129: Forging Your Own Path with David Lebovitz

Welcome to episode 129 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with David Lebovitz about how to develop the ability to stick with it, a lesson that helped him build his brand, and his a-typical approach to blogging analytics.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Katy Widrick from Make Media Over about marketing strategies, search engine optimization, and Google tools that can help you refine your blog. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Forging Your Own Path

1999 was a big year for David; he left his job as a pastry chef to write his first cookbook, Room for Dessert and started a recipe blog. Little did he know that he was becoming one of the pioneers of the food blogging industry!

From there, David moved to Paris, wrote a few more cookbooks, and learned how to do what he loves while providing value to his readers. You’ll learn about his philosophy on email etiquette, his favorite social media platform, and why his blog is so important to his cookbook-writing process.

In this episode, David shares:

  • Why recipe development is an ongoing process
  • How to pronounce “L’appart” and why he chose it as a book title
  • What it was like to be one of the first food bloggers
  • How he approaches his brand and business
  • The important word he learned when he moved to Paris
  • Why he doesn’t look at his Google Analytics
  • What his favorite social media platform is
  • Why it’s important to think about user experience

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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we talk to David Lebovitz about how to develop the ability to stick with it, a lesson from his uncle that helped him build his brand, and his atypical approach to blogging analytics.

Hello, hello. Bjork Ostrom here. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, and today we have the honor of having David Lebovitz on the podcast. David is going to be talking about his blogging journey for a long period of time. He’s going to talk about just how long he’s been doing it, and the things that he has learned along the way that have allowed him to continually show up every day, to continually produced content, and to do the things that he loves. All of those are essential parts of this brand building, blog building journey. There’s going to be a lot of gems for you to take away, and I know that you’ll really enjoy this interview, so let’s go ahead and jump in.

David, welcome to the podcast.

David Lebovitz: Hi Bjork. How you doing?

Bjork Ostrom: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for coming on. Worked out really well because right now you are actually in the US for a book tour. When does that kick off?

David Lebovitz: Starts next Tuesday, November 7th. That’s when my book is released. So, I landed a few days early to get over my jet lag and to make some cookies for the first event.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice, so those are cookies that you’ll bring to the first event, which makes sense that you would bring that along with. Where’s that first event at?

David Lebovitz: It’s going to be at the Powerhouse Arena Bookstore in Dumbo, in New York, in Brooklyn. The only thing I’m concerned about is there might be a lot of people there and I don’t know if I can make a couple hundred cookies in the kitchen I’m in.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. It’ll have to be, you’ll have the really good cookies, and then if you need reserves, you can get some pre made ones that slide in, underneath.

David Lebovitz: Often when I do events and I’m traveling, people go, didn’t you bring anything? I’m like, “Well, you know, the flight attendants needed the kitchen for the lunch service so I couldn’t make cookies.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, I was doing an interview recently with somebody who was talking about a book that they were going through the process of publishing. I said, “Oh, it must be nice to be at the point where you’re finally done with it,” because they had been working on it.

They said, “Well, actually to be honest, it’s kind of the half way point when you finish the book.” That’s the half way point because then you launch into this entire different process of promoting it. Do you feel like you’re beyond the halfway point a little bit, kind of three-fourths of the way through? Where do you feel like you’re at right now with the book?

David Lebovitz: Well, you know, you’re never done with the book because you at things. It’s like going back and looking at old blog posts and you’re like, “Oh, gosh, I want to change that.” Or, “Maybe I should try that with a different kind of salt.” So, I’m never done with a book. Even today I was testing a recipe and I was using American buckwheat flour. Because I live in France, I was using French buckwheat flour, and it is slightly different.

So, I’m always learning something. I’m like, “Well, maybe I should make a note in the book.” Of course, the book is coming out on Tuesday and the books are all being shipped. The recipe’s not changing at all, but I thought, “Maybe I should make a note of it.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the big differences between a book and the web – we’re going to talk about your story as a blogger here in a little bit – but just how permanent it is. So, with your other books that you’ve published, will you go back and make tweaks and adjustments when they’re re-released, or how does that work?

David Lebovitz: Usually what happens you go through a very extensive copy editing process with a book. This is not a cookbook, it’s a memoir, but it has about 25 recipes. Everybody makes mistakes. I get emails from people, and there’s a type, even very seasoned people make errors. You have to have a copy editor checking your grammar and spelling, and so forth. You want to make sure everything’s right. Once again, it doesn’t always happen. But, fortunately, it doesn’t happen with a recipe. I did see a cookbook that had a cookie recipe that called for 2 cups of baking powder. It was an Italian-American cookbook. I was like, “I think that’s a typo.” So I knew that.

Bjork Ostrom: “This seems a little bit off.”

David Lebovitz: But, recipes are always in transition, even if you have the perfect recipe on your website or in a book. Recipes change, people change, our tastes chance. Now we like these chewy chocolate chip cookies that are very butter and have salt in them.

