When should you say goodbye?

It’s certainly not my favourite thing to do, but every now and then I follow my business mentor’s advice and think about boring things like SEO and search terms. Deep down I’m a writer, and my greatest joy is putting words on a page and sending them out to the world. Worrying about whether those words make it to the right audience or land on the first page of Google isn’t something I tend to worry about, until reminded by my mentor (and my bank balance) that in fact, they are quite important.

Fundraising Mums - comprehensive fundraising ideas for schools and sporting clubs

Digging around in my website’s rear-end sounds like a rather private and uncomfortable activity but what it really involves is me looking at the search terms people have used before winding up on my Fundraising Mums page.

For example, type in ‘how to run a cake stall’ and up pops Fundraising Mums ‘How to Run A Profitable Cake Stall’. Type ‘lessons from fete’ or ‘escape room for kids’ and my articles will pop up.

But sometimes people type in rather more obscure search terms only to be directed to my page. One of my favourite requests is the very specific ‘how much onion on average on a sausage’ which directs you to my Bunnings sausage sizzle article (answer 10kg of onions for 400-600 sausages).

I have been writing for Fundraising Mums since 2015 and I started it on a rather cynical yet optimistic note. I have always been heavily involved in the P&C, fundraising and events at my daughters’ school. I will be at my local primary school for thirteen years as a parent – I figure I should roll my sleeves up and get involved – but if I was going to do the work, I may as well write about it and share what I learned. There are over 10,000 schools in Australia and over 6,500 community sporting clubs. I figured if there was just one person in each school and club who wanted fundraising ideas then I would have a readership.

Like most things though, being a primary school mum is a phase that eventually you pass through and leave. My youngest daughter is now in Year 3, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. While that doesn’t necessarily mean I will no longer be involved in fundraising at all, it does seem that a natural end is upon me. One I am seriously considering embracing.

According to a 2009 survey, 95% of the 133 million blogs in existence had not been updated in 120 days – and were considered abandoned. Today, there are over 500 million blogs in existence (five of which belong to me) which if I extrapolated, would mean there are 475 million abandoned blogs littering the virtual highway (three of which belong to me).

I am trying to decide if I should add another to that number?

When is it time to say goodbye to a project that you have nurtured for years? Should it be an economic decision? A question of time? Or is it when you have lost the joy?

woman looking at pig

I don’t think I could completely abandon Fundraising Mums. It’s been my primary project for the last five years, and represents thousands of hours of my time spent researching and writing. I see my stories making their way out into the world, to places I never imagined. Ireland, India and Germany feature in the top 10 countries of FRM readers. I have built relationships with readers and advertisers alike. I am proud of the work I have done.

But over the past year I have been drawn in a different direction – away from the real world into the fictional worlds I have created in my novels. It’s there I want to spend my time.

The closure of schools, cancellation of sports and decimation of the events industry has been reflected in the readership of Fundraising Mums. I fear that by the end of the COVID-19 crisis there will be fewer Australian fundraising businesses than there was at the beginning of 2020. There will be casualties and perhaps Fundraising Mums will be amongst them.

But as long as I write a new story every 120 days then at least it won’t be entirely abandoned.

Just neglected.

 

Hearing the Voice of the Writer

A million years ago (back at the turn of the century) when I was working as a research assistant at the University of New South Wales, one of my jobs was to write up the project findings into reports.

I was sent with a tape recorder and notebook up the road to the Sydney Children’s Hospital, where I would sit in meetings and observe the way the multi-disciplinary teams worked together. Then I would walk back down the road, spend countless hours transcribing tapes and attempt to make some sense of them.

After I had been there a year or so, my boss pulled me aside.

‘I can hear your voice, Shannon,’ he told me.

As I had been sitting there silently, terrified that I had been pulled into his office, I thought that a strange comment.

‘In your writing,’ he continued clearly seeing the dumb look on my face. ‘I can hear your voice as I read.’

He motioned to the weighty tomes around the office. ‘In academic writing,’ he continued, ‘the writer must not be present in the text. Your voice, however, is strong and comes through in your report. It’s as though you’re sitting next to me, talking.’

Chastened, I went back to my office where I spent the next few years trying to remove myself from my writing.

Some years later, in the throes of new motherhood I decided to take up blogging as a way of capturing the fleeting yet precious moments of parenthood.

