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Blogging for the Art of It

Writing for the TBEX conference website, Pam Mandel answers the question, “Why blog?”

Blog because you are teaching yourself to write – blogging’s time driven nature creates an excellent framework for homework.  Blog because you are compelled to share your stories – blogging is perfect for that. Blog because you can’t not write – a blog is a good place for you to see your story outside your own head, to see your work made real. The roots version of “Why blog?” is still 100% valid – because you’re having an adventure and you want to document it. Or blog for the same reasons I do, because blogging is your medium and writing is your art.

What about the whole issue of making money from travel blogging?

Don’t focus on making money today or tomorrow or next year, instead, focus on making amazing writing. Dig into the dark places the tourist office doesn’t want you to see. Tell a good story purely for the satisfaction of telling a good story. Experiment, write backwards, unravel history, ask hard questions, tell stories that leave your readers feeling dizzy or angry or exhausted as though they have made the journey with you. Turn away from all the optimizing and strategizing and monetizing and socializing because they do not have to be why you blog.

Pam will be a speaker at the TBEX Conference in Toronto this June.

via TBEX Speaker Post: Ask Me About Art – TBEX USA.

Stephen Colbert On Working For Free

I haven’t posted on this blog in forever, but this video – a clip from last night’s Colbert Report – seemed like a good way to get my feet wet again. In this clip, Stephen Colbert discusses the recent layoff of 50 staff members at CNN: “Nobody important. Just editors and photojournalists.”

The commentary is typical Colbert – humorous and simultaneously scathing – and I can’t help but relate his argument against CNN i-Reporters to ones against bloggers who write for exposure rather than wages. The situation is laid out so neatly so as to seem absurd. Sadly, it’s a very real problem.

Enjoy the video…

Blogging Conferences You Should Know About

I started blogging back in 2003 (on Blogger) and on this blog in 2004. But it was only recently that I realized a whole world of blogging conferences had sprung up, promising to help bloggers up their game, find sponsors, and more.

I’ve learned about these conferences almost exclusively on Twitter, where I see hashtags for #blogher, #bwe10, or #trvlblog10. And it always seems that I learn about the conferences only when they are happening, not prior to. So, I never have a chance to attend.

I know I can’t be the only one in the dark about the myriad blogger meet-ups. So, I thought I’d profile a few here. Check the conferences’ websites for more information on hashtags, because Twitter will most definitely be the place you’ll find the most up-to-date news on them. And, by all means, if you know of others that I have not listed, add them in a comment below!

General Blogging

Blog World Expo – This is a general bloggers conference and touts itself as the “first and only industry-wide conference, tradeshow and media event for all new media.” Blog World Expo has different tracks for different blog topics, such as travel and food. While I am serious about blogging, I have to admit I am a bit intimidated by Blog World’s scope – visit their website and check out all the big name sponsors and pictures of the masses of people! In 2010, Blog World is meeting in Las Vegas from October 14-16. Follow them on Twitter @blogworld or #bwe10.

BlogHer – BlogHer also offers a general-track blogging conference for all the people – almost exclusively women – who are affiliated with BlogHer, a vast blogging network. It seems like everyone and her mother is a member of BlogHer – except for me, as I can never figure out how to get affiliated with and/or invited to BlogHer’s network. Nevertheless, BlogHer has proven to be an effective and exciting  yearly event, judging from the Twitter love that it gets. In fact, the #blogher hashtag was one of the first ones I ever noticed for a live-tweeting event. BlogHer ’11 will be in San Diego August 5-6, 2011. There’s also a separate BlogHer Food Conference happening October 8-9, 2010, in San Francisco. (Food bloggers: read on, as I’ve listed a couple more food blogging conferences near the end of this post.) Follow @blogher on Twitter.

