Questions: Offbeat Life, coffee table books, and how to become a successful blogger

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Every few months, I put out the call via Facebook and Twitter for reader questions to answer. This time I got so many awesome questions to answer that I'm going to do two posts.

Ariel do you have plans for a super Offbeat LIFE type conglomerate? -Jeanie Tospell

The Offbeat Empire is as big as my existing business and editorial processes can manage, so any additional growth would have to be part of a bigger-picture change to my business model. No plans for that at this point.

Have you ever considered an OBB Wedding porn coffee table type book with photos from some of the best loved wedding porn over the years? -Julia Johnson

Yes. Megan and I have talked about it, but it gets sticky when you get into submissions and photo rights, and things get even uglier when you start talking about production and costs. A full color glossy coffee table book like that would cost a fortune. Less than 1% of this site's readers have shelled out the $10 for the existing Offbeat Bride book — I have trouble imagining that many of you would pay $50 for a book full of photos you can see for free online. (Updated to add: I changed my business model to advertising years ago, so no need to apologize for not buying the book! My point here was just to explain why I think no one would buy a $50 book — not to shame anyone for not buying a $10 one.)

What's been the hardest thing about launching (and sustaining and being successful at) a freelance career that has you working primarily from home? Do you find yourself being lonely? -Ariel Hansen

First, I should note that I don't really consider myself a freelancer at this point. I'm a self-employed small business owner, but I'm not hunting around for clients each month like I used to when I was a freelancer.

But yes: isolation IS the hardest part of the work I do, and finding a place to work outside the home has been KEY for this gig being sustainable for me. At least one day a week, I work at a coworking space called Office Nomads with a bunch of other freelancers/self-employed folks.

Having a staff of people working on the Empire also keeps me from getting lonely. Realistically, I'm working with people in LA, Iowa, Virginia, and Alabama every day. They're not in the room with me, but there's a LOT of chatting and emailing.

How many people work for the offbeat empire?

Technically, just me. But there are eight folks regularly doing work on contract and commission:

  • JMDodd, my long-suffering web developer without whom the entire Empire would crash and burn as I ran around flailing my arms going “OMG OMG, SOMEBODY FIX IT! SOMEBODY FIX IT!”
  • Megan, Offbeat Bride managing editor
  • Stephanie, Offbeat Mama managing editor
  • Cat, Offbeat Home managing editor
  • Coco, Offbeat Bride contributing editor and ad sales
  • Becca, Offbeat Bride intern and on-call dev
  • Ang, Offbeat Bride Tribe community manager
  • Caroline, Offbeat Empire copyeditor

How do you become a successful blogger? I know OBB was a platform from which you could promote the book, but in the blogging realm, how do you really put yourself out there and become known? -Christen

Step 1: figure out how you define “success.” You have to know what you're aiming for if you want to be successful. Are you looking for a book deal? Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority so that you can get hired by an awesome company in your chosen field? Are you trying attract advertisers so that your blog becomes a source of income? How you succeed in blogging totally depends on your goals.

My goals have shifted over the years. When I first started blogging in 2000, there was no concept of doing it full time. I was 25, was bailing on my magazine job, and wanted to meet writers online. I did a lot of the kinds of confessional writing that's really good for making friends, admitting embarrassing things in a public outlet so that others would be like OMG ME TOOO and we could bond over it.

After a few years, my professional goals shifted to “get a book deal,” so my personal blog refocused on highlighting the very best of my writing and getting it seen by as many people as possible. I still wasn't looking for advertisers or sponsorship so I wasn't super focused on a huge readership — I was looking to build potential publishers' confidence in the strength of my voice and ideas. My goals for success were all around the quality of my writing, with a lot of thoughtful, long-format narrative nonfiction and essays.

Once I got the book deal, I launched this here website to help me sell the book. All my good writing was supposedly in the book, so the goal of the blog was leading people to purchase it. I wrote about reading events, did lots of posts that ended “…I talk about this in the book,” and included tons of links Amazon. Success was defined by book sales and numbers of people at my reading events. I didn't want to give away too much writing on the blog, because my success was measured in how many people bought the book.

