It all seemed so glamorous. The crisp, colorful photos of rows upon rows of napoleons. The delicious descriptions of every condiment on that free-range bison burger. The reviews of restaurants from across the city, so artfully portrayed it was as if I was there too. And the food.
I needed to be a part of it. So I did what anyone in my position would do: I started a food blog. I had a catchy name, a kitchen full of ingredients, and a dream. I was prepared to embark on my career as food blogger extraordinaire. Or not. The prospect turned out to be trickier than they made it look on the internet, and I learned a number of things along the way that I wish I had known before I got started. I would have loved to have someone sit me down and breakdown the facade around the reality of the task at hand. Hopefully, this post will do that for you, the aspiring food writer.
Let’s start with the bad news right up front: you are not going to make money on this venture. More likely, you will be running a deficit the entire time. Food blogging is expensive. Note that wasn’t “you need some money to blog about food”, that was “food blogging is expensive”.
Ingredients cost money. Gas to the grocery store costs money. Cooking fuel and electric costs money. That fancy Kitchen Aid and pretty silicon spatula cost money too. There is a serious overhead cost associated with running a food blog. It’s not enough, unless you craft amazing home cooked meals every night of the week, to simply record what it is you’re cooking in your day to day life. To keep content fresh on your site, you have to be constantly playing with your food. There is an out of pocket expense for every dish you blog about. And those crisp photographs that lured you in? They weren’t taken with a camera phone. Eventually, you will need to consider whether or not to invest in a camera for your photography.
Yes, photography skills are a must. It’s not enough to be able to cook effortlessly and write about it with engaging vocabulary. Much of the appeal of food on the internet comes from high quality, detailed photographs with strong composition. Similar to how your favorite cookbooks are the ones with the nice pictures, the most successful food bloggers know how to visually present their work. You will need to become a master with the camera. Even after getting comfortable with the camera, your bagels may just not be photogenic.
The successful food blogger needs to be a renaissance person, capable of adapting to and wearing a variety of different (snazzy) hats.
That big tool kit comes with something else: plenty of room for failure. To top that, there is even ample room for outright disaster. A lot can go wrong when dealing with food and following directions. There’s no room to mix up the baking powder or the baking soda, unless you want to start from scratch. Get distracted by your favorite television show and burn the lasagne you slaved over for hours? You are out of luck, out of blog content, and out of whatever money you spent to get there. Remember how I told you food blogging was expensive? I wasn’t kidding, and there’s no hazardous duty pay to clean your kitchen after a blender explosion.
You’re also not the only one who loves food. While you are counting on that fact to build your audience, it presents its own obstacles. Everybody loves food, especially the food they know and remember from their experiences in the outside world, their mom’s kitchen, and their own home. If your food doesn’t meet what their expectation is, they will let you know. And then they will let you know some more. Get ready to hear how terrible your photos are, how disgusting your recipes are, and how big the bags under your eyes are in that picture that someone dug up on Google.
And then the food sharing sites are going to tell you they don’t like you either. If you’re in any sort of vaguely dysfunctional personal relationship, I’d abandon that now because the amount of rejection you’re going to get from strangers will fulfill that gap forever.
Writing about food is more time consuming than, say, blogging about the weather. Besides the time spent actually cooking and writing, there needs to be an investment in developing recipes, planning photographs, and networking to make your blog a hit.
Oh and someone’s going to have to wash all the dishes you dirtied. Probably you.
Effective communication a must if the goal is to provide recipes for the audience to use. Directions communicated in written language need to be clear, concise, and consistent. It’s not as though you are simply preparing a narrative to share, you’re hopefully imparting useful knowledge and tools that your audience can take away and use in their own lives.
And don’t forget the potential for weight gain. You know, because sometimes it may take four Baked Alaskas to get it right. You’re going to be tasting a lot of ingredients, dishes, and leftovers. Start going to the gym now so that’s not the first habit you quit in order to be home to watch the dough rise.
Knowing your audience is key. The idea should be to have a site that is as appealing, and as useful to as many readers as possible. It can be easy to alienate key demographics, such as those pesky vegetarians. And while your blog certainly doesn’t need to go all hippy-dippy if your focus is steak, it’s worth considering how to maximize appeal for a variety of readers. After all, your message is important. Share it with as many people as you can.
