Food blogger pro tips: Know your worth, write your feelings and more

Oct 22, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. ET
Image: Olgakr/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Irvin Lin, blogger at Eat the Love, does a lot. And he does it well. Which is why when he talks food blogging, you should listen.

He describes himself as an IACP-Award winning photographer, award-winning baker, award-winning graphic designer, storyteller, recipe developer, writer and average Joe bon vivant. Phew! But take a stroll through his blog, and you can see why he's winning awards.

As a successful blogger in the competitive food space, he's learned how to navigate the ins and outs of the business, and he's sharing some of that insight with us. From how to remain a sane and motivated blogger to tips for turning your blog into a business, Irvin offers us a sneak peek to what he'll be dishing on at #BlogHerFood15, where he's speaking on the panel Achieving Long-Term Blogger Happiness. Plus, we get to peek inside his fridge. How many dozen eggs does one food blogger need? Apparently quite a few.

Irvin Lin headshot
Image: A.J. Bates

More: Michael Procopio talks writing, eating and his stance on pumpkin spice lattes

How do you stay motivated when you’ve been blogging for many years? What inspires you?

I realize that blogging is just one part of my life. And once I stopped focusing on it as my main source of everything, life got easier. I take breaks. I sometimes don’t make my own “internal” deadline for a post. And sometimes I just decide I need to write a post because I want to write a post, not for any other reason. I also stopped looking at my traffic and analytics every day. That saved my sanity.

Best tip for turning your blog into a business?

Understand what you’re worth. Charge what you think your time is worth, and know that sometimes you’ll get a no. If you can afford it, be willing to walk away from a project. But also do it politely, and offer to help in any other way possible. For instance, if I’m out of a brand’s price range, I’ll send them names of other bloggers who might be a better fit. The brand always appreciates the lead, other bloggers always appreciate you passing their name on, and if/when the brand has more money in their budget, they’ll think of that person that was super helpful to them next time. If the blogger gets approached by a brand asking them for names of other bloggers, I can only hope they will think of me as well. The more we help each other, the more we all rise up together as successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople.

The three things you wish you’d known before you started a food blog?

  • That I should have started blogging back in 2004, not 2010.
  • That I should learn how to use my camera properly and not just shoot in automatic mode.
  • That I really shouldn’t use so many exclamation marks.

The thing you will probably fail at at least once when starting a food blog?

There is tons of advice on how to be successful with a food blog. Be on social media constantly, pin all the time, take gorgeous photos, write beautiful blogs posts, promote yourself on all the channels, pay attention to SEO, etc. But in all that, people often forget that a food blog is about food. Inevitably, after writing and photographing and social media-ing the heck out of a post, you’ll find that you wrote “use 12 teaspoons of kosher salt” instead of “1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt.” Proofread, test, and make sure your recipes are solid. Everyone messes that up eventually. But understand the recipe should come first.

The biggest misconception about food blogging?

That all we do is eat fabulous and gorgeous food 24/7. Doesn’t really work that way. I wish it did!

Best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

I can’t remember where I read it or who it was, but a food editor of a major newspaper once said that food writers and bloggers need to get the reader out of their mouth. He was tired of always reading about how the food tastes. Instead he wanted to read about what the food made you feel. Did it transport you on a trip? Did it trigger a memory? Did you feel warm and cozy or cool and fabulous? Everyone always writes about how the food tastes, but what makes food writing interesting is how the food makes a person feel.

Biggest influences in writing, cooking, food photography?

  • Writing: Nigel Slater, Molly O’Neill, Ruth Reichl, Dorie Greenspan, Anthony Bourdain, Bill Buford, Frank Bruni, David Tanis, Melissa Clark
  • Cooking: Sherry Yard, Dorie Greenspan, Alice Medrich, Alice Waters, David Lebovitz, Julia Child and my mom, who always made sure we had a home-cooked meal on the table growing up.
  • Food photography: Sang An, Gentl and Hyers, Penny De Los Santos, Eric Wolfinger, Andrew Scrivani, Maren Caruso, Sara Remington, Peden + Munk, Alan Benson

The piece of food writing you’re most proud of?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a chocolate cake blog post about being jealous of other bloggers' success. It took me a while to pull the trigger and publish it, but in the end I’m glad I did. It resonated with a number of other bloggers, and at the time I was a little freaked out that I wrote it. Strangely, a lot of the stuff I talked about being jealous of in the post has since happened to me. I’ve gotten a book deal. I’ve talked at conferences (including the honor of being on this BlogHer keynote panel!). But even all that doesn’t mean that the post doesn’t still resonate with me, because for every milestone I get to, I see my peers getting to three more down the road. “Success” is a fickle lover. Every time you get a taste of it, you want more.

