A Study in Contrasts

I’ve always been a bit of a study in contrasts. 

I love rules. I often break them. 

I love organization. I tend to be messy.

I crave science and data. I yearn for creative expression.

It’s just how things are. I’m pretty used to it.

Last week my post on the snow in Boston went a teeny bit viral. Viral in the sense that it spread almost exclusively on social media, mostly Facebook, and that almost everyone who read it or shared it is from Boston. (How many people that I met on OkCupid found that post and recognized me and told me so? 3. I’m assuming many more just didn’t send a message.)

The blogger rule book says I should capitalize on this, being every so briefly dubbed the Voice of Boston. But I won’t. Thanks.

Because I never want to be blog famous and that post reminded me why. I don’t want to have to moderate comments when people are fighting. I don’t like internet fighting. I spend a lot of time on the internet, but I also carefully control what I see and unfollow liberally. I can’t imagine what that would be like if they were fighting about me.

It’s funny, but I kinda hate conflict. Yes, I know, I used to be a lawyer and made my living fighting in a courtroom and I hate conflict. Like I said, contrasts.

There’s more reasons I won’t keep writing about the snow. Not because it’s any better. (We got another foot or so over the weekend.) But because I am trying really hard to hold on to any bit of grace and kindness I have left. I’m at the end of most of my ropes and it’d be great if I could hold on a little longer.

That post I wrote about banding together after divorce and treating each other with grace? I really meant it. But I’m not particularly good at it. It’s more about what I want to be and not what I actually am. 

I need to work on that. And writing about all the stuff that’s making me angry isn’t going to help.

Just a few days after I wrote that post I read a post by two divorced women and instead of feeling connected and full of grace, I felt resentful. I thought then that they really didn’t get it because they both fell into new relationships and got into them quickly and how could they understand the loneliness that I’m dealing with when they pretty much skipped that part?

It was a stupid thing to think. Luckily my own post talked me out of it. 

It’s not that I feel the need for this blog to be constantly positive. That is so not my jam. My jam is being the other side of that a lot of the time and not being afraid to talk about things that people won’t talk about. 

But this is a little different. It’s something I’m working on. Actively. And I have to nudge myself a bit. Just a bit closer towards grace.

I can’t promise there won’t be venting on social media (there will be) but I feel like I’ve said my peace and it’s time to tell a new story.

701 Words.

This post is 701 words long. It originally clocked in at 1258 words and made its points very well. I’ve trimmed it down for reasons that will become clear and many of my points are now rather crude.

Normally word counts are something I deal with only in my freelance work.  I am usually given a firm 700 word limit and it’s often impossible to write something really good in so little space.

This blog is a place where I don’t care about word count. Here I tell my story and I tell it however it works best. 

This online writing thing is a bit of a thankless job. You write in the hopes that what you write will mean something to somebody.

But if I aspire to anything it has been to one thing: to write something good enough to be a BlogHer Voice of the Year. BlogHer is a conference that happens every summer for women in blogging. It’s a huge event that can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of people and sponsors and things and events. 

I went to BlogHer in 2012 and that experience was about just one thing for me and that was Voices of the Year. 15 people stood up and read their stories and it meant more to me than I can possibly express. It inspired me to up my game as a writer. It showed me the potential in every single post. It changed everything.

Those stories were what inspired me to write my own story and audition for Listen To Your Mother. Now helping people tell an important story in front of people they’ve never met takes up half of my year. 

I’ve been honored for the last two years to have a post selected as a Voice of the Year. I wasn’t chosen as a reader, but seeing my name on that list the first time jolted me. I set out to do it and I did it. That meant a lot to me.

So why am I writing about this right now? Nominations have opened for Voices of the Year 2015. This year I’m planning to attend and that means I could finally have that dream of being a reader. But it won’t happen. 

Here’s what they want:

We’re asking you to help us find the most memorable, heart-stopping, brilliant, hilarious, impactful works of the past twelve months … works that deserve to be heard, seen and read.

But this year they’ve decided that they will limit blog posts to 700 words. (There is an exception to the rule if you have a “viral” post. But we all know most posts aren’t “viral” enough to count.)

