OFFICIAL LIVE BLOG – Closing Keynote (4:45 - 5:45pm), "Foodblogging, Now & Forever"
Everyone seems to agree that successful blogging...whether your "success" is measured in money, career opportunities or deep relationships and strong community ties...requires commitment, longevity, patience. How do you build your site and community authentically? How do you sustain momentum and avoid burnout? What keeps it fresh? A surprising number of BlogHer Food attendees, and bloggers in general, have brought up "blogger burnout" as a concern of theirs. Even if they've only been blogging a year or two.
This keynote conversation will explore how three bloggers who have been at this a while...and at a very high level of accomplishment...keep on keeping on. Elise Bauer, Ree Drummond and David Lebovitz are very different kinds of bloggers, with very different approaches. If they share one thing in common, it's the passion that they have tapped into in order to be dedicated and constant bloggers over a combined 14 years. BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone will moderate this discussion and give us all a peek into what makes Elise, David and Ree tick...and get their tips for helping us all keep ticking.
Session Liveblog - Please note that questions and answers are summarized and not exact transcriptions or complete, direct quotes*.
Lisa: Welcome Ree, David, and Elise. I'm going to dig in, kick it off with 3 or 4 questions before turning it over to the audience. The first question is based on the feedback we've gotten from this incredible audience of foodbloggers.
Question from Lisa: What about blogger burnout? Do you consider yourselves creatives? Writers? Or do you consider yourself a business?
Answer from Elise: I definitely consider myself a business. I think to myself everyday, "My God, I can't believe I get to make a living doing THIS." When I started out, I just wanted to get my mom's enchilada recipe up online. Then I found that ppl were coming to the site wanting to see and get these recipes. Then I put ads on my site, and I was making $0.05 a day...and I thought, "Hey, I could make $0.10 a day! Or maybe a dollar.
If I think just business, it's really dry. I'm inspired by the fact that I cook with my parents, that every act on that site is an act of love -- an act of love for my parents, for my family.
Answer from David: Creative. I worked in restaurants since I was 16. I never went to the restaurants thinking about money. Writing a book is a really, really big deal, and I never went into that thinking about money. I get to make brownies for a living! When looked at doing the cookbook, I realized it's what I wanted to do with my life. It's much more fun than pitching articles. It's really fun...I love my blog..
Answer from Ree: I'm a creative. The biz side I'm becoming better at. It's fun to think about potential when it comes to the business side of things, but that's not what motivates me.
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Question from Lisa: You have very busy lives; can you just walk me through your day? How do you do it all?
Answer Ree: I get up very very early. [What's early?] 5 am. But we're on a working cattle ranch, so during the season, we get up at 4:30. So I get up a couple hours before my four kids, and those couple hours are like gold. Because of the kids and homeschooling, I have no strict schedules, it's a day-to-day approach. Blogging is part of my daily life. Over time, it's become easier for me (posting photos, etc.), and the technical part is becoming second nature. But I have to let other things in my life go undone (like a messy closet), too.
Answer David: My whole rhythm is really different. I'm in Europe, so when I get up you're all in bed. I can tell when the New Yorkers come online at 3 p.m. Because of the time difference, my day is much longer, but my blog is my day. My blog is my life, I work my life around it. At any given time, I have about 40 posts on my computer [that I'm working on]. Some of them are really out there, and a lot of them can't be published.
Answer Elise: I crawl out of bed between 8 and 9 in the morning. I wake up, sit down at the computer and, think: Who's going to yell at me this morning, what recipe didn't work? I deal with email, and I get a lot of comments, a lot of feedback [that I respond to]. Then I hang out in the garden, and see what's pick-able. I think about what I'm going to post. I also have several stacks of cookbooks I use for inspiration. I talk to my parents. I used to be really really organized, I used to do corporate stuff. I do wear a watch now, but I ask people not to ask me to be places at a certain time. All my organization goes into my site [not other aspects of my life].
If i get sick, though, and I'm out for a week -- that's okay. Nothing happens.
David, Additional: I use my blog to organize my life. When I moved to a foreign country, a lot of stuff was happening, so I wrote about it to kind of organize my life. Sometimes I'll do things like visit a little chocolate shop, just to have something to write about.
* * * * * * * Audience Questions * * * * * *
Question from a Gluten-Intolerance blogger: Do you ever get into a blog lull? If so, how do you re-inspire yourself?
Answer Ree: I had one blog lull, on my confessions blog. I had writer's block. I had nothing to blog. The day I had an uncharacteristic case of writers' block, I had one thing in my arsenal -- I posted this one chapter of this love story I was writing about my husband and me (before I'd decided I'm not a writer and had no business writing a romance novel). I posted it thinking that would be the end of the blog. Instead, it turned into this 45 chapter piece because of all the response it got.
