How To Talk About Succeeding In Blogging (Without Really Crying)

July 29, 2011

Here’s something that you might not know about me: I’m a professional blogger. A professional mom-blogger. Which is to say, I earn a living – a good one – from the business that I’ve established around this blog that deals primarily in discussions related to motherhood and parenting and – I should warn you, this will be the first of many words that some consider unladylike – the brand that is associated with this blog.

And this is something that I never write about. I speak about it at conferences, and in private conversations, but I never write about it, because, well, it’s just not something that we’re supposed to write about, right? Unless we have blogs that are devoted to the topic of ‘earning a living from your blog’ or are among those who have an obsessive interest in ‘exposing’ the dark underworld of Moms Who Make A Living From Their Blogs And Do They Really Deserve This, The Bitches, we just don’t talk about this stuff in this wonderful, public space in which we do talk openly about so much else. There are, I think, a million reasons why we don’t talk about it in these spaces – for me, these include fear of being attacked for what some might think is my undeserved success (see above re: ‘obsessive interest’ and ‘undeserving bitches’) and a certain prissy squeamishness about talking about my success or about anything that might be perceived as a veiled-but-nonetheless-self-congratulatory discussion of my success – but whatever the reason, the lack of conversation hurts us.

It hurts us because it allows the myths and misconceptions and misunderstandings around and about mom-blogging as a serious enterprise to flourish. It hurts us because those myths and misconceptions and misunderstanding get in the way of us communicating with each other about the many ways in which mom-blogging is, or can be, a serious enterprise. It gets in the way of us taking ourselves – and others taking us – seriously as the writers and publishers and entrepreneurs and business people and important social media presence that we are.

Katie Granju raised the topic some months ago at Babble, in response to an article by Ann Douglas about ‘top’ mom bloggers and ‘top blogger’ lists and the like (in which, disclosure, I am quoted), and the discussion that has ensued is, I think, tremendously useful, for the reasons that I cite above. We do need to talk about this stuff, whether we’re professionals or aspiring professionals or non-professionals who are nonetheless interested in talking about the many roads (this term suggested by Joanne, who was also cited in Katie’s post) to the many kids of success that professionals and sub-professionals and non-professionals can achieve. So I said this:

Okay, I’ll go.

I make much more blogging (that is, from the business that is my blogging ‘brand’ – more on this in a moment) than I ever did as a sessional university lecturer. Many people, I think, would consider it a lot. (How much exactly? Maybe I’ll screw up the nerve to talk numbers if this conversation continues. But because people are so quick to get their dander up about these things, talking numbers makes me nervous.) (And now, look, I’m wringing my hands and being a priss about it, which is a big part of the problem here, right?) (Gah.)

I don’t make the bulk of what I earn from CPM ad earnings. I make some of it that way, but not most of it, not by far. In the ‘advertising’ corner of my business I make much more through dedicated campaigns, some of which come through Federated Media, some of which I broker myself. And then there are earnings from consulting, and ‘spokesperson’ contracts (which might seem closer to ‘advertising’ but in practice, in most cases – in the best cases – are closer to consulting) that come about because of the success of my ‘brand.’ And then, finally, there are earnings from freelance writing – magazines and other more conventional forms of publishing (in the coming year, fingers crossed, book publishing) – most assignments of which are related to my quote-unquote brand.

It’s a business. And it involves more than relying on the CPM advertising model – very few independent bloggers can make a go of things with this model (and even the examples that I would cite here – like Ree/Pioneer Woman – have more magazine-like sites with multiple pages and sometimes additional contributors.) It involves work – it’s not just sitting down and tapping out posts. The content comes first, of course – I wouldn’t have the ‘brand’ to capitalize on – yes, dirty words, these – if I didn’t produce good content. But doing something with that content is work – roll up your sleeves and make the coffee at 6am work.

I’m not a ‘big’ blogger in the same category as Heather or Ree. But I am a successful blogger, and I’ve made that success for myself by building a business around my blogging brand. And it is, as I said above, busy – I’m in the process of hiring an assistant because it’s gotten too busy for me – but it’s awesome, and I love it, and I’m proud of myself.

