how do I monetize what’s left of my soul?

 

the shady blogging game

On a long enough timeline everyone has a strike price, or so it seems.  Few talk about the cruel irony of the online space–the anti-establishment becoming the establishment, and when they become the thing that they once sought refuge against, they try to convince you that this establishment is different. We’re creatures of order with selective memory, and what was once an idealistic rebellion becomes corporatized, systemized, anything-ized. After the dot.com crash of 2000 (I remember it well because I was one of many who lost their job when my dot.com blew through their VC money), we temporarily returned to the perceived safety of brick and mortar companies until a new generation cropped up, the crash being a distant memory, launching companies that were just as insane and overvalued as the ones that came before. But we’re different, they emphatically insisted. Not really. Maybe they have better haircuts? Fancier footwear? Hoodies?

In 2002, I launched an online literary journal because I was tired of seeing good writing routinely rejected by print publications because the writer wasn’t connected or had the means to attend an exclusive MFA program. Or perhaps the writer didn’t know X famous writer, attend Y reading series. The writer couldn’t work the room because they were denied access to the room’s address. I was tired of a limited few benefitting from privilege and access. Perhaps I was also rallying against my own disappointing experience at the Columbia MFA program, where I felt like a complete outsider.

Back then, no one took online lit mags seriously. Paper lent you legitimacy because who would go to AWP with a laptop? Aesthetically, few could compete with the grandeur of the print establishment with their glossy covers and bold-face contributors, and don’t even think that your work would be considered in any of Best American series let alone win prizes. But I kept on trucking. I invested my own money in a site redesign and ultimately succumbed to the paper peer pressure. I spent thousands of dollars because I loved what I did. Even on the days when I had to haul heavy boxes (slim books are surprisingly heavy when you’re moving a few hundred of them from a taxi up two flights of stairs) or I encountered a snobby writer (or forty) who thought my “little” publication was “adorable”, and sure they’ll deign to submit the story they torched in the trash bin because they’re charitable too. Never did I consider making money off my literary journal because I felt, perhaps too idealistically, that money would taint it as money tends to do. Money would drive editorial decisions. Money would force me to sit in a room with people I didn’t respect much less like because one has to work a room and be part of the scene in order to be taken seriously. Not relying on profitability allowed me to say fuck you, I’ll do my own thing over here whether you like me or it, or not. And then I stopped publishing the magazine because I didn’t love it like I used to, and I walked away and watched as a succession of others took its place. I watched online magazines gain the respect, credibility and authority they deserved. I saw online editors blurbing books and hosting conferences. Part of me was really happy, but a small, growing part of me was sad and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered why.

I left three years of working in marketing at a major publishing company because I couldn’t stomach the business of writing. Editorial meetings would make me violently ill with talk of platform and reach trumping the quality of a writer’s work. As long as a book could sell, who cared about the contents of the pages? I witnessed talented friends tirelessly sending out manuscripts that would invariably get rejected while I sat in an editorial meeting pontificating our ceiling bid on the media darling of the moment. I’m not naive. I know publishing isn’t a non-profit, but as someone who writes for the sheer joy of it, it was hard for me to detangle the bitter taste from the business with the sweetness of the art. Some can and do it brilliantly; I couldn’t.

I then spent the best and worst four years of my career building a company that specialized in social media marketing. This was a time when social was relatively free. There existed no algorithms to game or pay-for-plays to consider. Social media was unchartered, messy, and I loved it. I loved experimenting in an era when people didn’t take what we did all that seriously. This was a time when sending someone product was good enough to secure a review.

Then something happened. So quickly I was nearly bowled over by it. Overnight, the people who were once content with receiving free product were commanding fees equivalent to a month of my income. Fees for a single photo or appearance. Fees for a return (qualitative or otherwise) of which we were uncertain. It was as if the industry moved from 0 to 90, bypassing a cruising speed. The industry shifted from slightly advantageous to grand larceny. Suddenly, I was dealing with agents who acted as if their clients were the modern day Linda Evangelista–refusing to wake up for less than $10,000 a day. And while I believe that people should be compensated well for their work, some of these fees were a laugh riot. I’d pass on proposals to my clients, to which they’d respond: you must be joking.

