Blogger Of The Week: Michelle Mitton (author at Scribbit)
Scribbit has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, The Denver Post and The Wall Street Journal – ranked fifth in the list of ten Top Motherhood Blogs in the Wall Street Journal, “The Blogger Mom in Your Face” by Sue Shellenbarger.
About The Author:
In 2009 I published an ebook, Blogging in Pink: A Woman’s Guide to Blogging, and am currently working on a “real” book (a novel).
BS: Welcome to BloggerStop, Michelle. How long have you been in the Blogosphere? And who/what inspired you to start a blog of your own?
Ans.: My husband is a fun blend of tech savvy know-how and artistic, creative energy and he’s usually aware of communication and internet trends before most people. He began pestering me back in 2004 to start a blog but it took me until 2005 before I finally listened and since then he’s been a great coach and mentor.
BS: How will you describe your blog in one line/less than 20 words?
Ans.: A mother to four, I publish recipes, reviews, crafts, thoughts on parenting and stories of life in the Last Frontier.
BS: What do you blog about? Is this blog devoted to a single theme or do you have more than one quite unrelated categories in your blog?
Ans.: Scribbit is an online magazine and as my tagline–Motherhood in Alaska–suggests I publish anything that touches parenting, families or children as well as stories about what it’s like to live in a wild, isolated place that is known for its extremes.
BS: Recently I came across a post “10 misconceptions about Mommy bloggers” on Mashable. So being a mommy bloggers, do you agree with that article?
Ans.: Smith does a decent job of trying to introduce mombloggers to those outside the niche and I agree with some of her points because in my experience the most successful mombloggers don’t like being referred to as “mommybloggers,” they’re typically attractive, intelligent, educated and ambitious and they’re making money (though not enough to quit their day jobs).
However, they’re the exception. Smith is speaking in generalities and, frankly, as with any niche there are hundreds of thousands of blogs that are never considered when formulating a profile because only the most popular sites are considered. Most mombloggers never get traffic, never get noticed, don’t get product reviews and probably do wear sweats a great deal of the time. Most of them are read by their families and friends and do it as a hobby or as a way to keep in contact with the grandparents.
Momblogging follows the standard path of any trend–you have the pioneers in the field (i.e. Dooce) followed by the early adopters who started up in the two-three years after that. But about the time I got serious about blogging it was starting to gain attention and within a year after that there was a tidal wave of new momblogs. Then, about 2007, you saw a whole new genre: those out for product reviews. They’ve become a niche in and of themselves and generally speaking they will do pretty nearly anything for free stuff.
I’ve worked briefly with marketing agencies on the other end of things–pitching ideas to mombloggers–and one of the things that surprised me was how much they would do for little or no compensation coupled with how little traffic they had. There is Dooce at the top of the food chain–the very top, the Everest of mombloggers with no one coming even remotely close to her level–and then there is another tier of successful bloggers who have clout because of writing ability and staying power who may or may not have huge traffic but who still garner good press and plenty of respect. Alongside them there is a branch of successful, long-term bloggers that have opted for the corporate model and have banded together to make an empire–such as Allie Worthington Media or 5 Minutes for Mom–and who get great traffic but are more of a magazine rather than a memoir. Then below that dual level you have lots of third tier late comers who, unless they’re brilliant, won’t likely see the upper levels and will eventually burn out on blogging and then finally you have the bottom tier who have virtually no traffic but lots of badges and buttons flashing at you on their sidebars.
You’ll see the successful one remain and the rest will fade away as their kids age or they realize there is no money at the bottom levels.
BS: Are you the only author in your blog or do you have co-bloggers to manage the blog? In future are you planning to team up with like-minded bloggers?
Ans.: I’ve considered other projects where I would team up with other bloggers–even went so far as to have a partner, design a site, hire a graphic designer to make the logo and register the URL–but it fell apart just before launch. I’ve been very interested in the capabilities of the WordPress MU platform and am certain that its potential hasn’t been yet realized, particularly in the areas of hyperlocal sites such as what the NY Times has been experimenting with.
I’d love to try something like that here in my own community because Anchorage is an ideal location. We have a population of 300,000 and because of the rural/urban divide about a third of the people live in Third World style villages with the internet as their link to the outside. The Anchorage Daily News is owned by McClatchy which also owns papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Miami Herald yet Anchorage’s online site is the second-most visited, with nearly 4 million views per month. The lure of Alaska and the unique isolation it presents makes a union of blogging and traditional media an obvious choice–though like most newspapers the Anchorage Daily News is pathetically outdated and steeped in old-school traditions. They want the quick fix, the quick way to make a buck rather than investing in the long term and new technology–who knows if they’ll survive or if they’ll go the way of the Seattle Monitor or even the Rocky Mountain News?–so I think that the arena is open for a good business model of a hyperlocal site.