Travel Blogging

Travel Blog Exchange Conference – Ah, TBEX. This travel bloggers conference is dear to my heart because I actually attended the 2010 edition of TBEX in New York City. TBEX ’11 is taking place in Vancouver from June 11-12, 2011, and it’s sure to be as fun and informative as this year’s. I’m sure it will also be more packed. There also appear to be break-out chapters popping up in places like NYC and Copenhagen. For more TBEX info, follow @tbex11 or the #tbex.

Travel Bloggers Show – I just missed the Travel Bloggers Show, taking place in Orlando from September 11-14, 2010, in conjunction with the The Trade Show.  While TBEX seemed more casual, the Travel Bloggers Show appears to be a more serious, industry-minded affair, with more travel industry and PR participants than travel bloggers. At any rate, their panels look much the same as TBEX – “writing a niche blog,” “working with PR,” etc. I’m unsure when the next Travel Bloggers Show will take place, but you can follow them on Twitter for details: @trvlbloggershow.

Book Passage Travel, Food, and Photography Conference – To be fair, this is more of a conference for old (print) media than it is for bloggers. But I saw a lot of traffic on Twitter coming from it when it was going on this past August in California, so I wanted to include it. Of course, many of the people who attend the Book Passage conference are bloggers – that’s just the way the industry is heading – but this is the event to go to if you’re serious about your content and not just about monetization and the like. Who knows? The things you could learn here could help catapult you to writing for other online outlets. More about Book Passage @bookpassage.

If I’m going to mention Book Passage, I should also mention ASJA and SATW. The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Society of American Travel Writers both have writing conferences worth inquiring about. And, they are also on Twitter: @asjahq and @satw. You must be a dues-paying member of these organizations to attend their conferences. (Disclosure: I am a member of ASJA and a former member of SATW. I let my SATW membership lapse and it’s too much of a pain to try to reclaim it unfortunately.)

Food Blogging

International Food Blogger Conference – The IFBC conference for 2010 just ended a few weeks ago in Seattle, and it looks like it was a fine, sophisticated time. Presented by the website Foodista.com, there were panels on recipe writing as well as making food posts SEO-able. One nice thing that the conference website did was set up a blogroll of all the IFBC attendees – a nice incentive to attend, no? As this conference just ended, I haven’t seen when the 2011 event will happen. But check the website or follow them on Twitter @ifbc or #ifbc.

FoodBuzz – FoodBuzz is a network much like BlogHer (see above) in that it has created a huge network through the use of affiliate badges and link love. And, also like BlogHer, all the people involved in FoodBuzz want a place where they can gather in real life to share tips on food, blogging, and social media integration. FoodBuzz’s 2010 conference, the FoodBuzz Festival, is taking place in San Francisco November 5-7, 2010. And I bet it will be both fun and tasty. Follow FoodBuzz on Twitter @foodbuzz or #foodbuzz.

Five Films About Italy

George Clooney in The AmericanI recently got the coolest invitation ever.

The editorial director of focusfeatures.com, distributor of the new George Clooney film The American, asked me to come up with a list of my five favorite Italy films. The result was Five in Focus: American Expat Bloggers on Italian Movies. I was one of six bloggers that was granted this fun opportunity to both relate my favorite films set in Italy and get a link back to my site Italofile.com.

Who would have ever thought that my labor of love, my little website on Italy travel, would get mentioned in the same breath as a George Clooney film? Well, I am thrilled and hope this is just the beginning of more fantastic opportunities and lucky breaks.

Everything You Need To Know About Blogging You Can Learn From Hip Hop

Time for a true confession: As a freelance writer, I have definitely been intrigued by the possibility of making money from blogging. In this day and age, who hasn’t? I’ve made a little money from Adsense ads, affiliate ads, and a few ad sales on my other website Italofile: The Italy Travel Resource. But it hasn’t been enough to quit the proverbial day job. Actually, as a stay-at-home-mom and sometimes trailing spouse of a diplomat, I can’t really quit the day job.

So, blogging it is!