This was the new era when everyone was an expert and everyone was in the business of brand ME. This was the era when kids became props and sales vehicles, and some bloggers were duplicitous when it came to disclosure or even their true feelings about a product or brand. If I hear one more time: I’ve been using X product for Y months when they signed for the Fedex package yesterday, I’m going to scream. This was the era when several friends were shocked that I didn’t add affiliate links to the cookbooks I posted or for the books I read. Why would I do that? Just because there’s money to be made doesn’t mean I need to make it.

Lately, a lot of my friends who are trained and established in their fields are losing out to the flavors of the moment. They’re losing out to outfit bloggers who have 500K Instagram followers and LikeIttoKnowIt affiliate links that serve as permanent wallpaper on their sites. They’re losing out to bloggers who have little design experience, training, or point-of-view claiming they designed collections that we know they didn’t design. They’re losing out to “social media experts” who undercharge and overdeliver. “Marketers”, who don’t fundamentally understand basic marketing principles or the complexities of a business, are creating challenges and friction for everyone else in the field. Beware of anyone who calls themselves a “growth hacker”.

The establishment had a dam for a reason. No one wanted to drown in the event of a flood.

And while there are incredible writers and artists who’ve found audience and livelihood as a result of social media, most bloggers are pale photocopies of extraordinary originals. New bloggers immediately ask: How can I make money? When can I get free stuff? When can I get a book deal? Since publishing a book these days is as meaningful and disposable as a business card.

How do you explain that nothing is truly free and that making money comes at a cost and the result of hard work? I don’t dismiss the hard work of so many talented people online, but I question and challenge the sea-of-same which has become increasingly ubiquitous. The flood of beige drowning color. I worry when one blogger is completely indistinguishable from another, down to their peony bouquet and Old Navy comped clothing. And the business side of me, the one who has to pay rent and student loans, has to play into this to some degree (hence, why I can never give specifics or name names because I would actually like to pay off my debt while I am still alive) while the other side of me is washing the taste of all of it out of my mouth. Recently, I attempted to negotiate a deal on behalf of one of my clients for a cause campaign and the person on the other end of the correspondence wrote that the influencer could only write about a cause in the context of an outfit post. I paused and re-read the email several times, wondering if the person on the other end didn’t see this as incredibly inappropriate. Can no one take a day off from affiliate links to use their influence for something good? Must every post and moment somehow contribute to brand ME? Must everything bear a price tag? Are people lauded for weekly “coffee talk” posts because our bar for storytelling is set that low? Does that one slightly revelatory, yet highly edited, post elevate one’s perception of authenticity? Is faux-real the new real?

Behind the scenes, in texts and chats, many of us wonder when this bubble will burst. When the next wave of anti-establishment shakes down this Beige New Order, possibly normalizing it or at least alleviating the insanity of it. A time when my friends will actually get work again and not have to side-step those who have unfathomable fan counts. A time when people stop monetizing life’s real moments. A time when people will create for the sake of creating without thinking about ways in which it can be transactional. I don’t want to be sold to, indirectly or directly, every single day. I get enough of that from the world around me. Blogs used to be my refuge, but now most of them are walking advertisements. Maybe the voice is more conversational (although not really because brands are basically in the mimicry game of what’s working with influencers), but the message is still the same. Buy this because I’m obsessed with this thing this week until I become obsessed with that new thing next week. 

Tell me stories. Don’t sell me things.

 

want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you I’m privileged to have such good people in my life? If you would’ve known me 10, 15 years ago, you would’ve met a paled-down version of me–a woman who was anxious, defiant, focused on quantity over quality. But I guess that’s what happens with age, you come into your own so beautifully and acutely, that people have a tendency to cleave to that which is calm and good.

To that end, imagine my joy to discover that so many of my friends and peers were so generous with their knowledge and time in helping readers of this space get the answers they need should they want to pursue a freelance life. I’m humbled by their generosity, the fact that the time it took to read and respond to your great questions took them away from billable work. So I’m grateful for that, and I think part of being a successful freelancer is to know when you should give your time and to whom.

