Imagine if you were one of only a handful of food bloggers. One of a handful in the world. Wouldn't life as a food blogger be so utterly and completely different? Well way back in 2003, when food blogging was still a new genre of food writing, Clotilde Dusoulier started her now hugely popular blog Chocolate & Zucchini.
As only one of a handful of people doing the same thing. This was the first blog I (Mardi) ever read, clicking on it from reading about it in the New York Times, I think, and immediately being captivated - I suddenly felt like I was IN Clotilde's Paris kitchen and we were having a cup of tea and chatting and baking like old friends. Her easy writing style draws you in, her recipes make French cooking and baking accessible and her photography is mouthwatering. Ethan and I were fortunate guests of The Cookbook Store and Sizzling Communications at Clotilde's "Eating Words" talk in Toronto last week, as part of the "Gastronomic Writer in Residence" program through the Stratford Chefs School.
Growing up in Paris, Clotilde never imagined that she might one day become one of the world's most respected food writers. Clotilde was also lucky enough to benefit from an early education in French cuisine from her mother and grandmother - while she was not consciously "learning" in those early days helping out in the kitchen, she clearly absorbed a lot of skills and techniques which she only discovered whilst living in Silicon Valley, California at the height of the dot.com years, where she worked as a software engineer for a small startup.
Having to cook for herself for the first time, she found she knew a lot more than she thought. She broadened her tastes in California too - every lunchtime was an education in world cuisines as her colleagues (who hailed from all parts of the world) brought new flavours to the lunch room. Clotilde's passion for food was official on returning to Paris after two years in the US. The more her interest grew, the more she needed a place to share her ideas, recipes and menus because, as she says, her family and friends eventually got sick of hearing her talk incessantly about food! Clotlide needed a place to connect with other like minds though a mutual love of food and Chocolate & Zucchini was born. Clotilde maintains that whilst she is successful in a number of other platforms (books, articles), the blog is still "the core" of what she does. It's her "sandbox" where she feels she can be herself and play.
One only needs to browse through Clotilde's extensive recipe index to feel a part of her virtual "sandbox". And honestly, you'll find so many great recipes there, it's hard to know where to start! How about the cake named after her blog (or is that the other way around?) Chocolate Zucchini cake. Or what about Clotilde's most popular recipe, the yoghurt cake (I have made this and it's really good!). I'll admit to printing out the recipe for the Tarte Tatin with Salted Butter Caramel whilst researching this article!
Ten Rules of Food Blogging
Last week in Toronto, Clotilde offered up her top ten "rules" for running a successful food blog, bearing in mind that one's own definition of success is very personal and, over time, can change.
1. Choose Your Focus
Make sure your blog has a clear focus - if you try to blog about too many different things, you might not end up doing the best job. It should be obvious in a few minutes spent on your site what you are all about - remember, the online reader has a pretty short attention span!
2. Look At What Others Are Doing
Read other blogs in your niche to see what content is popular, what's creating a buzz. Not that you should copy that but it will give you an idea of what works, what people want to read.
3. Set Yourself Apart
Once you have an idea of your blog's focus, make sure you set yourself apart. No one wants to read a copycat blog, right? So, what can YOU offer to this niche that's different?
4. Be Genuine
Creating a sense of yourself in your writing is very important. Readers want to feel they know you through your writing. People don't read your blog to hear you trying to be someone else. Be honest. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something or that some recipe was a flop. Being real is endearing.
5. Focus On Great Content
Great content draws in readers and sparks discussion, adding value to the online community you have created. Try hard not to focus on the number of comments, SEO or stats. At the end of the day, well written content will keep readers coming back.
6. Keep Learning
Clotilde says to embrace the concept of continuing to learn - "noone knows everything about everything" and the only way to keep on growing (both as a writer and in terms of your knowledge base) is to keep making sure you are learning new things all the time.
7. Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Even if you were inspired by an idea from another blogger/ writer that turned out very different from the original, give a shoutout to that person. It's a great way to connect with those bloggers you admire.
