Andrea King Collier, the creative director for the Symposium for Professional Food Writers
Q: Tell us a little bit about your journey as a food writer?
AKC: I have been a full-time working journalist for the past 25 years. I am the author of two books, and my work has been anthologized in many others. I didn’t start out as a food writer. In fact, it is still just a portion of what I do.
Q: You attended the Symposium as a registrant before you became part of the staff/faculty. What was your experience?
AKC: My path with the Symposium for Professional Food Writers has been an interesting one. I have always invested in my craft as a writer. Each year I went to one of the top summer writing programs to immerse myself in craft and to connect with other writers. The year I decided to go to the Symposium for the first time was the year I decided to mesh my passion for writing professionally with my love of food, cooking and looking at story from the lens of food. Was it a big investment for a person who had only written and published one food story? Yes.
Q: What did you expect?
I can tell you with certainty that I didn’t know what to expect, because I personally didn’t know anybody who had gone before. I had been an avid consumer of writing about food. I read it all--magazines, memoirs, and cookbooks (now in the hundreds at my house). I thought maybe it would prime me to do a food memoir, or maybe a cookbook. Something just told me to make the investment. And it didn’t hurt that I had just gotten the advance check for a book. But I would have figured it out anyway.
I suppose I wanted to know if I could cut it at a meeting of such awesome writers. You know we always are full of insecurities and self-doubt. It is just a part of the job, I think. I just wanted to get out of my own way, creatively.
When you go into something like this with no real expectations, the bar is set pretty low. But I can tell you that like many have said before, it changed my writing life. There is no question.
Q: How did it change things?
AKC: I expanded my food writing with great clips. I wrote a proposal for a food policy fellowship and got it. It was supposed to be two years, and I ended up being a writing/media coach for other fellows coming through—so it lasted six years. (Yes, I am resourceful). I taught food essay at Rancho La Puerta. I took a tour of France and wrote about it. As primarily a health and medical writer (bread and butter) I have been able to link food and health in my work. My essay on my grandmother’s cast iron skillet has been anthologized several times, including the Best Food Writing series. I have gained the confidence to honor food and my culture in my work. Not bad.
Q: That’s significant. Anything else?
AKC: I will also say that you get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t talk to people and close yourself off from the experience, you will not have the same take as someone who came and just opened themselves up like a sponge. For me it was glorious.
I came back the following year. And in that year I also I came back with stories and connections to double my investment in the registration and travel. I also got a new agent, and I wasn’t even looking.
I thought I would probably go every year, but life often intervenes. Yet I always had my eye on coming back AND my pie in the sky was being able to come back as a speaker/faculty.
I would have to say the most significant part of the Symposium experience is the networks and connections in a very relaxed and cohesive setting. To be able to sit and talk with people who have written cookbooks that have a place of honor on my shelves is amazing. To watch people grow their blogs over time has been awesome. And to build a go to network of food writers that I can ask questions and to whom I can be a resource is the best. The Symposium has been the best gift that keeps on giving.
Q: What do you say to people who are reluctant to register?
AKC: One of the things that I learned in business many years ago is that the time to invest in yourself is not when things are perfect. We tend not to do that, right? When you need to learn and grow and figure things out, is an awesome time to make it work. As one of my friends says, “you can’t afford not to put resources to your business.”
We all know that this is an interesting time for food writers—and all writers. Those of us who remember the years when you could make six figures from just doing straight journalism for magazine newspapers have had their worlds turned upside down. That is just the truth. When I first came to the Symposium, blogs were not what they are now. And now everybody is trying to learn how to monetize their content. I tell people that an editor may decide how much he or she can pay me for a story, but I decide how much I make.
Like it or not, the silos of writing are coming down. I love that. The health writers have to become food writers. And the food writers are talking to and about farmers and gardeners and local food. We are all looking at the science of food. We are looking at other kinds of writing and at the way we tell stories. It is an amazing and I suppose a scary time for some. We are all entrepreneurs. We are all craftspeople.
After a hiatus, this particular Symposium will be a great place to really learn about ways to sustain yourself as a food writer. I am particularly excited about the 2.0 version of a session that I fell in love with during that first year I went to the Symposium. Andrew Schloss, who happens to be a board member of the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, taught a session about sustainability. He is kind of a genius at this. It really made me think about my work and how I was making money. So now in 2016, with all of the changes, I can’t wait to hear what he has to tell us and how to make it work for me.
Q: What about social media and multimedia food work?
AKC: I am putting together a dynamite session for participants on multimedia storytelling. We have to set ourselves apart with all the tools we can manage in order to be sustainable. The person who writes beautifully, who can podcast, do video slide decks and beautiful photography will be a stand out. So we are going to spend time talking about building platforms, content for all forms of media and of course visuals to accompany our fabulous words.