So thank you, dear readers, for your questions. As I was preparing to chime in with responses, I realized that my peers were so eloquent and so helpful, that I would only be parroting versions of their words. I hope you find value here, or at least inspiration to give of your time and pursue that which you hold dear and love. –FS

Question #1: This is going to be the newbie-est of newbie questions and rather embarrassing to ask, but…how does one start freelancing? In particular, how does one break into freelance copy editing, especially if one does not have many, many years of solid experience in the field? Honestly, I have no idea how to start! My background is mostly in academia, but I am in a situation in which I need to look for employment elsewhere, and I am thinking about freelancing as I navigate my way through the rough seas of job hunting and relocating. Well, thank you, Felicia and everyone else, for offering this great service! –RINE

Lindsey Tramuta: Great question! I would first start small and see if anyone in your immediate network could use copy editing services. If you can seek little projects on the side initially, you’ll build up your portfolio and get more comfortable applying for freelance gigs or connecting with potential employers once you have the experience under your belt. For me, I had an idea that I thought would fit in nicely with a magazine so I asked a friend who had previously written for the magazine if she would be kind enough to share her editor’s email (she was no longer writing for the outlet and didn’t cover the same beat) and she did. That doesn’t work every time but in this case, she opened the door for me, I reached out to the editor and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Also, if you’re looking to actively veer your career in a new direction, make sure you update your close friends and contacts with personalized emails (or phone calls!) so that they know to keep an eye and ear out for opportunities that would fit with your interests.

Amber Katz: My advice is to network beyond belief. Find some people doing what you’d like to do, in this case, freelance copy editing, and email them and ask them if you can take them to coffee for a 20-minute meeting. In the email, ask if a phone call would work if they’re not able to meet up and come to the meeting/call with three questions you’d like answered. Another thing I’d recommend is simply emailing your network and let them know you’re taking on freelance copy editing work if anyone has any leads. You may have to offer your services for a small fee (never for FREE, unless you really don’t have any related experience, in which case you may need to do a project or two gratis) so you can put together a portfolio. Good luck!

Leah Singer: I would suggest doing a few things. First, if you have experience doing copy editing (or any of the freelance skills you want to do) in your current job, make sure you highlight that on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. Even if your job in academe is not a copyeditor, if you’re performing that work as part of your job, it’s relevant and should be promoted.

Second, start finding organizations that will use your talent in a volunteer capacity. For example, see if your church, synagogue or kid’s school or club needs a copyeditor for their newsletter, and volunteer to do the work. When you’re well established, I don’t always advocate giving away your time and service for free. However when you’re starting out, you need to get the clients and experiences to build your business. And remember, nobody knows the work you’re doing is volunteer or paid!

Third, harness the power of social media! Find a few friends or post something on Facebook that you’re starting this service and want to do some copyediting for people’s blogs, articles, etc. Then make sure to get testimonials for your LinkedIn profile and future website!

Matthew Sharpe: I’m a freelance editor and writing coach and I started freelancing somewhat by accident. I taught creative writing in the evening at a local university. Some of my students were grown-ups working on novels, and they got in touch after the course was over to see if I’d continue helping them with their novels. Same thing happened after I attended a few writers’ conference over the years. I confess I’m not great at advertising and marketing my own services, so most of my work has come to me via word of mouth.

As for copy editing: okay, so you don’t have many, many years of experience. Do you have any? That will certainly help. I’d get in touch with the copy departments of all the major book publishers and magazines and let them know you’re available, and what your experience is. If they have an opening, they’ll give you a test. If you do well on the test, they’ll start giving you some work. If you do well on the work, they’ll give you more. Etcetera.

Cariwyl Herbert: No need to feel embarrassed at all! We all must start somewhere, and most endeavors begin with asking questions. If you are ready to take clients, put the word out to your network. Email your friends and family to let them know what you are offering. They’ll gladly hire you when they need copywriting, and they will tell their friends as well. You can also post your services on sites like elance.com and odesk.com; both are portals catering to freelancers.