Answer David: [You never know, you write about what happens. You can drop a carton of eggs in your kitchen ad decide to write about it and it'll get 150 comments.] The hardest part for me isn't figuring out what to write, it's dealing with the tech part of blogging. When people start reading your blog, they expect it to be at a certain level. I use Moveable Type, which is hard to use, and hard to create posts that are perfect. I make perfect brownies, my blog isn't perfect.
Answer Elise: I do have lulls. I've been at this six years. I'm mostly focusing on recipes. Once in a while I do book reviews which take me days, because i want to honor the author of the book and I want it to be good. I want to write it well, but writing is hard for me and it takes me a long time.
I think I get resentful sometimes of the demand of the site. Six years ago I didn't know how to cook, and now I'm like Betty Crocker. People are constantly asking me what to do, how to cook, like, "How do you throw a barbecue in the rain?" and I don't know the answers, I don't know how to do that. It can get really tiring. Whenever I notice myself starting to feel negative, I think, "I need to not do this today." I do something else instead, like go to a museum. Once I went a week without posting and it didn't kill me, it didn't kill my readers. They came back.
I've changed. I used to post more often, now I post two or three times a week. But if it gets oppressive, that comes through on my blog. My blog is my happy place. It's like this special place where things are, for the most part, happy. You get this weird twisted view of me. If you just knew me through my blog, you'd think she has a really happy life. But that's not the whole story. My blog is the good place that I go.
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Question from Darya Pino @ Summer Tomato: When did you reach a tipping point in terms of success? When did it go from a hobby to a career?
Answer David: I can just about name the date. It was about three years ago, when I had my site redesigned. I got the estimate for the redesign and I flipped out. Then the bill came and it was three times as expensive and I flipped out again. But Elise said it was worth it. And as a result, my blog became this really great place for me to be, it was easier, I could do what I wanted. My traffic went up 25% that first week! The site was easier to navigate, the code was correct, it was clean, I could breathe.
Lisa: What was the tipping point? You've all indicated what you think success is. David, you felt success was when you redesigned?
Answer David: I could talk about the definition of "success" for hours. But the money spent on the redesign...it's like buying good cookware versus crap cookware. It makes everything easier rather than a chore. You can breathe. It works.
Answer Elise: My tipping point came when I thought I could make money off of this thing. My background is in business. I don't want to put a lot of time into something [a hobby] if it's not going to make money because I have to support myself. I thought if I could get my blog to make enough money to pay for rent, I would have more freedom with the other jobs I took. So the first tipping point was the money and actually supporting myself on the site. The second is when I reached a certain mass of traffic, which I think happened when Google was recognizing individuals and my site was promoted next to People Magazine. So it was a combination of making money from the blog and realizing the possibility that down the road, I could make a living off of my blog.
Answer Ree: I had my Confessions of a Pioneer Woman blog for a few months before I ever posted a recipe. The day I started my blog, it was completely foreign. I never thought anyone but my mom would read my blog. Since the beginning, I've never had a stratospheric view, it's always been a gradual climb. I did win a few awards, which brought people to the blog.
Success to me, well, you could say that money doesn't matter, but success has allowed me to redesign the site, making it prettier, more user-friendly, making the archives more easily searchable. That makes people want to stay on your site and get to know you better. Then you can use your revenue to get away, or to get stuff relevant to your blog like cooking gadgets.
I like blogging. I have found one thing in life that I haven't quit. My success is that I love what i do and people seem to enjoy it.
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Question from Brianne of Brianne's Good Fight: Have you ever struggled with the fact that what you create is just in space? That your blog is intangible?
Answer David: I publish cookbooks, and that's tangible. The blog is different, more fleeting. I write recipes much more casually for the blog -- I think of the blog as much more free-spirited.
Lisa: I think Elise's printer-friendly pages is brilliant, makes it more tangible for people.
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Question from Cheryl Lee of Black Girl Chef's Whites: I love what I do but it's extremely hard for me. I have a toddler, who doesn't let me write very often -- I have trouble getting one post up a week. How do you find time? How do you do it?
Question interjection from Lisa: How many hours a day do you spend writing on your blog?
Answer Ree: Recipes take the longest. One recipe takes me 4 or 5 hours to write, but I don't do it all at once.
Answer David: Writing recipes is the easy part for me. Posts that are reviews, or about cultural differences, or are funny take longer. I have to take responsibility for my words. I have to be careful because I don't want to insult anybody.
