Saturday, February 11, 2012

Secrets to Successful Food Blogging -- "Life’s a Feast" Host Jamie Schler Shares Her Recipe for Success

This is the first in a series of interviews I’ll be posting about food bloggers whose work I enjoy and think you might, too.  One purpose of these interviews was personal--simply to learn more about the people behind the food blogs I admire. Another was to learn individual bloggers’ secrets to success and share their work and wisdom with you. (Hint: Every popular blogger I’ve interviewed has a unique, highly personal recipe for success.)
 
Jamie Schler, Life's a Feast
This initial post features Jamie Schler, host of the well-known "Life’s a Feast : Confessions of a Gourmande" food blog and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Jamie has also conducted numerous food writing and food and culture workshops at venues including the International Food Blogger Conference in New Orleans, Food Blogger Connect in London, and the South African Food & Wine Bloggers Indaba in Cape Town.  She also presents workshops for the Plate to Page Food Writing and Photography Workshops group.

Jamie and I have never met in person (though we hope to remedy that soon in New York at the IACP annual conference). And, since we live on different continents, we probably would never have connected if not through blogging.  I don’t recall how I happened upon her blog, but I was immediately taken with her graceful, evocative prose, and photographs and recipes that resonated because they somehow reminded me of the years I’d lived in Europe. 


For example, the  gorgeous chocolate cake pictured below and which she wrote about here looked a bit like some of the Torten I'd sampled in Germany.  So, I kept going back to Life’s a Feast for another helping. And she started stopping by Kitchenlane.  And well, you know…. 

Like most successful food bloggers, Jamie clearly understands what makes her blog special: She immediately notes that she has a “multi-cultural” kitchen and perspective, the result of being an American who is married to a Frenchman and has lived in Europe for 25 years. When asked what’s unique about Life’s a Feast she says, “… my writing: my style, my stories and the way I approach and tell the tales of my life. And how I succeed in relating all of that to my food.
.... I never just write about what I cooked and why and I never just sit and pump anything out just to get a blog post up …. ”

Here, edited only for length, are my questions and her responses. I've found her answers thoughtful, articulate, and very useful; for me, they ring true.  Please comment to let me (and Jamie!) know what you think.


Why did you start your blog? Has the experience been what you expected?
My husband and son, both very connected to the internet, forced me to start a blog. To be honest, they were tired of listening to me talk about food all the time and decided a blog was the best outlet for me. My son designed the blog and got me started. And I had absolutely no expectations; I didn’t know what a blog was really, much less a food blog, and I had no idea what I was doing or where I was supposed to go. The one thing that really surprised me and what I didn’t expect, though, was that the very first day I sat down to write that very first blog post, the words flowed; writing that first story was indescribably exhilarating. It really took me about another year to realize that writing, not food, was my true passion as well as my future.

Can you share some insights into how you write, come up with recipes, etc.?
The food on my blog is what I feed my family everyday: I pull ideas and recipes from each of our various cultures: American, French, Jewish, Moroccan, Italian, etc and then what I choose is influenced by the holidays, the weather, what my family is asking for, etc. 

Writing is more complicated. I really need to be inspired and a topic may pop into my head immediately or it may simmer for several days until that incredible Eureka! moment and then I rush to the keyboard. I write, rewrite, edit, change... a story evolves as I write and I can’t hit “publish” until it is exactly what I want to communicate in subject, mood, emotion, etc. It really is like a work of art for me and I apply the same process. I try and touch each of the senses when talking about food and I try and “manipulate” the reader’s emotions: a story is nothing if I can’t pull my reader in and inspire a mutual feeling and emotional response. Language itself is extremely important to me: there are a lot of good ways to say something but there is only one perfect word or expression that exactly describes what is going on inside of my head, whether an action, a flavor, texture or sound, or an emotion. And I try and use language and vocabulary that mirrors and accentuates the mood of the story.

Do you have  any secrets to success you could share with other food bloggers?
First, I think that I am lucky that I began blogging before traffic, stats, monetizing, cookbook contracts, and SEO were the blogger’s biggest concerns and driving force. I fell in love with writing and that became the focus of my blog very early on and I realized that I wanted to make a career in writing, both on food and culture.

