Posted by: njbrown | August 6, 2012

How to Write a Food Blog – Or Not


This week marks the third anniversary of this blog.  When Julie Powell began her blog in Julie and Julia, she made it look so easy that I thought even I could do it.  Three years and 174 posts later, I’ve learned it’s not quite that easy.

Light Box setup for Food Photography

Recently, I Googled “How to Write a Food Blog,” and found there weren’t a large number of articles that really told you how.  One article that I did find helpful gave three rules:  1) Make people’s mouths water, 2) Teach readers how to do something and 3) Take readers into your world.  Other tips I have learned by experience are:

  • Post on a regular schedule – not so often that followers are deluged, and not too infrequently (if the gaps are too long, they’ll think you’ve died, especially if you’re my age).
  • Put in the best pictures you can. We’ve really improved, I think, since buying a decent camera, and then a light box kit with photographer’s lights with daylight bulbs.  The small dimensions of the light box (16″x16″x16″) limit how much staging you can do, but in our area, natural light is limited in quality and quantity.
  • Use attractive dishes, utensils, linens, etc. to showcase your dish.  For a variety of reasons, I have seven sets of china and several dessert sets, but I’ve still needed to buy special shapes, sizes and colors to make the pictures just right.  Fortunately, places like Marshalls sell pieces of really pretty tableware individually and cheaply.  For ideas on staging, you can go to Google images and type in the name of your dish.
  • Posts don’t have to be long.  I’ve found about 500 words is a good length for mine, but length, of course, varies with the recipe you’re writing about.  My post on Julia’s Buche de Noel is very, very long, but the recipe is quite involved.  In this Twitter age, I think readers have shorter attention spans.
  • Use a consistent format.  (This is my husband’s rule – he thinks it’s important, and he does my formatting.)
  • Use a catchy title, but one that lets readers know what the post is about.  While “My Greatest Kitchen Challenge” might get some readers, changing the title to, “Wrestling With a Suckling Pig – My Greatest Kitchen Challenge” would probably get more.
  • Tags are your friends, unless you use too many of them. They help search engines find you.  WordPress suggests limiting the number of tags per post to about five to increase your chances of getting picked up.
  • Help your readers by using links to sources of information as well as previous posts.
  • Make directions as clear as possible (I like point form).  Experienced cooks won’t mind, and neophytes will be enormously grateful.
  • Use social media.  I list this one in almost total ignorance of social media, but other bloggers seem to find large numbers of readers this way.  You will need to get other guidance on this.
  • Videos are good, but I can’t tell you how to do them.  My husband and I have enough trouble with still pictures, but I love watching teaching videos.  If you are comfortable with being videoed, go for it!
  • My approach to blogging has been to just put posts out there, and hope “they will come.”  While I have a very modest number of followers,  I’ve had tens of thousands of visits.  Since my blog is primarily a resource, this is fine with me, but if you want thousands of followers, you’ll need someone else to tell you how to get them.
  • Your most popular posts may be the most unexpected.  When I did my post on butter curls, butter balls, butter rosettes, etc., I never thought anyone would read it.  It is one of the all-time most popular, as is the avocado-banana muffin post and Jacques Pepin deboning a chicken and turkey.
  • Persistence pays off.  It seems the more you post, the more likely you are to get picked up by the search engines.  Success seems to breed success.

One thing that no one told me was how much time and effort blogging takes.  For Julie Powell, writing was the easy part, and she didn’t seem to re-do dishes that were disastrous.  I approach recipes for the blog differently, and won’t post a recipe that I don’t think is excellent.  (Well, there is an exception – Geoffrey Zakarian’s Flourless Raspberry Soufflés, which I did as a service to people who couldn’t find the recipe elsewhere.)  The pursuit of excellence can take a number of tries using different recipes for the same dish, or changing ratios of ingredients to try to make one recipe even better.  The greatest number of tries I’ve had was six.  Pictures probably take an average of ten shots.  At that point, I’m usually at, “It’s good enough,” and we just stop.  The photo process then goes to picking the best of the shots, and working to crop it, adjust the color, shadows, etc.  Once the picture is right, we make the decision of where it is to go in the post, and what size it should be.

After writing the post, I will go back and edit – sometimes many times.  I’m not trying to achieve “deathless prose,” but I do want to be clear, and somewhat entertaining.  As I go back to previous posts, I’m always amazed how many typos managed to sneak through in spite of spell-check and our best efforts.

Once the research is done, the cooking, photography and writing/editing/formatting process takes us about three days, which is why posting once a week is a good schedule for me.

Some bloggers maintain extensive blog-rolls and apparently follow many, many blogs.  I can’t imagine having so much traffic in my in-box, so I follow just a few although there huge numbers of good ones.

If you’re considering doing a food blog, I’d really encourage you to go ahead.  If you have the time and enthusiasm, it is a wonderful hobby and a way to connect with like-minded people around the world.  (WordPress now has this wonderful feature that shows you the countries that your viewers have come from in a given period of time.  I love it!)  If you have a spouse who likes to eat, your cooking for the blog will make him/her very happy, too.

Special thanks to fellow bloggers who follow me – Becoming Madame in France; Leslie who’s into extreme experiences; Emily, the lovely young English vegan; the Ranting Chef in Ohio; Pastry Jane near Pittsburgh; Virginia Plantation, and the others whom I don’t know as well.  I really appreciate your encouragement!  As always, thanks to my recipe-hunter, Genieve.

As I go into year four, I’d love to receive suggestions on recipes you’d like to see blogged, but no suckling pig, please!

Bon appetit!

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Responses

  1. Hey there! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for letting me know!

      Best wishes,

      Nancy


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