Sunday, May 17, 2015

So You Want to Start a Beauty Blog

Since joining Instagram two months ago, I've become more aware than ever of the sheer number of beauty blogs out there. It seems like every other woman on Instagram identifies herself in her profile as a beauty blogger. The #bbloggers tag accrues hundreds of new posts per minute (granted, some of these are spammers misusing the tag to draw attention to themselves, but hey). I used to worry that blogging was a dying art, but now I'm not so sure.

What I am fairly sure of, though, is that many people are getting into blogging for the wrong reasons, or going about it in a misguided way. They need some advice. Do they need my advice, specifically? Maybe not, but I'm going to offer it anyway, because that's the sort of person I am. I've held off from making this post for fear of coming off as a pompous windbag, but given that I'm training to be a full-time pompous windbag (i.e. academic), why should I hesitate? So, without further ado, some dos and don'ts of beauty blogging, drawn from my own experience as a blogger and dedicated reader of blogs.

Is this also an excuse for me to rail against everything that annoys me about the blogging world? Why, yes, but I'll try to keep it nice.

What not to do:

Don't start a blog for the purpose of money or fame. We all know about those bloggers who have been able to quit their jobs and blog for a living. Here's the thing: with very few exceptions, those bloggers started several years ago, when fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blogs were thinner on the ground than they are today. Temptalia started in late 2006 and Makeup and Beauty Blog in early 2007. These days, the blogosphere is saturated, and the blogging bubble has started to burst. Remember when fashion bloggers like Tavi and Bryan Boy were sitting front row at couture shows? Yeah, that was back in 2010 or so (and even Tavi has moved on to other ventures). Brands are no longer desperate to work with bloggers. You may be able to earn a bit of money eventually, but not enough to make a living, and meanwhile you may find yourself neglecting your real livelihood, as blogging can be very time-consuming. I would strongly encourage you to think of your blog as a hobby. That may change for you in the future, but it probably won't, and thinking of it as a hobby keeps it fun.

Don't spam other sites with links to your blog. You can always tell the people who started their blog for the wrong reasons (see above), because they leave blog comments like "Great post! Check out my blog: [link]." It looks desperate, and desperation isn't cool. Before you start scattering your links like so many dandelion seeds, think about why you want people to visit your blog. Is it because you want to have interesting exchanges with like-minded people? Or is it because you want the empty ego boost of pageviews and followers? It's fine to want both (who doesn't want an empty ego boost every so often?), but be warned: if you dedicate yourself to gathering as many pageviews as possible, it won't be long before people are commenting "Great post! Check out my blog: [link]" on your posts. And you will be annoyed.

This goes for your activity on social media sites, too. Don't make yourself a nuisance on Instagram with "f4f" or "likes for likes" requests. This behavior says, "I don't like your account enough to follow it for its own sake; I have to be certain that you'll follow me back, too." It's insulting. Just post what you want to post and follow the people you want to follow. Simple as that.

Don't make promises. You're excited about starting your blog, so you've no doubt planned out a posting schedule, at least one weekly series (a new red-lipstick review every Wednesday, or whatever), and a list of things that your readers can expect from your blog. That's great--just don't share any of this with your readers, especially not in your very first post. Your blog is almost certainly going to change as you get used to writing it, and there's no point in drawing up elaborate plans until you know what blogging is actually like and how many posts your schedule can accommodate. I try to post every three days, but sometimes a week passes between posts, because my blog isn't my job and I have shit to get done offline. I won't pretend I don't feel bad about this, but I don't feel that bad, because I've never promised regular posts. The more promises you make, the guiltier you'll feel at your inevitable failure to fulfill all of them, and the more guilt creeps into your blogging, the less fun it will be for you.

Don't apologize for your failures to post on time. I promise, no one is biting their nails and wondering why you haven't posted in five days. Feeling guilty about this creates a cycle of shame and procrastination, and nothing signals the downfall of a blog more clearly than a series of widely spaced posts beginning "Sorry I haven't posted in forever, but life got in the way."

Don't dilute your content by reviewing unrelated products.
You can probably line up some press samples of makeup if you write to the right people, but I've heard from other bloggers that those quickly become a burden instead of a pleasure. Once a brand has your address, it can send you anything and everything, and you don't want to become one of those bloggers who end up writing reviews of toilet paper. Have some fucking dignity.

At least at first, you probably won't get unsolicited correspondence from brands you recognize, but you may well get emails that sound like they were put together by a content aggregator. To quote one that I received recently: "Given your trendy beauty expertise, we would love for you to share some of your favorite looks matched up with pieces of lingerie collection! What best your favorite look?" Do not engage.

