Sunday, 13 July 2014
I was recently asked to work with the Stella team at The Telegraph to put together a piece on How to Start a Food Blog. It was my first phone interview and I was really nervous about it. In the end it was fun - Rachael, the lady who wrote the piece, is lovely. It's out today and you can read it online. I thought it'd be good to elaborate a bit here and share some of the general blogging statistics from my surveys.
First, it's worth noting again that I don't think there's only one way to blog about food. The best thing about blogging is the freedom. You have no editor - it's just you. I've set up patterns and guidelines for the way I like to run my blog, but they're not universal. For instance, I've found my momentum is easily sustained if I post once a week, but that might not work at all for someone else (and I'm going to need to create a new rhythm soon). I wrote a little bit about my patterns and finding your own in this post.
Though there are books and guides and posts out there on how to blog or take photos I'm not sure that I really recommend them, especially when you're first trying out new ideas. Experimenting is fun and leads to variety, and variety is wonderful. I really hope blogs don't become monotonous or start trying too hard to follow one way of doing things.
I've said before that I think stopping submitting my photos to sites like tastespotting and foodgawker in 2011 was the best thing I ever did for my blog. It freed me to find a style I liked, rather than trying to create the one I thought they liked. It made me stop valuing my work on whether it was accepted or not and let me be happy as long as I was content with what I'd done.
In the piece it mentions a bit about recipe attribution. It's worth learning about and involves the only exceptions to the 'no rules' idea - I always recommend this article by David Lebovitz. As I understand it, the way in which the method is worded is the copyright part of a recipe (under literary expression, like a novel). This means that you should always re-write recipes into your own words, which I think is a great thing - it's a little glimpse into how you do things. You should also give clear credit to any recipes that you have adapted or have inspired you. It's important to show respect for the work that other people have put into a recipe.
As an example, my working method if I'm beginning with an existing recipe rather than starting from scratch or working with ratios is to read the recipe throughly first to make sure I understand all the steps, then write the ingredients and method into my kitchen notebook in the shorthand I use (things like c b/s, sift fl/bp/se/cin and so on). Every time I test the recipe I add notes and details and record any changes. When I come to write it up, I only use my notes, expanding and clarifying as much as I can.
If you're just beginning to play with recipes, I think it's easiest to begin with a recipe from a book or another trusted source. Adapting is a great way to learn how things work. Even posting some notes and a picture of what your dish looked like when you've followed a recipe exactly adds a new record of how the recipe works. To me, that's what I want a post to do - to add something of value. It could be a recipe developed from scratch, some notes on a recipe that's already out there, a story that references the recipe or some thoughts on a technique. If you re-write and give full and clear credit to the original recipe, I don't think adapting is a lesser way of doing things. In many ways blogging about recipes is curating a collection, and as a reader, I'd like to know about all the recipes you adore, not just the ones that you've created yourself.
Two last things: First, I really recommend reaching out to other bloggers, joining social media and making friends in the community (it makes such a difference) and second, unless you want to be anonymous, put a bit about yourself on an about me page (a first name, photo and country is good) - it gives a reader someone to connect with and is certainly the first thing I click on when I visit a new-to-me blog.
Blogging is subjective, and that's what makes it interesting. It's a glimpse into other kitchens and other lives, created by the freedom to write what you want. It allows me to choose my recipes based on my cravings and only to post something if I really love it. I hope that's what comes through - I love doing this.
I thought this would be a good time to give you some of the survey data from the past two years. Obviously the survey is self-selecting and represents a relatively small selection of my readers (and therefore an infinitesimal selection of blog readers in general) but I think people are generally quite honest on a anonymous survey (I know I am).
The 2013 survey had 762 replies.
What part of a blog is most important to you?
24% selected recipes, 6% writing, 5% photography, 63% said a blog needs all three and 2% said other (specifying things like a sense of connection with the author or a combination of recipes + photography).
Do you read all of the writing in a blog post?
35% said yes, 47% said most of the time, 16% occasionally and 2% never.
When asked to select as many as they liked from a list of my post types, only 26% picked posts that were just about the recipe itself - the top four were personal stories (72%), the science behind the recipe (62%), more detail on the technique (61%) and the history of the recipe (59%).
Do you appreciate a regular posting schedule (i.e. every Thursday)?
35% liked it, 39% didn't mind, 25% hadn't noticed and 1% didn't like it.
Have you made a Poires au Chocolat recipe?
66% had made a recipe. If so, how many? 19% had made one, 24% two, 40% three to five, 13% six to ten and 4% more than ten.
The 2014 survey had 412 replies.
How many recipes have you tried from Poires au Chocolat?
81% had made a recipe: 13% one, 17% two, 16% three, 12% four, 10% five, 3% six, 2% seven, 1% eight, 0.2% nine and 8% more than ten.
Of those that had tried a recipe 98% found it easy to follow (comments for the 2% were mainly about the recipes being in metric not US cups).
Do you make recipes from other blogs?
40% regularly, 47% occasionally, 11% rarely and 2% never.
Do you comment on blog posts to say you've made a recipe?
2% always, 5% often, 17% sometimes, 30% rarely and 46% never.
I think the last two stats from the 2014 are particularly useful - I'd guessed that there was a big gulf between the number of people making recipes and the number of people telling bloggers they'd made them, but it was even more pronounced than I'd thought. I also found the position of recipes above writing and photography in the 'most important part' question in 2013 interesting (though, of course, the majority wanted all three). The most exciting thing in both years, though, was definitely to hear about so many of the respondents making recipes.
As I half-mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the rhythm is going to slow a little around here as I move to Cambridge and start medical school in September. I have every intention of keeping posting regularly - I can't imagine life without blogging after all this time. I'm planning to start with a post every fortnight and see how that goes. I'd love to up the frequency again but I also want to have plenty of time to focus on my degree and making new friends as well as seeing my friends and family. It's going to be a bit of an experiment and I hope you'll be ok with that.
To illustrate this post I've put pictures from some of the recipes from over the years that I particularly fancy today (though some aren't exactly seasonal) - links below. One of the only problems with blogging and always moving forward is often not having the time to go back to old recipes.
Top-bottom: whole vanilla bean biscuits, two ingredient chocolate mousse, apple and quince pie, chocolate cardamon cookies, seed cake, coffee and walnut cake, treacle flapjacks and apple and blackberry crumble.