If you don't know Michelle Mitchell of Scribbit, then do yourself a favor and start visiting her. Michelle is talented, smart, funny, and kind. Or, as Jeff likes to simply say, "She's good people."
Michelle's blog Scribbit was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 5 Motherhood Blogs. Take it from me; you don't have to be a mother or know anything about Alaska to enjoy her blog.
Michelle recently wrote an ebook entitled Blogging in Pink: A Woman's Guide. (Go over to her blog and download it!) It's an invaluable guide for both novice and advanced bloggers. She covers everything from how to be more efficient blogger to the importance of RSS feeds to how to make money from blogging. It's a must read. And to whet your appetite, here's an interview I conducted with Michelle, in which she discusses why she wrote an ebook, how to handle blogging "bumps" in the road, and her future as a writer. Did someone say memoir? Read on to find out!
Michelle and her children, Lillian, Spencer, David, and Grace, FREEZING in Alaska.
Why did you choose to write an ebook?
Mostly to see if it was possible for me to write a book. I had blogged every day for four years, but I had never written something of that length, which, quite frankly, is daunting. So I thought I'd give it a shot.
The name of your ebook is Blogging in Pink: A Woman's Guide, yet the advice you give would benefit all bloggers. Is there a reason you chose that title?
Part of the decision was marketing; it was a way set myself apart. Also, my audience is almost entirely women, and I wanted the book to appeal to them. While most of it applies to blogging in general, I included some things that are more specific to the mom blog community, such as doing product reviews.
Speaking of audience, you discuss that in detail in your ebook. How did you find out so much specific information about your audience?
Programs like Google Analytics are great. You need to type in some code first, but then it gives you information about your readers such as age, gender, location, education level. My audience, for example, is mostly educated women with children, so knowing that helps me speak more directly to them....
Do you check your stats frequently?
When I first started blogging, I used to check my stats all the time. Then I was getting too hung up on them. I'd panic over why my subscribers dropped or why a particular day had really bad traffic. I have realized that there are going to be spikes, and there are going to be dips. But almost all traffic changes have a minimal effect.... Now I like to know how long people are hanging around on my site. If they stay for more than a minute or more, then that usually means they're reading the material. And that's ultimately what I want.
Your ebook is 175 pages. How long did it take you write it?
Well, I cheated a little bit. (laughing) On Scribbit, I write about one post a month that is dedicated to blogging issues, like how to build traffic or how to find a niche. So I went through my old posts, organized them in a more coherent way, and used them as the basis of the ebook. I figured it was my material anyway, so why not use it? I'd say about 25-30 % of the book was new material. So while it still took a good amount of time, it wasn't nearly as long as it could have been.
Why did you opt for an ebook instead of publishing it the traditional way?
I probably didn't have enough confidence in myself. It was an experiment for me, really. Also blogging is a medium that is changing constantly. The information could change or become obsolete in eight months, and that might not be appealing to a publisher or editor. I know, for instance, that some of the topics I covered like Technorati have changed since I published the book in the spring. Online, what was current a year ago may not be current next year. Also I think people who are online like to read online. So I think it was a good choice for all of those reasons.
Based on your experience, would you recommend the ebook route to bloggers who are thinking about writing a book?
If you're interested in a career in writing, you should be blogging. The practice of writing every day helps you to develop your career as a writer. An ebook is an extension of that. It might be good to see if you can actually write an entire book, which is different from writing blog posts.... [As for making money] I didn't charge for my book, but I know you can. For instance, if a 1000 people pay to download your book, then that is at least some proof that you're marketable, and that could help you in the future when working with editors and publishers. I also think writing an ebook gives you credibility and helps boost your image a little bit. You might get taken more seriously as a writer. Ultimately, though, it's up to you.
You talk a lot about handling "bumps" in the road, both big and small. You have been blogging every day for four years, so clearly you have developed some strategies for navigating such "bumps." Would you share some of them with us?
First of all you have to know what your goal is with your blog. If it's to improve your writing, then you have keep at it no matter how many bumps you encounter. If your goal is to build community, you have to stick with it too. With blogging you never know what opportunities are around the corner, so you need to stick with it. If your goal is to have consistently high traffic, it can be kind of manic-depressive, since you can become overly obsessed with stats....
I got so frustrated with blogging this past year. I was losing interest in it and finding it difficult to get motivated to write. Actually since the end of March, I have been thinking about quitting. I made a promise to give myself six months and see how things went. You know, they really did get better. Some opportunities came to me, like working for the marketing network, One2One. And it has helped me to keep going....
