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Pet Blogger Challenge Q&A

Pals Edie Jarolim from Will My Dog Hate Me and Amy Burkert from GoPetFriendly.com teamed up on this Pet Blogger Challenge, where they urge folks like me to ponder some of the bigger questions about why we blog.

Pet Blogger Challenge

Both of them wrote recently about feeling “bullied” by their blogs. So, in an attempt to rally the troops and perhaps do some very public group therapy strategic thinking, they asked these questions.

In the name of all things holy, here are my answers. It’s part brag, rant, and whine … all jumbled up because as far as I can tell, that’s real life.

1. When did you begin your blog?

April 13, 2007 (It was a Friday. How is that for tempting fate?)

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

I wanted to build both content and an audience for a book about Lilly. I figured that blogging would also give me a chance to play with topics and narrative forms that I don’t typically use in my work as a journalist / reporter / professional writer … even though I do write so much about pet / dog / veterinary / pet industry topics.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Yes. I’m researching and writing the book proposal now and hopes that my agent gives the idea the green light and takes the idea to market.

If so, how do you feel you’ve met your goals?

Clearly, I have stockpiled an avalanche of content from which I can draw for a memoir about my life with Lilly after all these years. We posted our 1,000th blog post recently. And, I have a running list of the various adventures that would make good book chapters. Am I the only one who sees the strength of a fleshed out story about Lilly and the Technicolor Vomit?

As far as building an audience and beefing up my platform, which includes pet writing (dog writing in particular) dating back to 1995 in MANY national magazines and outlets (both pet trade and consumer ones), well … I guess we’ll have to see if the powers that be think we have enough of a following (here, on Facebook, and on Twitter) to garner a publishing deal.

Do I wish our traffic was bigger? Of course, but I see far too many bloggers doing all kinds of things purely to build traffic, and the cynic in me sees right through it.

A talented blogger friend recently asked if we’re all “racing to the bottom.” By that, he meant that often those with the biggest traffic numbers have the worst content:

  • Not helpful
  • Barely cursory
  • No heart
  • SEO-obsessed

Personally, I have and ALWAYS will write for the READER FIRST. Blogging, like any other written medium, is foremost about the people who are drawn to our STORY, to our message, to our community.

I would rather have a small network of loyal readers who really know us than masses of people looking for lowest-common-denominator content.

I think the real key is knowing your niche. There are all kinds of dog bloggers, and I know where I fit in that world. And, I like to think I know where my readers fit too. That’s why I turn down SO MANY topic / link / ad / product pitches. They simply are not a fit for who we are.

(In fact, I’ve been asked to speak at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference on April 30, 2011, in NYC, on this topic … how to find, define, and maximize your blogging niche.)

4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

Very early on, I blogged three times a week, but I quickly went to 5 days a week (M-F). I’ve tried blogging every day as part of various blogger challenges, but since I write for a living and consider the blog real work, the thought of writing for every weekend on top of all my other deadlines slides too close to not having a life.

If the former, how often — and what techniques do you use to stick to it?

The trick for me is treating it like my job because it is. I really do write for a living. It’s my ONLY source of income. In other words, I don’t have another job that somehow benefits from my blog work.

I find that I’m MUCH more efficient if I write the entire week (5 posts) in one sitting (usually on Monday afternoon). If I drafted one post each day, I would fiddle around and poke at the words too much, and I would spend too much time.

I truly do understand that others feel bullied or stressed by a consistent blog posting schedule, but as someone who has worked in various forms of “media” since 1990, I perhaps take a different view.

People talk about social media like it’s something oh-so new, but to me, it requires the same skills, the same effort, the same discipline as any other media form that I’ve written.

Consistency matters. As do schedules and deadlines.

Why?

How you would feel if your favorite TV news show only went on the air when the reporters felt like it?

Or, what about the magazines you love? Don’t you think those writers and editors could use a break once in a while?

