Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Act 2: When A Blog Becomes More

Welcome back to our blogging miniseries (and by "miniseries", I mean "two miserable chapters separated by the entire summer of 2013")! I wrote the earlier post on blogging-without-hating-it (aka Act 1) with the intention of saying everything in just that one installment. And then I realized that there was so much more to say about what happens after the initial stages of getting one's blog off the ground. 

I mean, suppose we imagined this whole Blog Adventure in scenes like this:

And Act 1 would end about there, with you enjoying your blog and rubbing shoulders with some other like-minded bloggy people and feeling like you've grown some roots in the neighborhood. Many of us spend years happily hanging out right there. 

For others, their blogs take a different turn and skid right into Act 2: When A Blog Becomes A Monster With A Mind Of Its Own!!! More. Oops - spoiler leak. Uh, let's get on with the story.

So, now that your blog is nicely afloat, you start gaining readers and followers. As you get more well-known in the community, you get invited to blog parties and your projects and posts get pinned and mentioned on other blogs. All those shoutouts lead to more publicity and even more shoutouts and airtime and all kinds of other good PR whatsits. People might even start emailing you for stuff. You feel wonderful and buoyant and gratified and thrilled by all the attention and positive feedback and encouragement. You try to answer every email query. You accept every offer to review a commercial product. You open an etsy shop and start selling handmade items and pdf patterns and ebooks because you've heard that those are good ways to earn money while staying home with the children. You write sponsored posts and let people make things from your tutorials and patterns to sell independently. You order your first batch of labels and business cards. You buy a domain name for your blog and register your spanking new blog-fronted online business and start paying taxes. You take on custom orders and sign license agreements with publishers and craft magazines to put your name and craft in print. You run blog events and coordinate contests and network like there's no tomorrow. You reorganize your blogging space to make room for advertisers and sponsors. You sign up for five different statistics counters and obsessively monitor your visitor profile to pinpoint the best time of the best day of the week to publish your posts in order to maximize page views. You buy a smartphone plan so you can blog on-the-go at the playground or while waiting in the car pickup line at your kid's school. You link your blog to Twitter and Instagram and every other social media site on the internet. You are on a virtual adrenaline high and it's addictive and glorious. You fall asleep at night thinking you're the luckiest person on earth to be doing what you love and getting paid (in money, credit and/or popularity) for it. 

And then you crash. Someone lifts entire posts from your blog and publishes them on their websites. Someone sews a stuffed elephant that looks exactly like the one in your tutorial two weeks ago and claims it was theirs. Someone writes to ask if they can make bags from your pdf patterns to sell to raise funds for textbooks for their homeschool co-op. Someone enters your cookie recipe in a competition under their name. Someone translates your post on paisley-inspired granny squares into a foreign language on their blog without asking you first. Someone emails you to review their sewing pattern in exchange for a "free copy to keep". Someone offers a handsome remuneration to design a tutorial for their website but it's a content mill and you don't know if it's legit. Someone wants you to write an endorsement of their product in exchange for a check in the mail. Someone requests permission to use your text and photos for material for a class they're teaching (or studying). Someone writes to tell you they saw your free pattern being sold in someone else's online store.

They all require your immediate response and action, so you respond and act. But the learning curve is so steep and you aren't a lawyer and you can't discern between shades of grey and you wish you had someone professional to consult for free and you feel powerless and violated and inferior and stressed. And you want to say no to this person and no to that person because you feel it's the wise thing to do but you can't explain why. And you can't bring yourself to write a half-decent (or honest) review of that free sample that your children hated. And you don't know how to write an email without sounding emotional and you really, really don't have the time to answer all those questions, anyway. And you're so tired of lining up posts every day to keep your sponsors happy.

Suddenly, Act 2 doesn't look as sparkly-shiny as it used to. You still like blogging and most days online are lovely but those occasional spanners-in-the-works leave such a sour taste in your mouth that it almost eclipses the good altogether. You might even wish you had your old blog back - the one with just 6 followers and the calm safety of anonymity. You feel like you've crashed and burned(out). 

