Wednesday, February 06, 2008

CQ HQ February 2008

As I write my monthly round-up of what's going on in my kitchen and on this blog, I am more than ever wondering where I'm headed with Cuisine Quotidienne.

Some of you have read my musings on the subject before, so feel free to zap this post. Or at least bear with me. Or even better, leave a comment because if you've made it this far, you're one of the people I would most like to hear from.

So why all of this soul-searching over this blog, whereas I'm totally content with La France Profonde and And So Forth?

A few facts:

1. I love to cook. I love to eat. But life is very busy and although I do find time to eat, I don't always find time for cooking -- especially cooking of the bloggable variety.

2. I never really feel up to snuff with Cuisine Quotidienne. Food blogging appears to be a particular variety of the blogging genre -- a lot of unspoken rules: plenty of bloggers who seem to have nothing else to do in life but keep up their food blog; a discouraging number of incredibly gifted food photographers.

3. Sometimes the food blog world feels a bit pretentious to me, like what people are writing isn't really coming from the heart. Yet I find myself playing the game, too.

4. Here's the kicker: despite my worst efforts, clicks on Cuisine Quotidienne have tripled since June 2007! So I feel like someone's out there and I should be reaching out to that audience. But I don't really know who it is, because I don't spend hours poring over my stats. I prefer to get at least SOME form of dinner on the table.

5. To sum it all up: as I write, I'm torn between putting the whole blog on a break or trying to go whole-hog, and possibly commercial (on CQ only -- NEVER on my other two babies.)

Any thoughts on the matter?


Kate Hill said...

Sounds like these thoughts would be best pondered over a glass...make that a bottle of wine.:) But yes there is the place in a show-offy foodie bloggie world for honest, direct, good everyday French Food- in English. Bonne chance! and anytime you want that glass of wine...

Steve H. said...

Here's my advice, as a juxtaposition of a famous quote:

Ask not what you can do for your blog; ask what your blog can do for you.

At first, it may seem like I'm suggesting you just forget about what everyone else thinks, and write about what you want to write about. Though admittedly that was sort of my initial gut reaction, I think your response to the question can lead you down several routes. "Ask what your blog can do for you" -- what are you primarily trying to accomplish?

I could imagine that your main goal is self-motivation. That is, by having a food blog, you are hoping it will encourage you to be more passionate about the food you prepare and/or consume.

I could imagine that your primary goal is to inspire others. That is, by having a food blog, you are wanting to share your love of and appreciation for (certain aspects of) French cooking.

I could imagine that your main goal is one of professional advancement. That is, by having a food blog, you are hoping to build a name for yourself in the "food blog" community thereby conferring some future opportunities.

In reality -- and based on your own comments -- it's probably a little of all three, isn't it? But maybe breaking it down like that can help separate and prioritize your motivations, which might bring you renewed focus on how you see CQ and where you want to take it.

That being said, personally, I think the premise of CQ -- everyday French cuisine -- is a great one (and one you should stick with). But at its core, that premise sort of flies in the face of your perceptions of food blogging, which I think is fantastic because most of what you said about the current state of food blogging isn't necessarily good. (And, by the way, I agree with most of what you said, though I am admittedly not an avid food blog reader.)

First of all, you said you often don't have time for "cooking of the bloggable variety." To that, I say, So which is it, Betty? Everyday French cuisine or bloggable French cuisine?

Second, you were concerned about the "unspoken rules" of food blogging, which were really about you having a limited amount of time for blogging and taking pictures. Again, if you (and your readers) buy into the "everyday" premise, it would be somewhat disingenuous of you to spend hours and hours plating and photographing your dishes. Your blog would be pretending to be something it wasn't.

Next, you expressed apprehension about the prevailing attitude of food bloggers. My opinion on this really follows naturally from the previous point. You're basically saying that a lot of food blogs are served with an extra dab of ego, and this causes indigestion. I say, don't play that game. It all comes down to being true to the core premise of your blog.