Once you’ve gained momentum, you need to maintain it. Websites and food blogs are living, breathing creatures. They need attention and care, just like all the things you abandoned to get started blogging in the first place. It’s not enough to earn readership, you need to keep it once you’ve got it. It might be tempting, once the comments and praise start rolling in,to take a break from your time-consuming love child. Don’t. Your audience will get distracted and go elsewhere and you will find yourself falling down the wrong side of the bell curve.
A solid set of technological skills will only do you favors in your pursuits. If you know how to effectively manage your content, navigate your blog platform, and fix code, you will be years ahead of the game. Sure, you can just focus on the writing and the pictures, but knowing how your machine works inside and out is going to alleviate some of your calls of ‘help’ to the middlemen. Remember, technical help probably costs a few dollars. Plus, it’s another skill to pat yourself on the back for having.
Social media savvy is also a must. There is no such thing as a successful blog these days without an effective and present social media presence. This means becoming comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, and Pinterest to maximize your audience and earn readers. Really. You need to begin building your social media empire now.
It’s not all back-breaking labor and bad news though. If nothing you’ve read has scared you off at this point, you may have just what it takes. And like any project that requires a lot from its creator, the rewards are immeasurable. There’s enough tasty food to go around, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Let’s talk about the food. It takes center stage in this venue, and you have the front row seat. You’re also calling the shots. And tasting every single step of the way. Your love of food is what brought you down this road in the first place, and it is one of the biggest rewards.
Food, while tasty, is also tangible. When creating content for your blog, you are getting your hands dirty in the process of creating something. Something you can eat, something you can share, something that wasn’t there before you got started. Be it a brownie or a bisque, this isn’t waxing poetic on the state of current affairs. Sometimes your worlds even collide, and that batch of delicately frosted cupcakes you made for the bake sale might also double as the perfect opening post to your spring baking season.
You also get to be your own boss. If you have a problem with authority, this is the venture for you. There is unending creative freedom. There is no one to answer to other than your audience and yourself. Want to spend a week focusing on the finer technicalities of crafting crepes? Go ahead. Want to devote an entire section of your blog to bread baking? Why not. You have no creative limitations.
There are many other food bloggers out there. Certainly, that means you need to set yourself apart from the pack to be successful. It also means that there is a giant network of resources, friendships, and connections to tap into. No one understands the challenges of writing about food better than other writers. Friendships built around finding the best recipe, or talking photography tips have a tendency to last. The connections you’ll make with people around food might be your biggest reward.
But you knew that might the case anyway, given how food can easily bring people together. It is universal in its appeal and ability to be understood. It crosses cultures and lifestyles and creates a place where people congregate to share and be together. Quality photographs go a long way to communicate the same message even when words and language create barriers. Everyone understands the feelings messaged in a photo of a cherry pie resting on a window sill.
Food blogging, and the sharing of recipes on the internet has established a giant virtual cookbook. It is easier than ever to find recipes that you thought were lost to history or lousy organization. Often, someone else has just the one. Similarly, you may wind up sharing Grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe only to find out that someone else has been looking for one to remind them of their own family ties.
Not only will you perfect your writing talent, but you will build a set of technical skills in the kitchen. Just as with anything, practice makes perfect. Each time you break out the knives, the stand mixer or the sous vide machine, you’re honing your cooking skills. Not only can you wow the internet with your blogging, but you can put on a killer dinner party, and teach your kids to cook so they’re not surviving on instant noodles once they break into the real world.
There are smaller surprises and rewards along the way too. You might get the opportunity to try, and review, a product or cookbook. A well-known food blogger might leave you just the comment to make you smile. That photo you took of vegetable soup might become super popular on Pinterest.
If you’re still here, you are pretty serious about getting started. So get started. Blogging is hard work. Food blogging is even harder work. Hit the ground running and don’t look back. If you like to push yourself, hold yourself to deadlines, and are constantly striving to put forward the best product you can, then food blogging is for you. If you think it consists of snapping a quick photo of a sandwich en route to your mouth and noting down 500 words on the threat level of ketchup to your car seat, well…maybe you ought to just keep that to yourself.
The rewards are numerous and the morsels tasty. Get out your cookbook, your word processor, and your taste buds. Clean the kitchen. It’s time to dirty some dishes.