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Call for Pitches: Cultures & Cuisines

On May 1, my friend Christine Gilbert (a National Geographic Traveler of the Year!) and I are launching Cultures & Cuisines, a website that we’re referring to as a place for longform writing and multimedia that represents the intersection of food, travel, and anthropology.

We are a paying outlet, and we are now accepting pitches. Please read the specs below completely. If you have questions or you’re ready to send us a pitch, please email me: julie[at]culturesandcuisines[dot]com.

Submission Guidelines

We started Cultures & Cuisines because, despite the abundance of websites about food, travel, and food and travel, we weren’t seeing the kind of writing we wanted to be doing, nor the kind we wanted to be reading: informed, intelligent, well-written narratives about the places, both literal and imaginary, where food and travel meet, narratives that allowed a luxurious word count, while keeping in mind that every word matters and shouldn’t be wasted, narratives that resulted not from in-and-out “parachute reporting,” but from a deep interest in and love of a particular place, and the desire to learn more about it and share that with others.

We also weren’t seeing bylines by writers we knew were capable of such writing, writers who had, quite possibly, squirreled away in a desk drawer or, more likely, a digital drive, that piece they never sold because they couldn’t find the right outlet for it. Or writers who didn’t have the publication history that an editor expected. Or writers from any one of the many communities of identity that are marginalized by traditional media. And, most of all, people who were traditionally the subjects of stories, but who were never given the opportunity to construct a narrative from their own point of view, in their own voice.

We’re looking for pieces that fill that space.

They can be first-person or third-person, 800 words or 3,000, and can push the boundaries of the non-fiction genre in terms of style and form (we are not, however, looking for fiction). They cannot be superficial and in most cases, should have some degree of research and reporting involved in their making (and if this is the case, we’ll require materials for fact-checking). They can be about “exotic” places or spots near your own home turf–we interpret “travel” quite broadly–, but you must know them intimately and be able to convey a very clear sense of place.

It’s a great big world filled with more than seven billion people, all of us sharing in common, if nothing else, the fact that we must eat, that food, whether abundant or scarce, is one of the most essential elements of our culture. This means there are at least seven billion stories just waiting to be told. We can’t tell you which ones we want until we read them, but a very partial list of subjects we’d love to see in longform, when hung on the frame of a story (as opposed to just an idea) and written by the right person, is below.

The family-run salt farms of Peru: Introduce readers to a family who has passed their salt farm down across multiple generations.

Eating in the midst of war: Whether from the point-of-view of someone in the military or someone who is eating in a home or restaurant in a place that is besieged by war, what is it like to try to satisfy this most basic need, and is it ever possible to enjoy food in this context?

Procuring for paladares in Cuba: Who are the people who are procuring ingredients—especially illicit ingredients—for Cuba’s paladares? What are their stories? We are especially interested in stories outside Havana.

“The Family Meal”: Meals in specific places/contexts, shared among a group of people who have a particular bond or identity in common. A few examples include: Miners in Chile or Canada; deep sea fishermen on a boat (and how their meals change over the course of the season); night-shift ER doctors, nurses, and staff; people on the set of a TV show or movie; archaeologists working on an active dig; stormchasers following a tornado; air traffic controllers on lunch break; hotel housekeepers snacking during break. They could also include historical examples: the meals shared by protesters during the Civil Rights Movement, for instance.

Cooking in the face of climate change: How are cooking and eating changing in places that are under immediate threat due to climate change?

The Afro-Latin Kitchen: When looking at Afro-Latin communities (keeping their diversity in mind), what are the characteristics of place that gave rise to a certain type of cuisine, and how are foods and food traditions changing as these communities become less geographically isolated?

Work for Women’s Hands: All around the world, there are agricultural, food production, and culinary traditions that were reserved for women because it was said that women’s hands were more delicate than men’s and, therefore, more appropriate for a certain type of work, such as picking delicate flowers or harvesting salt. Tell us the backstories of one of these types of work and the places in which it happened… or still happens.

And we’re not only interested in “serious” subjects! We want to read unforgettable essays and longform about holidays, celebrations, festivals, and other food-related traditions, preferably those that aren’t as well-known among U.S. readers. These don’t, however, necessarily need to be outside the United States.


Do you pay?

We believe strongly that writers should be compensated for their work. Initially, rates are set at $200/article. This rate is non-negotiable.