Midway through June of 2007, I realized it wasn't working. Despite lots of people reading the blog, very few people were buying the book. At that point, I shifted my goals to advertising and sponsorship. My focus shifted at that point from selling books, to selling eyeballs to advertisers. Content was focused on encouraging readers to spend more time on the blog, and read more posts. (Because when selling advertising, monthly pageviews are key.) I upped the number of posts I was producing, and stopped making every post about the book. Since I was producing more, my time to actually WRITE diminished, which is when I started doing more bride profiles and wedding porn and bringing in editors to help me crank it all out.

As you can see, as my goals/measures of success shifted, my blogging changed. Circa-2000 Ariel would consider me terribly boring, because my websites are not about ME any more. Circa-2005 author-era Ariel would be amazed at how little WRITING I actually do — I'm much more focused on business development and editing than I am on writing. Circa-2007 Ariel would be weirded out by the fact that Offbeat Bride has lost its “BOOK” tab — wasn't that the whole focus of the site? But circa-2010 Ariel is stoked: I love that the Offbeat Empire is now about working with a team of awesome people to produce a network of websites for smarties to read.

This is all to say: how you succeed as a blogger totally depends on what kind of success you want. Figure out what you want first.

Step 2: Figure out how to get it.

More reader Q&As coming next week!

Final update: after reading comments, I just wanted to clarify again that no one needs to feel bad or apologize for not buying the book. Of course I love that some of you have read it, but the primary product I've sold since 2007 is advertising, so there's no need to apologize for not buying the book — seriously!

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Comments on Questions: Offbeat Life, coffee table books, and how to become a successful blogger

  1. I bought the book! Make that 1.0001%. I don’t know the readership so blatantly made up that number. I did actually find it pretty useful in ways the blog isn’t, but will be handing it off when the wedding’s over to the next friend getting married, thus preventing another sale. Sorry.

    • I’ll be buying the book after finals – can’t let myself get too distracted yet!

      But, once my wedding comes and goes, I’ll be donating it (and the other wedding advice books) to the library.

  2. Thank you, Ariel. Also? I bought the book. And I too will be handing it off, but in all fairness I *accidentally* purchased two copies and gave one to an engaged friend. So, I guess that cancels itself out. I love these reader question posts. I find them very insightful … just like the rest of the site and the Tribe.

  3. I promise you, I will buy the book the moment I get engaged and don’t feel weird owning a book about how to plan a wedding. 🙂

    Here’s my question- how do I get a job working for you? Copyediting a site like yours where I actually enjoy everything I put up on it (I currently edit and run a local news website) sounds like a DREAM.

    • I usually post when I have job openings available, although sometimes folks fall into my lap … which is how I found our current copyeditor. That said, you might THINK you want to work for the Empire, but any of my staff will tell you that I’m sort of a hard-driving task master. 😉 Ask anyone who’s gotten one of my “let’s talk about your priorities” emails…

      • Our wounds from her vicious whippings hardly have time to heal before she’s letting loose on us again. 😉

        Seriously though, I sometimes feel bad for our current (and fabulous) copy editor. It’s a LOT of work for a very part time gig time, even if it’s totally awesome content!

  4. I bought 2 copies, one first edition and one second edition. Do I get props? 😀

  5. There’s no need to wait until you’re planning a wedding to buy the book. It’s not about how to plan a wedding, it’s a memoir of hilarious laugh out loud moments that just happens to be set in wedding land. Well worth reading!

    • That was my reason for waiting. It’s sort of a rite of passage once the engagement was official, then the wedding paraphernalia can begin. But if it’s as you described, I’m adding it to my bookcase (after I read it of course!).

    • Step 3: Profit!

      Not that I’m demeaning Ariels process at all, it’s obviously worked, but pretty much any short step process makes me think of that South Park episode.