Alexandra Ostrow: Good for you, Rine! Depending on your role in academia, you likely have more related experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. Take a look at the projects you’ve worked on, and make a list of the times when copyediting played a role. This list is the beginning of your portfolio. Also, let your network (colleagues, friends, family) know that you’re beginning to work as a freelance copyeditor and are looking to take on new clients. If you’re open to it, offer discounted services to new clients for a limited time period. This will help grow your portfolio. Bottom line, if you’re gravitating towards freelance copyediting, this is either a passion or an innate skill of yours. Believe in yourself and go for it. The hardest part is often just putting yourself out there.

Kim Brittingham: Years ago I worked as a legal assistant and I used to wonder the same thing. How do these freelancers get work to begin with, so they can eventually work only for themselves? And I’m still not sure I have the answer! I have friends who write full-time, and they get non-stop work just pitching ideas directly to publications. But I think that requires a lot of persistence, and you have to be good at coming up with a lot of different ideas all the time (enough that you can afford to have the majority of them shot down). I also suspect it takes time to establish relationships with editors who will look forward to your pitches and respond to you quickly, or even reach out to you and offer an assignment.

I also know of some writers who get work through eLance.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com, but I personally haven’t used those sites because I think most people who go there seeking writers and also looking for a bargain, so you wind up making really insulting money.

My path to becoming a full-time freelance writer was a little unconventional. It started in the ‘90s when I published a ‘zine called Café Eighties. I did a lot of interviews with entertainers, and after a while, people came to know me as a writer. Eventually, someone from a local publication reached out to me and said, hey, would you be interested in writing something for us? Then when the Internet came about, I was completely fascinated. I wanted to tinker and figure out what I could do with this thing. I had a really early website, I was on message boards, et cetera. I remember posting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to write what we call “web content” today, although I don’t think that term was being widely used back then. I got some responses. I wrote articles about personal safety in the context of dating for a telephone forwarding service; I wrote about novel ways to propose marriage for a diamond company. One thing led to another. Eventually I sold a book to Random House, in part because I had built a following with my personal blog and stuff I posted on social media. I was extremely lucky in that I didn’t have to work hard to get a literary agent to notice me; my agent approached me first.

Then I had some more skills in my pocket, like the social media, blogging, et cetera. I had even more to offer as a freelancer. Then one day I got a call from a guy I’d taken a class with at Media Bistro. He asked if I’d be willing to ghostwrite a book for him. I signed a contract that made it possible for me to quit my job as a legal assistant. Since then, I’ve taken some part-time jobs here or there to get by while doing the freelance writing thing, but I’m happy to say I haven’t had to do that in the last three years. Most of the work I get today is repeat business and referrals. People also find me on LinkedIn. For example, I occasionally publish a blog post to their content platform “Pulse”, and people have reached out to me with work after liking what they read. I think it also helps that I’ve carved out a niche for myself, working with executive coaches, management consultants and thought leaders. When you specialize in something, you have a better shot at winning business than if you try to be everything to everyone, in which case you disappear into a vast sea of other Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades. I do still take outsourced work from marketing agencies, though, because I enjoy the variety. One day you’re writing blog posts for an insurance company that caters to teachers, the next you’re creating mildly crass Facebook memes aimed at 20-something heterosexual men who gamble. It’s fun!

Question #2: Thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions! I’ve been working as a freelance editor part-time along with my normal day job in academia. I’m currently looking to grow my business. I’ve been wondering about keeping regular clients happy, yet still being able to take a week or two off throughout the year. –EGEORGIAN

Amber Katz: There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a week or two off throughout the year. It’s all about sending your freelance clients an email 2 weeks before your vacation and letting them know you’ll be off the grid for a couple weeks and could they please submit any requests for work by X date so you have time to finish up before you leave. Then, use an Out Of Office notification to let people know you’re away and not checking email until X date and to contact you in case of an emergency using a special email subject line.

Cariwyl Herbert: Everyone is entitled to time off—even freelancers! It isn’t difficult to take a day off here and there; put an out-of-office alert on your email if you’re worried. For a longer vacation, simply give clients a couple weeks notice so they know what to expect.

Leah Singer: For me personally, it’s been hard to take chunks of time off and not do any work (although I know people who do it well). I usually always check email or have client work that needs to be done in some way. However, it can be done and it just requires a lot of planning and working in advance. If I know I need to take a few days off, I schedule time on my calendar to do work ahead of time. I also let my clients know I won’t be working on those days. Also, some seasons are slower than others. December always seems to be less chaotic, which is great since my daughter has the last two week of the month off of school. I also take advantage of holiday weekends since the rest of the world tends to slow down during these times.