It may not seem like it all the time, but I think our readers count on us. Personally, I feel like I owe them a consistent presence.

And, in my world, people who don’t make deadlines get fired.

5. Are you generating income from your blog?

Nope.

Because I work as a professional journalist, many of the things other bloggers do to make money are things I cannot do for ethical reasons.

I would like to have ads, but the problem with most blog ad programs is that the writer has NO control over what shows up (example, Google ads). And, because I *am* my own “brand,” if you use that lingo, and because I do have such strong beliefs/opinions on certain dog topics, I simply cannot risk having a shock collar ad or some horrible dominance trainer’s ad showing up on my page.

If not currently, do you hope to in the future — and how?

I’m considering approaching advertisers on my own, but only ones whose products I truly like (on my own accord).

I do have some banner/badge ads up right now, but I’m doing those mostly as an experiment.

6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

Hmmm … I like that I’ve “met” (online, in person, or both) so many terrific people. I like that I can work through tough dog behavior issues with the help of other like-minded handlers. As a writer, I like that it gives me a space to “tell stories” and play with words.

I’m also happy that our hard, hard work in dog training and behavior modification can help others, including things like posting the audio files of the Relaxation Protocol (which is the #1 reason newcomers visit the blog).

We’re pretty pleased with our first Be the Change effort, called Never Shock a Puppy. Our coalition:

  • Raised awareness of pain-free dog training
  • Gave away terrific prizes
  • Raised more than $2,500 for Humane Society of Boulder Valley, where we adopted Lilly in October 2004

And, since this whole Q&A process might bring new readers, I’ll brag and share that we won the 2010 DogTime Media Best Dog Blog Award. The link includes a video of my thank-you speech (about 7 minutes in), but basically … let me say that I mostly consider it a “vote of confidence” for what we have planned in the future (… the book deal).

7. What do you like least?

How much time I burn dealing with the technical side of blogging. I’ve figured out all kinds of things, especially with the redesign last year and move to WordPress, but I can spend an entire afternoon trying to solve one techno glitch, and it makes me very, very crabby.

And, if I’m being honest, I don’t like the nagging feeling that everyone else is better at this than I am … but that could just be normal writerly insecurity.

When you work in such a competitive, rejection-soaked world, it’s hard not to feel inferior once in a while.

If this seems strange to you, I highly recommend this blog post from The Writer’s [Inner] Journey … What we talk about [to ourselves] when we talk about writing. The insecurities noted come from some of the most successful writers I know.

It doesn’t help when fellow writers take what they think are humorous jabs at the pet blog market. Just last week, I got an email from the Colorado Authors’ League (of which I was once the prez) that touted upcoming luncheon speakers by saying, “This isn’t somebody blogging about her cats, not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

8. How do you see your blog changing or growing in 2011?

Because I have the book on my mind all the time, I’ll probably try to pay more attention to the narrative tone and structure of my posts … rather than simply (and quickly) saying what happened straight up.

Check out how others have answered these same questions. It’s quite interesting.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Chandra - January 13, 2011

Roxanne, your Q&A spoke to me on so many levels. Thank you! I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and a pet blogger for going on five months and I’ve enjoyed every second of this new writing life but it’s been HARD like writing always is and I very much appreciate how much responsibility you take in your efforts. The link to the Writer’s [Inner] Journey was hilarious! Thanks for introducing me to that site. Best of luck with the book. I look forward to reading about how its progressing!

-Chandra at Daley’s Dog Years

    Roxanne Hawn - January 13, 2011

    I’m glad my mini-rants helped you, Chandra. The interesting part about what we do in our work is that in the past writing 5 articles in one afternoon would have seemed herculean, and these days … if I only get the blog written for the week, I think, “Crap! I didn’t get anything done.” Our world is changing for sure.

