So, I've decided I'm not really a natural public speaker. I was always the kid who looked down at the floor the second the teacher asked for someone to come up the front of the class and speak. The kid who tried my hardest to come up with every excuse under the sun to get out of going to school on speech or debate day. The kid who would rather do anything, anything behind the scenes than be up front in the limelight. Writing about my life online for me has not been a problem, at least here I can go back over things and edit the hell out of them until I'm happy with what I've done before I push publish, but in person (via skype on this occasion) well, let's just say I think I need a little more practice in that area! I was really shocked (and very honoured) to be asked to speak at the NZFB conference held in Wellington NZ this weekend just gone, but oh my how nervous was I? And when I'm nervous I have a tendency to bleat on at a very fast pace (just a tad, haha) and go off on tangents when I probably should just stop and breath...
I was invited to talk at the conference about this here little blog; why I started it, how I've got it to where it now is (I still find it funny that some people think of my blog as successful, when really it's still just a teeny tiny dot in an extremely large and very talented pool) and to share any tips about blogging that I have learnt over the 2 years I've been at this. I'm not sure how it went and how much of it made sense? The weird thing about skype is that it kinda just felt like I was talking to myself the whole time as I couldn't really see or hear any reactions from the audience! So just in case I made no sense at all and also for any other food bloggers out there that may like to know, I'm going to go over in writing everything that I covered in my talk with a gazillion links and all. Just note though, that these are my own personal thoughts on food blogging and what works for me, read them by all means but don't stress out if you choose to do things differently. I really ain't no expert!
So, why did I start my blog? You can read about that here and also a little on here. I don't tend to put up many photos of myself or my family, but if you are wondering who we all are there are a few pics on my surprise wedding post here if you're feeling nosey.
How did I get my blog to where it now is? Through lots of hard work! I kinda obsess over things (yes I'm a virgo and yes I am also a Galloway, which equals double perfectionist) and when I want to do something I pour my heart and soul into making it happen, even if it means surviving off very little sleep! In the first 18 months I made a real effort to post a new recipe every 4-5 days. I'd cook and photograph in the day when the kids were having a nap (when they were younger, sadly this no longer occurs), or were at kindy and then stay up to all hours writing up my posts. I still do try to post at least 6-8 times a month, but this past month I've been so busy that realistically it's been more like once a week and a favourites post once a month (with no recipe). I put a lot of effort into every post I write and sometimes have been known to spend about 5-6 hours on any one post by the time I cook, photograph, edit photos, write up the recipe and the post.
Tips for food blogging...
Improve your photography skills
I've worked really hard to learn as much as I can about food photography. To me this is one of the most important things that you can do if you want your blog to be more successful. We are all visual people are we not? I usually know within the first 5 seconds of visiting a new blog whether or not it's one that I want to visit again... and this is all before I even read the recipe! Initially the design and photography of a blog is what pulls me in, and then if the recipes make me hungry I'll more often that not want to come back for more. I am no professional and all that I've learnt about taking photos I've learnt from reading online, reading books and practising lots. Also something interesting to note is that any recognition I've received for this blog was all before I (finally) upgraded to my Canon 60D earlier this year and was from back when I was still shooting on my trusty old Canon powershot S5is which really wasn't anything fancy. It's not about the camera you own. Read your camera manual, you'll learn loads!
My favourite sites to get more info on food photography are Taylor Takes a Taste, 101 cookbooks and Lara Ferroni. There are also a bunch of helpful posts about food photography that I've read in the past from Smitten Kitchen, Food 52, David Lebovitz, National Geographic, Wright Food, Sunshine and Smile and Grab Your Fork. Also just thought I'd mention this page about food styling and this great post on current food photography styles and trends too.
I sometimes wish I lived in the states so I could attend one of Helene Dujardin's photography workshops, but thankfully for us she has written a book called Plate to Pixel, which will also help your food photography come along in leaps and bounds.
Study the photographs of the top food bloggers and try to figure out how you can work towards taking pictures as good as them. I'm a long way off where I want to be with my photography, but I do like to get inspired and oogle over the photos on 101 Cookbooks, Cannelle et Vanille, Sprouted Kitchen, Seven Spoons, Green Kitchen Stories, Happy Yolks, Love and Lemons, Pure Vegetarian by Lakshmi, At Down Under, Roost, Golubka, Yummy Supper, Honey & Jam and Tartlette.
Once your photography is getting better and better, try submitting them to food porn sites like Tastespotting or Foodgawker which are both great ways to get your name out there and get people visiting your blog.
Practice and improve your writing.
