Q&A: The Amateur Gourmet on His Blogging Success

Mar 122013
 

Now in his ninth year as a food blogger, Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet shows no sign of slowing. A witty and charming writer, he posts several times a week on restaurant meals, cooking a new dish, hosting dinner parties, and other adventures and experiments. He’s also good at coming up with attention-grabbing posts that go viral.

I met Roberts for the second time at Food Blog South, where he delivered a valuable talk on 10 Food Blog Posts That ‘ll Get You Traffic. He likes to write advice posts to food bloggers, whom he considers a main part of his Amateur Gourmet audience. I’ve listed those posts below. Consider them gold, because they’re like insider information on how to succeed as a food blogger. I quoted from them several times in Will Write for Food.

Roberts chronicles his food obsessions and life seamlessly, whether in text, photos, videos or comics. I remember reading — with astonishment — his first viral post, Janet Jackson Breast Cupcakes, which received 70,000 hits and an email from CNN about doing a story. Here’s what Roberts has to say about his success:

Q. Did you have any idea, when you started your blog in 2004, that it would lead to two cookbooks, an essay in Food & Wine (which I adore) and a gig as a TV webshow host?

Roberts’ first book, based on his blog, takes a “Kitchen 101″ approach.

A. I had absolutely no idea, and I think that was the reason I was successful. I was being genuine, not calculated. I wanted an outlet to express my enthuisasm for food. Even now, readers can sense when there’s a purity behind it, when it’s real — not because the writer wanted to become successful.

My very first post was tongue-in-cheek. I thought I wanted to start a new career, but I had no idea that it would happen.

Q. How many years have you been making a living with your blog?

A. The moment when things clicked over was when I sold my first book in 2006. I had just graduated from playwriting school in New York, and I used the advance from my first book to pay rent. It was the first time I could support myself fully. I also wrote for Serious Eats and Epicurious as a regular columnist, and my Food Network gig started not long after that. By then I had grown enough traffic from my blog to supplement myself with ad revenue. When the Food Network gig ended I sold the second book.

Q. What is the secret to your success?

A. In the blog, honesty is important, having people know that I’m telling them the truth about a recipe or restaurant experience. People feel that they can trust me, and then they feel that they know me.

The other thing I have going for me is resilience. I just keep going. I’m like the Energizer Bunny of bloggers. I do three to four posts a week and I haven’t stopped doing that since 2004.

Q. Do you have a plan for what happens next?

In Roberts’ second book, he set out to cook in 50 of America’s best kitchens.

A. I’m really proud of this book I just wrote. I want that to seep out into the world in the next year. I’m starting to see that people are blogging recipes from the book and cooking from it. That’s an amazing thing that people get to share my journey with the chefs.

I’ll either write a cookbook or another book or develop a TV show next. In the meantime, I’ve been working on a musical just for fun.

Q. Do you still think of yourself as primarily a food blogger?

A. I do. The lesson I learned over and over again, with all of the things I’ve done, is that the blog is always there. I always come back to it. The blog is the reason that all this other stuff happened.

For a lot of people, blogging is a dirty word, but in our culture today, blogging is not a lower form of anything. It’s just as legitimate as the rest of what’s out there. I’m reimbracing my role and trying to put as much of myself into it as I can.

Q. Why do you write so many posts directed at food bloggers? I assume most of your readers aren’t food bloggers.

A. I don’t know if I agree with that. A lot of my comments link to a blog. Most people who read blogs and comment on food blogs have at least tried to do it. Also, it’s a way for me to work out for myself my beliefs about food blogging.

A lot of it comes from the frustration I feel when people send links to their blog and I find them uninspired. Something lights up in me and I want to write about this and point people in the right direction that is more meaningful and valuable. I don’t want to read any more generic blogs where everything is tied up in a bow and the pictures are enormous and super saturated.

Q. Last Spring you wrote a post called Are Food Blogs Over? You can’t really believe that, since you’re still blogging.

A. I wrote that post in response to an article in New York magazine, and I felt there was some legitimacy in the idea that blogs as this fresh, novel thing was over. As an institution, they’re here to stay. But what wil keep pushing them forward is innovation. What’s not helping the form is people doing copycat blogs that dominate the web.

Q. In one of your posts you said, ” There’s value in knowing who you are and presenting yourself confidently.” How long did it take you to have this viewpoint, or did you have it from the beginning?