Deborah Flick - January 12, 2011

How refreshing not to be obsessed with SEO rather than great content! That seems like the right priority to me. Your post helps to set me free 😉

    Roxanne Hawn - January 13, 2011

    Deborah, I do fiddle with SEO a little bit, but only AFTER I’ve written the post with the readers (not search engines) in mind. Someday, maybe I can do both at once, but for me … for now … it’s a 2-step process.

Lavi - January 12, 2011

I’m glad to see a professional writer take so much interest in blogging about pets. Thanks for sharing your opinions; I do agree quality content is the best way to develop a readership.
I’m also an amateur aspiring writer myself, but I feel I have a lot to learn, so I’ll keep visiting.
Take care!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 12, 2011

    Well, Lavi … there is a LONG tradition of writers + border collies or writers + dogs, in general, so it isn’t as unusual as you might thing. It makes sense when you think about it. Writers spend A LOT of time alone, working, so having a dog around makes all the solitude and struggle less painful.

Vicky - January 11, 2011

Hello! this is the first time I’ve stopped by. I appreciate your responses to the questions posed, especially pertaining to advertising and purpose. Nice to meet you.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 12, 2011

    Thanks, Vicky. I appreciate the feedback. Best of luck with your blog as well.

Debbie Jacobs - January 11, 2011

1000! Way to go Roxanne.

As far as titles go, your blog title is great IMHO.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 11, 2011

    Thanks, Debbie. 1000 posts seems unimaginable, but here we are. My old software used to tell me how many words I’d posted. That was funny. I can only hope that I get to keep the blog title as the book title, but it’s pretty rare the the author’s pick ends up being the book title.

Ruby's Raiser - January 11, 2011

Hey Roxanne, so great to read this post and get to know you a little better! Hope all is well up your way and wishing you a really successful, happy and healthy new year!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 11, 2011

    Thanks so much for visiting, @ Ruby’s Raiser. We’ll need to do that brunch when things warm up, and I’m not so swamped with work.

Shauna (Fido & Wino) - January 11, 2011

Thank you for sharing those links!

I find blogging to be such a “process”- the things I do religiously change all the time… I love the learning.

I enjoyed reading your answers!

Kim Clune - January 11, 2011

Terrific insight, Roxanne. Thanks for sharing what it takes to keep Champion of My Heart working like a well oiled machine. Best of luck with the book deal and I’m so glad that paintball fiasco can finally be reduced to a tell-all tale, educating others rather than striking panic into the very fiber of your (and our) being. I look forward to following the outcome!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 11, 2011

    Thanks, Kim. Alas, the paintballs are just the latest craziness. Lilly has fought with a coyote. We’ve run into a mtn lion on our hikes THREE times. She’s had 4 known encounters with rattlesnakes, 2 resulting in bites, 1 near-miss. And, of course, you’ll recall our funny/sad agility adventures from my blogpaws speech. Lots and lots of stories to tell.

Karen friesecke - January 11, 2011

Your take on *big* blogs is pretty amusing and I feel the same. A lot of the high traffic sites are just a lot of nonsense articles that give the readers no useful information.

AS for Google Adwords, you CAN control what kind of ads or websites appear on your blog.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 11, 2011

    I did not know that about Google Adwords, Karen. I’d love to know how. If you ever blog about it, let me know … although, I also think they are kind of ugly on the page.

MelF - January 10, 2011

Wow! I learned so much from this one post Roxanne. Like the fact that your blog has been around since 2007. Based on what I have read so far, you are a pioneer. No doubts necessary.

I look forward to Lilly’s book (I had no idea, but super cool!) and personally I thought Lilly and the Technicolor Vomit was a great post. I felt like I was in a mystery novel waiting find out what had happened. So glad she is ok now.

Your comments on schedules and consistency has me thinking. I think perhaps my pet sitting and dog walking schedule is so erratic at times it may not always be possible for me, but still has me thinking. Actually, you gave me a lot to think about!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, experiences (esp technical issues) and insight!