      The process here clearly works, especially the advertising part. I have a personal rule that whilst I don’t block adverts I almost never click on them, as much out of resentment as anything. But I’ve found myself clicking adverts on here more than a few times, even when I’m just curious about what exactly the company sells.

      (It helps a lot that the adverts stay in their designated space down the side. They don’t flash, don’t jump out and take over the screen and I’m not afraid to move my mouse over the site so I’m feeling a lot less resentful if/when I do look at them.)

      One day when I have money it might even lead to a sale! (Although at this point that’s more likely to be through Offbeat Home, at this rate my wedding will have come and gone before I have money even for the wedding.)

      Ok this was supposed to be a short pop culture reference, not an essay on my opinions about advertising, but what the hell.

  6. I bought it too, and loved it ! So full of tips and intelligent thinking on what getting married really is about 🙂

  7. I didn’t buy the book, but I did tell my newly engaged sister to buy it. Does that count?

    (Also as I mentioned above I’m epicly broke. I can’t afford a sandwich right now, let alone a book.)

  8. I found most of the info I needed on the website (yay for the tribe!) but I bought the book because I love the site and wanted to support it. Do you have a donation option? I bet there are people that would want to do that. Your book is the only wedding book I purchased and I read the whole thing.

    • Oh goodness — there’s no need for a donation button, nor did I intend this post to be an OH WOE IS ME WHY DOES NO ONE BUY THE BOOK! The reality was that no one bought the book, so several years ago I changed the business model to compensate. Offbeat Bride is fully ad-sponsored these days, so there’s no pressure to buy the book. Nor is there any need to donate! 🙂

  9. I didn’t buy the book. But I love this website. And I’ve told tons of people about it, and talk about it probably too much. My girlfriends are all far away, so this is the closest daily-girl time I can get without overloading my fiance. I don’t have a job though, so the $10 book money went to groceries instead.
    Can’t wait to transition more into offbeat home (as our home now is full of boxes and we’re getting ready to move). Ariel, you really have created a pretty epic empire. Thank you!!!!!!!!

  10. It’s pretty sad but I totally didn’t realize the book tab was gone! Realizing that I remember when there was a book tab made me realize how long I’ve been reading this blog! At first I thought that was strange but I just realized that if hubs(to be) and I weren’t getting married next month, we would have been engaged for 3 years come August! (..and I always said I wasn’t into long engagements…)We were also talking about marriage a year prior to that which is when I started cyber stalking this blog so wow… it’s been awhile!

    • Aww, it’s not sad at all! It means the site is doing great as an advertiser-supported business and that I don’t need to try to twist readers’ arms to buy my book. There is still a book page (under About > Book) but it’s secondary nav. RIP Book tab!

      • Well, I did buy the book AND utlize some vendors so I’m glad I was able to contribute to something I get SOOOO much use out of!

  11. I’m an Offbeat Mama and Home junky, but and trying to put off doing work right now. I was thinking that I wished that I had known about Offbeat Bride when I got married (If only to find out that my need for vegan flats was only a click away). But I guess it didn’t exist in 2005.

    • I was busy writing the book in 2005. 🙂 Back then, your only hope was IndieBride. Offbeat Bride launched Jan 1, 2007.

  12. i bought the book, found the site, got unengaged and gave the book away. I’ve been here since early 2007 and haven’t been engaged since Oct ’07. I’d totes buy an offbeat coffee-table book, so would wedding planners for their offices, and people who were featured to show their kids, and all the loyal fans. Idk if you’d make anything off of it, but it would be neat to have a “best of” compendium. maybe a limited ed. 5-year anniversary edition next year! (omg almost 5 years!)

  13. So imaging you with your arms flailing pink dipped braids flying out behind you gave me a good laugh! (Thinks Ang should draw this.)
    I agree that I can’t at the moment shell out $50 for anything but a glossy I could hold in my hand would be really cool. In fact, I’m kind of mentally designing this while I comment.

  14. I didn’t buy the book, but I did check it out of my local library.

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