700 words. I’m nearing that right now in my initial draft and I’ve just started to make my point. 

The posts by last year’s readers, on average, clocked in at over 1255 words. The longest was over 2,400 words. The shortest was the only one that would be eligible now, at 700 words. Go figure.

This is VOTY deciding that the writing they have previously valued is not the writing they will value this year. If you have a post you want to submit and it’s over 700 words, you must re-write it. So basically, that thing you wrote that was so powerful, make it shorter. Which, of course, makes it an entirely different post with its power stripped out in bits and pieces.

The stories that are shared on that stage are personal and real and incredibly moving. They’re also usually people you haven’t heard of, posts you didn’t read, stories that didn’t go viral. It’s a moment to remind ourselves that stories are everywhere, they’re all around you and you don’t even know it. 

This year there are a few I wrote I’d submit. But the shortest one is 1077 words. I refuse to go back to these posts and change them. They are just as I intended them to be and I’m not going to change something I love to get a prize.

I can’t say that this year’s Voices of the Year won’t be worthwhile. But I know I won’t be in it. Most of the posts other people wrote this year that I loved won’t be in it. That feels wrong. 

The Blogger’s Guide to Affiliate Summit

affiliate links pic The Bloggers Guide to Affiliate SummitI’ve heard about a lot of bloggers attending (or thinking about attending) Affiliate Summit West 2015, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. I attended ASE2013 and spoke at ASW2014. If you’re used to blogger conferences, you’ll find this is a very different situation and I know I could’ve used the tips when I arrived my first day and realized I had no idea what I was doing.

How Affiliate Summit Is Different From Blogger Conferences

Blogger conferences have mostly bloggers as attendees with a few social media or marketing folks mixed in. But Affiliate Summit is for everyone in Affiliate Marketing. That means it’s for the brands who have affiliate programs (merchants), the managers who run the affiliate programs (affiliate managers), the platforms that connect affiliates and merchants (like Shareasale or CJ), and any other business or service that any of these industries use. 

NSC Banner 250x250 The Bloggers Guide to Affiliate SummitAffiliate Summit feels more like a trade show than a conference. There are education sessions but there are always way more people on the exhibition floor than there are in the classes. 

This is a conference where the goal is networking. Everyone there is trying to promote themselves or make connections. You won’t see the kind of socializing you’d see at a blogger conference where people are there to make friends.

What Kind of Pass Should You Get

The Networking Pass isn’t going to do much for you. It gets you in the expo hall, it’s true, but the hall is enormous and overwhelming. The first time I went I spent hours going through trying to figure out what all these businesses were. The second time I spent much less time there, I’d learned that there weren’t many programs there looking for affiliates (or publishers) like me, at least not the kind I wanted to work with. More tips on the expo floor later.

Networking Plus or higher will help a lot, give you some sessions to go to, and give you access to video of anything you miss. But the price tag is pretty high. If you’re interested in attending a future Affiliate Summit I recommend following them as they often give away passes. (That’s how I got into my first AS.)

How’s the Content?

Like any conference, the content can be hit and miss. The key is to know what’s for you. If the title or description doesn’t make sense, skip it. It’s not for you. 

You can get a lot of great industry tips here that may not relate to affiliate marketing directly. The social media advice usually comes from some strong experts that you may not find elsewhere. 

The blog sessions on affiliate monetization are the trickiest ones to figure out. Here’s the biggest thing you need to know: most publishers/affiliates/bloggers at Affiliate Summit are people who do this for a living. They don’t blog for a living, they do affiliate marketing for a living. They don’t blog the way I do (or the way you do, if you’re like me). They don’t write for a readership. They build a website to make money. The site is built for that purpose, they market it for that purpose, and they produce content for that purpose. The sessions these experts give won’t be super helpful for you if you’re thinking of how to appeal to your readers because you think of your readers differently than they do. Still, you can get some useful technical advice and get info on new tools. Read the descriptions carefully, choose accordingly, and don’t feel obligated to sit through the whole session if you realize it’s not working for you.

Like a lot of conferences, you’ll find they have their favorite speakers that come back over and over again. And remember, if you get a pass that gives you video access to talks you can always watch them later and take meetings instead.

