On Professional Food Blogging

There’s an interesting piece on the Guardian’s food blog today about “professional food bloggers”, that is, people who started blogging and then went on to get book deals or paid writing gigs. The piece mostly looks at the realm of recipe bloggers and cook books, comparing the fresh voices of bloggers with the work of celebrity chefs.

I suspect that anybody who writes, dreams – even secretly – of doing it professionally. I kind of don’t buy the whole “I started a blog to share recipes with my friends and family” thing. Maybe, to start with, but if that was the case, why not just use email or Facebook?

Mind you, I also don’t get the whole idea of “community” and the assumption that everyone who has a food blog therefore automatically has something in common with every other food blogger on the planet. On the basest level we do, but that doesn’t create a community per se. Most of us also wear shoes but that doesn’t mean we all want to go shoe shopping together.

I came to the blogging process backwards, taking a gig as an editor at the now-defunct Well Fed Network early on and figuring I should probably have my own food blog as a companion to the pieces I was writing professionally. I tried to write “professionally” on my own blog because I did want those other gigs and wanted my blog to be a stepping stone to other work.

One of the walls we hit with the Canadian Food Bloggers Association was that a lot of people who joined didn’t really seem to understand what we were trying to do. The intention of the organization was to help blogs produce professional-quality work so that their own blogs could be their calling cards to get them professional writing work (because, as noted above, I don’t believe that people write in a publicly-accessible forum if they don’t want to get noticed). But those that were the most vocal just wanted the elusive “community”. I’m not even sure what that means. Given the horror stories that have been rehashed from the latest BlogHer convention, as far as I can tell “community” lasts only as long as everyone is doing the same thing, on the same level, and “community” turns to catty backstabbing once a couple of bloggers move beyond just wanting to write for family and friends and score themselves a book deal. Community can turn awfully jealous once one person seems to have loftier ideas than everybody else.

As evidenced with our recent decisions regarding TasteTO, I don’t think it’s (yet) possible to blog “professionally” and remain independent. Many mainstream media outlets are finally adding blogs and are giving some some credence and respect to what has been a much-maligned medium, but it’s taken the name and money behind those companies to do that. Amateur bloggers still have a mostly terrible reputation, and it’s only professional quality writing that makes individuals stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other blogs in the “community” who are all doing exactly the same thing.

For bloggers, the only hope of going professional, either as a blogger or moving on to other kinds of writing, is to be good enough to get noticed. For some of us, that has always been the goal. As it happens to more and more bloggers, I suspect that the “community” will not be as supportive as we’d all like for it to be.

5 thoughts on “On Professional Food Blogging”

  1. sheryl- great post- as always. i agree with a lot of the points you have made, but our thoughts are diverge w regards to ‘everyone wants to do it professionally.’ if i had a book deal for a cookbook from my part of the world- i would be beside myself with happiness. however, that’s not why i blog- i blog bec i like having a readership- and whether i get a book deal ever or not, i shall continue to blog. i get a high when someone reads my post and writes to me about it. what my real dream is, is to teach from my own home as a registered business- if that’s what you mean-that we use our blogs as a springboard- then yes, i am guilty as charged 🙂 but book deal or not, professional writing commission or not, i shall always continue to blog- i really love it. now, if no one was reading it, then i would stop. i do love the readership and the “tribe” that follows my blog. x shayma

    1. Shayma – I’m not sure I believe you. 🙂 We may all go on blogging because we enjoy it, because it’s an easy means to get our thoughts out and have somebody read it, even if it never amounts to anything more. But you yourself point out that, if someone offered you a book deal, you’d be delighted. It might not be your intended, “there, I’ve said it out loud” goal, but you’ve clearly thought about it.

      My point is also this – even if you a hobbyist blogger, there’s a point where you want to get better, for your own sake, even if nobody else’s. Let’s compare it to knitting; eventually the average knitter is going to get bored of just making long rectangular strips of straight-up knit stitching. They learn to purl or do a basic cable stitch. After every person who knows and loves them finally convinces them that, yes, really, thanks, we have enough scarves, they intentionally expand their skills to learn to make other, more difficult, more elaborate things. Possibly there are some knitters out there who are content to just keep making raggedy, ugly strips of uneven stitches over and over again, switching up colours or types of yarn but not moving beyond that. Someone might even be nice and tell them that they’re doing a good job as a means of encouraging them. But unless they make an intentional effort to get better, they’re always going to be a crap knitter.

      Now apply that same philosophy to blogging/writing. Whether you love doing it or not, there’s only so many strips of ugly lumpy knitting the world can take. The same goes for writing. You happen to be a fantastic writer; your tribe is there because you write well and with meaning. Your skill level is of professional quality. You create the writing equivalent of gorgeous lace shawls. No doubt many of your readers would be overjoyed for you by any success that came your way. But I’d bet my last red cent that there would also be plenty of people out there thinking “what’s she got that I don’t? Who does she think she is?” It’s the way of the world. It’s the way of “community”.

  2. ha! there elements of truth in what youve said- i guess i have only been blogging a little under a year so i cannot really say what the future holds with regards to my thoughts on blogging ad infinitum. but how about we meet sometime this summer and discuss this, ad infinitum, ad nauseum? 🙂 thanks for the sweet words, Sheryl.
    ps yes, people will always say that- “why *her/him*?”, not just about blogging, but in regards to many, many other things in life.

    1. Would love to get together with you. This is the part of “community” that I dig – becoming friends with people whose work I admire, and who, even indirectly, even if it’s slightly competitive, push me to be a better writer because they’re great writers and I want to be as good as them.

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