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Some Thoughts on Book Writing and Starting a Food Blog

The Guardian Word of Mouth published a piece today on bloggers that write books, or blogs that become books, including a mention of mine, and it prompted some interesting conversation. I find that I am talking to people about this topic more and more when they meet me now, especially when they hear that I have written a book. There is a always a lot of questions, somehow people want to understand how this phenomenon or trend has been taken seriously by publishers, also why the hell do I write a food blog so obsessively in the first place? So, why not a few words on that?

Firstly, starting a food blog (in the UK) in 2007, was a very different thing to starting one now. There was no expectation of anything coming of it. There were a few pioneers, but there simply wasn’t a culture of blogging about food particularly, certainly not in the way there is now. There seems to be far more food blogs than any other type of blog in the UK at the moment. Nor were there any success stories, book deals or expectations of free things to review like meals or products as there is now (if bloggers choose to accept them, I am not getting into that argument now!).

Instead, it was a raw, and I believe, honest pursuit. I am not for a second suggesting it is dishonest now, but new bloggers are in a far different environment. Paths have been beaten to journalistic careers and publishers doors, and there is now the possibility of a trajectory and of success in a food related sphere.

Starting a blog for me back then was little more that creating a trough for obsession and dissatisfaction with current pursuits. For me, I was very unhappy in my job and felt unhappy when I looked at where I was and where I was going to be, but I loved food, loved to cook, loved to create recipes, and I also loved to write. It was a natural, if unexplored path for me to follow, and from when I started, I enjoyed every minute and just wanted to get better at it. People responded well to the recipes which was incredibly encouraging, and I started to enjoy it more and more. It started to define my everyday existence.

Over the years publishers started to get in touch about doing a book, but the timing always seemed to be appalling for me. The last few years have been peppered with dramas which I won`t go into here and now. Writing a book has aways been a dream of mine (I realise it is for a lot of people), so I took it very seriously as I wanted to do it properly, and so I held off until I felt that I was in a place where I had something concrete that I wanted to write about in a book format. I think where people make the greatest assumption is the next bit, that a publisher will publish any blogger with an audience. That is simply not the case.

Before any publisher would take me seriously, even if they were the ones that made the first move by getting in touch, I had to have a concrete book proposal with a hook, something that defined it and made it stand out. For me that also meant something that made it very much me. My proposal was almost 30 pages of overview, book structure, recipes, feedback, table of contents and all other pertinent things. I met publishers to discuss it, defended my concept, took their feedback on, and when I found the publisher that was right for me – Quadrille – I signed with them.

Writing a book itself, is more difficult than I imagined. Writing full time for weeks and weeks, running into months and months is challenging (if still the best job that I have ever had). Recipe testing over and over begins to feel inhumane (but essential). At the end of it, I am left with my first book – Comfort & Spice, published this September by Quadrille – which I am very proud of, and I hope that you like it too.

And that is it. My story so far. Who knows what comes next, but I am not thinking like that. I am still enjoying this for what it is, and still loving writing about it all, every single minute.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

38 Comments

  1. What a fantastic and inspiring piece :-) I’ve only been blogging a couple of months, and appreciate that the online environment is now a very different place, but my sentiments are exactly the same. I love food, I love trying new restaurants and I love the joy of sharing my experiences with others and hearing their feedback. There’s nothing more wonderful than getting a note from someone the other side of the world saying they’ve made your recipe or feel inspired by your site. Blogging doesn’t always have to have a specific purpose – as long as you enjoy it sometimes that’s enough.
    ps can’t wait for your book to hit shelves – it’s already there on my Amazon wishlist!

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    • Thank you! I think it is thatway for most. After all, you are putting yourself out there and secondly, the rewards aren’t definite or immeidiate so I do think that a lot who don’t have a passion for it itself fall by the wayside really early.

      Thanks re book and glad you are enjoying yours so much :)

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  2. Niamh, this is a great (and honest) post about your foodie journey so far. Your blog is fantastic and I can’t wait to try the recipes from the book when it comes out! Well done, and enjoy the reward for all of your hard work over the years!!

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  3. Their veiled criticism didn’t go unnoticed. It’s very Fourth Estate of them to be so dismissive. Odd for a publication such as theirs, being so great with social, etc.

    It is ironic in a way. I work in media. At my last job we joked that writing a book is the “journalist’s retirement plan”.

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    • Thanks Gordon! I didn’t really pick up on that to be fair, but I do think that social media exposes a new pool of potential authors in the way that perhaps magazines did before. It’s just a different method. Most journalists really friendly and open with blogging but there are still some adjusting to us.

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  4. I am so looking forward to your book Niamh, so many of your blogged recipes are really interesting and it’ll be great to see more in print.

    I just wanted to add a really personal comment about the food blogging / book thing. I didn’t particularly start my blog in order to get a book deal. I was extremely lucky to get asked to write my first book, a question of right place at the right time. I was working for a publisher in my ‘day job’ as a food stylist and I nagged them to let me write a proposal. Luckily they loved what I wrote and that was that.

    But once I had written the book I was completely blown away by how much I enjoyed the writing process. When I had finished my manuscript and all the photos were complete I was left feeling a little bereft. Once I discovered I loved writing, and others had given me confidence by praising what I wrote, I knew I had to continue. So the blog began more out of a real compulsion to keep writing – I had the bug and I had it bad.