A. My whole life, as long as I was in school and writing, I had a voice and a style and a personality that I wanted to put on the page, this singular voice that I was cultivating. At first my pieces were silly and not super personal. My transition was to write about my family, my partner Craig, and anything going on that was scary for me to write about or going too far. I found those were the kinds of things people always connected with.

Q. What can you tell writers about how long it takes to find and hone your voice?

A. It has to be something within you that you do naturally. If you’re working on honing your voice, and it’s taking a lot of effort, then maybe you’re a stylist and more of a food journalist, where it’s all about the facts. What I’m talking about is finding a way of expressing yourself that’s unique and comes out naturally. You keep a journal and you start to develop a way of writing that comes from within you that translates into a blog or a recipe.

I’m also a huge reader and that helps. I’m always reading books, articles and magazines. I feel like a balloon that’s filled up with all this stuff, and it makes me very inspired and makes me want to write.

Q. Is no topic is off limits for you, as long as you can relate it to food, such as introducing your readers to the new man in your life, during a story on dinner at a Chinese restaurant? That took guts.

A. It was inevitably going to happen, because I knew Craig was going to be part of my life, but I didn’t want to announce it in a huge way. If you read the comments, all of my readers were so happy. There was this real sense of gratitude in the comments that was very satisfying.

I don’t write about other people who are going through things. A friend passed away recently, and I grieved. It had nothing to do with my food blog and it didn’t seem appropriate or relevant to write about it.

A. One of the things I like about your blog is the visual variety. There are not just photos but videos, narrative comic book stories, and manipulated Andy Warhol-type montages like the one above. What are your favorite tools to do these kinds of things?

Q. The first step is to see if there’s a variety of images on the page. Even if it’s just photography, I show photos from a restaurant, and a photo of Tupperware. You want to have lots of images. So often on food blogs, the images all blend together. Each image must feel unique.

The key to all of this is storytelling. If I choose to accomplish that with a comic book format, the software I use is Comic Life, which has a free download. It’s really easy. My comic book posts are successful because I have a great story to get through, with a lot of narrative. It’s more pleasureable for people to experience it as a comic book.

Q. Maybe I’m in the dark, but I haven’t seen other food bloggers who do it.

A. People email me, and it’s interesting how different tools yield different results. It’s not about the bubbles and cartoons, it’s about having a good story to tell.

Q. What is your advice for bloggers who want to make a living from their blogs?

A. Reality testing is the most important thing. You have to monitor how you’re doing pretty early on. Start a blog without any expectations of earning money. Write three to four posts a week and promote them. Make them creative and attention grabbing. After about 6 weeks, look at how you’ve done. Look at the numbers, the comments, the reactions, the links.

If you do that and you see that there is something there, and people are responding to what you’re doing, then you can throw yourself into it and treat your posts like little articles in a magazine, really putting a lot into them, building your traffic into something meaningful with thousands of clicks per day.

Also, I’ve built a brand there, something that feels unique and identifiable and helps me stand out from the pack. Amateur Gourmet means something. There’s a personality attached to it. People know “it’s that guy.”

Amateur Gourmet’s Posts for Food Bloggers:

(Blog images courtesy of Adam Roberts.)

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  36 Responses to “Q&A: The Amateur Gourmet on His Blogging Success”

  1. Very interesting Q&A. Adam is one of the food blogging pioneers that I have yet to meet. Would love to see him speak at another conference, so I hope he has plans to do so!

    • Food Blog South was his first blogging conference, believe it or not! He did a super job on the stage — funny and self effacing, while providing tons of valuable advice.

  2. Charming – your best post this year, so far. Now I’m going to read all the blog posts of his that you list. Thank you for this.

    • Seriously? Good thing it’s only March. :-) Yes, please read them all, Liz. Those posts are worth your time.

  3. Fantastic interview! Lots of linkage reading for me to do. I will share this on the Food Bloggers Los Angeles Facebook page.

  4. Thanks for this great post Dianne.
    I’ve subscribed to Adam’s mailing list for almost a year and there is always something new to learn.

    When “Secrets of the Best Chefs” was just out in local bookstores in Jakarta I emailed him. You would have thought that with tons of emails he is receiving and how busy he is, he would’t have time to respond. He did.

  5. Great interview, Dianne ~ I’ve been reading Adam’s blog for about a year now and really enjoy his work ~ Great Job to both of you!

  6. Amanda from Dirt Candy, owner of the vegan restaurant and cookbook author published her book in comic book format. A very cute and inventive way to bring the cooks into your story.

