To be a successful lifestyle blogger, you have to have personality. You have to be accessible and admirable; your readers have to enjoy spending time with you. You should make them laugh, make them cry, make them eager for the next blog post.
That’s the idea, anyway.
I like blogging. I’m a highly communicative introvert. I’ve been telling stories since before I could hold a pen, and journaling regularly since the third grade when the teacher handed us each a notebook and gave us time to write. Some kids stared at the blank pages, dumbfounded. I was already scribbling.
I was thrilled when email became popular and even more so when texts edged out phone calls. I’m much better on the page than in person (except when my predictive keyboard and auto-correct seek to sabotage me).
Still–to have a successful blog, you have to brand yourself. You have to choose a niche or a type. I honestly don’t read a lot of blogs (How can I expect anyone to read mine if I don’t read them? I don’t have a good answer for that.) but the two that I do read fairly regularly are massively popular: Cup of Jo and Mommy Shorts. They’re so popular that their authors were both named by Forbes as major influences on modern motherhood.
Mommy Shorts is a “mommy blog.” I discovered it when searching the internet for tips on sleep training my first baby. Her voice was charming, her story was personal, and it was my first exposure to parental advice from someone other than a personal friend or a doctor. Ilana Wiles (the mommy in question) writes about other parts of her life, too, but it really centers on her children and motherhood. It’s focused, it’s branded, and it’s highly successful.
Cup of Jo is a “lifestyle blog.” I discovered it long before I was a mommy through Blogger, when I was reading more blogs more regularly and trying to write a food blog. When I found it, everything was written by Joanna Goddard herself; she now has a staff of editors and writers contributing and I rarely see her byline. She is a former magazine writer and it shows: she manages the content of her blog in much the same way a women’s magazine does, with a variety of topics revolving around a central style or personality. There are interviews and features about women with similar lifestyles or attitudes to Joanna’s, including a Motherhood Around the World feature that has been very popular (and very interesting to read) and a Week of Outfits feature documenting the style choices of her fellow New York women (if they are not all from New York, please correct me–that’s the impression I’ve gotten, anyway).
When I started the Sensitive, Bookish Type blog, I had Joanna’s model in mind. Even before she had a staff of bloggers, she wrote posts about marriage, motherhood, food, style, design, and even dating though she was obviously long out of the game. She presents herself as a friendly figure and poses a lot of questions to her readers, urging them to join the conversation. I imagine her in a white linen top and skinny jeans, simple slip-on shoes (she now has her own line of shoes–I forget what company took her on), sipping chardonnay (expensive, but not too expensive–what seems expensive to me probably doesn’t seem special to her) and listening to a friend in an immaculate Brooklyn apartment where they’ve got that white-and-wood thing going on that seems to be very popular now and strikes me as completely impractical. And I’m sure she’s really listening, and asking questions, drawing the person out to say more. I imagine her gorgeous children coming up to have their hair petted while she skillfully continues her friend’s conversation, pops an hors d’oeuvre in one kid’s mouth while simultaneously kissing the other one.
Both of these women have professional backgrounds, one in PR and the other in journalism. Both of these women live in New York and have an immense network of social and professional connections. I imagine that when they first started, they had hundreds of followers comprising friends and family alone. They both have business sense and they’re both up on trends.
So why am I telling you all this? Follow-up question: Why are you listening? Are you my mother, who reads this blog because she’s supportive but also because I don’t call enough and she wants to know what’s going on in my life? (Hi, Mom.) Or are you also a blogger, searching for that elusive “success”, tired of going to webinars and having people tell you the secret to blogging success (which seems to be teaching others how to blog whether you know how or not, collecting their email addresses and then selling them stuff)?
I would LOVE to be a “successful” blogger. I’ll be honest with you, Dear Reader: I want sponsored posts, I want advertising, and I want to direct you to Etsy where you’ll greedily purchase my wares. I want you to wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, and check to see if I’ve posted yet. And don’t tell anybody because telling you this is breaking a cardinal rule of blogging, sales, etc: it’s not about entertaining you. I mean, it is, but as much as any blogger tries to make you feel like they’re writing their stuff for your benefit/education/enlightenment, it’s a selfish thing. I want hits, clicks, and follows. All bloggers do–the ones looking for “success,” anyway.
The thing is, I’m not a good salesperson–even when the product is me. As a blogger, I’m supposed to be selling myself and my way of life, but honestly, I don’t want to sell you a lemon. I am a very complex person with highly diverse interests: I’m scattered. I might be the “sensitive, bookish type” but I don’t fall into a category widely recognized by society. I’m a geek, but not for video games or comic books. I’m an artist, but not a very good one and certainly not the artsy-fartsy kind. I’m a mom but that’s not my identity. I’m often quite lazy but I do like to cook for my family and I aspire to be a good housekeeper; nothetheless, I’m hardly Heloise.
I could choose my focus, as so many business gurus advise. I was recently watching a webinar about building Etsy shops, and the woman brought up Smuckers Jam and Heinz Ketchup: two companies that have built empires on ONE PRODUCT. (I wanted to argue with her on the Heinz front since their major product in the UK is baked beans but she couldn’t hear me through the computer screen and her argument is still pretty sound.) Smuckers and Heinz are household names for jam and ketchup, but both companies have floundered when trying to expand into other areas. I think Heinz still makes mustard and mayonnaise (maybe?) but have you ever bought it? I haven’t. It’s Heinz ketchup, French’s mustard, and Best Food (Hellman’s) mayonnaise.
This is a woman who supposedly (I haven’t checked her background but her advice isn’t awful so I’m not bothered) built a six-figure stationery company starting on Etsy, and when she first started she only sold Las Vegas themed wedding invitations. Pretty specific, but she had a niche and she had an audience. No one would be confused or lost when entering her shop.
A lot of blogs do the same thing.
Off the top of my head, I can think of several cooking blogs–The Wednesday Chef, Baker Man, Closet Cooking–and several mommy blogs–Mommy Shorts, Scary Mommy–but whenever I try to focus on one thing like that, I get bored. Or in the case of food blogging, I get fat. Worse: my family gets fat. I’d love to have a baking blog, but my kids would be so unhealthy.
So, when trying to find my niche, I’m at a disadvantage. This is a blog for people who have kids and/or are writers and/or love to read and/or like stupid comic strips and/or love to cook and bake and/or want to lose weight and/or sometimes try craft projects and/or love dogs and cats and/or love fashion and/or…
The one thing I keep seeing in my attempts to find blogging advice is a terrible piece of grammar but a great line for a meme:
I also read somewhere that people really respond to the color blue and that it’s a good color for marketing. Also people want to see your eyes.
They probably don’t want to see your terrible skin or armpits or fading dye job but that’s me, baby, so I guess that’s that. I’ll keep on blogging, I’ll be myself, I’ll try to produce killer content, and that’s about all I can do. I’ll put myself out there and hope people like me.
My god, that’s terrifying.