Everybody is worried about salt. What kind are they going to use? How are they going to use it? And can they use this? So, there’s all these challenging questions. At some point, you just have to say, “Well, I’m leaving some of this up to the reader,” which often you do in a book because you can’t explain like you can in a blog, or you don’t have comments.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, to iterate after, or to refine or answer individual questions after. So, want to do a little bit more time in the book, and then come back to it. I practiced and pulled up all of these pronunciation websites. This is how I would say it, “”L’appart," but I’m guess that’s not the French pronunciation of the word.

David Lebovitz: Well, the French have a word and we use it in English, it’s called the liaison, and when you have an “L” and an apostrophe, you never have two vowels together. If you have two words, then you always either use a consonant. So it is pronounced L’appart." But it’s actually short for apartment. Apart is what people say. French people know how challenging their language is, so they often shorten words, because they’re just too long. So, I shortened it to L’appart.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. The story with the book, along with some recipes is the process that you went through in learning about what the experience of really making the apartment your own, remodeling it, moving into it. Tied into French culture and how all of those things overlapped, and then recipes to go along with it. So, where did you get the idea to talk about your apartment and how it touches all of those other facets of your life?

David Lebovitz: Well, because I’m a blogger, I tend to write about my personal life on my blog and I share it with readers. When I bought the apartment, I thought, “This is going to be really interesting. I’m going to share these stories. It’s going to be fun. I’m going to take people shopping for stoves with me, and looking for sinks, and the remodeling and watching demolition.” It was kind of fun. I wrote about three or four blog posts and people were very excited. Then things started going in another direction, and it wasn’t a direction that I was expecting or wanted it to go in.

Anyone who’s remodeled knows that this happens. All of a sudden you find yourself, “Oh my God, I don’t have a kitchen. I don’t have a bathroom, and there not showing up anymore. Where are they? And why aren’t they showing up?” Which is the big unanswered question of the universe? Like, why don’t contractors show up and finish?

In my case, it was a very long, drawn out process. It was very painful, and I stopped writing about it because I couldn’t find humor in it anymore and I didn’t think people really wanted to know some of the nuts and bolts of what was going on. So, I stopped, and people for months, and then years, were like, “What happened? We want to know?” Some people got very demanding. They were like, “I demand to see the big reveal!”

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

David Lebovitz: I was like, “Wait. When I’m done with therapy and I’m all fixed from this, maybe.” So, I kind of let it go for a couple of years. Then I was walking down the street in New York and I said, “You know what, there’s a great story in this, and there’s enough distance that I can tell it.” So, I did.

Bjork Ostrom: Great, and coming out November 7th, when this podcast comes out, this book will have been released. So, we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes and people will be able to pick it up right away. Recording this before then, but we’ll be able to purchase this once the book comes out. Would love to talk some more about that, but I want to, at this point, rewind a little bit and go back to 1999. What a great year?

David Lebovitz: Eighteen years ago, wow!

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. So take us back 18 years ago, to a point when you said, “You know what, I am going to publish a website, and I am going to put some content on that.” Something that today seems so obviously, but in 1999, was not an obviously thing to do. What was happening in your life at that point?

David Lebovitz: Well, I had left my job as a pastry chef and a baker. I was baking professionally in the San Francisco area. I left my job and I wrote my first cookbook. I thought, “There’s this thing called the web and it’d be really interesting to do a website where people can contact me if they have questions about the recipes in the book. And I can share stories and so forth.”

In the be careful what you wish for category, I started publishing updates to my site. We didn’t have blogs back in those days. There was no blogging software or platforms. But it definitely was a blog and I was publishing stories, and tips, and recipes, and so forth, and manually changing them. A lot of my friends, especially who are professional cookbook authors or writers were like, “What are you, crazy? You’re writing all this stuff and you should be working on books and so forth.”

I thought, “Well, this is what I want to do,” and you should always follow what you feel you want to do, in my opinion. It just felt right for me to keep going. There was people such as Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet and a few others, and they were writing food blogs. Also, I was using something called Moveable Type, which was the first blogging platform, I think. You could link to people, and we started leaving comments on each other’s blogs.

Literally, there was probably seven of us. It was such a different time. There was no such thing as advertising. The whole idea of SEO or any of that, it was just, didn’t exist. We were just writing about stuff. If you look at my old blog posts, they’re really goofy. It’s kind of funny. The pictures are bad. I shot them on my little point and shoot. But then, all of the sudden, there’s trying to be more blogs, and then there was some articles in newspapers and magazines about this food blog phenomenon that was happening. Then a lot more people jumped in the pool.

Bjork Ostrom: So, at what point was that that you started to see it going from, “Hey, we know who all these people are,” to people starting sights and you being like, “I have no idea who you are”? This is something where it’s once every week or a couple every week are popping up, and other people are starting to say, “Hey, I have a food blog as well.” At what point was that that you started to notice that happen?

