Right after the US election, I wrote a post on whether bloggers should talk about politics, which generated some interesting responses, both on the post itself, and on social media. I’d say the general consensus was that, if it’s a personal blog, you can write about whatever you like on it, and people can feel free to read/unfollow if they don’t like it – which is more or less where I stand myself.
There were, however, a couple of comments from people who felt very strongly that bloggers like me should NOT talk about politics, (Like, EVER), and who came across more like, “Amber, sweetie, just stick to the fashion: that’s all we care about anyway…”, and that made me a bit sad, to be honest. Don’t worry, though, I got over it: and if the politics talk didn’t make the “fashion only” peeps unfollow me, I’m pretty sure the miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy stuff would have done it, anyway! Speaking of which…
Not all of your readers will see you as a “friend“…
One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot this year has been that fine line you tread as a personal blogger between sharing and over-sharing. In the context of the politics post above, I mentioned feeling a bit sad when readers commented to say they’re only interested in fashion, and don’t think I should write about anything other than that: the reason for that (and I don’t claim that this is in any way reasonable of me, by the way…) is that I had always thought of my blog as basically a diary (and NEVER as a “fashion blog”), and although it is monetised, and I’m lucky enough to be able to earn a living from it, I’d also thought of (most of) my readers as “friends”.
While some of them definitely ARE friends, however, and I think many of them view this site in the same way I do, one of the things that’s become really clear to me, both from the politics post and the ones about my recent health scares, is that this IS still ultimately a business, and some of my readers DO just view me as a free source of entertainment, as opposed to a “friend”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, obviously: it’s the reality of blogging for a living, and it would be naive of me to assume that everyone who’s reading this is here because they like or care about me. The fact is, some people treat my blog purely as a business because it IS a business: it’s just a very strange kind of business, which is so closely connected to me as a person, and to my personal life, that I think I’ll probably spend the rest of my career trying to work out how to tread that fine line I mentioned above. C’est la vie.
This is probably the best thing I’ve learned about blogging this year, and it’s a lesson that came almost entirely from my posts about health anxiety and miscarriage. I’d been scared to publish those posts, but I shouldn’t have been, because you guys were AMAZING, seriously. The support I got was so far beyond what I had expected or hoped, and it has really helped me get through what have been some of the darkest weeks of my life. I know I’ve been talking about this incessantly, so I’ll leave it at that, other than to quickly note this:
Relatability is still important.
A few months ago, I wrote a post wondering whether relatability really was as important as much of the blogging community seemed to feel it is. At the time, I was feeling quite frustrated with all of the blog posts I was reading which centred around criticising bloggers for being “too perfect”: for portraying “unattainable” lifestyles, or using their Instagram accounts or blogs to effectively “lie” to their readers by presenting a false reality, which not even the bloggers themselves were really living.
Now, I stand by everything I said in that post: I still think it’s ridiculous to criticise someone for owning a designer handbag, or to feel that they don’t “deserve” their success, because their life is easier than yours. I also think it’s totally unrealistic to expect people to want to post unflattering photos, or talk in great detail about the aspects of their lives that aren’t so great: most of us don’t do that in “real” life, so why should we expect it from bloggers? Exactly.
What I learned in 2016, however, is that most readers can see through that veneer of “perfection” that so many of us attempt to portray on Instagram, or whatever. They KNOW it’s a highlight reel, and not the full story, and while some readers are, indeed, just there for the shoes and dresses (or whatever it is you primarily blog about), the posts in which you’re willing to open up – to be a little more honest and a little more “yourself” – will not harm your blog as much as you think they might. (I mean, unless you really ARE a terrible person, and have just been hiding it REALLY well, in which case ‘being yourself’ is probably going to have the opposite effect…) In other words:
You should always write the posts that scare you.
Seriously, that post that’s been sitting in your drafts folder for weeks now, because you’re too scared to hit “publish”? Do it. Do it now, in fact, before you can change your mind. Sure, some people will hate it, and some will totally ignore it: the ones who appreciate and relate to it, however, will become your most loyal readers and your most powerful advocates. You’ll also want to hug every single one of them individually, even if you’re not a hugger. Trust me on this. But I was talking about lessons I’d learned, wasn’t I? Well, here’s a slightly less heartwarming one:
Brands are getting worse at understanding bloggers, rather than better.
Not ALL of them, you understand. There are still some awesome brands out there, and I’ve had the privilege of working with a great many of them this year. I still, however, spend a large part of my working day explaining to brands that I cannot afford to work for free, and that I’m not prepared to break the law by failing to disclose a sponsored post for them. It depresses me that this is still happening on a such a regular basis, and that so many brands still fail to see bloggers are professionals, as businessmen and women, or even as people who deserve a smidgen of respect in their dealings with them. I wrote a post earlier this year on why you probably won’t get rich from blogging, but forget “getting rich” – sometimes I feel like it’s getting harder to even make a living, given that so many of us are expected to work for free… and so many of us are willing to DO it, too.
Pageviews aren’t the be-all-and-end-all.
I blogged every single day in 2015, and my pageviews increased, partly (although not solely) as a result of that. This year, my blogging has been much more sporadic, due to ill health, and a number of other issues which made daily blogging much harder than it had been the year before. And you know what? It didn’t really matter. No, my page views haven’t been as high this year, but they haven’t been catastrophically lower, either, and I’ve learned that the most important metric isn’t how many posts you produce each week, or how high your page views are, but whether people are engaging with your content and – if you’re blogging as a business – whether you’re still earning money from it.*
(*I always feel a bit dirty when I say things like that, but it’s true, isn’t it? If your blog is your business, you want to make money from it, just as you do from any other job – there’s absolutely no shame in that.)
I’ll just quickly add here that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with caring about pageviews, or any other number, either. I still do: I still check my analytics daily, I still get a kick out of particularly good traffic days, and I still have goals I’d like to meet. So I’m not saying pageviews are unimportant, or that you shouldn’t care about them: just that they’re not the ONLY measure of a blog’s success, so don’t get too stressed out if yours aren’t as high as you’d like them to be.
In spite of everything, blogging is still the best job in the world.
2016 has been one of the hardest of my life, both personally and professionally. I’ll be totally honest: there have been times this year when I’ve been reduced to tears by the various issues I’ve been dealing with, and have thought, “You know what: if I had a ‘normal’ job, I’d be signed off work by now, and at least I wouldn’t be having to worry about cranking out a blog post on top of everything else.” (I’m talking here specifically about my other two blogs, by the way, which are strictly ‘business’ ones, and which I DO, unfortunately, have to keep running, no matter what, or I will not be able to pay my bills at the end of each month. I have never, at any point resented writing posts for Forever Amber, or felt like I ‘had’ to do it….)
Ultimately, though, even at my very lowest points this year – and there have been a lot of them – I’ve never really wanted to quit. The fact is, I just don’t WANT a “normal” job: even one that came with paid sick leave and someone else to fill in for me on the days when I quite literally couldn’t get out of bed. No, blogging isn’t perfect, and next year I hope to be able to take these lessons I’ve learned, and find ways to make it easier for me to deal with the harder aspects of it – but I still feel incredibly fortunate to be able to call this my “job”, and I know that, for me at least, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.