Are we allowed to say that, as moms, as women – that we’re proud of our success? Because I am. I wish that we could talk about it more openly, and be more open in giving advice and support to each other. We do some of this at conferences, but we could be doing it more, more consistently and more openly.

Thank you so much for starting the conversation, Katie. Maybe I’ll screw up my nerve to write about this more fully at my – oh my god so successful! don’t tell anybody! – blog ;)

I was, and remain, reluctant to publicly discuss the hard numbers of what I make, because I don’t really think that it’s necessary, and also because – all of my brave talk notwithstanding – I still feel kind of prissy about it and the whole larger discussion. And – cue dramatic sigh – because I’m afraid of being snarked at – that whole ‘mom bloggers don’t deserve success’ horseshit that, regardless of how horseshitty it is, one still wants to avoid having flung in one’s face – and that, I suppose, is the real problem here: that regardless of whether or not the details are necessary, discussing those details still makes us uncomfortable, and for good reason. We do get criticized, from all corners, for even trying to make a success of what we do in this space. And that criticism stings, even as we rail against it being unjust and unjustified. It shuts us up. It shuts me up, on this topic, anyway.

But we are – despite the criticism – making successes of our work (our art, our craft) in this space. In many different ways – it’s so important to remember that not everyone defines their success in this space on the basis of whether or not they earn a living, in any measure, from their blog – and by many different roads, we are achieving success. And that says a lot about our worth – as I’ve said before, there seems to be a deep cultural thirst for mom blogs, if their ubiquity and popularity are any measure – and about the possibilities available within this space for women to pursue all variety of ambitions. And that’s something that we need to talk about – so that we can support and inspire each other, mentor each other, provide models for each other. So that we can do better at demanding and receiving recognition and appropriate compensation – or some other reward – for our work.

So how do we overcome our discomfort about talking about this openly? How do I get over my anxieties around shining a spotlight on my own success so that others can learn from it? Do I need to get over those? Do we need to talk numbers – not hard numbers, but ballpark numbers – in order to really unpack what it takes and what’s possible in this field of work? Would it be useful if I – or anyone else who is making a living doing this – spoke/wrote openly (in more detail than what I spelled out above) about what’s involved and what it looks like? Do we need to suck up the prissiness and just, you know, talk?

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    { 122 comments }

    Trippeduplife April 1, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    This all reminds me of when I first got out of college and was trying desperately to find that first real writing job. I remember pitching to clients over the phone, calling on leads, etc. At one point it dawned on me, I’m a professional, I’m not a student anymore. I’m not working on a project for a class. This is my livelihood. At that moment I tacked up a sign where I would see it all the time. YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL – YOUR WORK IS VALUABLE, so talk, walk and dress like a professional. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY CHARGE LIKE A PROFESSIONAL! It was my little pep talk to myself as I started walking the hard road of getting freelance gigs – before the world of internet blogs existed.

    Now here I am venturing into the blogging world as an old writer, but a really young and immature blogger. In the brick & mortar world of business world people find mentors and ask the questions of “how did you get here?” all the time. I guess I sort of assumed that would be possible in the Mommy Blogging world as well – I sure hope so. And if that includes ball park figures, lovely. I’m working toward developing a blog that will fit my writing style, allow me to research more of my own interests & concerns for my family, and provide both entertainment and encouragement to others. I’d love to know some of the best practices for how that works – and who better to find out from than people like you HBM and other excellent writers who’ve walked this online road before me. Thank you for talking about this.

    Zoeyjane April 1, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I actually laughed out loud – and then looked out of my window in paranoia – at “among those who have an obsessive interest in ‘exposing’ the dark underworld of Moms Who Make A Living From Their Blogs And Do They Really Deserve This, The Bitches”.

    MamaRobinJ April 2, 2011 at 10:46 am

    YES. Yes, we should talk about this. It’s essentially a new profession – which I won’t even put in quotation marks – and a lot of the criticism comes from ignorance.

    To an outsider, it appears as though all those who make a living from their blogs have to do is churn out posts, and even that misrepresents what’s involved in content creation.