David Lebovitz: It was probably around 2006, 2007. Also, back in those days, people were writing more blogs. But it was kind of interesting, because all of a sudden you’d have people that live in South Korea or Vietnam writing. It was like, “Wow. This is incredible. I’m actually in somebody’s kitchen or at the market with them.”

Also, back in those days, if someone wrote an interesting blog post … I wrote one. I was one of the first people they ever let into the KitchenAid factory in Ohio, where the last American appliance, countertop appliance, made in America. They let me take pictures and I put them up, and I got a lot of people visiting my site. Everybody was linking to it and everyone was talking about it. It was like, “Wow.” And I started getting more and more visitors. It was at a time when you wrote a post, if it was very useful, like, “How to make a chocolate cake,” “How to separate eggs,” “How to make whipped cream,” those were really popular. You would go to a search engine, you know, if you went on Google, your site would come up first because nobody else was doing it.

That’s actually one of the powerful things about Elise Bauer, Simply Recipes, who is such a wonderful person. She knew that, but she started doing it just naturally. She was learning how to cook, and learning how to cook with her parents. She wanted to teach people what she learned, and that’s why her site became such a powerhouse. It was so useful to many people.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We interviewed Elise way back on episode 16, so almost two years ago, right now.

David Lebovitz: Wow.

Bjork Ostrom: So, if people want to check that out, really great interview. She talks about some specific technical things about when there’s a big SEO update, and Simply Recipes was hit negatively, and how she recovered from that. Just really, like you said, appreciate Elise, and who she is, and what she does and how she does it, as well.

I would imagine during this time, this transition, you being somebody who had experience in the traditional world of food and recipe publishing, and then making the move into the digital world, especially at a time when it wasn’t as accepted or understood, I would imagine there would have been some pushback. Like, “Why are you producing content for free that in a normal situation you would be able to have some type of an agreement with a publisher where then you publish this?” Like you said, there wasn’t really ad networks that worked that way, so did you have pushback from people within the industry saying, “Why are you doing this? Why are you producing something for free?”

David Lebovitz: You know, I didn’t. Another reason I started, the blog sort of picked up traction, rather, was when I moved to Paris. I thought, “Well, I’m going to write about all these pastry shops I’m finding here that you don’t hear about, or restaurants.” I tried, this is the old days when you pitched things to food magazines and travel magazines.

Everyone said, “No. No. No. We just want you to write about Ladurée and very famous places.” So, I started putting them on my site. It was sort of time where people were interested in going. They wanted to go off the beaten track and go to these little places. Then I started noticing the major media starting to use some of … Not use, but I saw some of the same places showing up in major media. So, they were learning about them from me. Which was fine, you know, I was putting it out there. I learned things from them as well. So, I had the freedom to do that, and now you’re seeing a lot more magazines take a deeper dive when they go travel, in a lot of ways.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to see that, and also interesting to hear you talk about how your story in moving to Paris impacted the type of content you produced. So, talk about that move. In 2004, around the time that you moved to Paris, was also around the time that you started to move the site to more of a blog-type feel. Is that right? And that was around the same time?

David Lebovitz: Right. Well, that was around the same time because that was when Moveable Type, I think, was launched, or started to become more well-known. It’s not really well-known anymore, but it was sort of the precursor to WordPress, so to speak.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and idea being literally what the name is, Moveable Type. It’s not just a static site, like it’s more a blog-related piece of software content.

David Lebovitz: Right, and I was writing in code. Which, you know, I’m not a coder. I bake cookies for a living. All of a sudden, I’m like, you know, and everyone’s like, “You missed an accent.”

I was like, “Okay. I have to type 12 characters in order to get the accent right.”

Bjork Ostrom: From Moveable Type you went to WordPress. Can you talk about what that transition was like?

David Lebovitz: I had a really great web person named Jesse Gardner, who he has a company called Plastic Mind, and he worked with Elise on Simply Recipes. He took over my site. He redesigned it. I’m not sure what year it was, but the design I have right now is pretty close to what that was, and that might of been ten years ago. He really pushed me to keep it clean. Lots of white space. Let the content come through.

Nowadays, a lot of sites have these popup windows when you go there. Subscribe. Did you like this post? And … Share this. The user experience, you know, I can’t even look at those sites. I can’t link to them on my Facebook page because there’s so many things that popup you can’t read the content. Jesse and I worked together to make sure the user experience was pretty clean. The ads weren’t intrusive. Lots of white.

He said to me something really interesting. He said, “You have the luxury of space.” So, white is luxury.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It reminds me a little bit of, I forget who this quote is, but talking about music and the space in between the notes being as important as the notes themselves. I think that can be true for design as well, where it’s not just the stuff that’s there, but it’s also what’s not there, and how those things play into the overall look and feel of the design.

David Lebovitz: I saw a movie on a Swiss chef, and he said, “Waiting between courses is part of the experience.”

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. And it’s so true. There’s been experiences where we’ve gone out to a restaurant, and the food comes too soon, and it’s almost disappointing a little bit. So, it’s interesting to think about that. The rhythms of content, whether that be in a restaurant, on the web, or music, and how that makes a difference.

