Your Story Is In The Gaps

by anna on January 26, 2011

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I like it when bloggers share pictures, especially the ones who aren’t known for their photography.

Not because I’m a connoisseur of photography. The truth is that I cannot ordinarily even tell the difference between legitimately good photography and photography that has been processed within an inch of its life.

What I like about pictures on a blog is not even at the center of the photograph — it’s usually around the edges. It’s in the background. It’s the stuff that is not really supposed to be in the picture at all, and maybe wouldn’t be, if the blogger had looked more carefully at the picture before it was posted on the website.

I like the stuff that shows up unedited, that makes it past the editor by mistake. Or else, the stuff that makes it past the editor because the editor is so used to looking at it that he or she cannot see it anymore, and has ceased to think of it as something worthy of changing.

That kind of realism — the background (or backstory) that develops when you read a blog regularly — is the primary appeal of reading any kind of blog with one consistent narrative voice. Even if it’s not a personal blog per se, a blog written by one person is shaped by psychology in intriguing ways, particularly in the moments when the self-conscious editor is not completely on his or her “game,” so to speak.

I refer to those moments as “the gaps.”

You will know you are in the gaps when you are a little afraid to publish a post. Or when you get a little nervous at the response to a post. Or when you realize you have posted something that reveals a little more than you have intended.

You might feel a little sick in the gaps. They are not something you will necessarily want to deal with every day. But your story also emerges in them, and the best bloggers know that they are essential to creating an intriguing blog.

Don’t be afraid of the gaps — just don’t let them totally trip you up.

Viewing “blogging” (or blogging-related activities) as a means of making money is still fairly new. Whenever I’m not sure how to articulate how something should work, I tend to look at the entertainment industry, because I think it is the closest thing there is to how the “blogging industry” (or social media, if you’d rather call it that) might be structured. Below are some examples of the ways I think the two industries are comparable.

1. The people in front of the camera get the most attention.

In entertainment, actors get the most attention. The most popular and best paid actors are usually the ones who get the most attention, because they generally spend the most time in front of the camera. This is also true in the blogosphere, even though access to attention through social media is ostensibly democratic. Some bloggers spend more time in visible places: they have more readers, they have more followers, they attend and speak at more conferences. These people can be thought of as the “talent” segment of the blogosphere.

2. The most attention does not always equal the most money.

As the world of supermarket tabloids and reality TV demonstrates, appearing everywhere does not necessarily mean you are being paid the most. There are certain people who appear everywhere and are highly compensated, but there are also people who appear everywhere for other reasons. They might have a particular train wreck appeal that sells well, like the has-been starlets who frequent tabloids. Or, they might be well-connected and have access to particular outlets, like the socialites who have become famous for, basically, being famous (Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Kim Kardashian). Being visible and being successful are not always the same thing, but because people often confuse the two, sometimes being visible can lead to being successful, both in the entertainment industry and in the blogosphere.

3. There is a whole other universe of jobs that exist beyond those that get all of the attention.

If you live in Los Angeles, there is a good chance that your income is touched in some manner by the entertainment industry. People think of actors, directors, writers, and producers as the key players in entertainment, but they might forget that there are a ton of other people involved: lighting, photography, costuming, makeup, styling, set designers, set builders, publicity people, advertising people, agents, etc. The people you actually can see on the screen are only a tiny part of a giant thing that is the entertainment industrial complex.

The same is true for the blogosphere. Visible bloggers — “famous” or “celebrity” bloggers, whether they make their living from doing this or not, are only one tiny part. There are tons of other kinds of jobs — ad company owners, ad manangers, ad sellers, brand consultants, web designers, conference organizers, app designers, people who match up brands and bloggers for campaigns, PR reps, blog consultants, etc. We don’t really have names for a lot of the different kinds of jobs there are at this point, in fact.

4. Some of the less attention jobs pay far better than the higher attention jobs.

The high-attention jobs can pay very well if you manage to get one of the very top slots. For example, if you are an actor and you manage to make it to George Clooney’s level, then you are going to make tons of money. But not everybody who tries to be an actor is going to make it to that level. Not everybody is even going to make it to George Lopez’s level.

The thing is, there some of the less-attention jobs are far more lucrative than the higher attention jobs, because they involve putting together deals for both kinds of Georges. But to take those kinds of jobs, you have to be comfortable with spending less time in the limelight.