Read other writers' work and react. You know how much you love getting comments, right? Well leave comments that add something to the discussion on other blogs. Be a part of others' online communities, be it through blog comments, Twitter or Facebook. Be genuine and your own community will grow too.
9. Keep At It
Blogging is hard work. Be consistent (even if you just aim for one post ever week), but also know that it's fine to take a break from time to time. No point writing if you are feeling uninspired. If you offer good content, your readers will be back even if you take a little break.
10. Have Fun
Keep it fresh - shake things up a bit. Try something different - chances are that if you are having fun with it, your readers will appreciate and enjoy. Clotilde started her "Edible Idioms" series just for fun and it has become an integral part of her blog because readers enjoyed it so much!
A Chocolate & Zucchini Giveaway!
I've always been a fan of Clotilde's books and thanks to the kind folks at Random House Canada, we're excited to have a signed copy of Clotilde's Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily adventures in a Paris kitchen to give away! In the international spirit of this post, it's open to anyone, anywhere in the world!
To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling us what your 11th blogging rule - what would you add to Clotilde's Top 10?
For an extra entry, you can tweet the following message:
Enter to win a copy of @clotildenet 's Chocolate & Zucchini @foodbloggersCA. Open to everyone, everywhere! http://bit.ly/ti2p2E
Then come back to leave a separate comment letting us know you did!
Contest closes Tuesday November 22nd 6pm EST/ 9pm PST - we'll pick the winner using Random.org and announce the winner on Wednesday November 23rd.
Thank you for this post. Clotile’s was the first food blog I ever read, too. I was immediately captivated by C&Z.
For the 11th rule, I’d like to suggest “Don’t sweat the photography.” The thing is, I do sweat the photography — it is endlessly fun, frustrating, challenging, anxiety producing. But at some point, you have to let it be. Resolve to keep learning so that next time it will be better.
11. Share pictures!
Food is a very visual thing and while reading about it is wonderful, illustrating your points with a few well placed images can elevate your blog from good to great, and great to outstanding.
I was very disappointed to miss Clotilde’s talk, but due to a last minute visit from family I simply could not attend. Thanks for sharing your notes!
11. Be a mentor for other up-and-coming food bloggers !
Enjoy it and be passion about it.
I tweetwed the comment! 🙂 Those are blogging rules to live by. Thanks for the post.
As the 11th rule I’d say: Reveal yourself! I don’t like blogs that only post recipes and photos, which are the main focus, of course, but adding a bit of yourself to your posts, revealing a bit of your personality is that last ingredient that makes blogs so enjoyable and delightful. Let the blog reflect your personality.
I tweeted the contest.
My 11th rule would be: Just do it!
I have been thinking about starting a food blog for several years, but have allowed intimidation and rules to hold me back. Thank you for this article– it has completely inspired me to get started!
If you shoot it, you must eat it!
Then I wouldn’t feel so guilty every time I put the camera down and chow 🙂
Hilarious. You gotta win!
11. Share pictures: of the origin of the food, the process, the final result, the friends who help. It personalizes the blog that much more.
Number 11: post often. People will stop coming if there isn’t fresh content.
Let people know where you are! Altitude and humidity and measurements can affect your recipes, and it’s nice to know where in the world you are as opposed to “out there somewhere on the internet”. I think it helps people connect with you.
Great blog post on a great event. Clotilde was a warm and gracious speaker and offered her expert advice on her experience as a blogger. Congrats to her! Super excited to make her yogurt cake as well! 🙂
One thing I would add to Clotilde’s list of blogging tips is Adaptability. I think with time, people’s interests, tastes and needs evolve and a blog should be able to adapt, mature and “renovate” as needed to keep in line with what readers enjoy and are seeking. Blogs have been known to set trends and have one foot forward on new food ideas and keeping that in mind as a blogger can offer immense value to the food community.
p.s. I also tweeted about the book giveaway too!