Pamela - January 10, 2011

One of the things that made this challenge so interesting was the mix of people involved. I found it really interesting to hear from professional writers along with all us amateur bloggers. And it’s a good reminder that experience and skill does not protect anyone from the nagging, negative voices. That’s why writing is such a courageous act.

Years ago, I took a class at Barnes and Noble by the author of this book: http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Like-Your-Editor-Nonfiction–/dp/0393324613/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294713703&sr=8-1. I suspect it’s very outdated but I remember a lot of interesting information about researching the competition you might want to browse.

Good luck on landing the book contract.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Thanks, Pamela, for the book idea. So much has changed since I did my last book proposal. Lots to learn/relearn, lots to read. Who me? Sleep?

Sam - January 10, 2011

Thanks so much for posting this. I just completed the Q&A for my blog.

And I TOTALLY know what you mean about the “race to the bottom.” It is seriously NOT cool when I post a whole long post about something important and someone decides to skip reading it and hurriedly write “cute picture.” I’m not a fan of the lowest-common-denominator blogs. I want people to learn about me, just like I want to learn about them!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    I love your answers, Sam. Thanks for the mention, and thanks for taking part.

    My best “advice” for you and others who maybe don’t post on a strict schedule is to consider adding a subscribe by email or RSS options. Personally, I like getting posts by email better, but I know a LOT of people us RSS feeds to keep on many blogs.

    I try to comment, if I visit blogs, but sometimes I just don’t have time and/or I just don’t have anything useful to add.

Jane Boursaw - January 10, 2011

Roxanne – Thanks for letting me slide in here and do a little plug for my blogging class. You have a great blog, and I’m so so SO with you in that blogging should be about the readers and the message, not about how many clicks a blog gets in order to generate more advertising dollars from Google or some other mega-corporation. There’s a place for monetization and SEO, but it can be done on your own terms in a variety of ways.

I’ve blogged for big corporate sites where it’s been all about the almighty dollar, and it’s a frustrating situation for bloggers who see their work lose all personality in the process of satisfying advertisers and corporate heads. I still write occasionally for print and online pubs, but it’s mainly all about building my brand and marketing my syndicated family movie/TV reviews and online classes.

So here’s the plug: If anyone is interested in learning more about blogging, creating a professional blog, or bolstering an existing blog in a way that feels right for you, feel free to email me at jboursaw@charter.net. You can also read more specifics about the class here:

http://www.blogging-for-passion-and-profit.com

I have a six-week class starting today, Jan. 10, and it covers everything from setting up a blog to building readership to using social media to monetizing and everything in between — on your OWN terms, not someone else’s.

Let me know if anyone has questions or needs more info!

Jane Boursaw
http://www.reellifewithjane.com

P.S. Edie – Sending healing karma to you and Frankie!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Thanks so much, Jane, for weighing in. For those who do NOT know, when I got offered the #2 dog blog in the country a few years ago, JANE was one of the people I called for advice.

    I made a counter offer and then got turned down (because I wanted more than $5 per post), but I wouldn’t have had the industry knowledge to stand up for myself, without Jane’s mentoring.

    It’s one thing to blog for free for myself. It’s another thing to work like a DOG for someone else and not get paid a working / professional wage.

Carol @ Carol's Critter Corner - January 10, 2011

I do like the technical side of blogging, I am an on hands kind of gal. I like what I blog about but sometimes it takes way too long to find what I’m going to blog about. I don’t like sitting in front of the computer all day long. And right now I’m trying to get readership since I’m new and that takes forever too.

I like your blog, keep up the great work.

Ruff Toy Reviews - January 10, 2011

Hi, I found you through the pet blogger challenge and am looking forward to reading through your posts, especially on positive training techniques. But before I do, just wanted to say hi.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Thanks for visiting, Ruff Toy Reviews. Indeed, we’re a bit rabid on the R+ training model. Learning shouldn’t hurt, that’s for darn sure.

