Editors use their beats to find inspiration for books


Diane Cowen

By Carlos Frías
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — In the 40 minutes it takes Diane Cowen to commute from the Houston Chronicle, she’d considered, conceived and came home ready to celebrate the idea for her first book.

Cowen, the Chronicle’s food and religion writer, burst through the door, heading for her computer, and called out to her husband, “I’m going to write a cookbook!”

His response? “OK. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?”

They went out to dinner.

She came up with the idea for “Sunday Dinners,” a book that examines the Sunday mealtime traditions for famous families of faith such as Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, simply by thinking about her beats — something she suggests any reporter can do.

“I thought sarcastically, ‘I guess I could write a cookbook for religious people.’ I literally laughed out loud in my car and then… I thought, ‘That is not a bad idea,’ ” she said during the Society for Features Journalism panel examining how books can spring from the newsroom.

The biggest obstacles, she said, always seem to be finding an agent and a publisher. But she followed simple advice. She looked for agents’ names in the acknowledgement sections of books similar to the one she wanted to write. And then she tried publishers for those kinds books before settling on the mainstream Andrews McMeel Publishing. The book is now in its second printing.

She handed out a book proposal template other writers can use to pitch their book.

“I’m not smarter than you. I’m not better than you at anything. If you want to write a book, you can do it,” Cowen said.

Alec Harvey of Al.com  told how the Birmingham News aggregated its coverage to produce books such as “Saban,” about the University of Alabama football team’s second title run. And Terry Scott Bertling of the San Antonio Express-News showed off the book her publication produced after following Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy-winning season at Texas A&M.

Carlos Frías is a staff writer at the Palm Beach Post. He is one of the 2013 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s