How to Network

When I attended I had trouble finding other bloggers like me, I ran into only a few. To find your tribe, I recommend locating the Blogger Lounge early. Finding other bloggers to latch on to and work the conference with can be really helpful. If you have friends going, stick together.

Go to the First Timer Orientation Session and be ready to give a short elevator pitch of what you do and who you’re looking for. This is one of the things Affiliate Summit does best. At this session, the floor is opened to anyone and I exchanged more business cards in this session than anywhere else.

You can do a lot of advance work to help network better. The truth is, that there are people who are looking for someone exactly like you. Bloggers with established audiences are desirable, but it can be hard to find those people looking for you with so many other people around. Join the Facebook group, follow the conference hashtag (especially when you’re attending), look at the list of companies exhibiting and do some research to see if any of them are interesting to you. If anyone you currently work with is attending, see if you can set up a face-to-face meeting.

When you do have a meeting, make sure you’re ready to talk about what you write about and who your readers are. Know how that overlaps with the brand and you’ll be able to make your pitch and see what their tools are to help you do it better. If you haven’t used their product/brand yet ask them about opportunities to review. Giving away product and paying for posts isn’t that common amongst affiliate marketers, but it does happen sometimes. You shouldn’t go in requesting sponsored campaigns, that’s a different business all together and is usually handled by PR. But reviews can be easier, though still not a given. Most affiliates build sites without payment or product, but you have the advantage of connected readers who trust you. 

How to Work the Expo Floor

First, do your research. Check out the exhibitors and flag the ones you want to talk to. It can get crazy out there, you need to have a plan for your must-visit exhibitors.

Second, hit the Meet Market on the first day. It’s smaller, it’s cozier, it’s more focused and you’ll get more done. 

Third, take it row by row. The expo floor is huge, it can get very crowded, and there’s all kinds of crazy things going on. Take your time, don’t feel rushed, and don’t be afraid to come back when things die down a little.

If you say, “I’m a blogger,” some people will be confused. Because the industry is so varied some people have no experience with the actual people running websites who do affiliate marketing. Say “I’m a publisher” or “I’m an affiliate” or  “I’m a content creator” and you’ll be better off. Hopefully you know a little bit of the affiliate lingo already, but if not don’t be afraid to go back to your hotel room with the directory and do some googling to scope out who you should talk to.

Have Fun

Affiliate Summit parties are far and away the biggest I’ve been to anywhere. There are plenty of official parties, and there are plenty of other smaller parties thrown by companies attending. You won’t hurt for fun and if you want to have free drinks all day, you can probably manage it if you plan accordingly. Enjoy it. 

If you’ve got questions as a newbie or advice to give as a veteran attendee, I’d love to hear it! 

I’m Part of the Serial Backlash

For the last few months, it seems like almost every day there is someone new proclaiming their love for Serial on social media. “I’m hooked!” they say. “I can’t wait for next week!” or “I’m binge-listening to every episode!” When the podcast took a week off over Thanksgiving I heard more complaining about that than I did about obnoxious relatives or overcooked turkey. 

Everyone wants to know if you think Adnan is guilty. Everyone wants to know what the ending will be. Everyone wants more. 

At first I was scared to come out against Serial when everyone around me seems to love it so much. I wrote a first draft of this post that looks nothing like this one where I beat around the bush a lot and tried not to make waves. It wasn’t good. I can’t avoid the truth of my opinion. So I’m just going to lay it out. 

The closest thing I can recall to the way people are talking about Serial is the way people talked about Gone Girl that summer it came out and the months that followed as it slowly crept through everyone’s reading list. Every few days someone would post something like “Just finished Gone Girl OMG!” and then let us know whether they’d fallen on the side of love-it or hate-it. 

I can see why they elicit similar reactions. They’re both about crime and violence. They both have a mystery at their center. They both lay out the facts slowly and save important information to get revealed late in the game.

Of course there’s one important difference. One of them is fiction. One of them was written to be consumed and enjoyed and gossiped about. 