As for the increased traffic on your site, kudos to you! Don't worry about demographics and target audiences. Instead take an "if you build it they will come" approach. That being said, one thing that might be fun to try would be occasionally adding a poll or a quiz, but do it using one of the free services out there rather than by requiring readers to leave comments. (Just search for "add a poll to your blog".) People like to lurk. Leaving a comment is often asking for more interaction than people are willing to give. Focus on making it entertaining. For example -- and this is just a totally random idea, but one that would be consistent with the CQ premise -- you could do a "Which would you eat?" poll where you show, say, photos of 3 meals from the past week and ask your readers to vote on which one they'd be most likely to eat. Maybe you describe what they are; maybe you don't. Again, just a totally random idea; you will undoubtedly have better ones. But it's interactive, it's fun, it's consistent with the CQ theme -- and you might implicitly learn a little something about your readers' interests in the process. You say: "Mon dieu! A tacky reader poll on a food blog? I think not!" I say: "Aren't we over that yet?"

Finally, as to the fate of CQ, I know you have it in you to make it a great blog, which is different than saying it's a blog showing great pictures of great food, right? I think you should stick with it, but you need to break free of what you think a food blog is supposed to be. Don't let those notions inhibit your passion and your desire to share with your readers. Don't worry about what other food bloggers may think. The premise for CQ is a good one, but I think part of that premise is to tear down the food blog facade.

I think my previous comments really spoke to the first two goals of self-motivation and reader inspiration. But I could see where if your primary goal was professional in nature, you might be less comfortable with some of what I said. You may want to do more to blend in with the food blogging establishment. In that case, you may really need to give CQ a break so you can (a) reconcile your professional goals with the time you have to commit to CQ and (b) consider the extent to which CQ is or is not a good vehicle to achieve those goals.

(As for the question of whether to take CQ commercial, I'm not exactly sure what you're considering. I sense that you may consider such a move controversial, but without more specifics, it's hard to offer much more on that topic.)

My Inner French Girl said...

Bonjour, Betty!

Here are my two cents:

a) As you mentioned in my own blog recently, the most important consideration is whether or not you really enjoy doing CQ. If so, keep it up and see where it takes you. I daresay that most of the other blogs started out the same way yours did, i.e., as personal food/cooking journals that eventually found its voice and an audience.

You have a very unique voice and obviously a growing audience, so it really just comes down to whether or not you feel it's worth your time. Do you love it? Is it something that you would do even if you didn't have an audience? It sounds as if you're still searching for your voice, shall we say, but that will take time. I'm still not sure what's going on with my blog, and what kind of blog I want it to be, but I have faith that eventually I'll figure it out.

b) The same with food photography. One thing I know about most of the food blogs I've seen is that they obviously use professional equipment. That means fairly high-end cameras and accessories, especially a flash diffuser and macro lens. When I first used my diffuser in my old wedding photog business, I was shocked at the difference it made.

You don't have to go out and invest $1,000 or more right away, though. If you're so inclined, study up on your favorite food blogs and cookbooks and mags and see how they "style" their photos. Use natural light as much as possible. If you have an external flash, you can make your own makeshift flash diffuser with a square of tissue rubberbanded around the end. Or tape an index card to it and bounce the light off the ceiling.

Those technical details can be easily adopted. Composition, however, is more difficult to master, but not impossible. Find all the food photos you love and admire and study what makes them so good.

c) If you decide to go "commercial," it could mean compromising the fledgling voice you've been spending so much effort in developing. Many of these other food blogs took years to mature and find their audience. Not that I'm discouraging you -- if you really want to do it and are confident that you can keep up the pace, go for it! I'll always be a big fan.

But I've been kind of going through the same thing of late, esp. since the NY Times article came out last week. Should I try and make my blog more "commercial," spending time marketing it and chasing after sponsors? After a bit of soul-searching, I realized that to expand my blog before it's ready for prime-time (I've yet to really nail down that elusive voice, although I think I'm getting closer) would mean making changes to the way I write and the subjects I write about that I really don't want to do just yet. Maybe someday, but I rather like the personal nature of this blog and the core community that's built around it. Trying to fit my blog so that it meets other people's expectations (i.e., "other people" meaning those outside of the core community that's been with me from the beginning) might mean diluting what makes my blog (and yours, and Colleen's, and LBR's, etc) unique.