After the first few clunky efforts, I quickly found that blogging suited my writing style. I had a clear voice and I was finally allowed to use it.

Meg Rosoff writes:

‘Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”

A writer’s voice is their literary fingerprint. You should be able to distinguish between Hemingway and Rowling, between Austen and King, not just by the words the chose, but the voice the write with.

My writing goal, is that when you read my words, you hear my voice. When you are hearing words through your ears rather than seeing them with your eyes, you know that the voice is authentic.

Stocktake on Words – 2019

I do my writing in two shifts. I create new worlds and fictional characters during those dark, shadowy hours between 4 and 6.30am, and during the bright, daylight hours between 9am and 3pm I work on my blogs and other non-fiction endeavours.

I even work in different rooms on my different forms of writing – upstairs for fiction, downstairs for non-fiction. It’s as though my writing resides in two separate worlds, and I speak different languages depending on what is showing on the clock.

2019 started slowly for me. My novel set in pre-WW1 Perth had been sitting on the back-burner for a few months, and I couldn’t seem to get past a blockage that was preventing me from picking it up again.

Then a few things happened all at once. Inspiration struck, not once but twice and I felt compelled to start two new projects.

In February I made myself a deal, that if I wrote for 100 days between then and my birthday in August, I would buy myself a Little Street Library. Not only did I write for 100 days, but in the 7 months I managed to write a complete manuscript of 99,900 words, a novel called Behind Closed Doors that sprawls between the 1960s and 1980s. It was the first book I have managed to finished (and believe me, I’ve started a more than a couple), and it won me a place on the Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre First Edition Retreat, as part of the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program.

While I was creating drama upstairs in the wee hours of the morning, during the day I began researching a new project, inspired by my youngest daughter’s recent diagnosis of dyslexia. I would plan my week, dividing my time between this new project, Fundraising Mums and a handful of other small writing projects. Where the start of 2019 had been like the proverbial dried up desert, suddenly I was drowning in ideas and lately there hasn’t been enough hours in the day to get it all done.

So how does 2019 stack up?

Income

The less said about the financial end of things the better. Luckily I don’t need my writing to finance my life, but I do find it essential to enrich it.

Articles and Readers

I had a moderate year writing a handful of articles (19) for WeekendNotes. My huge library of WeekendNotes articles, reaching back to 2010 together with old articles from Hub Garden (all of which still earns a tiny income) reached around 74,500 readers.

For my Fundraising Mums site I researched and published 49 articles and clocked up 126,000 readers from Australia and around the globe. I am proud of the work I did there this year.

I also wrote a dozen or so articles for this site and my parenting blog, Relentless… and yes, I do wonder sometimes if I am stretching myself too thin between all these blogs.

Non-fiction project

I finished 49 stories for my dyslexia project. It’s funny that for both my dyslexia project and Fundraising Mums – the two projects I have spent most of my time working on – I finished the year with 49 articles apiece… is there something about the magical number 50 that I cannot crack?

All up I estimate I wrote around 170,000 words this year. This is significantly less than the quarter million words I wrote in 2017, but the majority of my work has been for books not blogs, and I feel like the writing I have done this year has more heft, and more potential.

This leaves me feeling excited for 2020. I am about a third of the way through a re-draft of Behind Closed Doors, which I am working on steadily (but slowly) in the mornings before I head downstairs. Editing and redrafting is not nearly as much fun as writing.

I am also feeling very positive about my other project, and hope that 2020 brings with it some exciting news…

 

 

How to Market Yourself as a Writer

hello postcard

As a writer it is a comforting delusion that if you write well, people will simply flock to you, and fame and fortune will eventually find you.

Reality is a little more brutal, especially since we are competing with over 150 million blogs plus the many hundreds of thousands of journalists around the world.

The simple truth, is that as writers we must market ourselves if we want to get our names – and our words – known by those who will read us, and those who will pay us.

This year, I have pushed myself to the limits in the ways I am brazenly marketing myself and my work as a writer.