Of course that would take time . . . something I have in short supply right now.
BS: Do you blog anonymously or your readers know well who you are?
Ans.: I am Michelle Mitton. You can look me up in the phone book if you don’t believe me.
When I first started I used a pen name–call it Blogger’s Paranoia if you will–thinking it would be safer for the family but realized after a year or two that that was ridiculous. It’s safer to be a momblogger than to be a teen on Facebook. Of course there is always potential for harm but I compare it to the odds of being hit by a sniper at the mall. Of course it could happen but what are the chances? Pretty slim.
So use your real name, take ownership of your writing and take that first step toward being a real writer.
BS: Do you have any specific goals/expectations from your blog? Have you already achieved any of these goals (or would you like to share any milestones that your blog has achieved)?
Ans: It feels as if I’ve been blogging forever. Honestly? I’m not nearly so enticed by fame and fortune as I once was because it doesn’t matter what you achieve, it’s never enough. I get mentioned in one paper, I get an award in another and it doesn’t matter–I’m still not satisfied. My husband laughed at me in the beginning because I’d say, “If I only had 100 people visit a day–wow! Then I’d know that I’d arrived!” But as soon as I hit that mark I’d up the ante and say, “As soon as I get 200 visits–that’s when I’ll be happy.” And so on and so on. I upped it to 1,000 but that wasn’t enough, then I said 2,000 and on it went. I thought I’d feel successful when I got celebrity interviews and found myself talking to people like Mary Lou Retton and Patrick Dempsey, I thought I’d feel successful when I began giving away computers and jewelry and clothes and working with PR firms to promote products. While it was fun being flown in for Hollywood premiers and treated to celebrity spas and dinners with supermodels it never really felt as if I could sit back and rest on what I’d done to that point.
So you can’t base your happiness on blog traffic–unless perhaps it’s your sole source of income in which case I’d really like to meet you and shake your hand.
Instead I’ve treated blogging as an opportunity to improve my writing, which it has. In fact, it’s because of blogging that I’m now working on my second book and have become a published author. For me, blogging hasn’t been an end in and of itself but a means to another more fulfilling end. I do still like to post and I do need my blog which has a strange, symbiotic relationship with my offline writing, but as for goals, in the last year I’ve redesigned my objectives for my blog to concentrate less on the trappings of momblogs–the product reviews, the giveaways, etc.–and instead work more on quality writing and issues that are more meaningful because when I’m able to write a thought-provoking post on being a parent and have commentors thank me for how it’s helped them—that feels like success.
BS: How much time do you devote to your blog? Do you blog on weekends and do you think Blogging is eating too much of your time and is it affecting your day-to-day (offline) life too?
Ans.: In the beginning–the first three and a half years–I blogged five or six hours a day, it was a part-time job for me and I ran my blog as I would a magazine with me being editor, photographer, food designer, marketing director, IT technician and writer. Up until this fall I published without fail every day (never missed once) and that included weekends. It didn’t cut into my offline life though because I’d reached a point where my children were all in school full-time so it was a great opportunity rather than a burden. My husband was very supportive and my kids loved the attention but as I redesigned my goals and got more into offline writing that changed to where I now blog around two hours a day.
One of the things I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind is: if I’d been able to dedicate myself to it full-time, if I’d been able to go to all the conferences and accept all the travel opportunitites I’ve been offered, could I have been able to build my own empire? I’m very ambitious by nature and at one point wanted to rule the world through blogging but it just wouldn’t fit with my family obligations as a wife and mother. For example, a year ago I was approached by a company to travel to the Dominican Republic for nine days to blog about humanitarian efforts there. It was a great cause and an amazing, all-expense paid opportunity but I couldn’t see leaving the children for that amount of time.
I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d taken a different route but I certainly don’t lie awake at night over it. I’m quite confident I’ve chosen the better part.
BS: What are your present blog stats, i.e. number of daily visitors, subscribers, your global reach etc.?
Ans.:50,000-60,000 visitors per month, not including 2200 RSS subscribers. It fluctuates daily, weekly, and even by season but that’s a good estimate though I haven’t checked my stats in about six or eight weeks.
BS: What do you think is a better source of traffic – search engines, traffic exchange sites, social networking sites or paid traffic (like Google Adwords)?
Ans.: Search engines will always have their place and you can’t ignore the Power of Mighty Google but I get rather sickened by those trying to play the SEO game all the time. I don’t sell paid links, I sell ads so if you’re trying to tweak the system to get your text link noticed I have little patience for you.