Does any of this make sense? I hope so. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want to do and whether or not you have the time and resources to devote to a bigger, more "commercial" blog. I know that having more than one for me takes up more time than I really have, and I expect it to get even busier once I start working full-time again. But I love doing it and want to see where it takes me.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing where your own soul-searching will take you.


katiez said...

I'm not really the right one to speak on this - mine is not the traditional food blog. I'd rather tell stories but I like to write about my food, too. So, I combine them (like combining And So Forth anc CQ) But, then, no one told me there were rules... Have I broken ALL of them?
Do what you enjoy.... When you enjoy it.

Alison said...

I wish I had some advice. Your blog should be a labor of love, not just a labor, if you know what I mean. Do what's right for you and the rest will fall into place.

Alisa in Los Angeles said...

Betty - I just found your blog and I love it. I love to cook and love to try new dishes. I also write about food on my blog, but it's not a 100% food blog. I just tried your roquefort/onion tart - it was AMAZING. A huge hit. I can wait to make it again. It is a lot of work and you have 2 other great blogs. I'm being a bit selfish, because I love learning new french receipes and get many from you. But if you are finding your heart isn't in it, I completely understand. Maybe you can add a recipe here and there to your other blog. Which I also love!

Betty C. said...

Thanks for all of these great, well-thought-out comments. There is so much "food for thought" that I will probably deal with them more specifically in another post. In the meantime, I'll be mulling all of these comments over...

Emily said...

Kung Hei Fat Choi Betty and from what I've been reading the year of the Rat is a prosperous one...

I like your blog, I've always liked your blog and perhaps you want to think about "niche markets" as this is my new buzzword. Networking is cool too.

Personally I'd like to see a lovely network of English speakers blogging in France each in our own areas and with our own strengths and weaknesses (and in our buzz areas - couldn't you develope your Roquefort contact a little more? I'm dying for more info) but I suppose that will never happen.

So anyway, please continue just as you are,



Archana said...

I agree with what you think. especially on the fact that bloggers typically try to just write comments for the sake. But, let me tell you, a whole lot of bloggers like me, try out the dishes and have a principle of commenting. I personally love your blog and also have written down a few recipes to try out. So please, with your kind efforts keep this blog going on French cuisine as I am a big fan of it.

Archana said...

I have so much of this masoor dal lying with me. i LOVE THIS RECIPE. My kids will surely love it as we make a lot of mixed rices. I always think when i am making rice dishes as a meal, that there is no daal going for the day, this recipe is a real nice alternatice. Thanks so much for sharing.

Betty C. said...

Archana -- Thank you for your comment--it was nice to hear from somebody who has never left a comment before. Thanks also for your support.

I also published your second comment because there was no real reason not to, but I'm wondering if you didn't think you were commenting on another blog?

winedeb said...

Wow, I think everything has been said above. When I started my blog last year, I focused it on wine hoping to build something, not sure what. As time went on, I seemed to meet a great community of bloggers whose main interest is good food and sharing what is happening in their little part of the world. I got so attached that I started with recipes, etc. Then started talking about my little container garden, long story short, I am all over the map, but I am having fun and loving all the bloggers that I communicate with. Follow your instincts! But one thing, never let your blog "get you down". It should always make you happy!

spacedlaw said...

There are plenty of honest down to earth food bloggers as well (check out Green Gourmet Giraffe for instance). And you fit in perfectly in that category. But you must do what feels right. If you are not having fun blogging, then why should you?

Am totally with you on the awe inspiring quality of certain food blogs but a lot of these ARE professionals. I am a decent photographer but my food pictures are often rushed because the emphasis for me is on the EATING (warm, preferrably) rather than on the looking dainty and fashionable. Too bad. But I still feel I am the winner in the end (after all, I am a good cook).

eleonora said...

♫ ♥un chant d amitié s’ eleve......♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ ecoute le il vient chez toi.......♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ et accueille le comme il se doit....♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ il ira droit à ton coeur...♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ pour y deposer toute mon amitié... ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ l'amitié c est de dire bonjour simplement..♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ l'amitié c est d avoir une pensée........... ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ c'est une chose precieuse.....♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ qu'il ne faut jamais perdre........♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ fredonne ce chant a tes ami(es )........... ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ pour qu'ils sachent aussi♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫ que tu penses à eux♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♫ ♥ ♥ ♫. .