These are some of the ways I have been marketing myself this year:

  • Emailing businesses directly: in seeking advertisers for my new fundraising site (Fundraising Mums) I have been emailing companies directly and introducing myself. The primary purpose is to get my name out there, while also directly mentioning that I am offering advertising on the site.
  • I printed postcards with all my blog details, making them relevant to both readers and advertisers, and am in the process of posting them out – the old fashioned way. So much correspondence comes through the inbox these days, my postcards are sure to be noticed simply because they are competing with a smaller amount of mail. There is a considerable cost associated with snail-mail these days, especially if you want to send hundreds of post-cards, but if you design your cards well and send them to the right people, it might be an effective use of your advertising budget.
  • I also carry postcards with me and place them on community boards at local shopping centres. I always attach at least four or five (space allowing) as they are very visually effective when placed en masse, and it also means that people can take one home with them.
  • Contact local and state newspapers – many newspapers have direct emails where you can send story ideas. If you think you could be a useful source on a particular topic, or might be seen as an ‘expert’ in the field, contact them and give them your details. They may not reply straight away, but if a story in the area comes up, there is a chance they will remember your name.
  • Join Source Bottle – I receive daily emails from Source Bottle from other writers looking for sources and stories, and where I think I have something to contribute, I make contact. Even if it means I am a participant in someone else’s story (for example, I will be quoted in the January 2016 edition of the Coles Mother and Baby magazine about something completely unrelated to blogging or fundraising) it is still a way to get your name out there.
  • Creating links with other people on Facebook: using my Fundraising Mums page I have ‘liked’ other businesses and people who are either in the same field as me, or are possible customers and readers. I have also made sure I am following media outlets and big-name bloggers so if they post something about fundraising or ask a question I can answer, I will be ready to respond quickly. Don’t limit yourself to what you naturally see as your own community. Look for business groups, local groups, women’s groups (if applicable) and other communities who might benefit from your work, as well as groups who see as potential customers/readers/sources. Think outside the box.
  • For Fundraising Mums I have been writing articles about businesses and products I think are interesting and unusual. Sometimes I contact the business in advance, sometimes not. Either way, I have realised that I shouldn’t be backward in sending them an email with the article link and asking them to share it on their social media. I have also been doing this for reviews I have written on WeekendNotes – considering the time I take to write articles, it isn’t much more to send off a quick email alerting them to the fact it exists. Some businesses have put my articles and reviews directly on their website others mention them on their Facebook pages.
  • I have been experimenting with paid advertising on Facebook – always with a pre-set budget of around $15-20. I have found that I have gotten the best response for articles/adverts which advertise the site generally, rather than promote a particular article or post.
  • In my email signature (for my personal and business-related email addresses) I have links to all of my blogs. I even mention that I have a book available for sale on Amazon.
  • My next plan is to update my CV and send letters of introduction to all the local and national publications I would like to write for.

 

What are some of the ways you market your work as a writer?

Starting a New Blog – Mistakes I am Not Making This Time

Today marks the launch of my fourth blog: Fundraising Mums. Actually, if I’m being honest there was that other anonymous blog I started a couple of years ago and then freaked out and stopped publishing. It’s still out there in the virtual world, gathering dust and confusing people.

But Fundraising Mums is the first blog I have set up with an actual business plan. It is not just a place to collate memories like Relentless, nor a way to improve my clicks at WeekendNotes like Perth Food Reviews, and it is not all about me like shannonmeyerkort.com

Fundraising Mums was created because I identified an actual gap in the market and I wanted to fill it. I did my research, engaged professionals to help, I marketed, I sought advertisers, I spent three months working on it before I hit publish.

I am pretty happy with it today – but I cannot wait to see it in six month’s time when it really hits it stride.

Mistakes I made with Relentless

The biggest mistake I made with my first blog was not really thinking about the name I gave it. I was at a blogging workshop with the inspiring Amanda Kendle and even though I should have realised we would be expected to make (and name) a blog, I did not prepare. So gave it the first name I thought of: From Mum to Me.

Did you just wince? Or screw your face up? Because you don’t know what that means?

In my head it meant: I am starting this blog at a time when I am so heavily involved in being a mum to my (then) two daughters that I no longer remember who I am, or what else I am other than being a mum.’ The blog was meant to represent my journey from being ‘just a mum’ to being ‘me’.

But apparently that wasn’t immediately clear to others. You can read more about my ridiculous decision here.

After a year or so and the arrival of Baby Number Three suddenly it dawned on me that the blog should be named Relentless. Because that was what my life with three kids was like.

But it is not that easy to change the name of your blog – there is all this technical stuff with URLs and the like – not to mention the fact that you just confuse people.