David Lebovitz: That’s why if I go out to eat in a nice restaurant, they have these suggested wine parings. I never do them because it’s too much wine. It’s too many flavors. It’s just like, “I just want one, and I want to stay with it.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.

David Lebovitz: And they’re always like, “Really?”

It’s like, “Yeah. Just give me a glass of wine.”

Bjork Ostrom: “Just one.”

So, when you think about 18 years of producing content online, especially from the late 1990s to today, things have changed, and they change at a drastic pace. Even in one year, you can look back and say, “Man, a lot has changed this year.” So, for somebody that is both doing writing in the traditional sense, you have seven books now, is that right?

David Lebovitz: This is my eight, actually.

Bjork Ostrom: So, seven now eight with this book now coming out. But, also, really consistent content online. From a point of keeping yourself sane while also continuing to grow and produce content, how do you approach your brand and your business in terms of continual learning, and being willing to let go of something that used to work, in order to start doing something that maybe is in the early stages of working?

David Lebovitz: Well, I think it’s important nowadays to be nimble. One thing that works well for me is that I work for myself and I make all my decisions myself. Which means I’m working 23 hours a day, except when I’m in the shower-

Bjork Ostrom: That’s your break.

David Lebovitz: … and washing dishes. I’m working, working, working. And I can change. I can say, “It’s Thanksgiving, I want to publish this kind of recipe. I want to write about this restaurant I ate at.” So, I don’t have that “Oh my God, I’ve got a production schedule. I’ve got a staff I have to make sure is getting work, and so forth.” So, I’m pretty nimble.

In conjunction with that, I write books with Ten Speed Press. I started working with them in 2004, with my ice cream book, and they gave me a lot of liberty to do what I want. The other side of that was, we’re very collaborative. So they understand what I do. They don’t tell me what to do. They ask me, and I listen to them and they listen to me. So, it’s a very good relationship. They understand I have a blog, and so forth. They’re very astute, actually, with the internet now. They understand the power of it.

The worst thing I see is these cookbook authors that start blogs and their first sentence is, “Well, here I go. My publisher said I have to do this.”

I’m like, “Okay.” After their third blog post, then they’re done. They don’t want to do it, and that’s fine.

I like both. They’re both different. Writing a book is more of a something that’s permanent, and something that’s edited, and something collaborative. Whereas my blog is me. So, I like both. I like working with a publisher, but I like working for myself, too.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things you said, you talk about working, working, working and kind of this, saying 23 hours a day, which sometimes it actually is. How do you sustain that? Because that’s one of the things we talk about on the podcast a lot is the importance of going all in. Like, if you’re going to do this and you want to do it on a level where it actually is your income and it is your career, then it requires a lot. I think, sometimes more than people would imagine, but also it needs to be sustainable and you can’t burn out. Sometimes that happens when we are in fifth or sixth gear for too long of a period of time. One of the things that I really respect about your journey, David, is that you have done this for a long time and have worked really hard for a long time. The result of that is people come to you and they’re like, “I would really like to do this.”

It might be like, “Well, so here’s some details about what it looks like.” But, how do you sustain that over a long period of time?

David Lebovitz: Well, two things I’ve learned in my life that were very important. One was I used to have a very, very old uncle in San Francisco who was a psychiatry professor. He had never prescribed drugs for any of his patients in his life. I was having all these issues at that time and he looked at me. I was having issues with other people. He looked at me, he goes, “you know what, it’s either you or them.” That really taught me, it’s like, “Well, do I want to make other people happy or do I want to make myself happy.”

The other thing is I learned living in France is the word, “No.” We hear that a lot, but it actually is a way to … It doesn’t mean you’re a jerk or you’re not a nice person when you say no to things. It just means, “I can’t do it.” You can’t do everything. Everyone’s really busy these days. Emails come in, people want you to do things. That is the hardest thing, right now, is saying no to people. Because I don’t like saying no, and then people come back.

People are sort of, “Well, when are you going to be free?”

It’s like, “You know what. I, No.”

Bjork Ostrom: “Just, no. I’m not going to be in this situation.”

I would love to dive into each of those things a little bit, because I think people will be able to take some important takeaways from those two concepts. You or them, what does that look like to you, as it relates to the work that you do? And how do you use that mental framework in your work? Do you have specific examples of how that plays out?

David Lebovitz: Yes, I do. One of the things that happens a lot to me is people who I don’t know come to Paris and want to get together with me. I actually love people. I love meeting people. I can talk ’til I’m losing my voice. But, you know, I’m working like six jobs. I actually don’t get to see my friends or my partner as often as I’d like, so I have to decide, “Well, do I want to go out with some friends who I haven’t seen in a while, or do I want to go out with someone I don’t know?” It sounds harsh, I’m sorry. People are probably clicking way. But, you have to make a decision. “What do I do?” That’s a decision that I’ve made. And I’ve also learned when people are aggressively trying to get you to do something they want you to participate in, like a blog roundup or whatever, they’re the ones that are not being nice by being so – I can’t even think of the word – insistent-

Bjork Ostrom: Forceful.