But I didn’t start blogging to make money. When I started this blog – way back in 2004! – there wasn’t even the possibility of making money from a blog. Julie, of Julie and Julia fame, was live blogging during this time and there was only an inkling that a blog could be a money-maker, either from being turned into a book, from selling tons of ads, or by catapulting the blogger into the stratosphere of writing and consulting fame, a la Ana Marie Cox, formerly and famously of Wonkette.

I started this blog as a way of staying sharp, finding my voice, and, as was the case with Italofile, keeping up-to-date on travel news. My thinking was that these mounds and mounds of posts would be good for my daily writing exercises as well as be good writing samples for anyone who wants to hire me. Those are still my thoughts on the matter.

Six years into it (and four with Italofile), I have gotten a little antsy from time to time wondering when/if the money will come. There have even been times when I thought I should sign up for one of them there A-List Blogging Bootcamps. But the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to be part of a bootcamp. I wanted to be an individual. Find *my* voice.

Alas, given the chance to download a free e-book with A-List Blogging suggestions, I took it. I began reading the tips from Leo Babauta and co. and evaluating my sites against the advice. As I read more and more, it struck me that a lot of these practices, like writing guest pots, were obvious if not always easily implemented. Then I had a real revelation: I don’t have to go to bootcamp because….

Everything I Need to Know About Blogging I Can Learn From Hip Hop!

(Forget for a moment that I am neither an A-List Blogger nor Hip Hop Royalty, and bear with me…)

1. Content is King

How many times have you heard Jay-Z or Kanye West rap about how others’ lyrics are wack (excuse the lame expression)? Or consider how the most respected voices in hip hop have the sickest rhymes. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Mos Def, who wrote the excellent, 500+word, aptly-named song Hip Hop, continues to be a viable and bankable star after all these years rather than DMX, that three-hit wonder who liked to growl crude and not very good lyrics. Compare “scrutinize my literature, from the large to the miniature” by Mos Def to “all I know is pain,
all I feel is rain” from DMX’s Ruff Ryders’ Anthem and you’ll know what I mean when I say content is the thing. In A-List Blogger speak: “there is no better marketing than writing great articles,” according to Jay White of DumbLittleMan.com.

2. Anyone Can Do It

On the A-List Blogging BootCamps website, Leo Babauta says, “Blogs have taken the power from traditional publishers, and given it to ordinary people, like you and me.” (emphasis mine) In Hip Hop terms, that reminds me of hundreds of hungry, determined young kids sending off demo tapes with their best stuff (or, maybe, posting songs to MySpace or similar). Blogging, like rapping, is a skill, yes. But, again, anyone can do it as long as they practice and get their stuff into the hands (or in front of the eyes or on the ears) of the right people (see #3). So if Ms. Mary J. Blige can rise from the projects of New York to become the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, then surely I can rise out of this basement office near Washington, DC, to become a top blogger. Right? Right.

3. Guest Stars

Who doesn’t love a star turn by Jay-Z on a Beyoncé or Rihanna number? Or a Lil Wayne rhyme on…just about everything? If Lil Wayne was a blogger, he’d probably have blogged for ZenHabits.net and ProBlogger.net by now. This guy – all right, call him “Weezy” but I think that nickname is annoying – has made a living of guest starring on other stars’ songs. According to Wikipedia (the blogger’s favorite news source):

Despite no album release for two years, Lil Wayne appeared in numerous singles as a featured performer, including “Gimme That” by Chris Brown, “Make It Rain” by Fat Joe, “You” by Lloyd, and “We Takin’ Over” by DJ Khaled (also featuring Akon, T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, and Birdman), “Duffle Bag Boy” by Playaz Circle, “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” by Wyclef Jean (also featuring Akon), and the remix to “I’m So Hood” by DJ Khaled (also featuring T-Pain, Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Big Boi, Fat Joe, Birdman, and Rick Ross). All these singles charted within the top 20 spots on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Rap Tracks, and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. On Birdman’s 2007 album 5 * Stunna, Lil Wayne appeared on the singles “100 Million” and “I Run This” among several other tracks. Wayne also appeared on tracks from albums Getback by Little Brother, American Gangster by Jay-Z, and Graduation by Kanye West and Insomniac by Enrique Iglesias. “Make it Rain”, a Scott Storch production that peaked at number 13 on the Hot 100 and number two on the Hot Rap Tracks chart, was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for 2008.