Johanna said...

hi betty - thanks for visiting my blog - I have looked at your comments on your blogging crisis. I understand your angst. At times I feel pressure to perform and so I remind myself that I do it for myself - to eat well, to have fun, to share recipes with others and to be inspired.

Last year I had a lot of stress which meant that I couldn't blog for a few months - I was gratified when I finally got back to blogging that some of the people I had enjoyed exchanging comments with were still there and encouraging me. I think the reality of blogging is that we can't always make it a first priority. If you aren't enjoying it, maybe take a break and you might find that down the track you will want to return to it which would make you a happier blogger.

But your blog looks interesting and it seems, like you say, that there are people who enjoy it, so you seem to be doing something right, which should be heartening :-)

Ricki said...

Hi Betty,

I came across your blog via your comment on Green Gourmet Giraffe, of which I am a huge fan.

This whole conversation is fascinating to me, as I'm a new (4 months along) blogger and while I've certainly noticed the fantastic talent that so many bloggers have re: photos (which I, sadly, don't share--not yet, anyway), the comments about bloggers' egos and targeting blogs toward commercial goals are kind of eye-openers to me.

More than anything else, I love writing, and I love writing my blog. My stats are pathetic compared to many of the others out there, I'm sure, but once I decided that I was writing most of all for me (that's not to say I'm not aware of an audience, or that I don't want to write what's pleasing for them to read, of course, just that I have to enjoy it first and foremost), it was very liberating. My style changed almost immediately thereafter, and writing became a lot easier.

I'm having lots of fun with my entries, and if what I'm writing seems silly or inconsequential or not targeted enough, well, I suppose everyone has the right to read elsewhere. In the end, the blog will still remain as a record for me years down the road.

I guess what I'm saying is what so many of these other (very thoughtful, and clearly very devoted to your blog) readers are saying, that you need to be true to yourself first, and the rest will follow naturally.

From what I can see after browsing through your blog, it's a great one that is well worth coming back to!

Veronica said...

Hi Betty

Well, I was going to comment as your thoughts are so close to mine, but then I saw Steve H had said it all, and far better than I would have done :-)

I agree that some food bloggers sound pretentious and/or apparently are able to spend many hours a day preparing and photographing food. But the food blogs I really like are ones like yours and The Cottage Smallholder that reflect real people with jobs and ordinary lives, writing about the food they cook every day. So do what you feel comfortable with and don't worry about what the A-List are doing! You canonly keep up a blog if you are happy doing it.

I'm sure the visitor figures for my blog are pathetic, but I don't care, because I'm not trying to make money with it, and it is primarily for me and friends/family. I have been having fun taking photos lately, but again this is for personal pleasure, not because I think it will result in more traffic. And quite often I don't take photos because we ate it ;-)

Mimi said...

WOW! We are on the same page here. I could have written this.


Babeth said...

Hi there,

You need to step back relax, breathe deeply and as kate suggested have a drink :-)
Food blogging is all about love, not what to do or not to do. It's what I do, I don't do it for audience just for the love of food. I may be the time for some blog vacations, just like in real life :-)

Jann said...

You have been receiving incredible and encouraging thougths and advice from wonderful bloggers~I also would agree with Steve that this food blogging comes from a passion/love of all foods, the creations of talented and the not so talented. Doesn't matter....I am truly interested in people....and in what is going on in their kitchen, personal garden or local an everyday situation that I can relate to...with you living in France, the food capitol of the world, you have so much to share with your readers! I am so envious of the foods you have available at your fingertips!I don't think you have to do a post every single day unless you are doing this for a living~I know we all realize how much time is involved in the writing and the prep time .....but most of us have a lot going on besides the blogging-and in all honesty, I do the blogging when I have the free time and am not taking this time from my family or business...I know that when I am able to get on line for a few hours, it is total enjoyment and I want to keep it at this level, no demands or stress...I find much enjoyment in your posts and would be sad to see them go away......