The best, most reliable and long-living source of traffic is good content. You write good content and people link to you–though I’ve noticed link love has decreased over the last 18 months as the blogosphere gets diluted more and more and bloggers get overwhelmed by the amount of content out there. Regardless, it’s still the best way to get noticed.
Twitter and Facebook have their place–just as being active in the blogging community serves a valuable purpose–and using them well is always an advantage but all social media is, first and foremost, social. That means it takes time and effort to be involved and to create a conversation rather than merely a soapbox. Decide which forums you can handle and integrate two or three into your network but don’t try to be a presence everywhere at once because you’ll just be spreading yourself too thin.
BS: Do you regularly respond to your readers and do you think it is important for a blogger to always comment back or reply back to his readers?
Ans.: Absolutely. It’s the difference between your readers talking to a wall and talking to a human being. I answer every email and comment that I possibly can and try to respond with comments of my own from time to time. You have to get a pretty outrageous number of comments to not be able to answer them–and if you’re too busy then maybe you might want to realign priorities because blogging is–once again–a conversation. If you want to talk to a wall go write for a newspaper or magazine.
Besides, I like talking with people. It’s always interesting.
BS: What are your unique strategies to survive and to perform better in your blogs niche against your competitor blogs?
Ans.:Be that purple cow (to quote HRH Seth Godin). Set yourself apart. Have a name that is different from the swirling pool of blogs with titles like “Mom’s Musings,” “Mom to Four[or Five or Six or Whatever],” “Random Thoughts from a SAHM” or “Welcome to My Life.” If you are a momblog and have any of those words in your title, change it immediately. Unless, of course, obscurity is your goal.
It also helps if you’ve got a unique background, have a unique circumstance or are from an exotic place. And if none of these work and you can’t move to Alaska you just have to be a little more creative than the blog next to you.
BS: Other than Blogging what are your other hobbies or what do you do in your leisure time?
Ans.: My family is, of course, a huge part of my life and four children (two being teenagers) take up an enormous amount of time. My husband and I recently got into barefoot running (posted about it here) but when it gets too cold for that we switch to cross-country skiing, classic style (more about that here). We live in an amazing city where we’re surrounded by mountains, ocean, streams filled with salmon and the best system of running or ski trails in the U.S. (though be careful, the moose and bears are equally attracted and it’s no fun surprising one).
In the summer I keep an eye on my garden where I grow broccoli, cabbage, chives, thyme, raspberries, hostas, lilies, delphiniums and peonies and in the winter I hibernate with my writing. If I have a spare evening you can catch me with a good book (I’m currently rereading The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty, a fascinating read on the neuro-psychology behind writing and the creative process) or with a good movie (I’m part-way through Ghosts of Mississippi but it’ll take me ages to finish it).
BS: Is blogging for you just a passion or a medium for earning too? Are you earning enough to quit a 9 to 5 day job?
Ans.: I make enough to pay for fun things–trips, a new computer, clothes, that kind of thing. Certainly not enough to quit my day job and that’s kind of a relief. In the book I mentioned above they talk about extrinsic vs. intrinsic awards and with the creative process studies show that satisfaction decreases as extrinsic awards increase (i.e. getting paid to do something vs. doing it for the sake of the creative process). I think that says something very important about blogging—once it grows beyong something you do for fun and becomes something you rely on for income it’s loses its flavor.
The good news is: you’re making money. The bad news is: you’re making money. Quite the irony.
BS: Do you sell any of your products, work as an affiliate partner or advertisements are the only source of income for you?
Ans.: I don’t do affiliate work at all, never will. First, I’ve never found it effective (though I’m aware some mombloggers swear by it) but then it feels cheap to me. Rather like selling things door to door though I realize that’s an emotional and illogical response.
I sell ads on my sidebar, my sole source of income outside of being given review products.
BS: Are you planning to employee someone to help you in blogging or outsourcing some of your work like blog-designing, social networking or someone for your PR department?
Ans.: Once I considered hiring someone to manage my advertising–admittedly the area I am weakest in–but couldn’t find anyone at hand so I ended up limping along by myself. I’m skilled enough to do minor redesigns myself but I’m in the process of a major design renovation and have hired someone to do that for me. I also have hired graphic designers to design logos.
BS: Blogs you follow and read regularly…
Ans.: My guilty pleasure is food and craft blogs but I read them all through Google Feedreader so you can follow me there and get access to my extensive list. I do love Foodblogga though . . . a good friend, great cook and a great writer.
BS: Communities/Forums you have joined (that help you in blogging):
Ans.: Blogging conferences are a great opportunity for this, I’ve spoken at several and would recommend BlogHer and Blissdom for women, Blog World Expo for anyone. I’ll be speaking at two sessions of Blissdom February 4-6 in Nashville.
BS: Have you done any mistakes in your blogging life? And what have you learnt from these mistakes?