The other is a real story. And even the best possible outcome still can’t make it anything but a tragic one. At best, it’s the story of a girl who was murdered and the killer who was put away. At worst, it’s the story of a girl who was murdered and an innocent man serving time in prison. Either way, there are two grieving families destroyed, communities dealing with trauma, teenagers coping with the death of a friend followed by the arrest and conviction of another. It’s full of violence and loss and sadness. 

So honestly? I don’t get the excitement. I don’t get the way people gush about it with big smiles on their faces. 

Yeah, I know, I’m a downer. This post is a downer. I’m not really sorry. I wanted to like it. I still listen to it. But I can’t say I enjoy it. It doesn’t put me in a good mood or make me feel excited. 

It’s not that I don’t like its style of storytelling. I value investigative reporting, I value storytelling, I value exactly what Serial stands for. I direct a show that has at its heart the sharing of personal stories. I value it a lot.

It’s not that I don’t like dark subject matter. It’s my thing. When I choose stories, these are the stories I choose. I’m currently obsessed with Black Mirror, a show that’s currently streaming on Netflix that is one of the darkest things I can recall seeing. 

I can’t put my finger exactly on what’s wrong, but I have a general sense.

I don’t like that they use the same devices that fiction writers use to up the suspense in a story about real people. I don’t like that the reporter behind the podcast involves herself so heavily in the story, I feel like I know more about her than I do any of the people in it. I don’t like that there are interviews with people whose lives were affected by this that surely lasted for hours but that we get a sentence or two in a soundbite. I don’t like that some of the most important people in this story don’t say a word. I don’t like how people talk about it as if it’s an unbiased telling when it’s a more distilled and more incomplete version than the trials that occurred. I feel incredibly uncomfortable with the way the podcast has talked about Jay, about Hae’s family, about Adnan’s family, about the defense attorney as if this is a story that belongs to all of us and that their character is for us to judge when we have so little to go on, really. 

A lot of how I feel is based on my experience as a criminal attorney and the feelings that I can’t shake from that time. I get that. I believe in the right to cross-examine a witness and that there’s two sides to every story. I hate hearing hour after hour beating up on about Jay and then a single sentence that the jury believed him as if this presents an even picture. 

I know that when the person who’s accused gets a chance to tell their story, you almost always feel more sympathetic towards them, whether they say they didn’t or not, whether they’re lying or not. That’s one of the reasons I like being on the side of the defense. 

I know that our trial system is brutally unfair to people who are actually innocent. This is something I had to deal with and something I’ve attempted to cope with, even though I don’t accept it. 

And I know that once the trial ends, the odds that things will go another direction are slim to none.

I spent years fighting for people, crying for what they lost, worrying about whether I would fail them. This story, like many true stories of violence, brings much of that flooding back. And so it’s hard for me to watch people giddy with excitement about someone’s story that is actually really happening. I can’t imagine what it must be like for Jay right now, for the community where this all happened, for the people whose lives touch this story. It makes me feel a little dirty, knowing that we’re all gleefully sniffing around an old wound. 

The armchair detective is all well and good in a story. But in real life? It can be terribly destructive. There are reddit threads investigating this crime the same way they investigated the Boston bombing, and I think we all remember how badly that went. 

Serial is not the only offender, of course. I feel kind of gross whenever I read In Cold Blood, which hasn’t stopped me from reading it a few times, and watching 2 movies about Truman Capote writing it, and reading countless articles about all the things Capote deliberately got wrong and the liberties he took for the sake of telling a good story. 

Nonfiction by its very nature takes other people’s lives and actions and puts them on display. Maybe part of my discomfort is that I feel most comfortable telling my own story. I talk about my children because they make up so much of my life right now. But I have shared virtually no details about my marriage or my divorce because it’s not a story I own outright. I don’t know how to reconcile the drive I feel to help us all feel less alone in the world by sharing personal stories with the havoc that can be wreaked by being truly honest. 

I’m not saying I’m right to feel this way and other people are wrong to feel another way. It’s just how I feel. It’s the gut reaction I have. And when I tried to write about it nicely, it just didn’t work. Like I said, being honest is a big deal to me. And I’m writing this even though I suspect it will make people annoyed or upset. 

It’s complicated. Telling the story is complicated, hearing the story is complicated. I just wish the way we talked about Serial reflected that more.