Lesson 1: choose a name that not only suits your blog now, but will stay relevant as the blog grows and changes. You must LOVE it and it must make sense to others immediately.

Some might argue that Fundraising Mums is a sexist title that excludes not only Dads but teachers, coaches, grandparents and anyone without kids. I totally get that and I will wear the criticism, but it struck me as being a catchy title that was inclusive of about 90% of potential readers.

Mistakes I made with Perth Food Reviews

There were a few mistakes I made with Perth Food Reviews.

The first was that I was trying to break into an extremely full market already brimming with some top-notch and well established bloggers. Perth simply did not need one more food blog, especially when it was blatantly clear that my primary intention was to send traffic to WeekendNotes.

I am proud of my restaurant and cafe reviews on WeekendNotes and I think they are really useful, but I was constantly being asked by friends ‘where can I go in xxx to find yyy type of food’ or ‘where is the best xxx in Perth?’.

WeekendNotes doesn’t have the ability to search on questions such as this, so my thought was to create a new blog where people could search for particular types of food (Asian versus pub grub), certain styles of restaurant (fine dining versus share plates) or on particular requirements (child friendly versus views).

It was all rather noble, but apart from the cent per view I would receive if people actually clicked through to the WeekendNotes article, there was nothing in it for me. So I lost interest.

Which is a pity because I put in a lot of time setting it up, but it hasn’t been updated in ages and with the rapid rate restaurants go out of business here in Perth and new ones spring up, it is probably already outdated.

Lesson 2: don’t start a new blog unless you are really invested in it. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and be prepared to commit both time and energy in the long term.

I see Fundraising Mums as a long term project, and it utilises all my talents and interests from writing, reviewing, researching, storytelling and project managing. I have hundreds of story ideas – my problem is going to be finding the time to write them all. The other point of difference is that this will be the first of my blogs that I monetise and offer advertising for. I have always been reluctant to put adverts on my other sites thinking it will annoy readers, but when people come to FRM they will WANT to see adverts for innovative fundraising companies. Win win.

Mistakes I made with shannonmeyerkort.com

I’d like to say this is a perfect site considering this is the one you are currently reading, but I acknowledge it is a small group of you who visit (thank you) and the content – while hopefully relevant and interesting to writers – is highly specific and also very personal. Readers often want broader information with no obvious author.

They don’t want to hear my voice, because frankly, they don’t care.

And I respect that.

I am the first to admit that I tend to spend more time on blogs that are less personal. Why? Because I make the (perhaps incorrect) assumption that the information is more universal and therefore, perhaps more relevant to me and my situation.

Lesson 3: personal blogs will attract like-minded followers who will engage and support you, but chances are you will have far fewer readers than a blog which is more universal and objective. Decide on your tone and style as well as your content, as this will influence people as to whether they want to feel involved personally, or more remotely.

Fundraising for schools is relevant to me (next year all three of my children will be at school) but it isn’t personal. I can invest more of my time in FRM without necessarily investing more of myself and my family. There is already plenty of that here and on Relentless. FRM is more business-like and while I really enjoy sharing great products and ideas, it’s not all about me, and frankly, that’s a good thing.

What are the main lessons you have learned from starting your own blog? What mistake won’t you be repeating?

PS. I have actually released my first book on Amazon: The Brutal Truth About the Third Child. You can buy it here. It will actually be FREE for July 1 and 2.

But that’s a story for another day.

Why You Should Never Google Yourself

Faced with a list of tiresome chores and no writing mojo to be found anywhere, I decided to indulge in a little private time this morning. I did something we all do, but rarely admit to.

I Googled myself.

The first page was pretty much what I expected. My blogs shannonmeyerkort.com and Relentless came up, as did my profile on WeekendNotes. There was my LinkedIn profile, gathering cobwebs and dust, various reviews and old academic papers, plus lots of mentions of my Brutal Truth About the Third Child.

I was chuffed to see my Master thesis get a mention on Google Books. Zero reviews and zero stars… probably because the only copy is sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

I had really begun to enjoy myself. No nude photos. No websites dedicated to destroying me. No embarrassing Facebook shots that someone else had posted.

But then a site came up that I didn’t recognise, and I got a little squeezy sensation in my stomach. Had someone stolen my words or had they written someone awful about me?

This is precisely why they say don’t Google yourself. Sometimes it’s better not to know what others are writing about you.

