09/15/2010 07:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Liveblogging Day 3 of the Food Writers Symposium at the Greenbrier

DAY 3 - 15 Sep 2010

Good morning again and welcome to the continued liveblog from the 2010 Professional Food Writers Symposium at the Greenbrier.

For those who have missed out thus far, The Symposium has hosted nearly all of America's best food writers over the last 20 years, probably including your favorite. It's 4 days of intensive seminars on all aspects of the business of writing about food. Please bear with the typos and the lack of links, which are hallmarks of a liveblog. I'll fix and add as I can. First, I'm going to partake of the outstanding breakfast buffet we've been enjoying here this week, then I'll be right back here to fill in all you aspiring writers and wall flies.


Breakfast was delicious, though some of us were wondering if they would include a free angioplasty. It's now time to turn to the business of the day. This afternoon, that business will be business: All MONEY, all afternoon. Now, we're having a few announcements, and then we'll start with...

What is a Recipe NOW?

This will be especially useful for me as my next book has some challenges regarding how the recipes will be laid out.

David is moderating, and he starts out by discussing the fact that etymologically speaking, recipe was originally a prescription, and showing us the oldest known recipe from 1600 BCE (it's in Babylonian). We fly quickly through history, including a previously-unknown-to-me dis of my home state by my hero, MFK Fisher.

An example from Nigel Slater from 2000 shows the kind of recipe I prefer, which is just a paragraph of description of the process, useful to people who already know how to cook, but admittedly intimidating for those who don't.

For a really simple approach to recipe writing, look at the grid at the bottom of the page here. It's from, and for pecan pie. The grid Mr. Chu uses there is indeed ingenious.

Christopher Hirscheimer is discussing her cookbook series Canal House Cookbook. She's emphasizing how helpful a photo can be, if it illuminates as well as illustrates. As an example she shows a photographically excellent photo of an egg in 4 stages of cooked - soft cooked, soft yolk hard cooked, perfect hard cooked, and firm-yolk hard cooked. Very clear. She shows a similar comparison of potato leek soup, one pureed, one not, and one of garlic of garlic minced and mashed (caution: mashing your garlic will make the garlic flavor very powerful in your finished dish).

Next up is HuffPo blogger and empress Elissa Altman about narrative recipe writing (the kind I was just saying we seasoned cooks often prefer. She emphasizes that recipes are alive, the are a reflection of our lives, our homes, our cultures.

Even if you do write this way, do not assume though that your reader knows, for example, not to begin heating the oil in a pan and then go take a shower. That said, this way of writing is storytelling. She used the example More Home Cooking.

A good narrative recipe reads like narrative, not recipe. You can read it aloud and it sounds good, yet it still communicates the procedure clearly.

Titles and Headnotes with WaPo Food Editor Joe Yonan.

He is showing examples of good and bad titles, and as with all else, decision here are dictated by who your audience is. Snarky titles (eg "Mancatcher Brownies") can work for the right audience, but are usually not advised for pathologically passionate cooks.

Now Joe is talking about how recipe titles and headnotes are done in his paper, and the effect that their redesign and subsequent loss of space had on whether and how to include headnotes in the print edition.

Laurie Buckle of Fine Cooking Magazine on the life cycle of a recipe at her mag. She says her job is to make sure that a recipe is guaranteed - that if you follow the recipe a great result is a sure thing.

She's showing us a full cycle (laid out in a circle on the big screen here) on the evolution of a recipe from concept to print at Fine Cooking; the stages go like this:

  1. Assignment and recipe guidelines are sent to author
  2. Author submits recipe
  3. Story editor reviews and queries; author responds to queries
  4. The recipe is put into Fine Cooking Recipe Format
  5. A food editor tests the recipe exactly as written, taking notes and adding information as needed
  6. Editors taste recipe and give feedback
  7. Food editor takes notes on feedback, makes recommendations, and sends recipe back to senior food editor
  8. Senior food editor consults author and edits recipe to incorporate testing notes
  9. Recipe is retested and edited as many times as necessary
  10. Food stylist prepares final tested version of a recipe; recipe is photographed
  11. Recipe routed to all editors, put into layout and published

Next she's walking us through a specific recipe, one for rice pudding that will end up in their Classic/Classic Update section (they are still not finished with testing and rewriting it, but there's another good one here).

Rux Martin addresses the panel: What are your thoughts on writing/editing for a great master (she is working on an anthology of Jacques Pepin's life work). What to do about consistency when so many recipe styles are so variable. The panel, too, is variable. Elissa things it should be made uniform, Joe like the variability over time and wonders if maybe a date on each would solve the problem of the different ways the many recipes were written by Pepin. I for one can't wait to see this book.

The discussion turns to "what is a good recipe and what s a bad one." James Peterson wants humor and perhaps reminiscences. Elissa Altman wants clarity. Christopher wants sensuality.