Matthew Sharpe: I think just give them a lot of advance notice about your time off. If feasible, offer to do extra work in advance of your vacation so they won’t be stranded. Everyone needs time off. People generally accept this, in my experience.

Kim Brittingham: One thing that helps me is flat-out refusing to work with unreasonable and/or demanding people (FS note: Hallelujah!). I have a pretty good instinct about people, and usually after just one conversation, I can sense whether or not they’re going to be a giant pain in the rear. Life’s too short for that. Just say no. BACK AWAY FROM THE NUTJOB. That’s why I never have issues with clients calling me at odd hours or expecting me to be available 24/7 to discuss things that are in no way urgent. Also, I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Tell your client how many hours you have available to them, when you take calls and when you don’t, when and how often you will meet via Skype or conference call, et cetera. Put it in writing.

The work I take allows for a lot of flexibility. For example, I have clients to whom I provide the same amount of content every month. I know when my deadlines are, so if I want to go away for a week, I just work extra-hard to get everything done early. But I do make sure I’m available by e-mail while I’m gone. If that’s not possible, I let all of my clients know in advance when I will be out-of-reach. I also accept longer-term projects, like ghostwriting books, but when I accept those projects, I also accept that I won’t be doing any extensive traveling until the gig is over.

Alexandra Ostrow: It’s all about setting expectations. Just like you, your clients are likely looking to take a vacation (or three), and should understand you need some time away. It’s unlikely to be an issue as long as you let them know ahead of time about your plans, and then work out an arrangement where either a) you complete all deliverables prior to takeoff or b) you have a trusted colleague cover your role while you’re away. If it is still an issue, I would personally question whether that particular client is worth sacrificing work-life balance.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Continue reading “want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!”

some thoughts on the art of writing, because there’s a lot of garbage out there

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Learning how to be a good reader is what makes you a writer…Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation.’ You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page. –Zadie Smith

I’m going to say something that’s a bit controversial: there’s a deluge of terrible writing on the internet. What I love about the online space and the advent of digital technology–the democratization of voices and the ease in which unknown greats can rise above the din and find shelter with a receptive audience–has also given way to the sense that everyone who has a piece of virtual real estate can call themselves a writer and live this carefully curated “writer’s life,” replete with a gleaming laptop, unsullied notebooks, and a weathered coffee mug. I never quite understood this notion of a romanticized writer’s life because when I attempted such a life it was rife with financial anxiety and the paralyzing fear that I wasn’t any good–I always thought I was second-rate. While there are so many resources devoted to the art of making one a better writer by refining some of the technical aspects of the craft, for me the art of writing is simple: you’re either an artisan of language or you’re not.

There’s a scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon’s character tries to explain his enormous gift:

Will: Beethoven, okay. He looked at a piano, and it just made sense to him. He could just play.
Skylar: So what are you saying? You play the piano?
Will: No, not a lick. I mean, I look at a piano, I see a bunch of keys, three pedals, and a box of wood. But Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could just play. I couldn’t paint you a picture, I probably can’t hit the ball out of Fenway, and I can’t play the piano.
Skylar: But you can do my o-chem paper in under an hour.
Will: Right. Well, I mean when it came to stuff like that… I could always just play.

Writers can dissect the process of how they architect and develop characters, scene and story, but ask them how they’re able to create music with a strange combination of words and they go mute. How do you explain that you’re able to see the world and translate it in a way that moves people? That there’s beauty in the arrangement of words, how a writer’s able to describe an object or emotion that puts someone else’s heart on pause. Writers are downright surgical about how and what they write, and every one of them will tell you that they write from a compulsive place, from a desire to tell a particular story. They don’t write because they want to, it’s because they have to. And while a writer can study craft and technique, at the end of the day you either can play or you can’t.