David Lebovitz: … because everyone’s busy. When I send people an email, I’m like, “If you’re not busy.” Or, “If you have time. If not, that’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Because I know how hard it is to say no to people these days, and I don’t want … I understand my friends, you’re really busy, Elise is busy. When I send Elise an email, half the time I don’t get a response, and that’s okay. I understand she’s busy.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. I don’t remember which book it was, but in one of the intros of one of your books, you talk about one of the things that Paris taught you is that if you don’t nudge and position yourself, then you’ll never be able to get into line, or get on the train. I don’t remember where it was that you were getting. For me, as a Minnesota, nice person that grew up in the Midwest, it’s especially true to think about that. I think it’s such a refreshing thing to hear, an important thing to hear, that you need to be intentional with that decision making.

When you talk about “no”, the word no, as the second thing you talked about being really important for sustaining yourself over the long period of time and continuing to work on your thing, I think one thing that I often think about with saying, “No,” is that the opposite side. If you say, “Yes,” you are saying, “No,” to something else. You talk about meeting with a stranger, well that maybe means that you’re not going to spend the night with your partner or spend an evening with your close friends that you haven’t been able to spend time with recently. So, that’s one of the mindset, as a Midwest, Minnesota, nice person, that I continually remind myself of. It’s not just saying, “No,” but you’re saying, “Yes” on the flip side, and vice versa.

David Lebovitz: A few years ago, I used to write back to people that wanted to get together and say, “Thank you for your message.” Because I believe you should answer email. I said, “Thank you for your message. Unfortunately, I’m unable to get together, but have a great trip …” And, everybody was nice. People write back, “Thank you,” so forth.

But one person wrote me this very nasty email back. I learned a lot from that because she said, “Who do you think you are, and …”

I was just like, “Whoa!” I said, “You know what, I’m not answering these anymore because I don’t want that in my life.” I did get an email a few years ago from another woman that was upset about, I have, you know, before my contact form, I was like, “If you want information about this go here, here, here.” It’s very organized. She wrote me, and it was that kind of message and I wrote her back. I said, “I spend a lot of time answering questions …”

She wrote me the nicest email I’ve ever got. She said she actually showed my response to her children. She said, “This is how people should respond.” She goes, “I’m really sorry, and …” So it was lovely. I loved that, people should apologize and it was a beautiful human interchange over the internet.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Those are hard to come by sometimes, like those types of interactions.

David Lebovitz: It is, and I’m still talking about it. I’ve kept her email, because it was the right way to respond. It doesn’t mean she’s a bad person for sending me that first email, it just means she wasn’t thinking and she was having a bad day or something, whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

David Lebovitz: She’s a good mother.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. I think that’s, for context, whenever we have those interactions or exchanges with people, I think it’s so important to remember, you said this, you may be having a bad day. You never know what’s on the other side of that, where they’re coming from, what’s happening, in order to release that a little bit. Because, inevitably, especially if you’ve been publishing content since 1999, but even if you do it for a year, you’re going to get exchanges and people that reach out that just aren’t nice.

Sometimes, you have to intentionally shield yourself from that. Seth Godin talks about one time after he spoke at a conference he was on Twitter, and then went and looked. Somebody had said something nasty about his speech that he gave. He said it was at that moment that he decided, “You know what, I’m not going to do Twitter anymore.” If you look, it’s just an autoresponder of the blog post that he does, and he’s turned off comments.

It’s maybe something you could audit. I know, for me, I bend towards being highly impacted by those things, so I’m intentional about how I take content in. But, do you have any advice for people that receive those things, and maybe some of the ways that you have intentionally protected yourself from that? Or maybe some of the shields that you’ve developed over the years in order to be able to appropriately respond?

David Lebovitz: I have a very secret, it’s called an exit only policy, where I only do things that I want to do. So, if somebody sends me something and I don’t want to do it, or they ask me a question on social media, and I don’t have time or feel like answering it, I don’t. That is because I want to control. Once again, you want to control your life, you want to, you know, too much stuff coming in.

I don’t read reviews, and I know that people say that. But, when my ice cream book came out, somebody said that they didn’t like the book because it had too many dairy recipes in it. I read that and I was like, “You know what, I’m never reading an Amazon review again.” It’s true. I’ve never read an Amazon … I just decided that’s not good to have in my life.

If people have a question, it’s very easy to get in touch with me. They can leave a comment on my blog. I also have another … I always tell people, if you said to everybody on the internet, “I’m going to give everyone $1000, somebody would find something, they’d complain about it.”

They’d say, “Well, that’s not in yen.” Or, “That’s not in kroner.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s just too hard to get.

David Lebovitz: Yeah, you can write the world’s greatest blog post, and the first comments like, “Can you stop using Oxford commas, or something like that.” Or, “Gray is spelled with an A instead of an E.” You’re just like, “Wow.”

