Food blogging for fame, fortune or just for fun

by Sarah on December 8, 2011

spotlight apple

Disclosure: this might not be of interest to non bloggers.

There are hundreds of websites dedicated to promoting and monetizing blogs. Many of these sites are applicable to food blogs as well. Several veteran bloggers including David Lebowitz, Adam Roberts from Amateur Gourmet and Nicky and Oliver from Delicious Days have written comprehensive overviews for food bloggers. Other websites with relevant information include the Food Blog Alliance, Food Blog Forum and Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food.

I would like to add a few of my own thoughts, comments and tips to this saturated topic

1. The chances are you are not going to make money off your blog. Covering expenses is a reasonable goal but do not quit your day job. Many bloggers have used their blogs as a stepping stone for other projects but this takes motivation and vision. From Plate to Page, a hands on writing and photography workshop geared for food bloggers is a classic example. From experience, interesting opportunities do present themselves but not all of them should be followed.

2. The powerful draw in food blogging is the community. There are bake offs, link shares, twitter conversations, skype cooking and lots of mutual blog reading and commenting. Like any hobby, from quilting to history, these online clubs are engaging and supportive but should not be limiting. As my fourth grade teacher liked to say “broaden your horizons!” Explore subjects outside your scope. Art, dance, science, technology, ancient Chinese calligraphy, there’s an entire world out there…and it will make your life and blog more interesting. Also do take the time to read articles written by professional food writers such as the New York Times, The Atlantic and Zester Daily.

3. When my grandfather first heard about my blog he asked me if it was an “ego thing”. He has a point. It is easy to become fixated on statistics, wonder why nobody commented on a post that took eternity to write and panic when someone unsubscribes. If you are paying your mortgage off the blog revenues than there is reason to stress out. If not, it’s time to take things into proportion.

4. I don’t necessarily follow blogs that are updated multiple times a week, contrary to what many blog experts advice. If the sole reason for visiting blogs is for socializing then of course those who don’t update regularly are going to be cast on the way side despite quality content. On the other hand, a well written piece never ages.

5. Don’t reveal it all. Be discreet about the personal information that is shared on the blog and respect the privacy of others. This is especially pertinent with children who might not appreciate being part of the Truman Show. Even if code names are used most people are not stupid and will figure it out. You’ll need to deal with the consequences (is it worth the spike in your traffic?). Sometimes it is cringe inducing and embarrassing. Lastly, educate yourself about online safety.

6. Spammers are annoying. I follow people who over use the social media to market their posts but only if they have redeeming qualities (like they bump mine up too). Jen of My Kitchen Addiction sums it up pretty well (although who hasn’t stumbled their own post once in awhile?).

7. Advertisers have caught on that blogger power is a cheap way to get publicity. There’s a heated debate on the ethics of the blogger/business relationship which has culminated in the creation of the disclosure law. I am very skeptical of sponsored posts, especially the over the top raving variety or those who pledge that getting things for free “doesn’t affect their opinion”. That said, I have enjoyed and benefited from commercial reviews when it includes recipes, tips and other useful information. I’ve also heard a few cases were bloggers convinced gullible restaurant owners to feed them for free in return for cheap advertising. This informal setup became an ugly mess when the bloggers gave the establishment a thumbs down.

I have gone to a few sponsored restaurants and events and have written about them. Truthfully, if I paid my own way, perhaps I wouldn’t have posted anything at all. If you choose to partner with a company, it is important to be selective. These decisions effect your reputation and that of your blog.

8. People judge the book by its cover. It’s a good idea to invest in a quality design and an easy to navigate layout. New bloggers should use a free service such as Blogger or WordPress instead of investing in a self hosted site. It’s a good way to test the waters before committing. Although your own url is most elegant it is not necessary to become a successful blogger.

9. Twitter, facebook or Google + Can be powerful tools to promote your blog or business, source information or just for chatting. When choosing who to follow on twitter read what they tweet. Famous media personalities can be very boring tweeters or rarely have the time for it, while an unknown can be brilliantly entertaining and helpful. Inspirational quotes, horoscopes and the local weather will most likely be ignored by me. Finally, the golden rule, tweet (or facebook) as if your boss (or your parents, mother in law…) is reading it.

Although Google + is a relatively new introduction, it is fast becoming my favorite social media tool. The draw point for me is the ability to organize people into groups (called circles) and control who is seeing my updates.

11. Use Google alerts to get updated on subjects of interest to you and share them with your social media followers.

12. Adam Roberts writes in one of his posts “be exuberant”, but what is more important is being real (it can’t be that everyone is a type A personality!).

13. While Americans think in yards, quarts and ounces, most parts of the world have gone metric. To ensure that your recipes are read by all, write both formats (although I don’t always take my own advice).