I've also got some other projects I'm working on, so I have decided to cut back on my posting schedule for Scribbit. I might post 4 or 5 days a week instead of 7, which should help a lot and keep me motivated. Having a blog is hard work, you know? Some people say when you stop loving it, you should stop blogging. But you can't look long term, as in making a career out of blogging, and have that approach. You have gotta be able to stick with it, even when you really don't want to.... Ultimately though, the choice is really personal. As for me, I'm gonna keep doing it until I'm absolutely dead on the floor. (laughing)
The blogosphere has become so overcrowded. What tips do you have for beginner bloggers to help make themselves stand out?
Live in Alaska or someplace exotic. Maybe you have to lie about something like being a refugee from Sudan or something. (laughing) But, really, you have to set yourself apart. Have a name that's a little off or unusual. Avoid generic names. I have a terrible memory, but if the name is unique, there's a much better chance I'll remember it....
You've got to have good writing. No matter what you're blog is about, if it's not well written, people won't want to keep coming back.
Post regularly. If you have really long lapses for no particularly important reason, then it's going to be hard to build a loyal group of readers.
Give-aways are good because people like free stuff, but there are so many of them now that their power has become diluted. I started doing mine two years go, when they weren't as popular, and it really helped boost my traffic on the weekends. But today there are so many, that they don't generate as much traffic as they used to.
You have been really successful with give-aways and advertising on Scribbit. Would you give bloggers some advice about hosting give-aways and attracting quality advertisers?
I don't like when a marketer sends me an email stating that they want me to host a give-away, they don't want to pay me, and they want to offers my readers a cheap gift. At first I was afraid of offending them, but after a while, I realized my first priority is to my readers. I have learned that you have to figure out what you're worth and to not be afraid to tell that to marketers.
When I first started getting advertisers it was a lot of work, and I really didn't like it. It took me about eight months before I reached the point where I had a continuous stream of advertisers. I talk a lot about this in the book, but for me, what works best is selling ads month-to-month....
Michelle and her daughters, Lillian and Grace.
Is there anything new on the horizon for Scribbit? Or for Michelle?
Well on Scribbit, I have been running a writing contest for 2 years, and I quit doing it in July. Participation had gone down, and it's not always easy to find good judges. But I'm thinking of starting it up again in the fall. So be on the lookout for it!
I have started working for the marketing network One2One. I'm working with them to reach out to bloggers, and I'm enjoying it.
I'm also working on a book proposal for a memoir. I was contacted by an agent who liked my blog and suggested I write a book about my family and parenting in Alaska. I'm working on the opening chapter right now. It's about how my family moved here after WWII when Alaska was nothing but a muddy campground....
Do you think it's important to have an agent?
Well, I was contacted by an agent who is recruiting new artists. I don't think you need an agent up front to write a book, but I looked it this as a luck dog break, so I'm going with it....
Publishing is so competitive nowadays, and when you already have a platform and an audience from a successful blog, it makes you much less of a risk in the publisher's eyes....
[As for attracting an agent] it also helps that Alaska is a hot topic right now, in part because of Sara Palin. People are excited about Alaska and that's good for me. The book isn't a sure thing yet, but it's as good as a shot as I'm gonna get right now, and I'm going for it. It's the kind of book I've always wanted to write anyway. To write about my family history is really exciting to me. I have a very detailed history of my family, from pictures to journals and letters, so I have a lot of information to draw on.
Do you think that blogging has helped prepare you to write this book?
I think that blogging for the last four years has really taught me a lot about what good writing is. You've got to look at life as conflict, crisis, resolution. If you're gonna write a post, you've gotta draw your audience in. And conflict, whether it's some trivial little thing with my kids or something major like my grandparent's move to Alaska, will, if written correctly, draw people in. Well, that's what I'm hoping anyway. (laughing)
From L-R, Lillian, Spencer, Michelle, her husband Andrew, Grace, and David.
Here are some of my favorite Scribbit posts from the last couple of months:
Life in Alaska: What do you do when you encounter a moose?
Life and Parenting: 10 specific ways to cut your food budget and Do children need allowances?
Blogging: Things I've Learned About Blogging
Books: Books Guaranteed to Make You Think Your Life Isn't So Bad After All
Cooking: How to make won ton soup
Crafts: How to make soap crayons. (I want these!)
Michell's musings: Why she's a "ball of worry."