Answer Elise: The amount of time it takes me depends on how many times I have to cook it to get it right. There's recipe development time. Gosh, if I get it right the first time, it's a minimum of four hours...but I can't think of the last time a post ONLY took me four hours. There's figuring out what you're going to cook, actually cooking it, taking pictures while you're doing it, and then if it works out, there's making the recipe for the dish.
I used to not pay as careful attention, when I was just doing it for me and my family. But what happened is that people actually started cooking using these recipes! So now I have to anticipate every issue they're going to have. I try to anticipate everything that could go wrong. I write a lot at night, but then I have to sleep on it so I can add the right headnotes.
It's hard. "Hard" doesn't mean I don't like doing it, though. I'm intensely proud of the things I produce. I have always wanted to be a writer, but it's hard.
Lisa: It's a blessing to hear you say that writing is hard.
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Question from Dianne Jacob @ Will Write for Food: I'm wondering if you have a plan for five years from now. Will you still be writing the same blog? Do you make it up as you go along, or do you know where you're going to be?
Answer Ree: I've learned not to try to predict the future. The last three years of my blog have been a complete surprise to me.
Answer David: I don't know, I'm hoping I can retire.
Answer Elise: The internet keeps on changing. Maybe we're going to be Twittering everything in five years, or whatever the next iteration is going to be. I had this idea that I want my site to be as useful for people as The Joy of Cooking has been to me.
Answer David: You've built this thing, and it's always going to be there. It's your history. One writer had a blog, it got famous, they made a movie out of it...but she deleted her blog. One Frenchman I heard got mad about that; he said she deleted her history.
Answer Ree: I hope I'm not gestating or lactating in five years! Other than that, I'm open. At the very least, I've said I've never really known what would happen from one step to the next, from one stage to the next. No matter what, I know I will have an amazing scrapbook for my kids and their kids.
Answer Elise: Things could change -- what if Google changed its algorithm? This has been a worthwhile endeavor. If I couldn't do it anymore, I would feel a great sense of personal pride and joy with this thing that I've built. Anything can happen in five years.
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Question from Kate @ Savor Fare: What about the personal versus public nature of blogging? How do you reconcile blogging, living your life in public, versus keeping your personal space?
Answer Ree: I heard someone say that you shouldn't post anything you wouldn't say at a cocktail party. (I asked, "After how many drinks?") But everyone has to find their own limit. I feel like I'm very open and my blog is very personal, but there's lots I don't post about. I don't write about our business. I don't post about hormonal moments. But that's the difference between food writing and food blogging -- people want a person, a life behind the food story. I'm not a writer, but I'm here because I've shared more than just the sugar and the flour. Don't be afraid to put yourself behind it.
Lisa: I have to disagree. I DO think of you as a writer. And the data we have backs up what you say. 82% of people who visit foodblogs are looking for recipes, but 68% are looking for stories.
Answer David: Paris is a verrrrry sacred place to Americans, and you have to be careful not to upset the balance. I can complain about the problems and challenges of daily life there, but people will comment, "But you get CROISSANTS!" I try not to ruin the fantasy too much.
Answer Elise: I have had some horrible things happen, so I want my blog to be light. I focus on the positive on my blog. I don't write about everything, and I'm envious of people who are brave enough to reveal more.
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Question from Damaris Santos-Palmer @ Within The Corners of my Kitchen: My question is about photography. All of your blogs have beautiful photographs. Did you take classes? How do you keep up with taking and posting such great photos?
Answer Ree: I just taught myself. But I don't use a flash, I still don't know how to use flash. At first, I just took 1000 pictures to get one really good picture. That propelled me. So next I took 1000 pictures and got two really good pictures. The more you do it, the better you become. Look at my old recipe posts, there are some really unfortunate food photos there. But I didn't let that stop me, because I'm imperfect and I'm okay with that.
Lisa: I think that's important. I hear people say, "I'm not a writer," and then they show me their two-year-old blog. And I have to say, "Come on! You ARE!"
Answer Ree: If I labored too long on any one post (like Elise, who posts perfect things), I'd never post anything. I basically do a Hail Mary and hit submit.
Answer Elise: I want it short. I try to keep it short. But as for how I learned? I got some tips. I asked friends and other bloggers. I try to soak up as much as I can from everybody. I still take 30-50 shots to get a good one. I don't know what I'm doing, and want all the help I can get. I'm learning through taking a lot of pictures. I want them to get better and I experiment.
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Question from Cheryl Rule @ 5 Second Rule: Do you ever hit send and then immediately get a sinking feeling? How do you work through those worries?
Answer Elise: I immediately rewrite. If I've posted an error, I freak out. I get crazy about errors. I'm constantly rewriting posts. I once did a post on making pie crust and wrote to use a POUND of butter. I once left sugar out of a recipe for ice cream. I totally stress out and want to be sure that people understand my recipes.