Last year I was in a slump. I witnessed mediocrity get rewarded with microfame and book deals. I watched brilliantly-crafted novels go unnoticed in favor of poor fiction with its grating, overwritten prose and characters void of complexity. I read a lot of lists and scrolled through what seemed like a labyrinth of quizzes, wondering, does anyone feel anything? Are we simply a character in a sitcom? Are we reduced to a top-ten list that’s meant to define the whole of us? Are we happy with this? Are we content with art that is compressed, regurgitated and made to go “viral” with a string of keywords and a nonsensical image? (I harbor a desire to torch anyone who doesn’t use this word sardonically). I read scores of blogs written by people who care only to publish a book because it would bolster their “brand,” as opposed to having a fervent desire to create art, to tell a story that will leave its indelible mark.

Basically, I read a lot of shit on the internet. A towering inferno of it.

And yes, mediocrity has always existed and has always been rewarded (I would argue not as handsomely). And yes, life is cruel and unfair. And yes, great writing will always, inevitably, find its place in the world. But it’s hard, as someone who writes tough, dark books and reads them as passionately as I write them, to know that this democratization has also opened the floodgates of shit, and it’s upon the reader to sift through the rubble to find what’s meaningful. To see that which is good. Also, I wonder whether we’ve been exposed to so much shit that what we think is good is no longer? I don’t know how to answer any of this–I just wonder.

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Illustration Credit: John Alcorn, via

Last year I purchased and read a lot of books. Many of which were remarkable. Many of which were shit. I’d nearly given up hope (call it end-of-year dramatics, and I acknowledge my proclivity toward it) and then I started the year off reading a succession of good fucking books that made me feel the way books should–they gave me hope.

Likeable characters bore the fuck out of me. If I want a shiny, happy life I only need to scroll through popular Instagram feeds rather than spend 300 pages cuddled up next to it. I read to get uncomfortable, to learn, to gain perspective and be transformed in some way. And reading has made me a better writer, not simply for the techniques learned from authors I admire, but for how good books drive me to go deeper with my scalpel until there’s nowhere else to go. If given the chance to write from the perspective of a nice girl who gets her heart broken and perseveres or from one of a sociopath, know that I would choose the latter. I’m fascinated by people who harbor a degree of darkness, characters who are flawed and complex. These are people who have been through war and are still dressing their wounds. I sometimes like novels that are unresolved or bleak because sometimes this is life, and the reading of this gives one wisdom, makes them see the world differently.

After I read Sonya Hartnett’s What the Birds See, I joked to a friend that I should move to Australia because they would be receptive to the kinds of books I want to write. I’m fascinated by children, how they’re untouched and innocent, and I’m even more fascinated when I see them interact with adults, because adults always find ways to ruin the worlds children have built, brick by brick, intentional or unintentional. There is no Santa Claus, that overheard argument, the parents who fall out of love as quickly as they took up lovemaking like cross stitch–Hartnett writes about the vulnerability and breakability of children. I set down her book and nodded my head and said, these are the kind of books I always seek to write: dark, elegant, fragile and visceral.

I followed Harnett’s novel with My Brilliant Friend–the first in a tetralogy of Neopolitan novels about a lifelong friendship–and consumed it so voraciously that I immediately ordered the second two books. Next up is Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women–more tales about eccentric, beguiling and flawed, yet beautiful, women (notice a pattern?).

Terrible writing will always frustrate me, but I’m trying to train myself to sift through and discover the voices that seek to shout above the din of listicles and storytelling that solely serves as a traffic-driving authenticity device. But this is often my flaw–I’ll fixate on the shit at the expense of what’s really good and pure.

Work in progress, people. Work in progress.

blogs worth reading: because most of them, quite frankly, blow

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo. Text my own.

Those who know me well know I’ve strong opinions about bloggers. I started blogging in 2000, back when people had just recovered from the detritus otherwise known as Geocities and wanted a clean space to tell great stories. I had a blogspot address (the name of which now escapes me) and I wrote about everything from the food I craved to the alcohol I really wanted to stop craving. Forever skirting the edges of things, I found my home in the online space because it was filled with people like me: zine-lovers, book-readers, misfits and people who had something to say. Nobody really paid attention to the motley lot who shared very personal aspects of their lives so publicly. For a time, we were largely left alone.