Writing is not something that I thought I could ever do and was the thing I was most scared about when I first started this blog. I hated English at school and only took it in high school so I could get into art school (I fell in love with cooking so that never happened, but it was the plan) and anyone who knows me will tell you what an atrocious speller I am. Thank god for google and spell-check I say! To me the most important thing about writing is being honest. I'm not all that fancy at writing with big words or using correct sentence structure etc, ask me what a verb or a noun are and you will probably be greeted with a blank stare. Instead of worrying about all of that I just write from the heart. I write exactly like how I talk and just be me. I think it's so important to be yourself and find your own voice instead of worrying about whether you sound like a food writer or not. There are some really gifted writers out there who inspire me constantly through their words and although I know I will never have magic in my words like they do I am always inspired by them every time I read. My two favourite blogs to read amazing writing on are Tara Austen Weaver's Tea and Cookies and Shauna James Ahern's Gluten-free girl and the chef. And my go-to blog about all things food writing is Dianne Jacobs, who has also written the most amazing book called Will Write For Food, a must read for all food bloggers and aspiring food writers. Last note: get someone to proof-read your posts. If having someone proof your posts before you push publish is not possible, ask your friends to email you if they spot any mistakes after reading your post and then go back and correct them after. My little brother Louie still emails me through mistakes if he notices them and I love him dearly for it.
Write great recipes.
I know I've said how important photographs are to initially attract people to your blog, but once they're here if you want them to stick around and come back again you need to write some really good recipes. Accuracy is the key. Not only do your recipes need to look good but they also need to work. I don't know about you, but to me I write and share recipes because I want people to cook them. If the recipes I post don't work, why would people come back again? If you are unsure about a recipe before posting it, make it again, and again if need be to make sure it's 100% good to go before posting it. I've sometimes made recipes 3-4 times before I'm happy enough to share them on here. Sometimes I feel confident enough to post after making it just once, but not always. While adapting recipes from cookbooks is okay, and I do that about half of the time too, it's also really nice to show people you can come up with ideas and recipes yourself. Be original and only post recipes you love. If you do base your recipe on someone else's, always give credit. I go by these rules: if I've only made a few changes to someone's recipe then I say it's been adapted from... and then provide a link to the book on Amazon. If I've very loosely based my idea or recipe on someone's but there have been enough changes to the recipe to probably call it my own, then I say inspired by... and then give a link to the book on Amazon. If I've not written anything, that means I've come up with the recipe myself. Cookbook authors and food writers work really hard on their work, so do the right thing and always give credit where credit is due. Also NEVER ever copy other bloggers work, that's just common sense. The food blogging world is actually pretty small once you get to know a few people and you will get caught out if you choose to lift someone's work. Here's a great bunch of posts about recipe writing on Food 52 that some of you may find useful.
Working on a blog post...
Like I mentioned earlier some posts take me forever to do (ahem, like this one!) while others I quickly throw together without too much fuss at all. A few things that I do that some of you may find useful when planning, cooking, photographing and writing are:
Plan posts ahead of time
At the start of every season I like to sit down and write down a bunch of possible recipe ideas to play around with. Some of those ideas become reality, while others get forgotten about. That's okay. It's still nice to always have something to use as a reference to refer back to on those occasions when your mind goes blank and you don't know what to cook!
Write notes in a book
Too many times in the past I've recorded my recipes on random pieces of paper as I cook, only to find I can't find the damn thing when it comes time to write up my blog post! Not fun. Buy yourself a notebook and record recipes in there.
Look at op-shops and the side of the roads for props!
Most of the plates, cups and cutlery you see in my posts have been found for a few bucks at my local op-shop. While the boards I use most are just old pieces of wood found on the side of the road on kerbside collection day! I have one painted white board (find instructions for doing this here), but use it more often to bounce light from than to actually take photos on. As you can see from that strawberry photo above my set-up ain't anything fancy. A old styrofoam box with some wood on top, something white to bounce the light and my camera in hand.
Use free online photo editing
I am a real amateur when it comes to editing photos and for a long time did no editing on my photos at all. While I know photoshop is the king of photo editing softwear, I can't afford it and probably would have no idea how to use it anyway! I use PicMonkey to do minor edits on my photos, it's really straight forward to use and makes resizing etc for sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker (links mentioned earlier) really easy. Update Nov 2012-I now use Lightroom 4 to edit all my photos.
Store photos correctly
Heck, I don't know what the 'correct' way of storing photos is, but the way that I now do it to make life easy is first; delete unused photos asap, don't clog up your computer with unnecessary photos. I then save the original photos used in my posts into folders labelled by months. If I ever need to find a photo down the track, all I then need to do is look up on my blog what month I posted the recipe then go back to my photo folders and look in the corresponding months folder. Too easy.
Use social media
We all know the world is changing. The online world is a huge one and we are all part of it!
