I attended Camp Blogaway , a conference specifically for food bloggers, located in Angelus Oaks, CA from May 4th to 6th.
Camp Blogaway (as the name implies) is held at a camp (think cabins, bunk beds, bring your own sleeping bag and pillow), with 8-12 people in a cabin with bunks, split into individual rooms holding 4-6 people. Depending on how you camped as a kid, you may imagine running to outhouses in the middle of the night, but in spite of the rustic group setting, we had hot and cold running water with toilets and showers in the cabins, keeping it civilized.
We were served classic camp food for main courses, with those of us not from the California area loving the bounty of local produce. We were responsible for setting and clearing the tables, just as we did at summer camp as kids.
Even when I reflect back on my swag-happy IT days from the bullish market of the ‘90s as a comparison, I was impressed by how well this event was sponsored, both for the event itself and for individual attendees.
Dietary restrictions including Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-free were also very well accommodated. As one of the campers who would eat anything, I would have been perfectly happy to live on the vegan and gluten free menu – with all of the available local produce, their dishes looked amazing.
Impressed by the agenda when I discovered this conference back in January, I was willing to make the trip, which involved a flight from Toronto to L.A., and then a carpool meet-up (which was strongly encouraged) and a 2-½ hour drive to Angelus Oaks because of the topics being covered. A large number of attendees were from Southern California, with several from L.A.
The presentations did not disappoint, with well-chosen, distinguished speakers, and topics that are relevant. The overall conference attendance is kept under 100 people, so there is also a chance to meet everyone, even though it is just over a weekend.
Although I had the distinction of being the only attendee from who came in from Canada, fellow Food Bloggers of Canada member and Camp Blogaway alumnus Dara Michalski of Cookin’ Canuck, was a speaker this year, covering the topic of how and when to revamp your site.
Here is a brief run-down of what was covered, and the bottom line from each session.
How blogging can alter your life’s course
Kayln Denny of Kalyn’s Kitchen and Ben Phau of You Fed a Baby Chili? each spoke about the history of their blogs and they eventually turned into new careers. In Kaylyn’s case, it was featuring South Beach diet recipes, a niche that would give her great site traffic, and create a new career for her.
Bottom line: Find the niche that people are looking for. Pay attention to analytics and where people come from. Link back to other bloggers’ recipes and they will link back to you.
What’s wrong with my shot? (Reviewing photo rejects)
Prior to the conference, we were encouraged to send in our photos that have been rejected by food porn sites. Media food stylist Denise Vivaldo of Food Fanatics took us through her insightful and hilarious responses to what was essentially a flash-card series of (anonymous) rejected photos submitted by attendees where she quickly described what was wrong with the shot, and offered suggestions to improve them.
A few basic pointers (and these are basic, as this was a visual presentation):
- The food must look good enough to eat. If it’s too messy, or unrecognizable, it’s probably not a great shot.
- Watch for gaps/holes in images. Re-take the shot until it looks right.
- Pay attention to lighting.
- Less is often more, with just a few enhancements.
Doing the blog revamp thing
The presentation was a very comprehensive overview (which included a nice shout-out of our own Ethan of Tastes Better with Friends and his cool-looking social media buttons/beer caps as an example of how to make our blog truly represent you).
Dara’s advice: This process is very much like planning a wedding, so approach it the same way. Start picking out examples of what you like. This is not copying, as you are taking several different ideas, and making them your own.
If you aren’t proud to show your site, it may be time to look at a site re-design.
The cost to do a site re-design can range from $500-$2500, depending on what you want to do, and which agency you choose to do the work.
The more research that you do upfront, the better, so that you can give your agency the best possible brief.
Seven Deadly sins of bloggers
Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy was asked to present based on the 7 deadly sins. This list was a terrific summary of Amy’s point of view on blogging, which is fundamentally staying true to yourself as a blogger.
- Pride: Don’t sell yourself short by encouraging or indulging in poor behavior.
- Envy: Comparing your blog to another is trouble. Focus on your own individuality.
- Greed: Watch out for ads taking over from great content.
- Gluttony: Don’t link to other blogs for SEO purposes only. Other signs of gluttony: bogus ‘awards’ with badges to link to your site, and stealing ideas and not crediting others.
- Lust for money: Careful with accepting money. Be transparent with your readers.
- Wrath: Opposite of wrath: patience. Be cautious, and make a policy of not publishing too soon.
- Sloth: Slacking off, not asking for feedback. Be diligent with the care and feeding of your blog.
How to torpedo grandma’s treasured recipe (ie. How to write recipes)
This was a great session on how to write a recipe, based on The Recipe Writer’s Handbook that Barbara Gibbs Ostmann co-wrote. I have been reading this book, and highly recommend it for anyone who needs to the basics on how to write recipes for publication.
This was a line-by-line review of how to put together a recipe, from when to spell out ingredients, how to put them in order, and how to effectively write the directions. A must-read for novice recipe writers.
Handling blogger burnout
Led by veteran bloggers Kelly Jaggers of Evil Shenanigans and Erika Kerekes of In Erika’s Kitchen, this session dealt with the issue of blogger burnout, such as running out of ideas, or simply when life gets in the way. Just a few suggestions:
- Write a mission statement for your blog so that you stay on track
- Every post doesn’t have to be a recipe – look at other ideas for inspiration – even interviewing your butcher can be a great post
- Interview and/or link to other bloggers
Working relationships – PR panel
Conference sponsors sat on this panel and offered advice on working with PR agencies.
The bottom line take away on this session was to be professional, and not to look at the relationship as one-sided. If you want to work with PR contacts, consider what is in it for them, and commit with integrity. There were a few surprising examples of food bloggers acting unprofessionally. The bottom line: if you are looking to make professional contacts, proceed as you would with any business situation.
LA Times Thanksgiving feature (discussed how a handful of LA food bloggers were featured in the coveted LA Times Thanksgiving feature)
Last year, the LA Times featured several local food bloggers in their Thanksgiving edition. The article was great for publicity for the bloggers, and everyone wanted to know ‘how’?
Bottom line: don’t approach an editor seeking ‘publicity’. Consider what you can offer them. In this situation, this was an event that the bloggers were going to post on their own blogs, and the LA Times was invited. Happily for them, the LA Times chose to come.
Overall, Camp Blogaway was a great experience. There was a lot of information sharing, both formal and informal, and the sessions were tightly organized.
In addition to the break-out sessions, one of the other things I took away from this event was the benefit of having a group of fellow bloggers to talk about the craft, regardless of tenure or even genre within food blogging.
Seeing such a large contingency from California, it was apparent that there was a great deal of familiarity and camaraderie within the group, particularly with the group from Los Angeles – and a considerable amount of mentoring that had clearly led to the success of many in attendance. Over time, I look forward to seeing such similar opportunities for members of Food Bloggers of Canada.
Lisa is the voice over at One Cook, Two Kitchens. She is living the best of both worlds as she shares her adventures from both her city condo kitchen and the country lake house kitchen.