Amy@GoPetFriendly - January 10, 2011

Thanks so much for participating in the challenge, Rox. You bring a different perspective that I really appreciate. I’m looking forward to seeing where you take the blog in 2011 – and we’ll be cheering you on in your quest for the book deal.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Thanks, Amy. I wonder if I could get loyal friends/readers to help me with the competitive titles research. Otherwise, I need to start reading a book a day to catch up on all the recent dog memoirs so that I can explain how mine will be different.

Peggy @Peggy's Peg Place - January 10, 2011

Good luck getting that book deal. If you have any questions feel free to ask. I know that my agent considered my blog very important in selling my book (which will be released in August!) Your blog is always interesting, and your award is well-deserved.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Big congrats to you, Peggy. I just emailed you my most pressing blog-to-book question.

Maggie - January 10, 2011

Oh! Please, please include a chapter in your book about the technicolor vomit! You’ve inspired me with your discussion on scheduling and consistency. That is one area where I struggle, but as I set my goals moving forward, I’m going to keep your wisdom in mind!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Ha! Thanks, Maggie, for the enthusiasm.

Trixie, Lily and Sammy-Joe - January 10, 2011

We took the Pet Blog Challenge too! We were looking at your Never Shock A Puppy campaign. When Lily was little Mama lived with her friends (Lily started out as their puppy but Mama eventually took her with when she left them) and they put a shock collar on Lily because she barked too much. It made Lily yelp and it made our Mama cry. One reason her friends thought it was fine to get one was because they sold it at Petsmart, so they thought Petsmart wouldn’t sell anything that was BAD for dogs! We are glad you are trying to stop them from selling those. When Mama left her friends she wanted to burn that collar, but she thought it might make an explosion!!!

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    That’s exactly why we support the petition to Petsmart, asking them to stop selling shock collars. Thanks for visiting, Trixie, Lily, and Sammy-Joe.

KenzoHW - January 10, 2011

Following a schedule is one of my weaknesses and I like to tell myself it doesn’t matter as long as the content is good. But you are right. Consistency, schedules and deadlines DO matter. Thanks for the tips, I feel equiped to tackle it now. Now it is up to me.

Loved it when you wrote to put your audience in the center, and not SEO, social media or other blabla. I also think it is a huge turn-off when it is about those things and not the people you write for.

Your whole post impressed me. You are so professional about your blog. Thanks for showing what it takes. I have a lot to learn. And this blog is a good start.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Well, keep in mind, Kenzo, that I might bring old-school / journalism ideas to blogging. What works for me might not work for everyone.

Edie Jarolim - January 10, 2011

Oh, I guess code doesn’t come through. I’ll email you.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Got it, Edie. Thanks. And, I’m so sorry about everything this weekend. I hope Frankie starts feeling like himself again. I’m so sorry about the shooting and what I’m sure it feels like it means to your community, and I’m sorry you bonked your noggin. Feel better!

Edie Jarolim - January 10, 2011

Since you asked on my blog, here’s the code:

Apologies for not having this together better. It’s partly my tech issues but as I mentioned in an update to my post, Frankie’s not well again, I’m heartsick about what’s happened in Tucson, and I walked into a glass door on Saturday night and smashed my nose. Ay, yi, yi.

Pup Fan - January 10, 2011

Wow… this was a really interesting post! I really enjoyed reading it, and I think you bring a new perspective to the discussion in light of your background and experience. I especially thought your point about consistency was well-taken. Thanks for giving me plenty to think about.

Kristine - January 10, 2011

I agree, the technical side of things is definitely an issue for me as well. Which is why I avoid it and continue to let it be a mess.

I really liked reading your answers to this challenge. But I like reading everything you write. Your blog definitely is not lacking in heart or interesting content.

Good luck with the book! Can’t wait till it comes out.

    Roxanne Hawn - January 10, 2011

    Thanks, Kristine. It’s a real challenge to fit everything in, when I’m so focused on doing the work (for clients) that pays the bills around here.

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