  7. I love the successful bloggers like Adam that share the knowledge they have learned along the way. I have saved all the links for reading and future re-reading to remind myself of best practices to make a successful blog. I will have to check out his book. What an fun adventure that must have been!

    • Yes, David Lebovitz is like that too. He has posts on is blog about food writing and cookbook writing.

      I have re-read Adam’s posts several times, I confess. I never get tired of them.

  8. I always enjoy learning more about the wonderful food community and it’s people. Adam is a fantastic leader in the food blogging world ~ Great post Dianne!

    • Thanks Elizabeth. I don’t know if he even thinks of himself as a leader, but I bet he’ll enjoy reading what you wrote.

  9. Thank you for introducing me to a wonderful food blogger, Dianne. I always gain such valuable insights from your posts. I’m not sure how I could have missed you, Adam. I’m happy that has changed. I loved catching up by reading the articles posted above. I look forward to reading more.

    • Aww thanks, Eric. I figured there were a FEW people who didn’t know about Adam. I’m happy to be involved in changing that.

  10. He has given me hope. I have been at this for just over a year and have been discouraged for a multitude of reason. He has stuck with it and has reaped the rewards for doing so. It also helps that he writes well. :-)

    • Yes, it also helps that he loves it and feels the need to express himself regularly. When you have something you want to tell the world about, blogging is right there, ready for you.

  11. Gosh, you can’t imagine how much I needed to read this post on blogging and how others regard bloggers these days. I’ve been dealing with a lot of recipe scrapers and plagiarists lately and it has become quite discouraging for me to keep churning out original recipes, my own dishes and photos I’ve taken myself, only for most of it to be lifted with no permission. I’m beginning to rethink how I can move forward with blogging and deal with these challenges. But Adam’s insights are a refreshing take and gave me lots to think about. I’m going to go take a look at my own blog now and plan what to do next for my readers. Thanks for this inspiring article, Dianne!

    • You’re welcome Betty, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It sounds like it was just what you and a few others needed right now, if you’re feeling discouraged. I did not get into those subjects. Maybe he has those problems with his blog as well. But let’s stick with getting inspired by what he had to say!

  12. Hi Diane,
    Enjoyed this Q & A as a food blogger myself for about three years. I am always learning and growing from so many blogs I follow.
    Thank you for your fantastic interviews. Learned so much from your book, too.
    I hope someday to have the engagement you have after each post.

    The Souper

    • Thanks for the kind words, Souper. I’m going to be talking about engagement at the Food Bloggers of Canada annual conference. My talk is called, Hey is Anybody Out There? Maybe I should try posting on that subject again.

      • Look forward to a future post here on Engagement, Dianne. Sometimes I think of all my Twitter followers and why are they not commenting, sharing or transferring over to my blog.
        My new Facebook Page is slowly growing (called Prep2eat) as I try to engage with pics, fav foodie items/sources to inspire. Not a lot of recipes.
        Sounds like I need to shake things up a bit :) Step outside the box!

        The Souper

        • I do like to shake things up a bit, as does Roberts. But mostly he’s a great storyteller and not afraid to get personal.

  13. Dianne, so informative… Enjoyed reading it.
    Thank you very much!
    I saw the book in ofChicago, while travelling, but was unaware of the blog; subscribed to it now.
    Best regards, M.

  14. It’s interesting to read about Adam’s journey, and it is an enviable one! He followed a path that many of us dream of.

    I have to wonder, though’97When he suggests writing three to four posts when starting out, does he mean to do that just in the beginning, or to continue that pace indefinitely? Because that is not only a challenge for those with full-time jobs, it is also overwhelming for readers. Personally, I don’t want to read three or four posts a week from the same person. I have an enormous amount to read every day/week/month and that would send me over the edge.

    But if he’s saying to temporarily toss a few out every week to see what sticks, that’s different.

    • Roberta, yes, he is saying that, and he still throws out 3-4 posts a week, to a huge audience.

      • I attended a food blogging panel last year and Deb Perelman was one of the guests. She was asked about how frequently she posts and she said that she posts once, maybe twice, a week. And here she is now with a NYT best-selling cookbook. I do believe that she posted a little more frequently when she first started, but now that she’s built her platform, she’s a once-a-week gal.

        • Interesting point, Roberta. I have heard other bloggers say they built their platform by posting more often and are now down to once a week, so perhaps for those who have a big audience, it’s a perk of the job.

  15. Dianne,

    You may have posted this several times, but how do new bloggers build an audience ? Do you have a link regarding this topic? Thanks Dianne.

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