Bjork Ostrom: Well, I think it’s good to bring up because it’s one of those things that you inevitably will run into if you put yourself out there. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. We’ve, in some way, shape, or form have been involved with publishing content online since 2010, so not as much as a track record as you’ve had. But, we’ve had to experience some of those same things. Knowing that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is that fear of putting yourself out there and how the world will respond to it, so I think as much as possible talking about some of those mental frameworks is really beneficial.

David Lebovitz: Yeah, and it’s hard when people do so, “Well, you know, that’s what happens when you put yourself out there.”

Somebody said that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the guy who Hamilton, when I was at the show, they left a comment, “Oh, I hate him. He’s got a weasel face.”

I’m like, “This guy changed American theater, and you’re telling him …”

Bjork Ostrom: The world that we live in. Deep breath. It’s one of those deep breath response.

David Lebovitz: On the other hand, I feel bad for them, because this is what they’re friends are like, and this is what their life is, going around complaining about Lin-Manuel Miranda face.

Bjork Ostrom: Compassion on them as well.

So, I would be interested to hear you talk a little bit about … We talked a little bit about the publishing side of things, but when we’re looking at your blog, social media, there’s all of these different areas that you need to focus on that fill up those 23 hours in a day. Where do you find yourself gravitating towards the most, when it comes to the different platforms? And, what’s been working well for you lately, as a creator that publishes content online?

David Lebovitz: I would say Facebook. It used to be Google was the number one traffic to most of our blogs, and I don’t look at my analytics. I probably look at them three times a year.

Bjork Ostrom: Why is that?

David Lebovitz: Because I don’t care. It doesn’t interest me how many people are reading my site. I’m interested in doing what I do, and I hope people like it. That’s very heartfelt, so I don’t look at all that stuff. I don’t try to write content … I told somebody once, I was like, "I could write a chocolate cake blog and I’d make tons of money, but that’s just not what I want to do.

Bjork Ostrom: And not enjoy it, potentially.

David Lebovitz: Yeah. Years ago, I was going to do a cupcake book. I was like, “I’ll just write this book in one year, and then I can retire,” when cupcakes were big. I bought all of this stuff and it’s still sitting in my closet to make cupcakes. But … Oops, I just lost the whole train of thought there. It’s all the sugar in the cupcakes.

Bjork Ostrom: I can go back, because there’s an interesting point that I want to make as a follow-up. That’s something that Lindsay talks about a lot. It’s interesting because our relationship, where she’s primarily the content producer for Pinch of Yum, the food blog that she runs and is behind. I kind of do some of the behind the scenes things for it, so I’m able to go into the analytics a little bit more disconnected. But she has said, for her, she is really hesitant to do that because what that triggers for her is this response to somehow impact those. Knowing that the response to impact those would often mean doing things that she’s not very excited to do, and that creates soulless work.

One of the things that we talk about, I published a blog post on this a long-time ago, but this idea of user-controlled analytics. And what are the things that you can do to keep track of, maybe it’s metrics or analytics, but it’s not like, “How many people are coming to my site.” Because, so often, that can such an emotional thing to interact with those numbers, and while it’s an important part of it, it doesn’t have to be the thing.

I think some of those user-controlled analytics could be things like, at the end of the day, how happy am I? Score from 0 to 10. It sounds like for you, and this makes sense, one of the main things is the actual content itself, which would be the food, the recipes, the experience. Are there other things that you find yourself gravitating towards that are really life giving to you?

David Lebovitz: Well, I should just sort of back up on the social media thing. I just hired my first assistant ever, about six months ago. She’s a young woman, and she’s kind of my Bjork. She goes into Pinterest and like, “This is your most popular pin. Let’s do an extended pin.”

I’m like, “Okay, great.” Because the content’s already there, she just makes it look nice and presents it better.

Bjork Ostrom: How did you find her and get to work with her?

David Lebovitz: It’s a funny story. She sent me an email and I get emails from people a lot who want to come over a and bake cake. They’re like, “I want to test recipes with you and make cake.”

I’m like, “Well, it’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of dish washing.” She was one of the only people who never mentioned cooking, but she had a diploma from a cooking school. I kept her email for some reason, for six months. Then my partner was like, “You need an assistant. You need an assistant. You need an assistant.” So, I wrote to her.

She actually didn’t know who I was. She found me on the internet. She had just moved to Paris. I was like, “Oh. Okay.” It’s great. She’s a young woman. She’s really smart. She’s been a personal assistant to other people. Young people also, I’m like, “Can you figure out how to do this?”

“Here, let me handle this. Go in the other room and leave me alone.”

I’m like, “Okay.”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you’d mentioned and I want to bring this up before we get too far away from it, is that Facebook has been really impactful. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’re using that?

