The Unfortunate Truths of Food Blogging

I am, officially, old, at least when it comes to the world of food blogging. What this means is that I get to play Ouiser Boudreaux against the next crop of Annelle Dupuy Desotos that come along.

In that veine, let me present a list of Questions that I feel should be sent out to anyone who wishes to fire up wordpress and start the next big food blog.

  • Know why you are writing: This is the first question you should ask yourself. What do you hope to get out of committing to a food blog? “Fun” is an adequate, yet still somewhat vague answer. “To practice writing”, is a little more precise. Without answering this question, your blog will likely be directionless, and will be more difficult to maintain. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. The world is littered with abandoned hobbies.
  • Professional/Amateur: This is related, somewhat, to the previous point. You should decide on whether you wish to make some money or not. This affects everything from the design of your website to what you write about.
  • Uncomfortable Truth #1: You will likely make very little money if you go the professional route. The novelty of blogging has worn off, not just in the food arena, but in general. Advertising revenue is more likely to go to the sites that can garner the largest audience. You, with your small site, may attract some money (and in this economy, every little bit helps), but certainly not enough to allow you to focus entirely on blogging.
  • There is only one secret to keep readers on your site: Quality content may not be the primary means to bring people to your website, but it is the only thing to keep them coming back. Regular content that engages the reader on some level has always been shown to work. No amount of Search Engine Optimization can alter this fact.
  • If you’re blogging for fun, you needn’t worry about Search Engine Optimization: I’ve always been amazed by the amount of food bloggers out there who claim to be food blogging only as a hobby, who then go apeshit over SEO. It’s okay to want readers. But let’s be honest here – if you’re looking for readers (and this is what SEO is ultimately about), then you are blogging for reasons other than just “fun”. It’s okay to want to be popular. But it brings up other uncomfortable truths.
  • Uncomfortable Truth #2: The era of the personal blog is behind us. I’m not saying they don’t exist now and will not exist in the future. What I mean is that Institutional blogs are where most online readers are going to go, whether it’s Slashfood, HuffingtonPost, or The Atlantic. These are the sites that are better positioned to draw in more readers than the blogs created by single individuals. There’s a reason for this. It’s easier to gather content when you have more than one person creating it. This leads to…
  • Uncomfortable Truth #3: Creating engaging content on a regular basis is difficult. It’s not impossible, just difficult. There will be days when you don’t want to write. There will be nights when you don’t want to cook. In other words, feeding the blogging beast will result in days where blogging ceases to be fun. If your goal is to be professional, then you have to work through these days. If you’re looking merely to have fun, then it’s okay to NOT post.
  • You are your own expert Pt.1: Food writing will eventually take you to areas in which you are unfamiliar. If your goal is to have engaging content, you will have to find ways to obtain the information needed to become somewhat knowledgeable. Don’t know the several levels of sugar cooking? Either change subjects or teach yourself. Have you never iced a cake professionally before? Either don’t write about it, or learn how to ice a cake. There are people out there who both 1) Know more than you and 2) love to point out your mistakes.

    Additionally, it has been my experience that, no matter how many times I point out that I received a valuable tidbit of information from a specific book, that valuable tidbit of information will eventually be ascribed back to me. So it is my responsibility to ensure that the information is right.

  • You are your own expert Pt.2: It seems to me that there are more people out there willing to tell you how to create a good blog, than those who actually have one. These are the folks who tell you that you need to optimize your revenue stream, connect to your audience on twitter, and set up a relevant Facebook page.

    These people can be ignored, for the most part. Work with what you are comfortable with, and remember that engaging content is far more important, long term, than short term gain in your optimized revenue stream.

  • Recipes are free: Legally speaking, no one owns a recipe. The prose outside of the ingredient list and recipe instruction are a different matter, but beyond that, the idea of recipe copyright is a fallacy and a dangerous one at that.
  • Give Credit: As a follow-up to the above point, give credit where its due. If you alter a recipe, let us know of its source. If you copied it verbatim, let us know why. If you found a key piece of information that helps support your theory on why butter is better than margarine, tell us who supplied the relevant information. This has at least two benefits. 1) It prevents you from being a jerk. and 2) It makes content more engaging.
  • Uncomfortable Truth #4: You may have had a wide range of experiences in your life that allow for a whole slew of anecdotes. You may have storytelling down pat. But at some point in the very near future, it will not be enough. You will need to read the works of others. This includes both websites and ancient classics. If you are not a reader, then writing on a regular basis will be difficult.
  • Uncomfortable Truth #5: You may be isolated. While your friends and family may appreciate that you’ve got a new hobby, they may not have the passion that you do surrounding food. For example – have you ever been to a party or dinner when someone brings up fishing/knitting/football/LARPing? Do you remember how bored you were while they were talking, but you nodding your head anyways, not wanting to spoil their joys? Now imagine your recent talk to your friends about sous-vide. At least one of your friends is nodding out of sheer politeness.
  • Uncomfortable Truth #6: At some point, you will have fun. You will either feel great at exploring new dishes and techniques, or proud that you are feeding your family on a regular basis, or even if you get to learn some obscure fact that opens new worlds.