2. Where does your funding come from?
During pre-launch and during the initial months of the site, we’re paying for your work out of our own pockets. No, we’re not trust fund kids; we’re just committed to building the kind of literary environment and market we want to exist. We have multiple monetization streams in place; as these start generating revenue, we intend to increase payments and will provide updates here.

3. Do you accept works in another language and/or works in translation?

We’re very open to the idea of works in other languages and in translation, so reach out to us with your query. Acceptance will depend, as always, on the story idea itself, as well as the resources we’ll need to invest in bringing that piece to its best form.

4. Can I pitch or should I send a complete piece?
You’re welcome to pitch, though if we are interested in the subject you query, we will likely request a completed piece on spec.

5. Do I need to send clips?
You can if you’d like, but they’re not necessary.

6. Do you accept stories that originate from a press trip?
No. We are not looking for stories that originate from press trips. We are looking for pieces that have a depth that requires long-term engagement with and interest in a place.

7. Can I send you previously published work?
Yes, as long as you hold the rights to it.

8. Can I republish my work that you publish on Cultures & Cuisines?
Yes, after 90 days. We ask that any future publications mention that the piece was first published on Cultures & Cuisines.

9. How often do you publish articles?
Two to five times a week. We are not a clickbait site.

10. Will you give me feedback? What will the editing process be like?
If we are not interested in your piece or it’s just not a good fit, we will probably not offer much feedback. For one thing, we’re a two-person team; for another, just because it doesn’t work for us, doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good and/or that it won’t be a great fit somewhere else.

As for editing, your piece will certainly be copy-edited and may also receive some developmental editing, which we will discuss with you. You will receive a review copy of your article before it is published, and you will be required to “sign off” on the final edit prior to publication. We will also ask you to “sign off” on the photography and other visuals that are paired with your piece.

11. How long will it take before I hear from you?
It depends. We’re writers ourselves and we’re juggling a number of other projects, including five kids between us. We’ll do the best we can to respond to you within two weeks; if, after that time, you haven’t heard from us, please feel free to email again to check on the status of your query. It would be ever so helpful if you include your original query cut and paste into the body of your email.

12. Who are you, anyway?
The people behind this site are Christine Gilbert and Julie Schwietert Collazo, two writers
and travelers. We get lots of support from Christine’s husband, Drew Gilbert, too. You can read more about Christine here, Julie here, and Drew here.

13. Anything else I should know?
Yes. We are not looking for: chef profiles, restaurant reviews, or trend pieces. The Internet
has that covered already.

Cuba Reporting Workshop: Save the Date

What started as Facebook venting about my frustration with the majority of reporting on/about Cuba has turned into what’s going to be a powerhouse workshop offered live in NYC on April 27 with my friend and colleague, Conner Gorry, who has lived in Cuba for more than a decade.

More details coming soon (we’ll post them all here), but for now, mark your calendars and spread the word. Space is going to be limited!

Save the Date

Resources for Experts and Sources

“How do I find sources?”

It’s a common question.

“How do I find diverse sources?” is one that is, thankfully, increasingly more common, as journalists and other writers strive to ensure that they’re not just talking to white guys as subject matter experts.

Earlier this week, I participated in a spontaneous effort to gather a group of Latinos and Latinas who identify as experts, adding them to a list that will ultimately live on the website LatinoRebels, where it can be accessed by any writer looking for a source to speak about topics as diverse as physics and punk rock. For now, you can see that list here.

In response to that list, which evolved on twitter and is not comprised of experts who went through any sort of screening process, several people tipped me off to other useful resources, which include:

National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Experts and Spokespeople List, which includes TV- and radio-ready experts in approximately a dozen subject matter areas.

Source of the Week, a project spearheaded by NPR and described as “a resource for journalists who believe in the value of diversity and share in our goal to make public radio look and sound like America [with a] growing list of radio-ready subject experts….”

There are many other such resources, too. A sampling of them includes:

SheSource: a clearinghouse of women who are subject matter experts

Swarthmore College’s Sources and Experts List: a roster of academics who can speak to topics as diverse as the traditional dances of Ghana and transnational feminist studies.

Centers for Disease Control’s African-American Media Resources List: A list of doctors, researchers, and other health experts. There’s a contact person listed for journalists who need to speak with someone about a subject that is not included on the list.