As the years passed I would also sit on the business side of the screen, and I was someone who once pitched bloggers in 2005 to someone who lead teams that pitched bloggers to someone who didn’t want to read another blog ever again. The stories gave way to inclusive communities, stylized websites and people who placed a premium on building their brand and optimizing their “content” (I’m fucking shuddering here as I type this) over offering a piece of themselves, wholly and authentically, to others. Suddenly, authenticity went from being a noun to a buzzword, and many bloggers who had done well for themselves penned lengthy posts on being authentic for your audience, but this often gets lost, or conflicts with, advice on how to style your Instagram photos and ensuring Photoshop and Reward Style are your best friends. Present your life, authentically, but be pretty about it. Because no one is going to like a grainy photo of your happiness when they can fawn over a stark image of a gleaming laptop, a monogrammed coffee mug (marred by a dot of berry lip color, because you do sip, of course) and freshly-manicured blooms.

As if one lives this way. As if these artifacts of a life represent a life. Please. I have a watch; I know what time it is.

I’ve written about the need for bloggers to act right, to fuck “content” writing, and to stop the proliferation of the bullshit aesthetic (it’s a fucking disease, I tell you), so I won’t bore you with another rant. I will tell you that I don’t read many blogs anymore, simply for the fact that they’re affiliate farms under the guise of the girl who’s your best friend. I don’t read them because scrolling through sponsored post after sponsored post is akin to getting my teeth extracted with a butter knife. I don’t read them because the act of storytelling becomes a highlighted post of the week instead of the norm. And I don’t read them because scores of people with no real business experience are trying to play the role of marketers (making my job as an executive consultant harder) without actually understanding that marketing is a real discipline and building a global brand goes far beyond pitching other bloggers.

That having been said, there are a pile of people in the online space who are knocking the socks right off my feet. Inspired by Hitha’s post, I’m listing a few bloggers who are worth reading. By the by, Hitha’s blog is worth bookmarking.

  • Mark Manson: Whenever I get the urge to get off my rocker and yell about kids today, I remember there are people like Mark Manson who are sharing real truth and insight that makes you really think about your life. Through storytelling, cultural references and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, Manson manages to distill many of life’s tough questions into life learnings. I know that may sound trite, but I always come away from reading Mark’s articles wanting to BE BETTER. You read the “Art of Not Giving a Fuck” (that kitten, though) and try arguing with me.
  • Stripes and Sequins, soon to be The Stripe: While so many bloggers are getting it wrong, Grace is RIGHT. I met Grace through mutual friends on Twitter, and I loved her blog because I always had this feeling of discovery when I visited her space. From beauty products to workouts to travel destinations I need to hit, Grace has an unassuming way about herself and the infectious way in which she shares the things she loves. It’s rare that I’ll visit a site and feel as if I’m always discovering something new, and Grace has balanced the line of blog and business with integrity.
  • Jenny Purr: I need to send an orange kitten to the person who introduced me to Jenny Purr, because her blog is the BUSINESS. Built for bloggers and creatives, Jenny offers smart, thoughtful advice on being your best self online. While so many other bloggers have penned articles about finding their voice, growing their space, and making the most out of what they’ve created, Jenny manages to dole out advice that is fresh and free of jargon.
  • Girl Lost in the City: Truth be told, I found Emma because she found me. However, I’m glad to have stumbled onto her space because her writing is razor sharp and witty. Not only is she a tireless evangelist of people she loves, I’ve discovered so many resources and voices that have made my daily life richer. My favorite posts so far have been, “How Much of Our Success is Down to Luck” and “Why You Should Write Even if You Feel Uninspired”.
  • The Fielding Report: I just love Emily’s blog, I really do. It’s such a delight to click over and learn about all the articles she’s reading, progress on her journey to mindful living and health, and tune into her impeccable taste in home decor (I mean, her favorite color is BLUE, and in BLUE we trust). I don’t often comment on her space because, for me, it feels intrusive. I love settling into her blog and quietly enjoying it, simply for the fact that she puts so much care into what she publishes.
  • Talulaah: I dare you to read Petra’s blog because you will get sucked into a void for hours. Hers is a rabbit hole down which I want to tumble. Her images tell the most powerful stories, and her introspective, honest and lean prose style really keeps me paging through. I’ve long envied and admired her travel adventures, but I’m mostly drawn to how she sees the world, and that, I think, is the mark of a great writer.
  • I also frequently update my blogroll, so click over for a laundry list of my daily reads.