    Luckily for me the chickens that are the centre of the blog were arriving anyway, after years of dreaming about them, and in the middle of the night I had a sit-up-in bed moment when the lightbulb in my head came on. And An Egg a Day was born.

    When you like writing you have to write, and having a blog, food or otherwise, is a wonderful, free, and positive way of expressing that desire.

    Best of luck with the book.

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    • Hi Genevieve, thanks for your comment!

      I am not for a second knocking anyone new to the field, merely telling my story. I think it’s wonderful that there are new bloggers like you coming in, oneswith genuine enthusiasm and passion. Almost all are like that in truth!

      Just one thing – if you nagged them to give a proposal, surely it was similar and not that you were asked? The concept of being asked to write a book without a proposal doesn’t really exist in the real world unless you are a celebrity, surely? A bit confused by that.

      I really must get a copy of your book too. Thanks for the kind words otherwise :)

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      • Hi Niamh, Thanks for replying.

        I reread my hastily written comment and realised its not that clear is it! The publishers needed a particular book written, a fact they mentioned to me in passing on a shoot, and I just said please can I have a go. I wrote them a treatment for the book they needed written and got the job. So not really the normal way of things I appreciate.

        But what I wanted to convey in my initial comment was that once you discover you like writing – even accidentally as was my case – you really need a place to do it, book deal or no book deal. And thats why food blogs are so great – all this creativity in the world has a way out.

        Hope your enjoying your trip. Just a tiny bit envious, as I sit here telling my kids off for not eating their tea!

      • Ah ok. I completely agree. Writing is a joy. I have always loved to write even as a small child. Total nonsense I am sure and lots of crazy teenage poetry. In fact my first book I even illustrated myself, it was called ALIENS ON EARTH! ;) Haha.

        Anyway, I am actually working while in BA even though it is a personal holiday I have a deadline to meet on something else so am bjusy writing ecipes at my desk in my (albeit lovely) hotel room. The beauty and downside of the internet ;)

  5. Great post, and shows that this is probably not the route for someone looking to make a quick buck, as the work cannot be underestimated. Article made me laugh a bit though, as I ran a post with same title a couple of weeks ago, featuring those food blogs that had, or were about to, make the transition to the physical world. I agree the landscape is very different, but it shouldn’t discourage those who come into it with the right intentions. And I guess, like most things in life, quality will out, and endure.

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    • Hi Helen, didn’t see your post! Was it one like the Guardians? Will take a look. Definitely mot a route for a quick buck, either book writing or blogging! Lots of other satisfaction throughout. Don’t mean to discourage anyone but I am always surprised by new bloggers who expect instant recognition and success.

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  6. Inspiring piece, can’t wait for the book. I came into blogging when I started work for a skincare company doing their social media stuff, so I got interested in it from a technical perspective. I knew how to doing all the right things from a technical side, but people want to see a human side in blogging – it’s taken me nearly two years to realise that!

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    • Thank you! I do think the human side is very important and lots of corporations don’t get that. Glad to hear you are enjoying yours too!

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    • Thanks Cara! Oh – hadn’t seen that post before – it’s brilliant. Writing a book isn’t easy and I expect it will be stressful when it launches too. But, there are lots of great bits :)

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  7. I always look forward to your posts, now I can’t wait for the book! Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your wisdom.

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  8. What a great post, wonderful to have your experienced perspective on it all. As a “newbie” I have completely surprised myself by how addictive blogging is, things I never though about before like the photography is really making me tick. I got into it as I wanted a creative outlet and it gave me the chance to indulge my love/ obsession with food. That being said, I wouldnt exactly turn down a book deal …hehe

    All the best for your book, so exciting

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  9. Hi there! A friend has just emailed me this post of yours as she knows that I am really really keen on blogging – yes, that word ‘addictive’ is so right! Very interesting to hear your story and I too look forward to getting your book! Great stuff!

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  10. You know, I thought I was really late to the blogging game when I started in 2005. By 2007 my perception was that PR and book publishers were in on the act (though not as much as now). It just goes to show that the right time is always right now!

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    • Hi Caitlin. In the UK there wasn’t a scene as yet. Jeanne of Cook Sister , Dos Hermanos and others had started but it didn’t properly explode IMO until 2 years ago.

      PRs only really became aware here about 3 years ago & it went really badly at first. Hence that summit The Guardian organised. Things are much more civilised these days! :)

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  11. So exciting. Im a ‘new’ blogger, although I did start a blog in 2005 but soon gave up. Now I just write because I dont get to do it in my day job even if im aware that my words are lost in the busy food blogging cyberspace. Cannot wait for your book (and the launch party :-) )

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  12. congratulations on your upcoming book. I started blogging to publicize my cooking workshops which I never did continue with. My mistake was to accept writing projects for online newspapers for little or no money. It made the whole thing a chore. I stopped that completely and now continue to enjoy my own blog even if I don’t have the prestige or exposure of a larger audience.

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    • Thanks.

      Ah yes. The writing for free conondrum.Personally, I don’t believe people should UNLESS they are getting something else from it instead of money. I focussed here for the first few years before looking at writing freelance, but do write freelance now. It’s always challenging keeping a balance though.

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