But I had to find out. Besides, it was in Italian.

There was a picture of me and my family (a picture they don’t have permission to use, but we’ll ignore that) and my name. I could guess at a few of the words: ironia, testimonianza, blogger Americana.

Uh, hang on.

I went back and hit the Google translate button for the page. Then, in a fabulous mash of Italian and English, appeared an article that was designed to look like I had been interviewed, but really was just a bit of a cut and paste of my Brutal Truth article.

The translations are even better than my original article: “You can doze and sleep all day and as a priestess stroll touching your belly waiting for a football.”

Some of it is pretty funny because it still makes sense:

“Are you happy of nausea and vomiting because it means you can have five minutes to get you in the bathroom?”

And other parts are completely mystifying:

“Rilavi reluctantly the vestititi used with a normal detergent, throw some broken play, refreshments sheets cradle. Your son has already managed to dismantle all sure that you put in the house and survived, so it is not necessary to reposition the newcomer.”

I liked how the Italians automatically assumed I had sons.

The French version of my ‘Letter of Apology to my Middle Child’ described it as “a mother issu[ing] an apology letter to his middle child”. And I thought I had difficulty with French pronouns.

“Shannon notes that this has forged the character of its small second. She teases threats, disputes, compromises. All you seem to want, and that is so hard to give is my complete attention. It’s hard because I have three children, a house to manage and my writing.”

I particularly liked being referred to as an ‘its’. Thanks French people.

The Portuguese translation of The Brutal Truth was possibly my favourite, especially how they introduced me:

“Shannon Meyerkort is a writer, blogger and mother of three girls under seven years. His love for writing is not simple, because it implies that you are sitting to do so.”

I love how they aren’t beholden to gender assumptions about mothers being women. How refreshing.

The translation seems to make things worse than they really are:

“It seems that is six months pregnant by the time we hit the second quarter. Sit persecuted and cries a lot.”

And then go a little hard-core with the language:

“People who have just given birth, begin to upset her with all the talk bullshit about babies.”

Then they go hard-core with the parenting:

“Push your child out of the crib, take them cuddly and dispose of them in a weekend.”

That’s a bit rough, even for me.

I haven’t yet ploughed deeper into the world of Google to see if the Chinese have their own translations of The Brutal Truth, but if it’s ever found, please let me know.

I Want to Write for You, Not Talk To You

It’s the moment most writers wait for. Someone sidles up beside you and says ‘I read your latest blog/book/article’ and proceeds to share their own story.

But when your latest blog is on leaking pee when trampolining, or the humiliations of pubic hair shaving before a Caesar, generally those conversations don’t go so well.

Many moons ago an article I wrote called ‘Diary of a Caesar’ was published in Offspring Magazine. It was a blow-by-shameful-blow account of having c-section, peppered with all the blood and glory that happens to a lady’s business end during this time.

And then my uncle-in-law approached me, and started to discuss my article and some of its not-so-fine details.

It made me reconsider my limits when it comes to sharing personal information.

See, the thing about writing is that you don’t do it in front of an audience. It’s usually just you and a computer. You can sit and deliberate about what turn of phrase to use, or scroll through the thesaurus looking for a better word, but ultimately, when you hit ‘publish’ you’re still on your own.

You never get to see the facial expressions of people reading about your intimate secrets. You never get to hear them laugh at your jokes (and humiliations). You don’t get to see them nodding their head in agreement, or watch them as they share the article with their friends. You don’t hear them mutter obscenities if they don’t agree with what you’ve written. Any feedback you get is often delayed: silent words on a page or a number that clicks over.

Which is why, when an actual real-life human approaches you and starts to talk about enjoying your article it can be a special moment. Except lately, people only seem to be talking to me about my post about peeing when I was jumping on a trampoline with my four year old. Not my finest moment.

People assume that because you have shared an intimate moment online where millions of people can read it, also means you are willing to discuss it in person.

Here’s the thing: that’s not actually true. Comment by all means online, but let’s keep those comments virtual.

I often write painful, embarrassing, humiliating, intimate or just plain disgusting things online because I want to share, and let people know ‘yes, it happened to me too. You’re not alone.’ But I don’t necessarily want to rehash those painful, embarrassing, humiliating, intimate or just plain disgusting things in person.

Probably because they’re painful, embarrassing, humiliating, intimate or just plain disgusting.

