In this extract from her article inside the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2023, Felicity Cloake, a multi-award-winning freelance journalist, columnist, and author of seven books, offers essential advice on how to establish yourself as a food writer.
One of the things I love most about my job, which – as a freelancer with her finger in as many pies as possible – includes recipes, columns, news pieces and food-focused travel books, is its incredible diversity of scope. Because food is universal, it is a topic that allows you to take it in almost any direction that interests you, from history and chemistry to sport and art. Of course, depending on your experience and circumstances, you may prefer (initially at least, like me) to keep your eggs in a number of baskets. Only a few restaurant critics, for example, make a living doing that alone.
While every food writer might secretly think they’ve got a cookbook in them, unless you’ve had a lot of practice in the recipe creation department I’d suggest learning your trade first. Writing a good recipe is a skill that goes beyond just being able to cook. Start by getting a pile of food magazines or cookbooks (the library is a good source of both) and studying how recipes are constructed; most these days follow a standard pattern, and this is what any editor will expect you to supply too.
Maybe you are more concerned about the business of food than cooking it – such as the politics of food production and supply, the science of nutrition, or the environmental impact of diet. If you’re interested in a particular aspect, then there’s a good chance someone else will be. As well as food magazines and pages, features with wide appeal may be worth pitching to a more general readership, such as glossy newspaper supplements, Guardian Long Reads, or places like Country Life or the New Yorker.
For more serious writing projects, my advice to anyone starting out without an existing portfolio of work to show to editors is to consider a blog. Plenty of very successful authors cut their teeth in this way, from Ella Mills with Deliciously Ella to Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone, the duo behind the bestselling Pinch of Nom series. Social media is great for getting your name out there, but it’s hard to fit much into an Instagram caption or, worse still, a tweet. A blog, by contrast, will allow you to hone your writing skills, and hopefully begin to build a fanbase, in a non-pressurised space. Once you have a few posts under your belt, you can then use the blog as a shop window for prospective editors to assess your work before commissioning you – or indeed, to use as sample text to send to agents, should you be thinking about a book. Bear in mind that food magazines, in particular, tend to work several months ahead of schedule; this means that Christmas ideas, for example, should be sent in early summer to ensure they’re on their radar in good time, whereas daily papers and websites can be pitched for same- or next-day coverage.
This is an abridged version of an article taken from the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2023, available to order now from Bloomsbury.com
Felicity Cloake is a multi-award-winning freelance journalist and writer, Guardian and New Statesman columnist, and the author of seven books, including the bestselling travelogue One More Croissant for the Road (Mudlark 2019), which was shortlisted for a Fortnum & Mason Food Book of the Year Award and chosen as a Radio Four Book of the Week, and Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey (Mudlark 2022). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @FelicityCloake.