So, it’s almost like Weezy didn’t even update his own blog for two years but was still getting some serious cred thanks to guest posting, er, rapping. But, when he did finally release an album in 2008, it sold more than 1 million copies in 1 week. Sure, it’s hard to compare the blogosphere with the music industry – and who’d want to in this crazy economic climate? – but this anecdote does tell you something: guest posting (starring) pays off. You’ll reach a much wider audience in the long run.

4. Self Promote, Self Promote

For bloggers, self-promotion has become much easier thanks to Facebook and Twitter. Of course, there’s the tried and true way of guest posting, too. But I also think this is hard advice to follow for some of us writers. We write because it’s easier for us to say things on paper or on screen than it is face-t0-face. Overcoming this timidity by promoting our stuff is a challenge.

This is where we need to summon the shameless self-promotion powers of Jay-Z.

From the beginning, Mr. Z (I know, Mr. Carter) has never doubted his rapping abilities. In one of his most recent – and most infectious – hits Empire State of Mind, Jay raps, “I’m the new Sinatra, And since I made it here, I can make it anywhere, (Yeah they love me everywhere).” In Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love, Jay-Z even self-promotes on his guest rap, alluding to his nickname HOVA (the s0-called God (Jehovah – Jay-HOVA) of rap), which is also mentioned in countless other hits from him.

You know, Jay-Z pulls a #3 and a #4 for Crazy in Love and got a wife out of it, too. His way must be the right way. So, don’t fear a little self-promotion. Because if you don’t do it for yourself, who will?

5. Promote Your Other Ventures

This point is related to #4, but I thought it was worth giving it its own header. Did you just finish a book? Do you have another blog that you want to publicize? Are you getting some cool writing gigs? This is a no-brainer, but make sure you promote these seemingly separate ventures on your own, primary blog. I admit, I don’t do this as much as I should (time escapes me). But this is a sure-fire way for people to know about your other projects and for your other projects to get looked at. If you’re not convinced, don’t ask me. Ask Jay-Z again. How many times have you heard him drop Roc-A-Fella, his record label, into his lyrics? Like 1,000 times at least…

A reminder: you can also find me at Italofile.com and usatourismboard.com. Respective Twitter accounts are @Italofileblog and @usatourismboard. And, don’t forget Facebook – Italofile on Facebook, USATB on Facebook. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve been experimenting with a new photo blog called Che Bella!, too? 🙂

6. Shout Outs

My last reason for paying attention to hip hop for blogging advice is all about spreading the love. Hip Hop stars do it all the time – at awards shows, in song lyrics. “First off, I have to give a shout out to my boys…”

Everyone loves to be admired and recognized by their peers. In blogging, a shout-out is simply link love – linking to a site or sites that you admire so that that blogger can get credit where it’s due. Organic links – ones that come from “real” blogs – are what make the blog SEO world go ’round. So shout-outs are as good to give as they are to get.

Of course, if you’re linking to a site and dissing it at the same time, you may want to try adding a “nofollow” attribute.

There are probably tons of other ways I can compare the A-List Blogging and Hip Hop Handbooks. Can you think of any? I don’t even want to get into rap rivalries. Though I’m thinking that the blog world equivalent may be flame comments. Ha! That could be a fun future post.

At any rate, I’m just going to keep plugging away like Julie and Ana Marie and Leo and maybe – just maybe – something good or GREAT will come along. After all:

80% of success is just showing up – Woody Allen