14. Make your recipes Google searchable. For those who are not tech savvy there might be a solution in the near future called Kitchen Bug.

15. Write an about page, preferably one that doesn’t sound like it was ghost written by a PR professional. First person always seemed to me vastly more fitting for a blog format.

16. Do I need to say this? Don’t copy recipes verbatim, unless you received permission from the author. It’s copyright infringement. Including a link to the source is not enough. Amanda Hess, co-founder of Food52 writes eloquently about the difference between adopting recipes and copy-pasting.

Ok, I’ve been rambling on a bit too much now; although new thoughts keep popping up (I didn’t even get to photography). Treat this post as a blog open house; to learn, share your ideas or ask a question.

 

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa December 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

A very interesting anf thorough post!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Sarah December 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

Thanks Rosa!

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Anne December 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

Your comment about tweet ‘as if your mother-in-law will read it’ is a well learned the hard way lesson! Fortunately she’s an ex mother-in-law now but I do regret at times telling those close to me about my blog as limits what I can write!

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Sarah December 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Believe me, I have also been tempted to write less than flattering things about people….

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Rachel K December 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Thank you for this, an excellent post, with some great links too. I haven’t been blogging for that long, and I am certainly not in it for the money, or the glory (what glory?) I suppose I am doing it to try and improve my writing skills, because I love it and I want to entertain people . . . although to be honest I would love it if my family and friends read my blog . . . but they are the one group of people who won’t . .. probably because I have been boring them for years with my food obsession!

So it is a hobby, but I would also say, I do try to be as “professional” as possible. Well I hope I do!

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Sarah December 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm

I think every blogger wants recognition and feedback, otherwise they would be using an old fashioned paper diary.

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Shira December 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

This was such a great article! Thanks for posting Sarah; you’ve left me with plenty food for thought.

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Hana I. December 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Thank you so much for your insightful wisdom. As an amateur food blogger I am constantly looking for direction an guidance in cyberspace. My husband keeps asking me when this hobby is going to be profitable. It’s nice to know that just being present is enough.

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Sarah December 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Hana, I didn’t get into details about how to make money on a blog (Adam Robert’s of Amateur Gourmet has an interesting post about that, see link above). From what I have read and tried, money is often made in secondary ways, using the blog to advertise another commodity. This can be anything from an ebook, culinary tours, cooking workshop.. I do have ads on my blog but they are not major revenue makers. This is partly because people have become habituated to them (they are ignored) and also I do not think in terms of making money.

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usha December 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm

ATTA GIRL, SARAH !!

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Meeta December 9, 2011 at 2:18 am

Thank you Sarah for this thought provoking article. For me blogging has been a wonderful path to learning so much about so many things. Foremost, I learned where my limitations are and where my creativity lies. I’ve been blogging for 6 years now and have taken small steps towards those opportunities I thought I really could follow through. From Plate to Page is one of my favorite achievements and together with Ilva, Jamie and Jeanne we feel we are giving back to the community what we have learned over the years. It’s not about making money (because we are not getting rich with it) but it’s about a passion we carry with us and are eager to share.

Often, blogs are started for the sole purpose of making money – it does not always work that way. It’s a long journey and if one’s intentions is to make money (be in from the blog or using the blog as a stepping stone) then money needs to be invested first. Then it’s a lot of hard work to really reach the goal one has set. And if one does not have a little bit of passion or fun in doing this … well then it will be a very tedious journey :o)

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Sarah December 9, 2011 at 9:00 am

Meeta, What you say is very true. Blogging can fast become all consuming with very little to show for it in terms of money. I actually started my blog as a way to advertise my cooking workshops. I didn’t continue with the business but did gain a wonderful new hobby and a network of friends. Today I work part time to help subsidize my passion for photography.

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Barbara December 9, 2011 at 3:58 am

This needed to be said. Thankyou. So many people are entering blogging with the expectation of making money. When blog conferences spend more time on SEO and very little time on community they feed those expectations.

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Sarah December 9, 2011 at 9:01 am

Thanks Barbara

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Yael December 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

Great post Sarah.
You give really good advice.
Loved the camera-obscura photo, very Vermeer style sort of stuff.

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Sarah December 9, 2011 at 9:36 am

Thanks Yael, I wish it was Vermeer! Don’t think my son’s flashlight is enough to get that style.

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Liz December 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Yes, great photo!

I think one reason that there are so many posts out there about the nature of blogging is because bloggers like to read them. BTW, when I told my grandparents about my blog, my grandmother was actually more impressed by my laptop. I think she said something like, “Wow, THAT’S a computer???” (At least she knew what a computer was.) I’m impressed your grandfather has that kind of comprehension of the internet era :-D

Also, some of my favorite blogs update maybe every two months. I look for good-quality, hard-to-find information, not frequent posts.