I set up my facebook page the day I started my blog, it's such a great way to connect with readers in a casual way. I also find people are much more willing to comment and converse on facebook than here on this blog. I don't know why that is exactly, but I'm guessing it's just so much easier to click 'like' on facebook and many people (especially kiwis!) are hesitant to comment on blogs. Blogs are a relatively new thing in NZ and Australia and I've found that many people aren't quite sure how to make a comment. But most people know how to make a comment on facebook. P.S I've tried to make it as easy as possible to comment on here by removing that annoying captcha box when you make a comment, so feel free to leave a comment whenever you like!
I told my friends a few years ago that if I ever signed up to Twitter to shoot me. At the time I didn't get the deal with telling everyone my every move, I kinda still don't. But yes I did give in and thankfully my friends still let me live! It got to the point where I had readers emailing me asking if I was on twitter and I have to say it's been an amazing way to connect with my fellow food bloggers from around the world. But just don't expect to see my every move on there, I'm still not into that! Update Nov 2013- I'm now on Instagram too, eek!
Other random tips
Read other blogs and leave proper honest comments. You never know, they might click through to your blog and say hi too!
Introduce yourself to fellow bloggers, but be genuine. No one likes to receive those emails that start with I love your blog, I will add you to my blogroll if you add me to yours... If you are a fellow NZ food blogger check out the NZFBA page and visit a few kiwi blogs and say hi!
Join in with link parties. They are a great way to meet fellow bloggers and attract new readers to your blog. My favourite ones to join in with are Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays @ Simply Sugar and Gluten-free and our very own New Zealand food bloggers link party Sweet New Zealand (which I really need to get back into joining sometime soon!). But there are many more out there too, just get looking...
Make an effort to answer any questions your readers may ask, either on your blog, on facebook or twitter. I love it when I see big name bloggers reply to questions as it makes them seem more approachable or something? I figure if people make an effort to leave a question the least I can do is answer. Same goes for emails. I ignore all of the ones who don't even bother to use my name or take the time to read up about me and my blog (the amount of times I've been sent emails asking about the possibility of me reviewing books about meat or samples of coffee/artificial sweeteners is just crazy, really people just read my blog first and you will know not to ask) but if a genuine reader emails for whatever reason, I always reply. I've even made some really lovely friends who I email on a regular basis through this blog, which is really lovely.
Consider carefully before writing sponsored posts and doing too many give-aways. Is that really the avenue you want your blog to go down? I don't have a problem with them and have done a couple of book reviews about books I've been sent and done one giveaway, BUT I always make it very clear if I've been given something for free and have a policy where I will only talk about things I truly love and believe in. If I am sent something there is no guarantee I will write about it, full stop. I want my readers to know they can trust my word and that I'd never recommend something just because I've received it for free.
Consider the actual time that you publish your posts. Every blog will be different depending on where most of your readership is from, but for me I try to never post on the weekend or too late at night. Just because I'm up late on the computer or home every night of the week (and weekend, yes sad I know) doesn't mean that other people are. If I post on the weekend I find those posts tend to get lost and not read as much as the ones posted during the week.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by other peoples seemingly amazing and mind-blowing food blogging skills, especially their photography skills which I'm always in awe of. Remember it's not a competition and try to always keep in mind why you started doing this in the first place. Something I used to do when I started out blogging to give me a much more realistic perspective on starting out (as opposed to comparing myself to those who had been at it for years already) was to find the big name food bloggers and go back in their archives. Read some of their first posts, they will make you feel so much better about where you are at right now. Everybody has to start somewhere right? Two of my favourite blogs to compare their before and afters are Aran from Cannelle et Vanille (at the beginning and now) and Helene from Tartlette (at the beginning and now). It's amazing how far you can come with a lot of time and practice! My first post looked like this. Yep see what I mean.
I was asked during my talk which are the food blogs that I like to read and get inspiration from? You can see my full list of blogs I love here. I stop by many, many blogs every week but there are only a handful of blogs that I'm itching to read every post of. Some of these I've already listed above but I'll add them again... 101 Cookbooks, Cannelle et Vanille, My New Roots, Green Kitchen Stories, Seven Spoons, Whole Promise, Tea & Cookies and Sprouted Kitchen.
Lastly and MOST importantly, blog because you love it. Very few bloggers make money from doing this and I certainly don't. But you know what? I love it all the same. I hope that this may lead into other things in the future, but if it doesn't then I'm still just going to carry on doing what I'm doing, because I love it. I get so much out of all of this that really has no monetary value. The food blogging world is truly amazing and I'm really happy to be a part of it.
Thanks so much Shirleen and Allison for the invitation to speak at the conference and for putting in so much hard work organising such an amazing event, it sounded like everyone had a wonderful time! And thank you also to all those lovely people who attended my talk, I really hope we all get to meet in person one day real soon.