    I’m a new mommy blogger and I don’t make money from my blog, obviously. I don’t even have Google ads on my blog, because I don’t want it to be about that right now. My goal isn’t even to turn this into a full time job. I have one of those, and I like it, and it pays well. I have a career in my chosen field and I intend, probably, to keep it that way.

    Having said that, I’d still love to know more about what’s involved. I don’t know what “CPM ad earnings” even means. I don’t particularly have an entrepreneurial spirit – the thought of running my own business freaks me out – but I’d love to understand it. It’s impressive. It’s part of being successful – not just because it brings you success but because you have the skills and knowledge and whatever else that’s needed to do that effectively.

    And yes, I think we (you? because my blog=no money) should talk in general terms about the money. Income is part of what establishes it as a profession. Otherwise it will continue to be seen as a hobby. But that talk needs to be combined with the other stuff – the business stuff, and the stuff about how it helps other people, and the stuff about how it creates community. And we – the collective we – need to understand that it’s not just anyone who can become a successful. I’m going to say it: some blogs are crap. And that’s the same as in any other profession.

    Claire April 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Catherine!

    I’ve got an obsessive side for monetizing mommyblogs and got some numbers from some brave folks in an article I wrote last week where people started talking numbers: http://ablogjob.com/a-full-time-blogging-income-whats-your-blogging-income-price-point-and-when-can-you-quit-your-day-job/

    Also — PS. that Blissdom Alli – poor thing — brought my robe all the way to SXSW but we didn’t see eachother…the damn thing has been traveling more than you have this month)…

    I loved this post — and of course the various posts that led me to here ;)

    Kristen Howerton April 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I really, really love this conversation. I agree, bloggers spend so much time being authentic and vulnerable about their lives, but the one thing we don’t talk about it is the work, the networking, and the negotiating that goes into making this thing sustainable. It’s like we have the Fight Club rules. The first rule of blogging is that you don’t talk about blogging.

    I think people are reticent for fear that it might alienate readers, too. I know I think about this a lot. I know I have readers who don’t blog – so I don’t want to “talk shop” in a way that is offputting. But as a result, I think people really don’t understand blogging. I think they assume that we write a lil’ post every now and then, and then we get paid. Which, at least for me, could not be further from the truth. I work hard – maybe more than anyone I know – trying to create an environment where I can write for a living. Yes, it’s on my own time, and yes, I can do it in my pj’s – but I’m often on the computer into the wee hours, I travel a lot, and there is just so much more that goes into it that no one sees.

    I primarily use ad networks at this point. In December, my “paycheck” finally superceded my part-time job as a college professor. But then in January it dipped down. It is so unpredictable. I know I could make a lot more money selling my own ads and being a bit more entrepreneurial about it – but that’s not really my skill set. I also feel like my time is so limited – I really only have time to either write well, or negotiate sponsorships and ad space. I’m gonna choose to keep the focus on writing for now. I’m hoping in the future I can outsource the business and administration aspects that I mostly suck at doing.

    Thanks for kicking off this conversation. It’s enlightening. Sometimes I fantasize about a group of us convening for a weekend where we just lay out our cards on the table and share how we are pulling this off. It can be really isolating when everyone is so tight-lipped about their business side of blogging. I suspect there is some old-fashioned competitiveness that plays into this as well, but that’s a conversation for another time.

    GingerB April 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I value this discussion. For me, it relates to more of a pipe dream – I don’t really intend to give up the professional career I have to be a full time writer (although I have dreamed of writing novels since I was a child, and I may do that yet) and because it is a pipe dream it has less importance than it would if I were considering making a real and true attempt to create, maintain, and promote a brand. But on behalf of those who are, I request those of you who do succeed in this field open up on the topic – for all the reasons suggested here, in the post and in the comments. Knowledge is power.

    As to the availability of salary data – in Utah there is a website that publishes the salaries of every single public employee – from the state governor down to the file clerks. My salary is a matter of public record and is widely known by everyone in my profession. The website only is inaccurate because the creators of the site only make the public records requests (obviously, they are voluminous records) once or twice a year – but the salaries listed are probably accurate to within 2-3 thousand dollars per year, given annual increases or reclassifications. Perhaps my point of view is therefore, slanted?