David Lebovitz: Well, when I started on Facebook, I used to do link roundups on my site. I’d do like 20 links I found recently. Then I was like, “Oh, there’s this thing called Facebook and I can link to all this great content.” Fast forward to a couple years ago, I was looking at my analytics and all the sudden I saw Facebook was my number one source of traffic, by a long shot. That was substantial. Even today, I have a very high engagement on Facebook, and the people of Facebook have even contacted me and we’ve talked about it. They’re like, “We don’t know why the algorithm works so well for you.”

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

David Lebovitz: It was interesting. It was. They said, “It’s probably because you’re putting up quality content and you’re engaging people.” Facebook, even they don’t know how the algorithm works.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that fascinating?

David Lebovitz: Yeah. I said, “A lot of people are mad because your curating content.”

They’re like, “If we didn’t people’s feeds would be just crazy out of control.” So, they’re like, “We’re actually doing it for a better user experience.” There’s some debate about that. That was what they, and you know, these people weren’t trying to sell me ad space.

I’ve started using Facebook more. I’ve started using Twitter less. I loved Twitter when it came out, and I like the back and forth. The quickness of it. You know, people had a question, “We’re coming to Paris. Is there a good bistro in the seventh?” Boom, I could answer it. It’s kind of, now it’s a lot of political stuff and most people, food people who I like have moved away from the platform.

I did get very into Snapchat about a year ago, and I started using it. I liked it because it reminded me of when the internet started. Or not the internet, necessarily, but blogging. You could just take a picture. It could be out of focus, it could be blurry. It wasn’t like Instagram where there’s all these very attractive people eating triple ice cream cones or something on the beach in their yoga bodies. It was just real stuff, and I liked it. So I was using that, and I still use it. I like Snapchat a lot. It’s just that you don’t have the engagement. But, on the other hand, it circles back to do what you love to do.

So, I’m using Instagram stories now. But, it kind of bothers me that they use … It’d be like if I opened a bakery down the street from a friend of mine, and you know.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s direct clone from Snapchat.

David Lebovitz: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. The hard thing about it is, it’s a direct clone that then overshadowed Snapchat. More people are using it. There’s more engagement. So, if you are somebody that loves that medium, it’s hard because originally that would be Snapchat that you would do that, but now, Instagram. It’s like you are probably able to get more engagement if you are there.

David Lebovitz: Yeah, and do you want 300 people seeing your thing, or 10,000? But once again, do what you want to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I think what happens with that is, as you discover those things that you want to do, that you’re passionate about, that you gravitate towards, that allows you to have those days where you’re working for a long period of time. It’s work, but it’s also something that you want to do. Like you said. So, there’s this weird overlap where suddenly it becomes a little bit of a gray area, “Is this work, or is this something that I’m enjoying and getting something from as well, not just giving?”

David Lebovitz: I think that was the whole idea of this whole great thing about social media was you could curate your experience. You could follow people you wanted to follow. You could look at recipes that were interesting to you on Pinterest in your stream. Then, these companies started curating for us. That’s like Pinterest now, I don’t use it very much because all of a sudden it’s just all this stuff that I didn’t put there that I don’t have a lot of interest in.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, because of the algorithm. And Facebook maybe, in a way, too, with this. They start to take over the curation process. Is that what you mean?

David Lebovitz: Yeah. I mean, like now they’re doing ads on Pinterest and I’m seeing a lot of ads for makeup. I’m like, “Well, they know I’m a male, they know I … Can’t they at least focus ads on someone like me?” It seems kind of strange that they’re not doing that because they’re spending money that’s being wasted.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Yeah. Interesting to see how those evolve and sometimes how quickly, too.

So, to kind of wrap up on the conversation on the blog side of things, I really like this idea of working on what you’re passionate about, really investing in the things where you don’t feel the pressure or the resistance to do it. We talk about resistance. Sometimes there’s resistance to do things that are good, and you need to push through that. But sometimes, there’s things that just aren’t a good fit, and you need to be aware of that. I think that’s a really big takeaway.

But, if you were to say, if somebody’s staring today, or if they’re starting sometime this year, and they’re just getting into it, what would your advice be to them as a creator, in order to stick with it? To continually show up every day? And, if they’re lucky to still be doing this 5, 10, 15 years from now?

David Lebovitz: In a cookbook field, we always used to say, “Don’t quit your day job.” I would say, with blogging, fortunately there’s no cost to doing it, really. So, pursue it as a passion. Don’t plan to make money right away, if at all. Once again, same with cookbooks. Most cookbooks don’t make money. People have something to say and they say it. It’s a platform. Even some very popular cookbooks that we think sold a lot, didn’t, never made money for the author.

I tell people I wrote my blog for eight years before there was ads that existed for blogs. You’re basically working for free, and enjoy it. Blogging, like writing a cookbook, is about giving. It’s not about getting. That’s a mistake people make with social media, too. They’re pushing their stuff, “In case you missed this post, here it is again.”

It’s like, “Well, you’re bothering people. You’re telling them something that they’ve already seen.” So, try to think about the user experience a lot. What do people want to see? Do they want popups? Do they want to come to your site and have a window open right away that’s asking them if they want to subscribe? All that stuff can be overwhelming to readers.