My secrets? I keep my head down and work very hard every day to develop my writing skills, both the technical side of writing and the creative, storytelling side of writing. It was also important that I found my particular niche - food and culture - because that is crucial when it comes to marketing myself. I don’t let what is happening in the food blog world influence me - I have my style, my goals and I try not to waver from them no matter what; I came to realize that comparing myself and my work to others is futile. I want to be my own voice and pave my own path, not let others dictate my blog design, my recipe choices, my writing style or my goals.

Any other advice you can offer?
Have patience: Give yourself the time to hone your skills, understand your talents and strengths and make them work for you. And don’t judge your talent or how good you are by what people say to you on twitter. Turn to professionals and people whose own work you admire for critique and trust their judgement, both the negative and the positive.

Measure your confidence and your humility: Learn the art of networking: there is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive; be respectful as well as friendly. I do believe and it has been my own experience that if one is talented, one will be noticed without being loud. Never assume that you are the best or that there is no room for improvement, growth or change.

Hold onto your individuality: While I allow others to inspire me I refuse to copy anyone’s style. I seek out my strengths and nurture them. I have learned to trust myself and my instincts and to follow them, while gratefully accepting guidance, advice and encouragement from those whom I respect.

Follow your passion: I’ve been involved in creating, organizing and participating in many conferences, workshops and events. Although I know this helps my visibility as a blogger, I actually do all of this because I love doing it: speaking and teaching about writing, and that passion for the subject (rather than the fame) shows - and it is that that creates one’s reputation! ###

If you're just getting started at food blogging, you might also be interested in some basic tips in Culinary Blogging 101. 
Or for more food writing advice, check out my Three Steps to More Compelling Culinary Prose.
If your goal is a cookbook, you may want to read Wanna Write a Cookbook?--Make Those Recipe Intros Tasty or Three Big Dos and Don't for Writing Recipe Intros.

22 comments:

Jamie on February 11, 2012 at 1:03 PM said...

Nancy, thank you again for featuring me. I am so honored! It is always good for us to rethink through just why we do what we do: blog or write. It helps us refocus and stay focused. I always hope that I can somehow inspire others to think about their own work, so thank you so very much for giving me this platform. You are such a talented, influential and generous person and I am so thrilled to count you as a friend. And I am looking forward to finally meeting you!

Nancy Baggett on February 11, 2012 at 1:26 PM said...

Funny, I'm always nervous when I write about someone that they will be unhappy with the story. So it's great to hear that you are pleased. See you in NY!

astrid on February 11, 2012 at 1:40 PM said...

I had the chance to meet Jamie in person last year and I can tell she truly is as amazing as her writing is!

Nancy Baggett on February 11, 2012 at 7:05 PM said...

Wow, Astrid, thanks for commenting-I'm now looking forward to our meeting more than ever!

Kathryn Johnson on February 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM said...

I love reading success stories. But I was blown away when Jamie said the food she features is what she feeds her family at home. What are the chances of Jamie adopting an author who sometimes forgets to eat when she's in the middle of working on a book? I think that would be the height of luxury, having someone put gorgeous food in front of me--all prepared! (One can dream...) Kathryn Johnson

Jamie on February 12, 2012 at 2:11 AM said...

@Kathryn: It has never ceased to amaze me that people can actually forget to eat! Wow! Eating is the only thing that I remember to do consistently. And I also have a secret - unless stated otherwise, I make all the food on my blog (I have featured recipes by my husband) but for everyday meals, my husband has been doing most of the cooking since he's taken a sabbatical. Lucky me! He's an amazing, self-taught cook and I have learned so much from him. (I'm a baker, not that much of a cook).

Sally - My Custard Pie on February 13, 2012 at 5:11 AM said...

I'm a big fan of Jamie and her blog so this article was of tremendous interest. There is so much she says here that strikes a chord too. Great series and idea Nancy - love the way you've let Jamie's voice shine through.

Meeta K. Wolff on February 13, 2012 at 5:24 AM said...

Jamie's words always takes me away on wonderful journey. She has a way of with words. After I have read her post I often find myself going away thinking about what she wrote and then coming back to her writing and re-reading to find something totally new that attracts me, which gets me thinking all over again. LOL! She engages me right from the first word. Honored to be a part of her Plate to page team colleague and count my blessings to have her as a sister ;o) Great interview!