So now I’m considering a coding system on my stories: green for ‘let’s talk about this one’ and red for ‘let’s never mention this again.’

 

For the record, this one is GREEN.

1,000,000 Clicks and Counting: How to write a viral blog post

On Monday the 13th of February in 2012 I sat down at the kitchen table and bashed out a post for my blog Relentless. I was about a week short of giving birth to my third child, and it was a tongue in cheek comparison between the first, second and third pregnancies. Much of it was based on experience, some of it was – shall we say – writer’s liberties.

It took me a bit longer than usual because of how I structured it, but when I was done I was pretty happy with it. I gave it a title and hit publish. Then I forgot about it. For about four hours…

‘The Brutal Truth About the Third Child’ quickly become my most popular post. By mid afternoon it had been read 4,500 times, by bedtime on Tuesday it reached 10,000 views. Within a month it had been read around 25,000 times. Two years on it has been read on my blog a quarter of a million times. But these numbers are relatively small, and it was only when other websites asked to republish the post (and I allowed only three other sites to do so) that the numbers went viral.

When the post was republished on ScaryMommy, a hugely popular and very funny site in the US, it was shared over a million times in the first five days. ScaryMommy founder Jill Smokler said she’d never seen anything like it.

I’d like to think I could match its success, but in the years since I have tried and failed. But something resonated with readers, so today I am going to pick apart the anatomy of ‘The Brutal Truth’ and list the seven key essentials for writing a viral blog post.

20141028_111050

1. Sharable Headline

Unless they’re your mum, most people won’t read a blog post simply because you’ve written it. You’ve got to give them a reason to click, and by this I mean a killer title.

For some reason, negative headlines seem to be more popular than positive ones. Therefore while my choice of the word ‘brutal’ was dumb luck at the time, I realise now it was inspired dumb luck. Everyone wants to read horrifying things, they want to be shocked. If I had called it ‘The Exciting Truth About the Third Child’ or ‘The Inspiring Truth About the Third Child’ no one would have bothered reading.

I’m bored already.

2. Killer content

A great headline might make people click, but unless what you have written is gripping and well paced, people won’t read to the end, and they sure as hell won’t share. Shares are what makes a post go viral, and it also makes it almost impossible to track.

A few months after I published ‘The Brutal Truth’ a friend sent me an email she said had been making the rounds. It was really funny and she thought I’d like it, since I now had three kids. I scrolled down and sure enough, there was my post. It had been cut and paste into the body of an email and was being forwarded. Unfortunately there was no link to my blog nor any mention of who wrote it.

3. A Little Bit Longer

When you think about all the blog posts your friends have been sharing and reposting and saying ‘you have to read this’, they probably all tend to be a bit longer than the average blog post, which runs between 500-800 words. The Brutal Truth was a whopping 1,900 words, which breaks a number of blogging rules, but it didn’t seem to make a difference to readers. Perhaps people are more likely to share something they have invested more time in, and short crappy posts can make people feel ripped off. ‘I wasted my click!’

4. People love lists

So many viral posts are lists of some form, and this is apparent in the title. Seven Reasons Why Cat People are Better than Dog People. Nine Things You Can Learn from Your Fetus. Five Things Only a Pregnant Woman Will Understand. (Feel free to use any of those titles and write your own viral post, by the way).

Lists are popular for a number of reasons. We are all lazy readers these days and the way we read text on a screen is different to how we read hard copy, and we are much more like to scan and skim read. Lists make it easy to do this. It increases the amount of white space on the screen, making it easier on the eye.

And for some reason, odd numbers have a bigger impact than even numbers. It’s true – have a look at the next ‘list’ post that comes your way.

5. Make it urgent

The blog has to be written, titled and marketed in a way that makes readers feel that if they don’t read it, they will be missing out. No one likes being the person who hasn’t heard of the hottest new trend, so you need to create the desire for people to click. Sometimes this is by writing about a controversial topic, or giving an ordinary topic a controversial spin. You should never tell a reader what to think in the title (eg don’t say ‘ten things you must know about packing school lunches’ but say ‘ten things you should know about packing school lunches’). It should make them desperate to read it.

Like you all now want to read about school lunches.

6. The curtains should match the carpet

It should be obvious, but if you’re going to use a really dramatic, negative, punchy and urgent headline, make sure the blog post is actually about that topic. Don’t use controversy to attract readers and then waffle on about your cat. That really pisses people off.