    shade in the food blogging game {mini rant}

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    Normally I’d reserve such missives for a private, long-winded Facebook post, but quite honestly I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the shady practices of food bloggers, who are desperate to attain celebrity status and the coveted title of cookbook author and “online brand.” Let me put this as plainly as possible: I write about food because it’s at the core of who I am. The alchemy of flavors, textures and tastes delight me, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve either had a pen or a whisk in hand. Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral, real. We hatch plans, we weep, we rage, we talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. I write about food because I believe in its ability to heal and bind.

    I don’t write about food because I want to be a “brand” or elevate my ranking in Google search with plug-ins, applications, or smartly-worded titles. I don’t write to sell my soul for a stand mixer or to post the au courant recipes making the rounds (popsicles, anyone?). And while I understand the business of content creation, brand building and word of mouth, there is a way in which one can be authentic, passionate, but still turn a profit. And, quite frankly, I’ve seen very few blogs in the food space that manage to keep their integrity in check. Rather, they’ve fallen into a “me-too” think speak of conferences, business cards, book deals, and a strategy that feels machinist rather than honest.

    Untitled Recently, I road-tested two recipes from sites I found on Tastespotting (an elegant and visual Pinterest for foodies, if you will), and both times I found myself reading the recipes several times, shaking my head, and muttering: This can’t be right. I scrolled through the scores of comments that complimented the food photography, styling, and the personal anecdotes that preceded the recipe. Nothing about the efficacy of the baked goods or even a question on the chemistry. So, against my better judgment, I baked the two loaves from two separate blogs and they were both failures. One was a chocolate chip pound cake, whose ratios could have not possibly yielded the picture on display (3 sticks of butter for one scant cup of flour for the crumble? Are you kidding me here?), and the other was a bread loaf with 1:1 white for whole wheat flour swap, which didn’t account for the density of the flour and the needed to alter the wet ingredients for the substitution.

    A long-winded way of saying the recipes were wrong. The photos were dubious, and scores of blogs are securing traffic, fans and deals, based on the fact of one beautiful picture and a few personal words. This reminds me of those gag books, when opened, are actually storage boxes. They’re empty, devoid of passion and authenticity, reduced to the output of a Canon 5D Mark or a Nikon.

    Suddenly, all of the blogs appear as a variation on a single theme, a one-note plea for the glory that internet fame brings. The dream of being the next Smitten Kitchen (for the record, I’ve sampled some of the recipes from this book, and they were not up to snuff, but that’s a whole other discussion). Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve been so severe in terms of how I manage this space. I refuse to call myself a food blogger. I refuse to accept advertising. I refuse to try to achieve anything less than what I consider extraordinary.

    A friend once told me that I’ll never have the traffic the “bigger guys” get because I’m too dark. My writing is too melodic and sometimes disturbing and sometimes meandering, and I don’t project an idealized life. Sure, I’ve got the pretty pictures and tagged posts, but I don’t project a home that the world covets. I’m not the online equivalent of cotton candy. My dinner parties are messy, replete with sullied napkins and discussions about Rosemary’s Baby, formalism, Amy Hempel, and Orange is the New Black. I’m outspoken, make whole new shapes outside of lines, and pretty much live in the color blue.

    Listen, I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve had my blogging mistakes and pitfalls, and I was once tempted by the lure of free things, but I try to be as honest as I am aware. I’m trying to deliver food I’d cook and eat. What you don’t see are all the failed recipes. What you don’t read about is the fully uncut version of my life, because I firmly believe that my life is mine, and when it’s all revealed it suddenly becomes less mine. It becomes yours.

    This is probably why I read so few blogs, why I trust a handful of folks who don’t write to gain traffic and build brands. They write because they love food, love the power of it, love how it consumes them. They live for that symbiosis. They live to marry image and text. They want to show you just how much this meal meant to them.

    Not how much it’s padded their bank account.

    /rant

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