Nancy Baggett on February 13, 2012 at 9:10 AM said...

Meeta and Sally, thanks for your input. I agree that her advice was extremely wise and struck a chord. I'm also looking forward to featuring the work and wisdom of some other food bloggers whose work I admire.

India-leigh said...

Nancy, thank you for introducing me to Jamie's work. I love her intonenation and style. It is good to find 'graceful' bloggers. I have Dianne Jacobs to thank for discovering you also.

WiseMóna on February 14, 2012 at 2:38 AM said...

What a great interview. I met Jamie last year at their very first Plate to Page workshop. Although I had been reading her words prior to meeting her, taking instruction from Jamie, live and in the flesh and from little hello post-it-notes, was one of the best experiences an emerging author could hope for. She is an incredibly talented writer whose words exude her real true voice.

Nancy Baggett on February 14, 2012 at 8:41 AM said...

India-leigh, thanks for stopping by--perhaps Dianne will be featured here in the future....

WiseMona, I'm sure the workshop was a fabulous experience. Learning from a gifted teacher can not only inspire but accelerate a writer's progress a huge amount.

domenicacooksk on February 16, 2012 at 10:30 PM said...

Love this interview with Jamie, Nancy. Hers is one of the few food blogs I read consistently because it is like nothing else out there--it is 100 percent hers. Every story is a verbal (and culinary) adventure. And she always has great photos and illustrations to enhance her stories. Looking forward to seeing both of you in New York!

Spicie Foodie on February 18, 2012 at 8:11 AM said...

What a great interview. I don't know Jamie's blog very well. But I truly enjoyed her message. So much of what she said is exactly how I feel.

Looking forward to your new series Nancy!

Deeba PAB on February 18, 2012 at 10:57 AM said...

How wonderful to meet Jamie again and to discover you Nancy! I was fortunate to meet Jamie a few years ago at FBC London. The bunch of us met over twitter and everything you write about her is true. She is exceptionally talented, warm to the bottom of her heart & a wonderful friend! Oh and she can spin quite a tale ... love her blog!

Nancy Baggett on February 18, 2012 at 11:31 AM said...

Domenica, it will be great to see you in NY, too.

Spicie Foodie, I am really looking forward to doing the interview stories as well. It is so interesting to hear how different individuals envision their blog and then go about making it happen. As I said, it seems that each one has unique keys to success.

Nancy Baggett on February 18, 2012 at 11:35 AM said...

Deeba, it is great to discover your blog also. I just went and looked and love that you are an avid baker! I'll come back and explore more soon.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella on February 18, 2012 at 9:06 PM said...

Great interview with a truly amazing blogger. From the first time I stepped onto Jamie's blog I was hooked-it's the writing as well as the personality and photos but for me her writing is par excellence. She has so many great tips and hold onto your individuality is a great one :)

Nancy Baggett on February 19, 2012 at 8:01 AM said...

Lorraine, you are so right--holding on to your individuality and staying true to what you are and do is a key for any successful blogger. Thanks for your feedback.

AmyRuth on July 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM said...

Thank you for sharing Jamie. I've read some of her posts and found her writing melodic and beautifully structured. Her comments regarding her voice and desire to be real to herself were most encouraging. Patience and practice makes better. Thank you kindly for sharing, both of you.
AmyRuth

bunkycooks on February 16, 2013 at 4:36 PM said...

I would not have met Jamie or you, Nancy, if had not been for blogging, and I appreciate the friendship. I agree with Jamie on many levels about blogging and writing and thoroughly enjoy following her beautifully written blog.

Nancy Baggett on February 19, 2013 at 4:43 PM said...

Gwen, thank you SO much for commenting. I feel exactly the same way--it has been a joy to "meet" and share with talented foodies and bloggers I very likely wouldn't otherwise get to know. Hopefully we will actually meet face to face soon--I really look forward to that.

 

Welcome

Welcome to Kitchen Lane. It's a comfortable place to drop in, relax, and unwind. A place to browse through recipes and read the related stores. A place to enjoy the communal spirit and kitchen pleasures that bond us together.

Nancy Baggett's Kitchenlane Copyright © 2010-2011 All material on this website is copyrighted

and may not be reused without the permission of Nancy Baggett.

WoodMag is Designed by Ipietoon for Free Blogger Template