Sometimes it’s good to just keep things simple. Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet, he left blogging and just came back. He’s like, “you know what, I’m not going to think about anything but writing.”

All these people are coming back and reading his blog like, “Oh I missed you. This is great,” and you’re just writing about dinner.

Him and I, we had lunch about a year ago and talked a little bit about that. He got sort of criticized, not criticized, but when he stopped blogging, he’s like, “You know what, I don’t want to do sponsored posts. That’s not who I am.” He gave an interview where, or he said, I think on his blog, “I don’t want to be a shill,” and people actually … you know, he’s a New York Jewish person and that’s not really a derogatory thing. It’s kind of, I think he meant it as a joke.

People are sort of offended. They’re like, “I do sponsored posts and I’m not a shill and … ”

Like, “Well, that might work for you but that doesn’t work for him.” I know Lindsay does sponsored posts, and she’s very good about being natural about it. I never feel like I’m being pushed to buy anything. It seems natural. Either she’s brilliant or she’s just a truly wonderful person.

Bjork Ostrom: I would say both. That would be the husband’s perspective.

David Lebovitz: Okay, well if she’s listening to this, I would say that to. But, you know, once again, it’s a good mix. It doesn’t feel forced, and I appreciate that as a reader. Also, people, I think, should not compare them self to other people. Elise Bauer, you know, she has ten times more readers than I have. So does Deb. I can’t compare myself to her and I don’t want to. I’m not Lindsay, she’s not me. But there’s room for both of us and there’s room for all of us.

It’s actually important, also, and I can’t stress this enough, is to be nice to others. I’ve seen so many times, people have just got snipey or bad-mouthed people. That really never gets anybody anywhere. We’re sort of seeing this downfall in a lot of the social and political things that are happening in the world. What happens when people aren’t nice? When they start attacking people or are jealous, or whatever? I mean this in a lot of different fields as well, not just those two.

But, it’s so much easier to be a nice person and to be respectful. Say, “Oh, Lindsay’s making a green quinoa bowl, and I’m going to make pork fat raita.” There’s room for her and there’s room for me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Neither one is wrong. Yeah.

David Lebovitz: Yeah, and I’m glad that she exists. I hope she’s glad I exist.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.

David Lebovitz: I’m sure she should eat more quinoa than pork fat raita, so I will give her that if she’s listening.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that is a really good note to end on, and a really important thing for people to hear. I think it ties into the sustainability of existing as a creator, to have that spirit of giving, and to have the spirit of kindness in the work that you do. And how beneficial that can be to you, individually, but also to the world and those that you are giving and serving. So, I think that’s really great.

But before we officially end David, I want you to talk a little bit more about your book. Where can people pick that up? I’m guessing Amazon would be a place. We’ll link to that in the show notes. And then, maybe just another quick little spark notes version of what people can expect with that?

David Lebovitz: Well, the book is available everywhere. It’s available, of course on Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, and Indie Bound Books. Also, your local bookstore. They can order a book for you if it’s not there. One thing people forget, is that bookstores can’t carry a lot of books. You don’t go in and there’s … People are like, “I can’t find you. My bookstore doesn’t have your book.” Just ask them and they’ll order books for you. They like to do that. If there’s a great bookstore in your community, definitely order your book from them if you’d like. Or if you can’t wait, you can order it online as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, great. David, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. Really enjoyed talking with you.

David Lebovitz: Yeah. It was great to talk to you after all these years. We’ve tried to talk before but the stars didn’t align, but-

Bjork Ostrom: They did today.

David Lebovitz: … today’s the day.

Bjork Ostrom: And I’m glad they did, so thanks for coming on.

David Lebovitz: All right, thanks.

Bjork Ostrom: Thank you to David for coming on and sharing a little bit about his journey. Especially, considering the fact that he’s in the middle of a really big book launch. As always, you can check out these show notes for all of the links, and the tools, and everything that we mentioned in the podcast.

Really appreciate you tuning in. I say that often but it means a lot. It’s an honor to do this podcast, and an honor to be in your earbuds, where ever you are. Whether you’re in the kitchen, working out, driving in the car. I think it’s such a cool thing that when I go around, maybe speak at conferences, or have an event here in Minneapolis, St. Paul, when we get to meet people, that we have a little bit of a connection because we’ve shared some of these conversations. I consider that to be a really great honor. So, thanks for tuning in. Thanks for subscribing if you’re a subscriber. And thanks for rating, if you’ve ever rated the podcast. That means a lot to us, and it really adds fuel for our fire to continue doing this. So, big thank you to you for tuning in.

Signing off from St. Paul, Minnesota. This is Bjork. Make it a great week.

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  1. Again so thankful I ever discovered DL’s food blog. Your eloquent yet simple focus on living the kindness ethos in your work, online no less, is why you are such a necessary voice on the internet, imo. At least, I get a lot of comfort from it so thank you. You explain your take on integrity and perspective very articulately – really excellent explanations! Thanks again for a great interview!