Friends, may I offer you one word of advice? 

It is this: BOUNDARIES.

TheFreeDictionary defines a "boundary" as "something that indicates a border or limit".

Remember that the internet is limitless and has no boundaries. This means that once you upload or publish anything, anyone can see it. Forever. You no longer have control over what happens to that information, that blog post, that tutorial, that template, that photo. The various powers-that-be have kindly created laws and policies to try to regain some of that control and assign protective rights to some parties and punishments to other parties who violate those rights. Unfortunately, not everyone is subject to those laws and rules and even those who are can be ignorant of them for any number of reasons. The truly anonymous bloggers among us might escape most of these unhappy scenarios for an extended time but sooner or later, particularly if you post stuff that people want to use for their own purposes, like tutorials, you will realize how little control you really have. This is why you need to set boundaries, or limits.

Boundary #1: Exclusion

Do not ever post something that is supremely important to you.
I've mentioned before that I have an old and dear friend with a legal and editorial/publishing background whom I consult regularly on blog issues in those areas. This friend gave me that bit of advice and it is my first and most important guideline whenever I'm considering sharing a project, tutorial or pattern on the blog. Once it's out on the internet, I can never take it back. And I can never know who's got their hands on it and is using it for whatever purpose. So if it's something that's really precious, I keep it off the internet (and off the blog). This means that there are many, many things I've made that you, my readers, will sadly never get to see. I will never get pats on the back for them. But I also never have to see them abused.

Boundary #2: Use of Blog Content

Decide the limits on the use of your blog content e.g. your text, images, etc. Know what copyright, fair use, DCMA, intellectual property rights and guidelines are for bloggers and what to do if someone violates your rights. 
Everyone is up in arms about copyright violations and stealing of intellectual property and suchlike. If you aren't, it probably means it's never happened to you (yet). I don't want to get into the how-tos because there are zillions of sites and posts on the internet to google and read. And just when you think you've wrapped your mind around everything, some new grey-area scenario will be thrown in your face and you'll have to do your research all over again. We're always learning. If you're not sure if you're infringing on someone else's rights, it doesn't hurt to ask for permission to do something before you do it.

If your rights are violated, you need to have a plan already in place to act on so you don't just sulk and fume and feel like an incapacitated victim. For example, if someone copies your entire tutorial post onto their own blog and reposts it, you might have this Action Plan:

Bear in mind that there are a lot of grey areas and that it is almost impossible (and highly expensive) to successfully sue anyone for copyright infringement unless they are stupid enough to copy your product down to its last exact detail. Also bear in mind that sometimes you might get stymied at some early stage in your Action Plan because, for instance, the website is in a foreign language and you can't even navigate the site well enough to locate a means to contact anybody, or you don't know what blogging platform hosts the errant website because they went and prettied it up beyond recognition. In that case, your fancypants Action Plan needs to have an allowance for you to Let It Go Because You Did All You Could. That's part of boundary-setting, too.

Boundary #3: Commercial Limits

Decide the commercial limits of use on your tutorials, patterns, templates, printouts, etc. Even before you release your first free tutorial, it is wise to have a policy on how people should use it. We are not talking about bad people stealing your tutorial and claiming it's theirs. We are talking about good people wanting to use your tutorial to make stuff for all kinds of purposes that you never dreamed of, like selling to neighbors to raise funds for the aforementioned homeschool co-op textbook fund. Obviously you can't dictate (or even guess) all the possible allowable uses for your precious tutorial, so what you'll need is a general policy. Examples:
  • Your tutorial should only be used to make items for personal retention.
  • Your tutorial should only be used to make items for personal retention or gifts.
  • Your tutorial should only be used to make items for personal retention, gifts or charitable fund-raising (define "charity"?)
  • Your tutorial should only be used to make items for personal retention, gifts, charitable fund-raising, or limited (how many? 20? 100?) retail sale at physical locations (e.g. craft fairs).
  • Your tutorial should only be used to make items for personal retention, gifts, charitable fund-raising, or limited retail sale at physical locations and online sites.
Some bloggers offer limited commercial licenses for their paid patterns so that customers can buy those patterns and sell the items they make with those patterns for commercial profit. Some bloggers say okay to charitable fund-raising on a case-by-case basis and create a system of accountability (e.g. a record of all individuals selling their Butterfly-cum-Caterpillar Tote Bags for charity) so that the users know it is not an anything-goes-for-all thing. Some bloggers freely let their readers do whatever they want with their patterns in the name of karma. Whatever the case, remember that you are not obliged to justify your decision - it's your pattern and you can dictate the limits on its use as you see fit. Two important things here: one, that you actually set the limits you are comfortable with and two, that there will always be people who will flout your rules. If that latter point gets your insides in knots, then re-establish Boundary #1: if it's that precious to you, don't share it with the world. 