Ultimately, David says, the recipe needs to inspire you to make the dish.

Break time and book signing, then lunch. This liveblog will be back after that....

We're back and as I said we're talking about money all afternoon. Needless to say there will be parts I cannot reveal on a blog, but I'll let you in on as much as I can.

Panelists for this session are Elissa Altman (moderating), Laurie Buckle, Christopher Hirscheimer, Dorothy Kalins, and Justin Renard

Dorothy starts us off to answer Elissa question about what changes she's seen in re: publishers cutting budgets. She says the BIG deal is no longer out there, it's an incremental thing that writers must build toward. She advises the writer to ask yourself if it's worthy, if the pay and the work are comparable. In the end though, do the work. Take the deals you get because in the end something is better than nothing.

Christopher, whose primary work is in photography, notes that the money has gone down, but sometimes you're offered something irresistible, and/or you need the cash do it, however don't try to do anything you're not turned on by.

Justin, who works for Amazon Kindle, is asked how eBooks have had an impact on physical books. He says both sides have grown by leaps and bounds "we see a real interesting consumption rate, where Kindle users are buying 3-4 new books per month after they get the device." He also notes a shift in the meaning of "book." The content, and it's myriad new forms in the digital world, is allowing new and interesting ways to pitch ideas and produce desirable product.

Elissa asks if they've seen a dip in Kindle content sales since the economic meltdown, and he responded, flatly, no.

Next she asks Laurie how the economy has effected Fine Cooking. On background Laurie noted that she came from Conde Nast 2 years ago, and her budget instantly reduced massively. But she learned that she did not need a staff of 40+ to make a high quality magazine, she could do it with fewer than 10.

She's seent he magazine become the content generator for lots of special issues, books, "Bookazines" and online editions. A bookazine is like a bigger magazine printed on better stock, a kind of hybrid of books and mags. She foresees a time when the magazine continues in that role, as content provider, and that the revenue streams begin to move off into mobile and online apps.

"Woe to the blogger who doesn't think of what they do as a business, " says Elissa.

The discussion turns to rights for photographer. Publishers want absolute rights and photog's want to limit that as much as possible. This has become far more difficult in the era of all-digital.

Chrstopher gave us a short story about Canal House launched, and the huge risk behind self-publishing the books. A stroke of luck got them some publicity that made it so they've now sold 50K.

Folks (me included) are now expressing fears of their content being lifted online. I for example am regularly seeing the content I publish here on HuffPo lifted by evidently overseas sites that have no way of contacting them or stopping them from infringing on rights.

Rux Martin told a story of *******.com swiping her content behind the veil of not being able to copyright recipes. (actually, you can't copyright lists of ingredients, but you can copyright descriptions and methods. They were rude about it too. She eventually got it fixed through a lot of lawyers, but found the whole issue very instructive.

Now Justin is talking about the free books that Kindle now offers, and how it has boosted the sales of the other materials.

And the dilemma is posed that links and giveaway content can be infuriating, but it can lead to greater traffic which means more potential ad revenue. Molly Wizenberg considers it quite a gift that someone would want to share her works, but insists on credit and a linkback. Perre Magness voiced the fear that giving away content will lead to a world where no one will pay for content.

Two good resources were mentioned: and

Headed for breakout sessions now. More in a bit.


I'm sitting in on one of the breakouts now, this one about getting your book idea to sell with or without an agent. Leading the conversation is Rux Martin of HMH. Discussion is about rights to approve a jacket (cover).

Jim Peterson asks "Why do I need a publisher to make an eBook?" Rux suggested talking to Justin (see above). His idea would have loads of color, so Kindle might not be the thing, but still. And Rux's point is that the strenth publishers have is in marketing the finished product - self-publishers, whether electronic or not - can't have that big a megaphone.

I'm going to try to wander and listen in on some of the other breakouts:

Humor in Foodwritng table is discussing the effect editors can have (which can be especially devastating in humor)

Newspapers & Magazines is talking about ethnic cuisines and how much detail is necessary in a query. Fine Cooking editor Laurie Buckle says it's more important, at least with her mag, to know where it will fit in the particular publication.

"Build Your Platform as Lynchpin for your Writing Career" table is rapping about a few favorite blogs, like Also many editors are interested in people who are living what they are writing about (like pioneerwoman).

At the Freelance table, they are asking how many free things can you give away before you really need to or can insist on pay. Also, do you really need a day job? (short answer: YES).

Meanwhile, the next table over is about "Spinnoffs based on your writing - apps, etc.), where 3 different conversations are going on at once. I've never seen so many iPads in one place before. Most seem to be discussing pros and cons of Kindle v. iPad.

That's a wrap for today. I'm gonna go get some rest, not feeling too well, but I'll be back tomorrow for the final 1/2 day when we'll look at "What's next for Food writers..."