What would you say if I told you that one woman has single-handedly cornered the friendship bread food blog space?
Maybe you wouldn’t be that surprised. After all, how many people could possibly be blogging exclusively about the chain letter of starter yeasts? How many recipes could exist using the simple starter as a base anyway? And how could someone gain an audience within such a narrow niche?
These were a few of the questions that I put to Darien Gee, the novelist who’s just as famous for her blog Friendship Bread Kitchen as she is for her best-selling Avalon novel series.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to realize that there was actually enough to say about friendship bread to justify an entire food blog on the subject.
One reasons I did this was because there were so few resources. It was such a small niche, and I was writing about and baking [friendship bread] for almost two years because of the novel Friendship Bread.
In 2009, I was writing and coming across recipes for the novel, and I thought it would be great to have one central place to start a dialogue. I created a page on Facebook and started putting recipes and quotes about friendship there.
In the beginning, the idea was to dovetail the page with the novel, but really people just wanted these recipes. I didn’t necessarily want to do a food blog, but by about 2012, I realized I needed a better home for all of these recipes that I was curating and developing.
I was looking for unusual, fun ways to get rid of the starter. I wanted a place to store the recipes, to develop and curate more original recipes, and to share them.
But if it was just about the recipes, I don’t think I’d be doing this anymore. What resonated with me was the food, but also what the food does. Friendship bread is about sharing what you have with others, and I wanted to find more avenues for people to share it, especially with people who’d least expect it, like your mailman.
I don’t. My issue is time. I’m a full time writer with three kids, and up until last year, I was homeschooling. It takes a lot of time.
I have a huge recipe file of recipes that I want to adapt. It’s so much larger than anything I have time to do. I’ll see a recipe and wonder if I can make it. Like these Early Grey Tea Cakes, which were so good. I saw the recipe and wondered if I could adapt that to use a friendship bread starter.
Food blogging is a saturated market right now, but I think there’s still room if you’ve got a unique angle. If you’ve got a tight niche, you can really occupy that space.
From a business point of view, it’s not a crowded space. There are probably a lot of small niches that are crowded now, like paleo and vegan blogs. But if you’ve got something new, you get to be one of the first people or only people to dominate a niche. For example, how many ways to make pot pie? That’s on my list, by the way: a really good pot pie crust recipe using the friendship bread starter.
If you’re looking to connect with other people in a community, a niche blog is a way in.
Also, there’s not as much pressure to keep up with the Joneses when you have a tightly focused food blog because you’re mostly competing with yourself. You can really honor that niche without worrying about what everyone else is doing.
For me, the challenge came when I started looking towards growing. That’s kind of tricky. I’m not always sure where people are coming from. Not in terms of search engines, but what’s going on in their homes to make them think they want to make this recipe.
If you’re a food blogger, and you want to make money, there may be limitation to the size of the market in a given niche. How many readers are looking for what you have to offer? That’s something that’s out of your hands.
Even if it’s a small market, you’ve got to make sure you own it by using great photos, great content, easy navigation, and getting rid of content that people aren’t looking at.
Have the best of everything, and ask questions of the people who do come to the site. Find out what they need. At first, I didn’t bother with tutorials because the starter makes the recipes so easy. But I started adding more tutorials when I realized that people don’t want to make an expensive mistake, that they want a guide. Ask yourself: what else can I do to make this better?
Never assume you’ve gone as far as you can go. With a small focus, you might feel like it’s going to get stale, but in my experience there’s a lot you can do with even one topic. Even when I keep throwing out all these new fancy recipes, there are a lot of people who are there only for the basics. I do what I do because I like to be able to give people a lot of options even if they still choose the same ones.
Every food blog is different. Not everyone will have a super-engaging story, husband, or dog. There are some who are so gifted and talented at that, but some food bloggers are equally successful sharing simple recipes.
I’d say: know your market. I’ve got mixed results on longer form, narrative posts. Some people just want recipes. So if you’re sharing something that’s relevant, keep it simple and post the best recipe you can.
And of course, read, read, read. Read a lot of the food bloggers you love. Ask yourself: how does this post work? Copying someone else’s style for a while can be a good way to find your own voice.
Another exercise is to try writing one recipe post three different ways: as a stand alone recipe, with a little narrative woven in, and as a longer-form post. It may seem time-consuming, but it’s better than spending a year or two on your blog and realizing you’re not getting traffic because you haven’t developed an authentic style. A blog doesn’t become successful just because of the food; it’s also because of the blogger’s voice. Play around to find that.
First, just get the recipes up. Once you have them up, you can go back and start fixing them, making them more fun and readable. Or you can pick some point and start moving forward with more developed posts from there. Either way, get the content up sooner rather than later. Frontload it. If you’ve only got ten recipes up, first-time visitors may not come back.
Imagine opening a store. You wouldn’t start with five item on the shelves. If you look at blog posts as products, how many products do you need to open this shop up? What posts can you get up quickly?
Start there and then keep going. Even if you don’t have a built in audience, if you stay on it, they will come. I’ve written several novels, but 85% of the people who come to the Friendship Bread Kitchen have just found me. They haven’t necessarily read my book or heard of me. They came for the recipes.
Darien may be the wildly successful author of a beloved series of novels, but you don’t have to be to build a following for your blog. If you choose a niche that has a natural audience and focus on giving that audience the very best content (and a lot of it), you can gain the niche advantage, too.
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