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Cooking Up a Sale: Getting Into Recipe and Food Writing

by Dawn Copeman

Recipes can be found almost everywhere these days: newspapers, magazines, free magazines, on the internet, in supermarkets and on apps. There is a huge demand for recipes. People are always on the lookout for something new to cook.

For you as a writer, this means there are plenty of potential markets for your work.

You don't need to be a chef to be a food writer. All you need is an interest in food, the ability and willingness to cook and to experiment and most importantly, the ability to write.

Becoming a Cookery Writer - Finding the Markets

When you think about writing about food, the first markets you might think about are food magazines. However, this is not a good place to start, for the simple reason that food magazines tend to accept submissions only from established food writers with books to their names, celebrity chefs, and staff writers. As a beginning cookery writer, you need to think outside the box and use your eyes to spot potential markets for your work.

Food articles and recipes are found in most traditional women's magazines, of course. But they can also be found in:

  • Local newspapers, including the free ones
  • Health and fitness magazines
  • Dieting magazines
  • County and regional magazines and newspapers
  • Church magazines and newsletters
  • Historical magazines
  • Travel magazines
  • Hobby magazines
  • Parenting magazines
  • Supermarket leaflets and magazines
  • Internet sites
  • ...and many more

In fact, once you start looking, you will see recipes everywhere, which means lots of potential markets for your work.

Study the Competition

Just as you would study a magazine before submitting an article, look at what is currently being published and study your target market carefully. In particular look out for:

  • Style and voice of the recipe
  • Typical word length
  • Recipe style (traditional, fusion, healthy, calorie-counted)
  • How recipes list ingredients and give instructions
  • Whether photos are used and how they are used

Draw on Your Experience and Creativity

To write recipes, you don't need to be a master chef; most people can't cook like that and don't want to cook like that. What people want are easy-to-follow recipes that can provide them with inspiration.

This doesn't mean you have to 'invent' new ways of cooking either, or concoct new recipes entirely from scratch. Look to your own cooking, your recipes, your cookery books and current trends to come up with ideas.

Traditional recipes are not copyrighted; they can't be. For example, in my kitchen I have three cookbooks by different cookery writers, all with recipes for 'Poor Knights' -- a traditional pudding dating from around the middle ages that uses stale bread. The recipe is ancient and cannot be copyrighted.

Most modern recipes are not protected by copyright either. This is because creating food and recipes is something that people have been doing ever since we discovered fire and no-one can say for sure that they are the first person 'ever' to come up with a recipe. In addition, any recipe is subject to a virtually infinite number of adaptations, just by tweaking an ingredient or a measurement. This is why I have two different but similar recipes for creating Italian slow-cooked liver and onions in two different cookery books by two different writers. This means you are free to adopt and adapt any recipe to make it your own and submit it to a market. All writers adopt and adapt.

What you can't do, however, is copy any recipe word-for-word, or in the case of any recipes 'developed' by celebrity chefs, ingredient for ingredient. What you can do is change a few ingredients, leave some out, add some in, experiment and you've got a new recipe.

This really isn't as difficult as it sounds. In fact, I bet you've done it already. Have you ever not had all the right ingredients to follow a recipe but made it anyway? That's exactly what you need to do to create your own recipes. (Unless you are writing about a recipe that you have cooked several times, you need to do a test run to make sure the recipe works!)

Think About Trends and Your Markets

In the late 90's and the first decade of the 21st century, fusion food was the key trend. From around 2005 to 2009, exotic foods were the big trend and exotic ingredients were appearing in recipes.

Since the crash, however, luxury foods are out for most of us and many recipes are going back to basics, to traditional foods that can be prepared inexpensively. Within this trend, however, you still have to narrow your parameters further to meet the needs of your target market.

For a fitness magazine, for example, try traditional recipes with a lighter, healthier, lower-fat touch. For diet magazines, consider a calorie-counted, lower-fat version of a traditional meal. For busy, time-pressed moms, go for tradition in a hurry: fast ways to prepare tasty, traditional meals. For the time-rich, cash-poor, look for recipes that use cheaper cuts of meat that take longer to cook, but that produce wholesome, delicious food at much lower costs than standard cuts. For the organic, health-conscious consumers, try a traditional recipe made entirely from locally sourced organic produce -- a bonus when writing for local magazines or newspapers.

Let's take chicken thighs, for example. They are cheap and flavorsome, but most people just don't know what to do with them. Look through your recipe books and search online to come up with ways to use chicken thighs in recipes. Here's just a few to get you started:

  • Quick fried chicken and chips
  • Chicken casserole
  • One pan roast
  • Chicken and Sweet onions
  • Chicken curry
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken
  • Chicken Soup

Now think about how you could modify each of these recipes for your target markets.

A Question of Measures

Make sure you are familiar with the measures used by your target market and use them. If you're writing for the web, check if a site uses US/Imperial or Metric measures. If your market uses a different measuring system than you do in your own kitchen, work out what these measurements would be in that system. Cooking converters can help, but always test your recipe to be sure. These are the converters I've found to be most useful:

What's in a Name?

Food is food, right? But names for food change from country to country (and even from region to region within the same country). Some ingredients that are common in your country don't seem to exist in other countries at all -- as our editor discovered whilst attempting to make a traditional American pumpkin pie in England! And while most of us know that an aubergine is an eggplant and a courgette is a zucchini, there are still hidden pitfalls waiting for the international cookery writer.

Mince in the UK means ground beef or hamburger in the US. Caster Sugar, a favourite of British baking recipes, doesn't exist in America at all, where only now can you buy another standard of British baking -- icing sugar. Tinned pumpkin is almost impossible to find in the UK, as are cans of frosting, not to mention dozens of spices and spice mixes such as Liquid Smoke.

If you are writing for an overseas market, make sure that your recipe will work in that country. Exchange ingredients for ones that are available; for example, write 'sugar' instead of caster sugar.

Types of Articles

As with any other type of article writing, the main driving idea is to find a need and address it. Again, think outside the box. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ten Ways With ...
  • Healthy Meals for Swimmers, Golfers, Bodybuilders etc.
  • What is ... and how do I use it?
  • Meals in Minutes
  • Easy Dinner Party Menus
  • Quick meals for time-pressed writers
  • Effortless Entertaining for the Executive PA
  • Blasts from the Past -- recipes for Baby Boomers etc.

Pitching and Payment

Check the publication's guidelines. Some want full submissions, others want queries. If a query is required, simply submit a one-page letter explaining the need your recipe addresses and why it meets the needs of that publication's readers.

Rates vary from a few dollars per recipe to $20, $50, or $150 per article. However, with practice, recipe writing doesn't take very long and even lower-paying articles can be an excellent way to boost your writing income. It can also be a great way to build up clips and an easy way to get a regular column. Give it a go and see where it takes you.

Related Articles:

Copyright © 2012 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).

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