Boundary #4: Sharing/Selling Your Blog Space

Have a policy for product reviews, sponsored posts and similar.
Some bloggers solicit products to review, promising a positive review in exchange for a chance to try a new product for free. Some bloggers accept invitations to review products based on whether they think they can give a positive review. Some bloggers accept products with the disclaimer that they may give a positive, neutral or negative review. Some bloggers (like me) respond to review invitations with, "Send me as much free stuff as you like. I may or may not review it at all, based on whether I have the time and whether I think I will like it, after which I may or may not write a blog post about it at all." I prefer to review products I actually already use and chose myself, like my favorite drafting books. For the same reason, I also don't do sponsored posts. I personally feel more transparent that way and my readers know that I won't say something is even half-decent if it isn't actually half-decent. Conversely, when I do write a review, it's probably going to be extremely thorough because I respect my readers and the company whose product I've decided I like. You may have a different outlook and value system regarding product reviews and sponsored posts, so your policy might be more welcoming and technical e.g.
"I will try out your product and review it within 3 months of receipt. I will write only positive or neutral things in my online post and I will privately revert to you the negative feedback for the further improvement of your product."

as opposed to mine, which is more like, 

"Feel free to send me whatever you like. I promise nothing."

Boundary #5: Guest-Posting

Decide on the rules of behavior for and responsibilities of guest bloggers, including your response and a course of action if these are violated. Also decide on the parameters of your own commitment as a guest blogger on other people's sites.
If you host blog parties and guest-posting festivals, it is prudent to set guidelines from the start so that everyone is aware of deadlines, required commitment and the logistics of submitting their post content to you. It is also wise to have a private contingency plan in your head if your guests fail to honor their commitment e.g. they had a family emergency and couldn't write their promised post, or if they were just irresponsible or tardy. Most guests are considerate and punctual with their submissions but some aren't. And for that reason, I know of many bloggers who only invite personal bloggy friends they know very well to guest-post on their blogs; it isn't because they're a clique, but because they're just much easier to trust and work with. That, in itself, is a boundary.

Boundary #6: Collaboration

Decide on the limits on commitment when collaborating with other agencies on regular projects. Sometimes, you might get to work with commercial organizations in various capacities, for example, writing posts on home improvement tips for Lowe's DIY section. Often, as part of the arrangement, these organizations will make their expectations clear at the outset, for example, "You must write 2 posts per week, each 1000 words long, with 4 photos, to go live every Wednesday and Saturday at 9 am." Your boundaries, however, should be set even before that, and they should be based on how much you are objectively willing to commit. This will save you from inadvertently overcommitting yourself just to land the assignment and dying from burnout later. If you can only feel sane doing one post every fortnight because you already have 3 other assignments, you would do well to turn down a fourth that requires 10 posts in that same amount of time. Even if the money is good.