Be consistant with your brand. You are branding yourself on your blog, twitter, facebook, pinterest, SU etc. Please use a recognizable photo of your blog or profile photo, not 10 different images, it’s hard to relate if we can’t figure out who exactly you are.If you want to remain private then use your logo. If you like to connect with others, be personable, let people get to know you…..like your name and what you look like, that way when I run into you at a conference I you come up to me and say we know each other, I don’t stand there like a deer in the headlights thinking “we do?” because I never knew your real name, what you look like (ex. photo from 20 years ago)
11th – Be Organized! And for this I mean, if you’re posting about food and recipes, make it easy for readers to find and print your recipes. It’s a usability thing. But when the internet is your cookbook, you want to be able to get just that information in an easy format to take into the kitchen.
My 11th point would be to show what you are like as a person, show your personality. This really makes blogs stand out. It allows the reader to feel like they know you as a person and not just as a place to get a recipe without a story behind it or any personality. I feel that it’s nice to get a sense of a blogger through their anecdotes, jokes and general attitude portrayed through their writing. (seeing the bloggers write elsewhere is also a great way to get to ‘know’ them. i.e. facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram – all are so fun!)
Great pointers from Clotilde. For my 11th point I would say “theme your blog”. Select a key ingredient, say raspberries, and then explore all the possibilities available with that, then choose another key ingredient and do the same. This way you can focus on one topic for a while then completely refresh your blog. Get your readers to suggest different key ingredients from around the world to get them involved and provide lots of options! Thanks!
Have just retweeted your competition promotion!! Thx again.
As one of the other dozen or so early food bloggers, I think we all really appreciated both what she brought to the game and her staying power to remain on top of her game for so long. Chez Pim, Laura Goldberg (http://vittlesvamp.com), The Radical Chef (Connie V) and the Food Section are still busy, but Clotilde really did some great stuff. I remember her writing a really fun random menu item generator back when people were just putting silly stuff together on plates – I never understood how she did that, but now that I realize she was a software engineer, this makes much more sense. Her early site designs were great too. It was certainly great to have her in Toronto, I think she is an inspiration to food writers (I was never a good one anyway, but she is still inspiring).
My 11th “rule” would be to stay inspired and don’t lose courage. It can be hard starting from scratch and seeing the kind of success others have had. But rather than being discouraged by the success of others, seek within them inspiration. Search out and surround yourself with inspiring material to keep motivated. This will help you meet rules #4, 6, 9 and 10.
And I tweeted the message 🙂
My 11th rule would be not to get overly disheartened if you don’t get readers on your blog. Its easy to get discouraged when there are no readers or commenters on your posts, and wonder several time, what you are actually doing it for… it takes a great deal of perseverence and a fairly thick skin to be a blogger.
I love Chocolate and Zucchini blog, and while I don’t think I will ever be as successful a blogger, Clotilde has inspired me to go out and pursue my passion for food, not just via blogging but also through teaching.
Be consistent, post often, reveal yourself, mentor beginners…all excellent ideas for the #11 tip on her straightforward and thoughtful list… my first thought was COLLABORATE. Look for opportunities to be engaged with other like minded and eager people: cook together – continue the cycle… it is definitely one that is only gratified when shared.
Great write up! And I love how she responds to questions…. when I was going to Paris for the first time without my students, I asked her a couple of very specific questions about open air food markets and she really took the time to answer thoughtfully and meaningfully. I shall never forget that and it did make a difference to my planning.
Thank you so much for the write-up, Mardi, and I love your “11th rule” idea for this contest. All the submissions are great and full of insight. Maybe I just need to come back to Toronto and do a second installment of that talk with rules 11 to 20. 🙂
We’d be happy to have you back Clotilde – anytime!
precision. accurate measurements, clear instructions, correct spelling and grammar, and good photos that support the written content. boring, i know, but without those things, the blog seems unreliable.
Tell a story!
Wonderful, informative post! Thank you for sharing the 10 rules. It’s always so interesting to hear what others feel are most important.
If I had to come up with an 11th rules, though I feel Clotilde’s were perfect, I would say to try a new recipe, something that intimidates you and that you would never think it was possible to make at home, each month. It’s always exciting to find out that such-and-such was MUCH easier to make yourself than you’d ever thought. Especially when it’s something you eat often at restaurants or cafe’s.