Answer David: When I write about cultural differences stuff, I'm really careful now. In old posts, I was ranting a lot and people were hostile toward me. I was ranting without thinking about it. Now I get more French readers, which is great. They are very good at making fun of themselves -- but I have to be careful. It's not fair for me, as a foreigner, to go in and start complaining about how they do things.
[Cheryl interjects]: Have you ever taken down a post?
Answer David: I took down a post where I'd written about a chocolate company, and the company called me to let me know that my information was incorrect, so I took it down.
Answer Elise: I had to adjust a recipe when I got an email from the wife of a man who had used my recipe for fish and gotten 3rd degree burns, because he had soaked the fish in water and then went to fry it without patting it dry. I replied to her, I asked her what her favorite charity was and donated money to the charity, and I changed the recipe right away.
I also have to realize that what's sarcastic to me is not funny to others. I have to be careful about how things will be interpreted, and I don't want to insult anyone.
Answer Ree: I've looked at my archives and taken down three posts that I felt didn't contribute to the site, that were dumb. I mean, if someone had emailed me and asked what happened to those posts, I'd have put them back up, but that never happened. They were posts I didn't want anyone to bother with.
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Question from [audience]: How do you guys stay ahead of technology?
Answer Ree: TastyKitchen.com came from a contest I had two years ago, where I was giving away a mixer or something, and people had to enter by submitting their favorite recipes. I got 5000 responses. I had to do something.
Answer Elise: I keep an eye out. I noticed that Heidi Swanson had a beautiful iPhone app, and I thought, "I want to do that." So I got my web designer to do it. i have a great web designer (also David's designer). I started six years ago, and I did everything myself. Around 3 or 4 years ago, I hired a designer and I still use him. But before that, I had a blog called Learning Moveable Type with over 100 blog posts I wrote while learning how to use it. Because of that, I became very endeared to a community of tech folks who I can still ask for help and advice.
Answer Ree: A good web developer/designer is really worth its weight in gold.
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Question from [audience]: The more traffic I attracted, the more unwelcomed responses I got, like PR inquiries, questions from readers...a lot of stuff that's going on in the "background" that I felt I had to deal with, reply to, etc., that took a couple hours every day. How do you deal with that? That part's not so much fun -- how do you reconcile that with what is fun?
Answer David: That really encapsulates what we're about right now. People say, "I want more traffice, more SEO," but it's a lot of work. You have to start saying 'no.' You have to start protecting yourself. I had to take my contact information down because I have a job to do. You burn out. The bottom line is: like anything you do in life, you have to do it because you enjoy doing it. Whatever you do, do it because you like it. If you don't like it, don't do it because you're going to do a crummy job and hate your life.
Answer Elise: I'm brutal with the delete key. Brutal. I don't allow any rude comments. I've got this thing, where I think of my blog as my family's home and you are a guest in our house. If someone doesn't act accordingly, I don't argue, I just delete. Delete, delete, delete. Your comment isn't going to see the light of day -- you came into my home and were rude, so no comment for you! Lately, I've taken to labeling PR inquiries as spam by my spam filter, and it's working. All PR inquiries are going directly to spam. I figure if someone really wants to get in touch with me, they will find a way to do it.
Lisa: Some bloggers come up with a form response for PR inquiries, one to send if you're interested, one if you want more information, one if it's not the right fit... Elise, your livingroom analogy is lovely.
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Answer Ree: Elisa [Camahort Page] needs to share her email bankruptcy technique!
Answer Elisa: I'm a filer not a piler. If something is in my inbox, I consider it an action item, it's something I need to take action on. But as my inbox grew, it was just a constant reminder of all the things I wasn't doing. Even if the message was six months old, God knows the original sender wasn't waiting for an answer anymore, but I still felt I needed to. Now I declare email bankruptcy. I create folders labeled by month and year as "Action." And on the first of the month, I take all the emails I haven't replied to and move them into that month's folder -- then I get to start fresh each month with an empty inbox. Occasionally, when I have time, like when I'm in a boring meeting -- WHICH DOES NOT EVER HAPPEN AT BLOGHER -- I'll poke through old folders and reply to some of them. I never get bitchy responses, I always get kind replies with "thank you"s and "I totally understand"s. So even though I know all these unanswered emails are still there, I FEEL better with an empty inbox.
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Lisa [in reply to Elisa's comment about how nice the responses are to her delayed email replies]: It's human understanding...the milk of human kindness that characterizes Ree, David, and Elise's blogs.
*If you asked a question but were not (correctly) identified above, please leave a comment and your name and blog will be included in the summary.