And, both my mom and my bosses/coworkers are reading what I post on the social networks :-D Nasty things should not be put in writing, anywhere, period. You never know who could find them.

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Sarah December 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

LIz, My grandfather is also much more tech savvy than I am, he’s on facebook and writes macro programs. Yes, it’s amazing what some people write sometimes, it is hard to grasp that just about anybody has access to this information.

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Dewi December 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Well said! I still need to learn a lot :)

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Turkey's For Life December 11, 2011 at 1:50 am

And at the end of all that, I think the most important thing is, love your blog and blogging! :) We’re 2 years in now (and took lots of inspiration from you, we might add) and we’re coming across more and more bloggers (who we thought were heavyweights at the time) who were talking a good game. They were assuming they were going to make their fortune, it’s not happened quite as they thought and now we’re seeing the ‘Why I might quit blogging,’ posts more and more.

We’d like to think something financial will come of our blog eventually but as you said in one of your suggestions, we’re thinking that’s going to be a venture outside the blog but that’s only been made possible because of the blog – if that makes sense.

Great post, Sarah.

Julia

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Jessica @ Cajunlicious December 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Excellent post Sarah!

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Sally - My Custard Pie December 13, 2011 at 1:31 am

Great article and I am really glad you gave your opinion that went against some of the received wisdom that seems to propogate on the internet (originating with the social media blogs I think) and then get set in stone, like posting often and making it personal. All these tactics have to be viewed in the context of exactly what you are trying to achieve with your blog. Site stats mean nothing unless you are trying to earn money from ads and sponsors (and in this case the numbers have to be vast). So is it an ego thing (as you say)? It’s a trap to watch out for.
Free stuff is fine if you can remain objective, but it’s hard to do this hand on heart. I will not read any posts with giveaway in the title anymore because they are generally not very interesting and targetted at a certain kind of traffic.
One of my favourite bloggers posts about every two months and each one is like a jewel.
The point I liked most was no 12:
Adam Roberts writes in one of his posts “be exuberant”, but what is more important is being real (it can’t be that everyone is a type A personality!).

It’s very easy to get swayed by the slightly gushing, conversational style that dominates many successful blogs and wonder if there’s anyone left who will read interesting vocabulary!

Very timely article if the conversations within groups of food bloggers I know is anything to go by.

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Sarah December 13, 2011 at 9:07 am

Sally, Thanks for commenting. I usually skip the giveaways and the restaurant reviews as well. It is hard to know who to believe.

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Jamie December 17, 2011 at 5:50 am

Sarah, I have been thinking of your post since I read it several days ago and it is such an important piece and it just so overwhelms me I can’t even know where to begin. But I have to say I have been astonished and almost ashamed to see some of the stuff that goes on in the food blogging world. I also just read a post by a huge American blogger (Amateur Gourmet that you mention) about how to make money blogging and it was, to me, so depressing. He basically said that one should lose all creativity, imagination and just think about SEO, traffic, etc. Is that what it is all about? As you mention about Plate to Page, it is all about passion, vision, love of what I do (writing) and doing the best I can every single post. I may not have the traffic of one of those bloggers who blog primarily for money, but I love what I do and think I am respected for being true to myself and my passion. I am working hard towards a career in writing and think that our talent – if we have talent – speaks for itself and draws attention of those who count and appreciate the quality and passion. I can’t focus my thoughts here and am rambling… but thanks so much for posting this.

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Sarah December 17, 2011 at 8:52 am

Thanks Jamie, I do have adsense on my blog, as well as Blogher and this helps to pay back the cost of the blog. I would need a gazzilion more views to even think of it as a money making venture. Like you, I do it primarily as a creative outlet. My biggest problem w/ trying to monetize the blog is having to change my voice to accommodate advertisers and to gain traffic. It am not against these types of blogs, but at this time it is not the direction I want to take.

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Edwina December 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

What I find extraordinary about this is that this was the very topic I blogged about a few weeks ago simply because I was feeling a certain pressure to blog in a certain way by the popular media. I found it incredibly stressful, but once I figured it all out and remembered the real reason for blogging in the first place, simply to share, I relaxed and breathed a huge sigh of relief. It’s nice to know that so many of us all feel the same angst about blogging from time to time.

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Cooking Rookie December 19, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Great article! I agree with you on most points. And I loved the links to Kitchenbug and Food52, some very useful thoughts there – I have always wondered what is considered “adaptation” of a recipe :-)

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Sarah December 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Thanks Cooking Rookie, Glad the links were useful

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