    I love your writing Catherine, and I think you deserve a LOT of money.

    Tway April 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I’m sorry–I don’t get it.

    You’re so very good at what you do, and other Mommies look up to you and appreciate the candid conversations you start here. There’s a need for Mommy bloggers, and the size and depth of your audience alone goes to show how valid your job is. That you make a great living out of it is icing on the cake (and food on the table).

    But I don’t get why so much head- and blog-space is given to trying to justify the relevance of Mommy bloggers. Haters will always hate–so aren’t they best ignored? The trolls keep going fishing and we keep taking the bait.

    Amy - Parenting Gone Mad April 3, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Thank you for your candid posting. I have to say I was most intrigued to hear what you had to say. You are right in saying that there is no benchmark so it makes it difficult to make industry comparisons.

    I am a mummy blogger in Australia and its even harder to break through the market here. Unlike Americans, the audience is a bit tougher and very different. Still trying to understand what works and what doesn’t.

    Looking for reading more:)

    Jenn April 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I love this post, in particular because it addresses a much much larger issue; the fact that women do not, and in fact are discouraged from celebrating their successes and triumphs (particularly in the workplace) in the way men do. So perhaps your qualms about mommy blogging are in some way related to this. I think that part of the road to breaking that glass ceiling is that women need to stand up, and celebrate their successes publicly. Because when we have a discourse with each other about our own achievements, we can learn and support each other. I love reading your blog, and I encourage you to speak openly about your success!!!

    {Not Quite} Susie Homemaker April 4, 2011 at 12:38 am

    I don’t have the slightest idea how much money you make blogging, but you deserve every cent. You work to make it happen. Kudos.

    Debbie April 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I can understand why top bloggers are hesitant to discuss their earnings. It makes them a target for jealousy. I cannot even count the number of nasty comments I’ve read about Dooce, and I believe they are motivated by envy. It’s easy to criticize her blog and her writing when you’re wondering– “What am I doing wrong? Why won’t the world recognize my writing and my blog?”

    In any creative profession, there will be great disparities in compensation. It’s hard to determine why some actors make $20 million a picture and others struggle to get parts. Some of my favorite actors never “made it big,” but they are still talented. I think tabloids sell so well because people like to see “overpaid” actors fail in their personal lives. It’s the mean side of human nature.

    Blogging is similar to acting. There will be bloggers who achieve fame and wealth. And there will be hard-working and talented bloggers who do not.

    But I’d like to see the industry congratulate those who “make it.” When I see someone like HerBadMother or The Pioneer Woman, I want to celebrate their success. I think their blogs are amazing and worthy of praise. While I know many other bloggers who “deserve” success and haven’t achieved it, I do not feel the need to criticize bloggers like Dooce just because they made it where others have failed.

    That said: many bloggers want to know more about compensation because they are trying to figure out what they can charge for their services. It would be great if there were some suggestions for these bloggers about CPM ranges, price per word for freelance writing, speaking fees and hourly rates for social media consulting.

    But big bloggers don’t share their rates– perhaps because they don’t want to be the subject of personal attacks and perhaps because they don’t want other competitors to undercut their prices. And this makes it more difficult for newbies to set their prices or to understand what’s reasonable or not. And then, of course, many of the same big bloggers write posts complaining about those who work for free.

    I work in a different industry, and I was able to ask my mentors what to charge when I was new to the game. They helped me understand reasonable price ranges, how to write contracts, etc. And NOBODY in that industry would work for free unless it was part of a well-defined internship. Most of my peers are men. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Men are not embarrassed to discuss money or to charge a fair rate for their services.

    Shauntelle April 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I’m a mom who blogs about budget decorating, but I’m really appreciating this discussion for several reasons. First because I’ve only begun to take baby steps toward earning income around my blog and I feel hella guilty for it! Because, ya know, I got involved online back when charging for anything was considered suspicious and I can still remember the big campaign for “ad-free” blogs… I have one very small text link ad on my blog right now and it took everything in me to add it. When I added my virtual budget design services to my site, I immediately wanted to hide under a blanket from the fear that somehow I was offending my readers by even suggesting I might want to make money doing anything related to what I blog about.