South Asian Journalists Association: This professional organization can put journalists in touch with geographical and topical experts

Vera Institute of Justice: “Vera’s experts conduct research and analysis and develop policies and programs in a variety of criminal and social justice fields. Their varied knowledge, background, and experience enable Vera to address the full spectrum of national and local justice issues.” A list of its experts can be found here.

Obviously, this is NOT a comprehensive list. If you have a favorite, please add it in the comments below and I’ll add it to the post, which will be a regularly updated resource.

How to Make a Running Pitch List

A few colleagues have asked if I’d share the strategy I use for logging and tracking pitches.

I’m happy to do so here and you’re welcome to share this widely.

The sample you’ll see below is a cut and paste demo from part of my 2015 pitch list. I’ve removed editor names and contact information and rates, but otherwise, you’re getting the straight dope.

It’s pretty, simple, really: I set up a spreadsheet on Google Drive, adding the categories you see below. Every single time I sit down to pitch, I log the information. I update it when I receive an assignment or rejection. I make notes about other possible outlets in the “Other” field, as well a notation if a friend or colleague tipped me to an outlet or editor. If I get the assignment based on their introduction or recommendation, I always send a thank you note. And I have a weekly alert on my gmail calendar that reminds me to follow up on quiet pitches.

Here’s the color code scheme (obviously, do whatever works for you):
GREEN: Assigned
RED: Rejected (preferably with a note about why)
BLUE: No response (colored after at least one follow-up attempt)
YELLOW: In some sort of limbo

That’s really all there is to it.

I manage invoicing and payments through Wave Apps, a free program you can find online. It’s not 100% perfect, but I’ve found it incredibly useful so far (and I reviewed it here).

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll reply.

This is an excerpt from my pitch list.

This is an excerpt from my pitch list.

After a gaffe, the decision to be more deliberate

Like every other freelancer I know, I get stuck in the not-so-mentally-healthy “feast or famine” mode way too often.

That means one or more of the following:

-I take on a little too much work, work I can do, and do well, but which makes me a little nutty and has me in front of the computer too much.
-I take on a job I don’t really want or that doesn’t pay as well as I’d like because I’m afraid that if I don’t take it I might regret my decision when a dry spell rolls around.
-I spend extended periods in triage mode, ordering and reordering my to-do list by deadline rather than other factors that should probably take more precedence.

This isn’t good, of course, but for a long, long time–far too much of my career–I’ve felt that it’s inevitable, just part and parcel of life as a freelancer.

I’ve made incremental improvements every year, saying no to projects with ridiculously low fees or turning down some projects that felt far too fluffy, but there’s always more progress to be made… as I was reminded yesterday after making a terrible online gaffe involving an overly candid email sent to recipients who shouldn’t have been cc’d on the message.

The email, sent late in the evening, long after people with 9-to-5 jobs stop working, was a symptom–and an embarrassing one–of a larger problem. Despite recent vigorous efforts to scale back–unsubscribing from mailing lists that clutter my inbox and waste my time and saying no to a couple projects that didn’t pay well and were puff writing I don’t want to be doing, for example–I realized that there was (is!) still a lot of work to be done. I need to be more deliberate in every area of my work, and the first order of business is developing a better system for dealing with email.

I don’t know about you, but pretty much every time I look at my inbox these days, I already feel exhausted, even before I make a keystroke. There’s so much junk mail masquerading as important messages demanding my attention. There’s the feeling that I have to have my inbox open from the moment I’m awake until the moment I go to bed, in case an editor or source sends a message requiring urgent attention. And on and on and on. But the reality is, the less time I’m looking at my inbox, the happier and more productive I am. The less urgent everything seems–and is. And, obviously, the less likely I am to feel so depleted that I hit “Send” when I really need to give a message a second look and make sure that it’s appropriate… and addressed to the intended recipients.

This isn’t about slowing down, necessarily, though I feel like lots of freelancers write posts about that, setting goals that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The reality is, this is not a profession for folks operating at a slow pace. It is, however, about being more thoughtful about each action, about taking the time to make sure that every word counts (and those that don’t stay in my head or between myself and my most trusted confidante, my husband), and about devoting time and attention to communication that truly matters.