I also tweeted the contest. 🙂
Be a mentor to novice bloggers.
I also tweeted “Enter to win a copy of @clotildenet ‘s Chocolate & Zucchini @foodbloggersCA. Open to everyone, everywhere! http://bit.ly/ti2p2E“
11. Visual Design counts and visual display on multiple browsers must be good, if not great. Chocolateandzucchini.com has always had a pleasant design that works well on multiple viewing platforms.
I tweeted from @gregdconsulting for a second contest entry.
My 11th rule– go outside your comfort zone and experiment! You should be open to trying everything at least once.
Great advice, I would add interact with your followers and follow up on comments when you can. Keeping a dialog going is a great way to be inspired & inspire others.
Establish a reasonable expectation for frequency and try to meet it. Great content can be just once a month, but if you start out daily and then fall off, your followers’ expectations will be disappointed. Whereas if you say weekly, sometimes have something worthwhile to add more frequently, I don’t think fans abandon you as often.
Thanks so much for this. My rule #11: I always rewrite, revise, and proofread my posts (sometimes, several times) before putting them up, and if something I’ve written doesn’t feel quite right to me, I don’t post it. I figure if I want to be respected like a pro, I should at least spell like one!
#11…Take a great photo
I tweeted this great giveaway~
My 11th rule would simply be polite and thankful at every occasion. Either with a successful invite for blogging rights at en event or a restaurants decline for a free meal. Always respect the people whose industry you are eager to be involved within in.
Number 11 is take great photos. The food blog “What Alice Ate” is one of my favorites for that reason. The pictures are fantastic.
The 10 listed are already great, but for number 11, I would add…. Get Creative!
Clotilde was my inspiration when I started my blog. She is a pioneer.
My rule #11 is “do it only if you love it”, and forget about comparing yourself to others or about analytics!
11. Share your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect and we all need a good laugh!
11th rule: Do talk about a product/book/event if it really inspires you. Don’t talk about it just because you received a sample/a complimentary copy/an invitation to said event, and you feel somehow obligated. It will show.
Rule#11: Don’t make traffic your #1 priority. Blog for yourself & the traffic will come….
Rule #11 Get over yourself and just do it
….. because blogging is not fun if you take yourself too seriously and because it is really hard to write if you are afraid of what everyone else might think of you.
Post with passion and your readers will love your content as much as you do…it’s so evident when someone is so passionate about what their writing/shooting/posting about!!
Share why you chose a particular recipe – special cookbook, tried similar one at a restaurant, etc.
Rule#11: Be kind and patient with yourself!
Wow some excellent ideas from not only the original speaker, but all the bloggers too. 11th rule for me? Keep it real. I personally like to keep things simple. I’m not one for frou-frou, hard to find ingredients or 3 hour prep times…I want real food that nourishes my soul.
#11- Be prepared to never sleep again. It’s addictive. Lol. Okay that is not a serious one but it’s so true. The real #11 would be advice I got at a time where I considered quitting and it is “write like no one is reading”. I found this freeing and it relieves any pressure to conform. It makes you find your own voice and be yourself.
I just discovered FBC this weekend and I am all excited that I can write Flavour without feeling that someone out there is going to think I made a spelling mistake.
I still have so much to learn/
Don’t lose the passion; I started blogging to share my passion for food, cooking and doing it as a Canadian. Everything I write about comes from my heart.
All great points. #11 for me would be “Learn to use a digital camera.” Photos really bring a blog to life, but flash-washed, out of focus photos are worse than none at all.
I tweeted the link Enter to win a copy of @clotildenet ‘s Chocolate & Zucchini @foodbloggersCA. Open to everyone, everywhere! http://bit.ly/ti2p2E
11th. Do it because you love too and you really do want to share it with others
(even if you are brand new to it and still learning…like me : )
Make sure your content is accessiblte, anyone should be able to follow your instructions.