Boundary #7: Publication

Have limits on what you consider acceptable rights for yourself as a published author or contributor.
At some point in your blogging journey, you might get a thrilling email asking for permission to include your delightful Cyclops Sock Monkey tutorial in a craft magazine. It is a dream come true! Your name in print! In a physical paper book thing that you can buy extra copies of to post to your mother and brag about to your children! Bear in mind that, depending on the policies of that magazine/book company, any of the following could be required of you:
  • Your old project gets published for free and you only get printed credit as the author/ designer.
  • Your old project gets published for a sum of money in return for you waiving certain rights to it.
  • You have to create a new project for the publication for a sum of money, to which you then relinquish all rights, and the magazine then has free rein to alter it, rename it, claim creatorship of it and (if they so wish) sell the idea to a toy company without your permission.
Some publishing agreements are more restrictive than others and it can be scary to read all the fine print. Boundaries can help you decide which restrictions are acceptable and which aren't. For instance, if you were hoping to approach a toy company with your idea yourself, you might not wish to sign an agreement that prevented you from doing that. Or you might only want to be published in magazines that have a certain reputation or circulation.

Boundary #8: Readership and Platform Building

This isn't really a boundary as much as it is opportunity cost, I think. It's like this: suppose you have a new blog with, say, 20 followers (and probably a few more actual invisible readers and subscribers). And suppose you also want to launch your first sewing pattern because everyone is doing it and, from what they say, it's a lucrative business. You have two alternatives:
  1. Launch the sewing pattern now while the trend is hot and hope your 20 followers will each buy one.
  2. Take a year to build up your readership to, say, 1000, and then launch your sewing pattern.
I'd say to go with (2). When I first opened my etsy shop 4 years ago, I stocked it with ribbon ball kits. I had fewer readers then, and I sold 3 kits in one year. I packed away the 8 unsold kits and forgot all about them. I found them again last year and, on a whim, relisted them. I sold all 8 in one month. Same kits, same price but a much bigger readership and market now than 4 years ago. By the time I felt inclined to release my first sewing pattern, I knew enough to wait before launching it. In the meantime, I kept busy with the blog, writing tutorials as dry runs for that first pattern. The tutorials brought in even more readers, which was a happy (but unplanned) side effect in my favor.

What I'm trying to say is this: if you're using your blog as a marketing channel for your shop, business, or a book you want to publish, it's a good idea to build your platform first. This means that 1000 potential customers are better than 20, or 1000 potential readers are better than 20. If you're going to be putting in the same amount of work to write that pdf pattern or that book manuscript, it might as well be for a 1000 as for 20. Where then do the 'boundaries' come in? Answer: at the point where you're deciding whether to launch or to wait for your readership to get to a certain level before you're willing to put in the work involved in producing a pattern or book.

Boundary #9: Standards

If I open my blog to commercial opportunities, what level of professionalism should I expect in my workmanship, expectations and standards?
Those boundaries are harder to quantify because, well, they're so nebulous and relative. Someone I know who sews-and-sells admits that she has higher standards for the products she sells than for the items she makes for her own children. That's a realistic boundary for her children's stuff. On the flip side, what is a realistic limit for the perfectness of a product onto which one slaps a price tag? When I started stocking my etsy shop with finished products (i.e. not ribbon ball kits), I found myself obsessing over the workmanship. You all know I'm normally anal with stitching and finishing and aligning print but it got to the point where I felt I could not charge anyone money for something that I personally considered substandard, even if my "substandard" might have been far and away more perfect than anything I'd even seen made by anyone else (excluding my Auntie Laura, who still has the best workmanship in the galaxy). It took me a while to realize I needed to set a boundary on my obsessiveness - not to lower my standards but to be okay with putting an arbitrary dollar amount on the work of my hands.

Boundary #10: Balance

Saved the easiest for last: personal boundaries between work and play, public blogging and private family, the shiny-sparkly outer face and the real person inside, the thick skin and the bleeding heart, that sort of thing. This is the pattern: you get thrown off-balance and you climb back on the gameboard and set new boundaries. That's not just blogging; that's life, and we've all been there.

Incidentally, you know that earlier paragraph about nightmare copyright and ethical scenarios and other ways to guarantee blog burnout? That's not self-disclosure. Well, maybe some of it actually happened to me, but only some. There's so much more drama out there that I've never even heard of, let alone read about on other people's blogs or experienced myself. All I'm saying is that the more public your little blog becomes, the more you might be smacked in the face with public issues. Many of these issues are unique, one-off occurrences that make you feel like you'd been blindsided but others are common and predictable enough to be dealt with by preparatory blog policies. 