Have you or do you struggle with similar challenges as a freelancer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Help out with my next Contributoria project: Puerto Rico’s New Makers’ Movement

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo

Ring made by a Puerto Rican artisan, on sale at Localista, a new design shop featuring all-local designs, located inside the recently reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Ring made by a Puerto Rican artisan, on sale at Localista, a new design shop featuring all-local designs, located inside the recently reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that over the past six months or so, I’ve been experimenting with the use of the platform Contributoria as a way of funding longform features I want to research, write, and have published, as well as a means of expanding my audience.

For the most part, this has been successful. While the site could improve in some significant ways, it has allowed me to work on projects I’d otherwise be hard-pressed to actualize with limited resources, including one about The New York Botanical Garden, one about the Blaschka glass collection at Harvard, and the most recent one about the enduring fascination with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Not every one of my proposals has been successful. A project about c-sections has proven to be challenging when it comes to attracting widespread support, and both times I’ve proposed it, I’ve failed to attain the backing needed to be able to pursue it. Yet each month opens with the opportunity to propose a new project, and my goal for 2015 is to do my part to propose a compelling project each month and then hustle as much as needed to round up the support to get each project fully backed.

If you’re a newer reader, I’ll explain again how Contributoria works. As I mentioned a couple months ago, “Contributoria is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t pledge any of their own money to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to ‘back’ projects they want to see funded by the site. You sign up for a free account at and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.”

My current project is about an emerging makers’ movement in Puerto Rico. As with my previous projects, this one requires quite a bit of backing– about 200 more supporters by the end of the month. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it with your points if you feel so inclined. A full description of the project is on the same page where you have the option to back it.

You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word! I’m @collazoprojects on twitter.

Thank you.

Why I’m Not Afraid to be a Pest Anymore

I’m happy to report that the frequency with which I use variations on “to be a pest” is on the decline. 25 is the number of times I’ve used “Sorry to be a pest, but” since 2008. None, so far, in 2015!

I belong to several online writers’ groups in which members talk process, vent gripes, offer support, and share tips and contacts.

Certain subjects come up over and over again, and one of them is whether a writer should follow up on a quiet pitch and, if so, when: One week? Two weeks? Longer? How often should they follow up before they give up? These writers often preface their question about follow up with the same line they will inevitably use with the editor they’re hoping to hear from when they do send a follow up email:

“I don’t want to be a pest, but….”

Writers–especially women writers–worry about a lot of things, and being a pest is toward the top of that list. Most of us want to make our editors’ work easier. We don’t want to be pegged as the pain in the ass writer who gets blacklisted for being difficult. We don’t want to be the writer whose email hits the editor’s inbox and makes their eyes roll and their finger hover over “delete.”

So we decide we’re not going to follow up on a pitch we worked hours or longer to craft for an editor whose email we either trawled the bowels of the Internet to find or or leaned on our network to obtain. We shrug our shoulders and move on… because we don’t want to be a pest. Or we spend a couple days talking ourselves into and out of sending a follow up, and when we finally talk ourselves into composing that follow up after all, we open with the line, “I’m sorry to be a pest, but….”

Like a lot of things in life, you see your own shortcomings and fears only after noticing and disliking them in others. When that happens, you have to change your behavior. I got so very tired of reading “I don’t want to be a pest, but” messages that I decided I was never going to write those words together in a sentence again. I couldn’t think of any other profession where people are so servile and apologetic with their colleagues, and I didn’t want to have any part in perpetuating those dynamics.

There is no reason to feel that you are being a pest for following up to check on the status of a message you’ve sent to someone whose job it is to answer. Yes, editors are busy. Yes, they’re tasked with to-do items that shouldn’t really be part of their job description. Yes, they get hundreds of emails a day. Yes to all of that. I know that and I empathize with it because I have been an editor. But none of that means that their problem should be your problem. There’s nothing wrong–I repeat, nothing wrong–with sending a polite follow up to ask whether the editor has received your message and had a chance to consider your pitch.

“But what if they still think I’m pesky and I burn a bridge?” writers have asked when I’ve told them this. My answer, as it is to so many of the dilemmas writers create for themselves, is this: Do you really want to work with an editor who has so much trouble with the basics of communication?

Until we start valuing ourselves and our work more, and until we start expecting to be treated like the professionals we are, the dynamics of this industry will be unlikely to change. And when you start to check up on your pitches, you’ll often find editors are grateful that you’ve done so.


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