marketing and PR skills you bring to the table. When a prominent chef (or owner/chef) proposes a cookbook, his/her platform is his/her restaurant. The rest of us have to work a little harder on the writing end to build one.

            One place to start is to launch your own blog, as Tastyjohn suggested. You don't indicate what you do for a living, but writing in any form is different from other skill sets. Get used to writing and posting every couple of days. A book is a major, time-consuming project, and it's good to test yourself to see whether it is for you.

            The carrot of encouragement that I dangle before you is that Julie Powell ("Julia & Julie") and Clotilde Dusoulier ("Chocolate & Zucchini") both got book contracts on the strength of their blogs and the audience they had built.

            Good luck.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ClaireWalter

              Thank you. I agree that these are two different disciplines. At the moment my focus is on the cookdbook but, I had it in mind to continue my explorations beyond the completion of the book in some form of food journalism. My primary argument for being the person to write this book are our family ties to the region. In addition to owning and runnig a hotel at the Lago di Garda our family know many of the local farmers and producers and several local chefs who have recently earned their Michelin stars cooking the foods of the Sudtirol / Trentino - Alto Adige. I will also draw on the assistance of another relative, a member of the legislature and academic who has had several books published. The regions is being recognized so I hope I am not late to the party but our cuisine seems underrepresented in the cookbook sections, especially in the English language.

              As an aside, if I can't find a publisher I would consider self publishing with the first five or ten books becoming a very different kind of project - printed on a letterpress and bound by hand (by the author) at a local school that has an amanzing bookbinding program... On my walks home from school, in addition to stoppoing in at a few local restaurants to say hello, I would stop by a bookbinder's shop to look through his books and to watch him at work on restorations of new projects. Food and books are my two greatest passions.

              1. re: vonwotan

                There is an almost limitless appetite for books on regional Italian cooking, and you're right: the Sudtirol is underrepresented. I suspect you'll be looking at a smaller publisher, but if the proposal is good, somebody will pick it up. And running a hotel doesn't hurt a bit.