And now, before I sign off, I have one more annoying story-with-a-moral. I laugh whenever I think about it, because even knowing what I do now, I don't know if I'd have done things any differently at the start. What am I talking about? My name. My blog monicker. LiEr.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea I might someday get published in magazines and whatnot. I didn't want to blog under my full name because it was so formal and not-me. I picked my middle name instead, for various reasons: long ago when I was running my first bag-making business, I used that name; it was shorter and faster to handwrite on labels; it was unusual; it had ties to my home culture, and so on. 
Then nice people invited me to be on their blogs and magazines and books. They wanted my full name, they said, because of remuneration and taxes and social security reasons. And so I was published under a different name than people knew me from my blog. 
And then the fun started. Concerned readers wrote in to say, "Hey! Did you know that such-and-such a magazine published this project that's straight from your blog and some heinous person called Lorraine Teigland claimed designer rights?"

Uh... yeah. That would be me, aka IdentityCrisisBlogWoman. 


I'm not implying that this happy scenario is on your radar, because -no doubt - you only have one real name and you're happily using it on your blog. However, just in case you were thinking of a clever avatar like ChunkyBobbinsAnderson-Lee or whatever, be aware that someday it might come bite you in the backside, okay? Just sayin'.

Whoo! I'm almost done! Just two more things: a couple of posts I remember recently reading that I'd like to link to for further insight. One is my bloggy friend Rae's post on how she fits everything (blogging, parenting, business) into one lifetime. The other is Destri's series on Whip Up on starting and growing a creative business, beginning with her intro post and continuing with a month of interviews and advice from some pretty amazing creative businesswomen.

And now, I'm finally done. Your turn now - if your blog is more than just a blog, what are some issues you've had to deal with? Please share them in the comments so we can all learn!


  1. Great post! Lots of information, I loved reading it :)

  2. Thanks a lot again! For all the summer I was looking forward to reading this post and it was worth it! :-)

  3. I've loved these posts! Thank you for the insight. I'm just starting my own blog--just for fun at this point, but it is interesting to hear your perspectives since you've been doing this a while :-)

    1. Jill: welcome to the blogosphere! I hope you'll always keep doing your blog "just for fun", no matter what it becomes years down the road.

  4. Thank you for this post! Lots to think about!

  5. Fantastic and very wise post! I've been on the blogging scene now for just over a year and haven't had any issues yet (that I am aware of) but I'm still in my Anonymous phase - or the Honeymoon phase. Makes you wonder if getting serious is worth the possible drama? Thanks for sharing :)

    Sophie xo

    1. Funny thing is most of us don't scheme for our blogs to become more dramatic; if it happens, we run with it. So yay for you not having any issues! If someday you do run into some, know that you're not alone!

  6. I am so glad I did discover you early on - it has been amazing to watch your blog grow!

    My blog runs on a fairly mellow "I do what appeals to me at the moment" theme. I limit my popularity and success, but I started blogging as therapy, and this way it works long term. Who knows how it could change when I no longer have a very small child at home, though - Anna is growing up incredibly quickly! And she ADORES the ribbon ball I made using one of your delightful kits when Lily was a baby. I even brought it on our road trip - along with the two bags of yours that I own and the kids' owie dolls. Thank you for bringing a bit of sewing magic into my life!

    1. And I love your blog back, MaryAnne, and count myself extremely blessed for your friendship! I ADORE watching your kids grow up - your accounts of their conversations slay me all the time. And your photos on Wordless Wednesdays melt my heart. Sigh. This old blog has found me friends in unexpected places, and just for that reason alone, it's been worth all the time spent!

  7. Tons of helpful information there! And it makes me glad my blog is "just a blog". :)

    1. Hey, it's not "just a blog"! It has caterpillars, and photos of gorgeous doll clothes and sneaky bits of your childhood sewing adventures, not to mention your sweet little granddaughter. So popping in to visit is like therapy for me!