That said, the one piece that got selected for the Best Food Writing 2014 book was my How to Boil Water April Fools' Day joke post. I loved how everyone wrote a comment and interacted with the piece exactly like I wanted them to.

More: Food bloggers, take note — this is the writing advice you want to hear

Now, some fun stuff...

The five most surprising things in your fridge?

  • A jar of Day-Glo red maraschino cherries that I had to buy for a project and haven’t used since. I should really toss them, because I actually have another bottle of small-batch maraschino cherries that are so much better and don’t have the weird red food dye.
  • A large container of sourdough starter that hasn’t been fed in ages. It looks pretty gross, and I probably can revive it, but it just lingers in the back of the fridge, neglected. Poor sourdough starter.
  • Fermented salted shrimp for making kimchee. Is this surprising? I’m not sure what surprises people anymore.
  • Leftovers from a roasted goose I made for a client. Christmas in October!
  • Five dozen eggs and 12 pounds of butter. I don’t think this is very surprising, as I’m writing a baking cookbook. But apparently when I mention it to my friends, they are aghast.

Your stance on…

  • Pumpkin spice lattes: I’ve had three in my life? They are OK. I can understand the appeal, but they don’t really do much for me. Too sweet.
  • Sriracha: I adore it, but there are so many other types of hot sauces and spices out there. I want people to reach for something else sometimes.
  • Truffle oil: I like truffle flavor, but I’m a little creeped out by most truffle oil because of the chemicals. But I can understand the convenience and appeal. I prefer to splurge a little and get real truffle salt or truffle oil (made from actual truffles) and not the chemical stuff.
  • Ramen as a bun, pizza crust, etc.: I’m all for innovation, but my personal preference is for ramen in a bowl with soup.
  • Kale: I love kale and am sad there’s a backlash. But it doesn’t need to be in everything. You can use other leafy green vegetables too. Chard is lovely! Beet greens are great! Let’s make kale a gateway leafy green…

Your current favorite… 

  • Cocktail: I rarely drink, but when I do, I usually opt for bourbon on the rocks. I’m not a fan of super-fruity or sweet cocktails.
  • Fast food: I used to work as an art director and graphic designer at a shop whose main client was fast-food and fast-casual chains. After eating pretty much every single fast-food item out there (for research), I pretty much have burned out on it, especially since it’s not what I normally eat anyway. That said, there’s a local chain here in San Francisco called Super Duper that does a great burger in that particular category. It’s more fast casual than fast food, though.
  • Comfort food: Buttermilk-fried chicken or biscuits and gravy, depending on whether it’s the morning or the afternoon/evening meal.
  • Dessert: A warm, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie rarely disappoints, but I also have a weakness for fruit pies. Actually, pretty much any seasonal fruit in pie form is my favorite. With a scoop of ice cream on top, please.

The craziest cooking hack you’ve ever tried?

The “peel all the garlic cloves” by putting it in two giant bowls sandwiched together, banging the garlic around over your head. It did work but was a real mess afterwards, with garlic paper all over the bowls. I’d rather just smash the garlic with the side of a knife. Way easier and faster, with less cleanup.

The three biggest food-centric benefits to living in San Francisco?

  • Seasonal, fresh, organic and local produce is around every single corner if you want it.
  • I love making my own croissants and bread, but I live two blocks away from Tartine Bakery, so I don’t even bother making either anymore.
  • No matter what your food restrictions are (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, etc.), you can pretty much go to any restaurant, and they’ll understand and accommodate you. And the food is good. Not just good for vegan or gluten-free. It’s good.

More: Food blogger Sabrina Modelle talks blogging, burnout and the best Sriracha

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