    Discussions like this help me to feel more confident in the “okay-ness” of applying a business model to something I love to do. It also makes me realize that many of us still suffer from the “can’t make money from art” issue that Julia Cameron wrote about in the “Artist’s Way.” I mean, in a way, isn’t that what we’re talking about? Just like “people” belittle artist who become successful selling their art as “sell-outs,” there are a subset of snarky people who want to make those of us who write in the blogging field, especially woman-centric areas of the blogging field, feel that somehow we are selling out.

    I think more open conversation between mommy bloggers (and moms who blog) about what constitutes the various successful business models for blogging is definitely needed online. I would much rather garner useful and real information from another mom than read one more “5 step” article from some social media marketing guru wanna-be. Personally, I don’t really care about the $ figures… maybe that comes from having an offline marketing and sales background though. That background makes me very aware that $ amount is mostly = to perceived value. I think these open conversations will help many women understand that their words ARE valuable and that, alone, will help immensely in working out a dollar value.

    Andrea FoxInFlats.com April 5, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and success is measured by your own definition. I guess it is human nature to use income as a measure of success and for some, self worth, and that is where the bitching comes from. A shame.

    I think it is rude for people to ask what another earns, but there is a natural curiosity around how people make money online, and how much they make.

    Jeeeprs, I didn’t know building a brand was a dirty word…in that case someone should be washing my mouth out with soap, as I’ve been doing that for a living for 15 years with things like energy drinks, alcohol, and icecream, and am now trying to build my own brand online at FoxInFlats.com. Actually, maybe you will need a scrubbing brush and a mega bottle of detergent for me, I’m that dirty…! ha ha ha

    Catherine, to you I say:
    ‘snaps’ to you for being proud of what you do! Congratulations for being brave enough to create something from scratch! And pop the champagne to celebrate your success! Oh, and maybe you want to grab a big scrubbing brush too, you dirty brand builder you!

    Andrea FoxInFlats.com

    Sarah April 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks for writing about this. As a SAHM of 2 under 2, I started a couple of websites this winter that I hope to be able to turn into an income. It is hard work. I don’t think you need to talk numbers, but I’m curious just because I’m a wannabe. In my opinion anybody who gives you shit is just jealous. ;-)

    Minka April 6, 2011 at 11:11 am

    As a mom with a new blog still wrestling with the term “mommy blogger” when there’s so much shit I’ve already written about, and so much more yet to discuss, much of which has nothing and yet everything to do with being a mom, I’m already filled with so many questions about how this is going to impact my life and the course my future might take as a result of blogging. Feeding the beast that is the internet, with its constant hunger for daily — if not hourly — content, is fucking exhausting. And I was really glad to find your blog, despite the fact that it confirms just how friggin’ hard I’m going to have to work to be successful at this. It also confirms that it still sucks that women have to justify or defend their successes (well, we don’t really have to, but for some damn reason, people seem to want us to), and it also taps into the icky feeling I have about pursuing a career that is essentially me talking about the shit that happens in my life… made all the more difficult by the very private person I’m married to. But I say — fuck ‘em. Maybe if people talked more openly about pretty much EVERYTHING, the world would be a better place. And if not the world, at least the blogosphere. Kudos on your successes. It inspires me to continue to (insightfully, I hope) spill my guts and share my often random, often chaotic, but always sincerely felt thoughts and insanity with whomever has the compassion or curiosity, or simply the desire to see the word f-ck frequently and imaginatively used, to come check out my blog, righteousventing.com. And from my point of view, it’d be pretty damn righteous to suck up the prissiness. God knows we can’t leave that to the men.