  8. Excellent thoughts to consider.
    Boundaries help me write better actually.
    # 10 especially pertinent as my day job took another invigorating turn.

  9. This is such helpful advice. Being new to the whole blog thing, I'm always keen to know what some of the traps and pitfalls are. I think I need to sit down and wrap my head around some of these points.

  10. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us all. I think I'm still in the joyous Act 1 of your scenario but I can't tell you how useful all these boundary-setting ideas are. I already see things taking on a life of their own and it's great to be given some tools to think realistically about the future. x

  11. Thanks for this post. I'm not even a blogger, but it's interesting to see what goes on in the background. P.s: You have the best sewing blog! I don't say much, but I always enjoy reading what you write. :o)

  12. Thanks for this great post! You have shared a lot of great information.

  13. Wow...just wow! So much there my head is exploding trying to absorb all that. I'm definitely going to have to come back and re-read this post. Many times. Thank you for putting all that out there. You've obviously thoroughly educated yourself on this!

  14. Yours is one of the very few blogs I follow where, when I see a giant wall of text, I go OOH! :D Thanks for another great read!

    1. Alli - hahaha! I did feel slightly guilty for not even including a single photo. But how to take a photo of blogging? So giant wall of text it was. So glad it didn't bring on a coma for you!

  15. How great, and timely, is this! Right now I'm at Act 1 / Scene 4. Not much networking going on. I keep reading about Scene 5 and how great it is ... just haven't seen it first hand. Your information is helpful, a fun read, and just a tad overwhelming. It's good, though. This is stuff that only a friend would share. So, thanks, friend. :)

    1. You're welcome, Terry! And yes, Act 2 is overwhelming - if it all happens to a person at once. Fortunately, it doesn't. Networking is fantastic - if you have the time (these days my networking consists of one friend, who is also my long-time pattern tester, not that I have the time to churn out patterns much either). But if you're in Scene 4, hang in there and don't beat yourself up. If comparing spurs you on to act on your passion a little bit more, then it's not a bad thing. But if it makes you feel lousy about yourself, then go hug someone you love and remember the things that are real, okay? :)

  16. When I started my blog a few years ago, I wanted so much for it. But soon realized I can't commit to it like everyone else seemed to be doing. Now I've found my niche, just a family diary and I love writing in it! One day perhaps the kids will read it and have a better understanding of why mom was so crazy! Thank you for the post. You are always so wise and generous to your readers!

    1. Brava for you finding your niche! My family blog is still my favorite of my two blogs and I only update it a fraction of the frequency of this blog.

  17. Thank you! A lot to read and digest, but helpful.

  18. I think this is the best, most concise, and insightful post I have ever read on the second stage of blogging! As I was reading,I kept nodding my head, saying yep, yep, yep! My favorite quote is "...remember that you are not obliged to justify your decision - it's your pattern and you can dictate the limits on its use as you see fit." I think this applies to everything not just items you might be selling. Once you get some bit of popularity there are people that just want to take, take, take and deciding ahead of time about what you're comfortable with will save lots of heartache later. I think women especially feel that they need to give it all for free and asking to be compensated for their time is somehow a negative thing. That's a soap box I could spend quite a bit of time on so that's all I'll say about that but everyone should know the value of their product begins with them. And, one last thing, Boundary #1 may be hard to live with but seeing something that is so precious to you get ripped off by unscrupulous people is even harder. That's one of the first things I tell students in my blogging classes is that once you put it out there you have lost control over what happens to it (within reason) so be prepared and accept the good with the bad. I also have lots of things I've made that people will say "oh, are you gonna put that on your blog?" and I say "nope, it's just for me and the kids to enjoy" and I feel completely happy with that. Wonderful wonderful post LiEr, thank you!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cassi! Your blog is one of the very earliest I've read and loved, and you've helped me lots by featuring my work on it - thank you! And I totally agree with what you said about women feeling guilty about giving it all for free. People forget that time is a trading commodity as well and in many cases, is far more precious than money (seeing that, once gone, it can never be earned back, unlike money).


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.