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

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 International Association of Culinary Professionals 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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):

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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.

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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.

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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.

Manhattan

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)…

p.s.s. Here are a few more conference posts on how to advance your writing career that I thought you might like to read:

On Being a Food Writer in 2012 (or What the IACP Conference in New York City taught me), by Marie Asselin

7 Things I learned at the IACP Conference, by Dianne Jacob

Conference Take-Aways from a First-Time Attendee, by Andrea Lynn

Beginning with the End in Mind, by Jill D O’Connor

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this – San Fransisco does indeed sound appealling :)

  2. Great tips and pictures! Thanks or sharing.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. Nikki, thank you for the mention and for the great follow up to the conference. It was all that, and so more more, but definitely all worth the swirl that now fills in my head. :) It is one of the most inspiring conferences for the industry without a doubt. I look forward to seeing you next year in SF, but hopefully long before that too!

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Thanks, Karen. It was great to see you again. I continue to comb through my notes and yes, there was so much more…yes SF and maybe Boston soon!

  4. Good for us that you were able to summarize all your notes in these 5 essential tips! Your post is a great snapshot of what we learned in those information-rich 5 days in New York. Although the industry’s going through such dramatic changes, I still strongly believe that we need to keep on working hard to fulfill our passions. I appreciate that this year’s IACP conference gave us a realistic portrait of how it really is to work in the culinary industry now, because seeing things as they are is the best way to take action and move forward. Besides, wouldn’t it be boring if everything was too easy? I try to convince myself of that everyday :) Thanks for sharing your takeaway, I’m adding your tips to my notebook. I can’t wait to see where we’ll all be at next year, in San Francisco!

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Thanks, Marie. There’s hard work ahead for sure!
      Did you read Amanda Hesser’s recent post on Food 52 about her advice for future food writers (http://www.food52.com/blog/3195_advice_for_future_food_writers) or the counter argument to her position written by John Birdsall on Chow (http://www.chow.com/food-news/111712/dear-amanda-hesser-food-writing-s-golden-age-is-now/)?

      Salient points on both sides and Birdsall’s advice is a little brighter: “Start a blog, pitch magazines, go after a book contract, I say, but instead of relying on writing as your bread and butter – and instead of torturing yourself with the rejection and struggle for respectable payment that this will entail — look to other interests in the food industry. We’re in a moment of great change. There’s never been more opportunity to make a difference, to shift the way we think about buying and eating food, to create something new, to start a business. This is what you should be doing.”

      Look forward to your write up as well and SF or bust (with lots of publications in between)!

  5. Your ability to summarize the conference with such concise points and images proves how much you’ve already mastered–and we’re the luckier for it!
    And thanks again for mentioning my newborn blog in such company.
    Looking forward to SF next year!

  6. LOVE these photos…funny somehow my NYC IACP trip photos did not inspire me like yours…J

  7. Nikki, I was at least one of your sessions and yet we never met! Very nice recap; I wished I could have been in at least three places at once. Still haven’t read through all my notes, but yours are so helpful in filling in some of the gaps. I love Marcus Samuelsson–he used the word soulful (or was it spiritual?) In any case, he’s the real deal.

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Thanks for you comment, Sally. I wish I had known you were at IACP! We’ll definitely have to fix that if you’re in San Fran next year. I know what you mean about being in several places, so many great sessions to choose from and Marcus Samuelsson stole the show for me and I, too, took note of his line about how he eat with a spiritual compass, which is the difference between “yummy and junk” or food that is truly healthful.

  8. It was a pleasure meeting you at the conference. I truly enjoy reading this recap and the great tips you took away from this conference. Your pictures are beautiful. They capture the essence of the city beautifully.

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Hi Margaret, It was a pleasure to meet you as well and thanks for your sweet comment. I look forward to sampling your recipes and hope to see you again next year, if not sooner!

  9. It was great meeting you at IACP. I look forward to our paths crossing again. I am going SF for sure! I look forward to your book deal and for us to find a ‘nice’ agent.

  10. Hey Nikki, lovely recap with good points and excellent photos. I will add it to my blog post of the same.

    Sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together at IACP. Let’s plan on it next year.

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Hi Dianne, Thanks for your comment and for linking this post! Yes, let’s do make plans for next year.

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