5. The higher attention jobs tend to come with an expiration date and/or worries about over-exposure.

Positions that rely on a lot of time in the public eye are more difficult to maintain for a variety of reasons. It is generally easier for younger, good-looking people to get jobs as actors, and in order to stay on top they need to maintain a perfect appearance and pay a team of experts to manage their reputation. Even with all of these safeguards, an actor has to be careful about the kinds of projects they take and alliances they make, or else they may become overexposed and jeopardize their overall value as a brand.

To a lesser degree, this is also true for popular bloggers. If they do not innovate, they risk losing their audience in the passage of time. If their blog’s story is tied to something that is time-sensitive (child rearing, their youth and beauty), they may have problems maintaining it as the center of a career in the long term. And, finally, working with too many brands, too often, can jeopardize the goodwill they have built up with their audience.

Making Criticism Work For You

by anna on January 21, 2011

Criticism is a part of blogging. It’s so much a part of blogging that you can almost gauge how successful you are at professional blogging by the type and volume of negative feedback you receive.

The most common advice for dealing with criticism is to ignore it. Stay positive — “don’t feed the troll.” Different bloggers interpret this instruction in different ways, and different bloggers have radically different ideas about what constitutes constructive criticism versus “trolling.” Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself the best way of dealing with all forms of criticism, both on and off your blog, in a way that is consistent with both your personality and your brand.

Misconception: Ignore Criticism And It Will Go Away

Failing to respond to criticism is a mistake. If you are not prepared to respond to criticism, you need to consult with somebody who can help you because it will be damaging to your brand in the long term if you choose to pursue this route, no matter how ill-founded the criticism may seem in the short term.

For one thing, there are some people who complain (about bloggers, brands, whatever) who really just need to be made to feel as though their complaints have been heard. Once that happens, there is a good chance they will leave you alone. But if you make a point of not hearing them, they are likely to become bigger. If you have a 3-year-old at home, I invite you to test this theory out on them by ignoring one of their complaints for just about thirty seconds versus making a show of saying something like, “Is that right, sweetheart?” The results are telling, I assure you.

Misconception: Nobody Remembers The Critics

Nobody likes to make changes because changes are hard. So instead of making changes, sometimes people will instead pat themselves on the back, and explain that it is so much harder “to do” than it is “to criticize.” Maybe so. But what people forget is that criticizing should also be an essential part of the doing itself . . . it is what makes the “doing” better, and stronger, and more worthy of acclaim. That’s why most of the greatest “doers” were also critics. For example . . .

Joseph Addison — Publisher, Essayist, Critic
Alexander Pope — Poet, Critic.
Henry Fielding — Novelist, Playwright, Critic.
John Locke — Essayist, Critic.
Samuel Johnson — Essayist, Novelist, Critic.
Mary Wollstonecraft — Essayist, Critic.
Oscar Wilde — Poet, Playwright, Critic.
T.S. Eliot — Poet, Essayist, Critic.

(There are many more, but I think I’ve made my point.) Don’t assume the critics aren’t also doing. Because there’s a good chance that they are. And there’s a good chance you’ll remember them.

The Answer: Learn To Look At Criticism As A Gift

I know it sounds crazy, but the only way to deal with negative feedback is to start to treat it as a (kind of painful) gift that is going to strengthen your blog (or brand, or product, or whatever). Your friends and family will never give you the truth about your blog — they love you. The critic is not going to bother with varnishing the truth to spare your feelings, and though they will bring their own biases, they also might bring some insight into ways you can improve your blog.

Even the harshest piece of criticism, delivered by an anonymous commenter on a masked IP, might have some kernel of truth in it. Your job is to figure out what the useful information is: when you clear away the stuff that is unnecessarily harsh, maybe your content has been a little stale lately? Maybe you have been doing too many sponsored posts? Maybe your audience would be better served by full feeds instead of partial feeds?

How seriously you take the criticism is ultimately up to you, and there will inevitably be those times where you are just not able to respond to criticism immediately. There are times when criticism is too harsh to cope with, and the best thing to do in those circumstances, I think, is to take two breaths and then not do anything, like my sponsor used to tell me. Then, later, when you’ve calmed down, see if there is anything at all that you can work with. Your audience will thank you for it.

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