Ans.: Using a pen name was a mistake–as I mentioned previously. Also, when dealing with nasty commentors or nasty people my rule is to always let my response letter sit overnight before mailing it. I’ve learned by sad experience that my initial responses to rudeness is usually ineffective and poorly worded. But if I sit on my words for a day then I’m much calmer when dealing with that kind of thing.
BS: Has blogging added any special flavor to your life? Would you like to share it with us?
Ans.: Having a forum for my thoughts and words is an enormous satisfaction. To have produced 1500 posts, enough for several books, plus freelance work and two full-length books is something I’ll always look to with a thrill. Blogging was the exercise my writing muscle needed to be able to write whenever I need the words and has given me the confidence that yes, in fact, I am a writer and not some teenager hiding in my closet crying over my diary.
BS: Something you really want to change in your blog or in yourself being a blogger?
Ans.: Ah I need a redesign . . . working on it. I’ve got the new logo and the basic layout, now its up to the coder. [Crossing fingers].
BS: Say, you are sponsored to travel to 3 world destinations. Which destinations would you pick up, and why? Would you like to take someone along with you? If yes, whom?
Ans.:Well I’m actually going to India in March already as my parents live in Bangalore–so that’s taken care of. But I’d love to take my husband to England. He’s never been and I’d love to show him around. Besides that, a world cruise. I’ve been drooling over a 114-day global cruise on Holland American that circles South America, hits Antarctica, bounces around Africa a bit before stopping in Mombai and Goa then jaunting off through Malaysia and up around through Singapore, China and Japan and up to Russia. Yea, that would be nice.
If Holland America wants me to post for 114 days as they send me around the world as their blogging slave I’d totally be up for it. I am definitely for sale.
BS: Bloggers generally love to read books? Do you agree with this and if yes what you’re your favorite books/novels?
Ans.: I love reading but there is a sad reality that one must either be a producer or a consumer. If you are a producer of words your life is filled with the creative process (or should be) which leaves very little time for consuming other people’s words. At first it’s helpful to read to be able to find your own voice but once you’ve found it it’s much harder to find time in the day to be on both ends of the production line.
That’s been the biggest problem of blogging. In the beginning I visited so many blogs, commenting here and there, keeping up with my feeds and enjoying the community. But once I redefined myself more as a writer it’s been hard to find the time to visit and comment and I hear the same complaint from other bloggers I admire.
BS: If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
Ans.: Tough one. I could be intellectual and say Thomas Jefferson or hip and say Malcolm Gladwell or artistic and say Wallace Stegner (favorite writer) but if it really came down to it I’d be tempted to say something stupid like Harry Connick Jr.
BS: Which is your favorite television show? & favorite movies and songs?
Ans.: I don’t watch television–I’ll stick with the idea of it being a “vast wasteland”–but I do love a good movie. Anything from classics to today that is well done and creative though my favorite is still LOTR and Star Wars. What a geek. As for music, I’m a big fan of The Killers, Muse and U2–not necessarily in that order. Coldplay will get a nod from time to time as well (loved that interview 60 Minutes did with Chris Martin a while back).
BS: What’s your favorite food? Any particular dislikes?
Ans.: Pasta, always always pasta. In any form. If I’m eating out I will always go for it on the menu and will overindulge. Though pizza and sandwiches are second in my affections.
BS: Blogs are replacing personal diaries, magazines, journals and today more than just being a hobby we can see corporate blogs too, so what do you think is the future of blogs?
Ans.: First, I’d say that most “blogs” in magazines and onlines news sites aren’t blogs at all, they’re just extensions of the magazine or newspaper. People leave comments and that’s the end of it. There’s no interactivity, no conversation, no relationship. So unless a corporate blog can do better in this department I don’t think they’re a blog at all.
I do think, however, that blogs will band together as the industry morphs. You’ll see more of what you’re already seeing–multi-user sites like the Huffington Post (or the momblog sites I’ve mentioned previously) or blog networks. I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to run a personal blog by yourself and compete against bigger sites that have a staff. You can be successful–don’t get me wrong–but you’ll never be as big (however you define “big”) as the conglomerates. Even Dooce has her husband running things as her full-time manager and once she’s gone, Dooce.com is gone.
BS: Any special message you would like to share with our readers as well with everyone else?
Ans.: If you’re interesting in more about blogging I’d suggest downloading my free ebook. Yes, it’s called Blogging in Pink: A Woman’s Guide but only a small part is actually unique to momblogs.
BS: How can we connect with you?
Twitter ID: @Scribbit
Linkedin Profile: Scribbit
Any other way to connect with you: scribbit [at] gmail [dot] com, on Facebook or by subscribing to Scribbit at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Scribbit