    Stephanie Smirnov April 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve been watching the conversation around this topic for a few days and don’t understand the intensity of the emotion it’s stirring up. I realize I come at this with a corporate, work-out-of-the-home perspective but I blog as well and work with bloggers all the time so hey, I GET IT. It’s a community, it’s all about transparency and sharing and etc etc. But you know what? No one is ever under any pressure in corporate American to divulge anything about their personal compensation, ever. Does that make me anti-feminist or wishy-washy? Not at all. You better believe behind closed doors in conversations with the people who sign my paycheck, I speak openly and directly about my compensation. That doesn’t mean I have to broadcast it for the good of some imagined “sisterhood of PR professionals.” Why shouldn’t mom bloggers be entitled to the same perogative?

    Lindsay April 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Well, this is what Mom 2.0 is for, isn’t it? Also, wine? We may not talk about it on our blogs, but somehow when we get together and there’s time, IT’S ALL WE TALK ABOUT. That and Spanx, anyway.

    Christine Gilbert April 8, 2011 at 5:18 am

    There is no point in sharing the numbers, except that some people are curious, as much as they might be curious enough to click on a link that promised to show a picture of you naked. That doesn’t really mean that there is a demand or need for this information, it just means that people like to look behind the curtain.

    I blog in the travel blog community. Same thing, different genre. The popular blogs (I am one of them, weirdly) are whispered about as “not deserving their success” and smaller blogs complain that the system is unfair and failed blogs flatly state it’s not possible to make a living online without compromising yourself in some way.

    I don’t write about money or blogging professionally anymore on my main site, because, well, I’m not writing to other bloggers. I’m writing to my readers who don’t care how much I make, don’t want to know if I had to stay up all night tweaking PHP code and surely couldn’t care less what other bloggers, (whom they probably don’t read), think about me, how much I make or the industry as a whole.

    I’ve been reading you forever. I’ve also been reading Dooce for a very long time. I assume that everyone is doing well, but as a non-mommy-blogger (although I am a mommy) I never once wondered, “Exactly how much do they make?” Only people who want to measure themselves against you wonder this. You feel the unspoken judgement looming, so you hesitate to share. That’s the correct instinct.

    The hardest thing about being successful is that you have to suffer the assumptions, judgements and petty jealousy of other bloggers. It’s like this in any tight knit group, competing for the same things — offline and on. Stay strong!

    Rachel April 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I like this conversation…a lot. I am guilty of blogger-jealousy. Mainly because I don’t feel like I can call myself a “real” blogger because I’m fairly certain not many people read my blog AND because I get jealous of other, more “successful” bloggers. I would LOVE to have a real, honest, in-real-life conversation about how you (yes, you! you are successful and wonderful at this! own it!) and others pull this whole thing off. Why? Because I want to do it, too. I sometimes wonder, and maybe this is my own paranoia creeping in, that the reason we don’t have these honest conversations we say we really want, because bloggers are scared that if they reveal their secrets then others will catch on, thus reducing the income for all involved. But I would really really like to know how to do it. And yes I am a bit jealous. Not so much or so pathologically that I would be snarky or mean to a successful blogger or ever claim that their work was less valuable or difficult than it is…but because I have to work full time outside the home after spending 2 years at home with my little boy. I’m a therapist–a counselor–and I am EXHAUSTED. I’d love a little bit more flexibility. A LOT more flexibility. *sigh* Thanks for starting this discussion.

    Belinda Gomez April 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Writers, at least the free-lance pros I know, talk about word rate and up-front money and residuals all the time. I think mommy-bloggers do them selves no favors by being coy about money. Women, in corporate jobs, often complain that they don’t know how to negotiate for raises and bonuses. Women need to get over the idea that talking aout money is indelicate.

    Asha {Parent Hacks} April 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I’m giving a talk at Mom2 about “blog evolution” and the importance of defining what success means for you BEFORE (or at least AS) you pursue it. It may sounds a little Marie Antoinette to argue that success and money or success and recognition aren’t the same. But, as “momblogging” grows in scope (it’s no longer just blogging, it’s social media influence, consulting, brand “ambassadoring,” speaking, creating strategic partnerships, etc.), it’s crucial to define, personally, what one’s going for. It’s different for each of us, as different as each of our lives are. Otherwise we find ourselves flying in a million directions, constantly worried that we’re not measuring up.

    This is a vital, growing ecosystem. There can only be a few “big” bloggers, but there can be many, many successful bloggers.

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