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.