7. Be different and specific

Everyone is a writer these days. All you need is a computer and an internet connection, and away you go. There is a lot of great content out there, but also a lot of crap, and it makes it a lot harder to be noticed when there is something like half a billion blogs in existence and more being published every day.

How can you stand out in such a noisy crowd, when we are all shrieking ‘look at me, look at me’?

You need to find your niche and you should work with what you have. I am a mother of three now. 90% of the random traffic to Relentless are people who have googled topics to do with having three kids. Should they have three kids? How to tell their husband they’re pregnant with number three. How to cope with three kids. That’s what people want to read, and I’m fine with that. Sob.

The brutal truth though, is that you can’t actually write a viral post. There are no ‘rules’ or guarantees, otherwise we’d all be doing it, all the time. And I’d be very rich because I would put advertising on my site and cash in on my own success. Readers are a fickle lot, one day they want to read about grumpy cats and the next day they want awkward pictures.

My advice: keep writing if that’s what you love. And maybe one day, you’ll get lucky.

What’s it Like Receiving Free Stuff?

I had been writing for WeekendNotes for quite a while before I received my first freebie. I was offered a free lunch at a café in West Perth in return for a review. I was absolutely terrified, so I took my Mum as support. As you do.

But you remember that saying… there’s no such thing as a free lunch… well, this free lunch certainly changed the way I viewed reviewing.

Simply put, the café didn’t like my review. I had been ambivalent about the food and I said as much. In truth, I was kinder than I would have been in a normal review. Still, the owners read between the lines and they were disappointed. As I had been in their food. Not long afterwards, they asked another writer to do a review and the result was a sickeningly sweet love-fest, that undoubtedly made the owners happy, but was painful to read.

It was a great lesson and I decided at that point never to accept another freebie because I felt compromised.

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A knife through the centre of your free lunch isn’t terrifying at all!

Over time as I felt more confident as a writer, and my ability to write candidly and fairly, I began to accept other items in return for a review. Usually they were tickets to a new movie, occasionally a book or DVD. I found it easier to be completely honest about a massive Hollywood production than a husband and wife team, whose livelihood was being discussed. The value was never more than thirty dollars and WeekendNotes had a policy of putting a clear disclaimer on the published articles in red that the write had been a guest of the company. Readers were always aware of who got their goodies for free and who paid full price.

As I became a more senior writer, the freebies got bigger. An opening night to the summer outdoor cinema. A new exhibit at the state zoo. A $200 chef’s table dinner with wine matching. I wasn’t earning much money from my writing, so receiving these free tickets and items felt like a justifiable reward. I also felt that since they were contained within the mantle of my WeekendNotes writing, that it never impacted on my personal writing (my blog), and I had always been very strict about not doing any reviews or sponsored posts on Relentless.

Apart from the conflict that I inevitably felt when trying to write an honest and fair review by balancing my integrity with the needs of the business, one of the main reasons why I never did sponsored posts on Relentless was that my readers didn’t want to read them. Every time I even remotely hinted at some sort of commercial enterprise – mentioning a book written by a friend for example – my readers stayed away in droves. When they read Relentless they wanted a warts and all, farts in the bathtub description of parenting. They did not care whether I had tried a new dairy product or what my favourite washing powder was. My stats made that very clear to me.

And I respect that. I personally hate it when my favourite bloggers interrupt their normally hilarious or thoughtful posts to do reviews. I don’t read them. And even though I know blogging is a poorly paid (if at all) career, and writers need to earn their money somehow, if I see [review] or [sponsored] in the subject line of a post, I don’t tend to read it.

And all of this is made even more cringe-worthy because now I am working for a great online shopping company. I write posts on their blog about general parenting topics, often including links to their products, and yes, receiving the occasional freebie. But because I am asked to do shout outs on Relentless, I am asking my readers to read them.

Let’s be clear, I don’t have a problem with people (including myself) doing reviews. When I am researching a product or place I would much rather hear what a consumer has to say than whatever guff the marketing agency comes up with. This is why I not only write for WeekendNotes, but I also read other people’s articles when they’re relevant to me. I also google forums and even glance occasionally at sites like Urbanspoon because people tend to let loose when they’re writing anonymously. I have more readers over at WeekendNotes than at Relentless, precisely because they want to know what I think about a place and they know I am going to tell them.

What I am trying to do now, is balance the needs of readers who just want straight stories and no sponsored posts, with my own need to earn an income, with the needs of readers who would be interested in reviews and other articles if they deem it relevant, with the needs of the businesses who employ me. The key is transparency. I’m going to do it anyway, but I need to be able to flag to readers what I am writing about. Some other bloggers like to use hashtags in their post titles, but I would just feel silly doing that since I’m not on Twitter and I don’t really know what a hashtag is.

So I decided Relentless needed a disclaimer policy. Any post for which I received a product for free and have chosen to review it, I will now add [review] in the title, and if it is an article I wrote for Mamadoo (whether it contains product mentions or not) it will now include [Mamadoo] in the title. It’s messy, but it’s a lot fairer than waiting until the end of the post before mentioning that money exchanged hands. Awkward!

But I still haven’t answered the question have I? How does it feel receiving free stuff? The excitement is pretty similar to when you get a big package you paid for (or a small package, they’re cool too) but with the freebie comes a price. Perhaps some writers don’t experience this, but I admit I do. I want to like the product. I want to write positively about it, but I want it to be natural and genuine. Readers can tell when you’re lying through your teeth, and some of my readers are good at reading between the lines at what I am not saying.

And what happens when you have an issue or problem with the product? Do you go back to the supplier privately or do you fulfil your end of the contract and do a public review, warts and all. As a reader I want to say ‘write the review’, as a writer, I sometimes feel the area is more grey.

How well I manage this balance will become clear in time. My stats will tell me, my readers will tell me. It is a shift for me, a change in something I have always been clear about. No monetisation of my personal writing. If I had put AdSense on Relentless before I published ‘The Brutal Truth About the Third Child’… well, I don’t think I would be able to retire quite yet, but it does make we wonder…

 

How do you deal with sponsored posts? Do you find a difference in your readership when you publish a normal post versus a sponsored post? Do you think it puts some readers off?

Writers versus Bloggers

I recently attended a blogging conference in Sydney, during which I learned many things, mostly that I seem to be breaking a lot of the unbreakable rules of blogging*.

But over the three days, as I spoke with different people, with a range of blogs and diverse stories, the main thing that crystallised was that there seemed to be two distinct groups.

The distinction was not one I had put on them. It seemed to be self-assigned, with no discomfiture nor judgement. And I’m not saying that people could not fit into both categories, it’s just that people seemed to want to choose to be one or the other.

People were either bloggers or writers.

People who referred to themselves as bloggers often said they were not writers, although they obviously possessed the necessary skills to run a blog. Bloggers tended to be more professional, had bigger numbers of followers, were more likely to monetise their blogs and make money from sponsored posts, advertising or selling products.

Their blogs were pretty phenomenal. Bloggers seem to treat their blogs as a virtual workplace. They’re organised. They utilise multiple social media platforms. They schedule posts. They know cool stuff about blogs and how they work.

Then there were the writers. All the writers I met had blogs obviously, because this was a blogging conference. But the writers also did other writerly things, in addition to their blogs: they wrote children’s stories, or eBooks, or feature articles, or poems. They published on multiple platforms, including good old fashioned print. Their blogs were merely one of many mediums to get their words out to the wider world.

Writers seemed eager to make sure they said they were writers.

I am a writer. It’s on my business card, so I must be. In fact, in every single bio that I have ever sent out attached to a blog post, review, article or story pitch, I always write ‘Shannon Meyerkort is a writer…’. Sometimes I am also a blogger and sometimes an author, but I always say I am a writer.

Until I heard others do it too, I hadn’t really realised I was doing it.

Are the two mutually exclusive? Or are bloggers a subset of writers? Are writers (me included) claiming to be better than bloggers because we seek to share our words on more platforms, or does that just make us greedy and unfocussed? Are bloggers suggesting that by not being a writer they are more resolute and professional?

I’m not suggesting that bloggers don’t have superb writing skills, nor am I suggesting that writers lack professionalism, but there must be a line in the sand that writers and bloggers draw, and then choose a side. Go and visit your favourite blogs now: look at the ‘about me’ page and the tagline: are they calling themselves a writer or a blogger?

What side are you on? And why?

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*But that’s okay, because I’m a writer, not a blogger, right?