Don't interpret criticism or disagreement as "hate."
In the beauty blogging community, most people are extremely nice to each other. This is great--believe me, I'm not complaining--but it can also foster an environment in which any comment that isn't 100% positive is dismissed as "haters gonna hate." It's important to distinguish between obvious trolling (e.g. "hey, bitch, you're an ugly bitch") and well-meant comments that might not be phrased in the most tactful way. Keep an open mind and, when in doubt, kill 'em with courtesy. Which brings me to my next point...

Don't get into online fights.
No commenter on my blog has ever been less than delightful (thanks, guys!), but I've gotten into quarrels elsewhere on the Internet, and I've never failed to regret it. If someone does try to start a fight with you, don't engage. It's never, ever worth it. No one wins, no one convinces anyone else of their opinion, and everyone gets more upset than they were before they weighed in. What I love doing, instead, is being annoyingly conciliatory to people who are clearly spoiling for a fight. "Hey, you make a really good point! Thanks for the insight"--something like that. Few people can stay belligerent when confronted with level-headed courtesy, and you'll probably irritate them, too. Win-win.

What to do:

Do leave thoughtful comments on other people's blogs.
The best way to gain new readers is indeed by commenting, but you have to do it in a genuine and well-considered way. I'm sure there are a few people who have inspired you through their own blogs. If you don't already comment there, now is the time to start. Really engage with their ideas, and resist the urge to copy and paste that precious link at the end of your comment. Your blog name will show up at the top of the comment, and that's seriously all you need.

Do reply to comments on your own blog.
I don't expect huge bloggers to address every comment (though some do, which is awesome), but if you're getting just a few comments per post, and especially if they're thoughtful comments, responding is a nice thing to do. (If you're getting "hey read my blog thx [link]" comments, that's a different story.) Sometimes you'll be too busy to reply, and that's fine, but do make the effort at least sometimes.

Do think about what sets you apart from other bloggers.
There are thousands of beauty blogs out there, and people start new ones every month. So why should we read yours? Maybe you don't know the answer yet. Maybe you just want to talk about your latest obsessions, and you don't care who reads your posts. That's fine--you'll get a better sense of what makes your approach distinctive, and what people value about your writing, as you go. Just know that if it is followers you're after (no one wants to shout into a void, after all), you need to contribute something unique to the conversation.

Do read GOMI.
Yeah, I said it. Get Off My Internets has its share of nitpickers, obsessives, and trolls, but many commenters there, especially in the forums, are intelligent, insightful, and fucking hilarious. I believe strongly in the value of satire and anonymous snark (both of which existed thousands of years before the Internet). Blogging has become conspicuously monetized in the last few years, and as long as this process continues, we need to be skeptical about bloggers who are trying to sell us something--an image, a lifestyle, an endorsed product. No discourse should become so huge as to mute all other discourses, and this applies to beauty blogging just as much as it does to politics. Take what you read on GOMI (and elsewhere, including this blog) with a grain of salt, but know that you can find some good blogging tips there.

Do proofread thoroughly.
Online publishing and sloppy editing go together like gin and tonic (can you tell that I'm drinking one now?), and the biggest sites can be the worst offenders. Given this dismal state of affairs, you might think that a small personal blog doesn't need to be proofread very carefully, but nothing makes me close a window faster than a legion of misspellings and misplaced punctuation marks.

Do make sure that blogging stays fun for you.
What aspects of blogging bring you joy? Keep those in mind, and never let them get too far from you. If your blog becomes a chore, you'll probably lose the will to continue. But also...

Do accept that your blog won't continue forever.
Knowing that it will have an end, whether next year or five years from now, is paradoxically freeing. You aren't chained to your blog. It's not an obligation. This is something you chose to do, and you can choose to stop whenever you like.

That's all I've got for now. Do you have anything to add?


  1. Good tips!

    Not everyone will be pros and not everyone can be temptalia. I believe in sticking to what makes you happy and doing your own thing :P

    1. Exactly! If I could whittle down this tl;dr post to one point, it would be that one.

  2. I'd like to add to the point on making sure it stays fun: blog for yourself. I don't really care (well, I do care a bit) if no one reads a post or 1000 people read a post, as long as I'm enjoying myself. I like blogging. It's fun for me, and that's all I need. I started to blog for myself, in order to help organize my thoughts and reviews. If someone gets something out of that, awesome. I like helping people. But it's pretty much simply for me.

    1. You're absolutely right, and I should have made that clearer! It's okay to be selfish about your blog if it's not your job. You're under no obligation to provide X content or Y number of posts if you don't want to. That's part of what makes it fun!

    2. Exactly! You don't owe anyone anything if it's just for you, and that's incredibly freeing. I personally avoid PR samples or any deals that have me obligated to use/review a product because I told myself I was only going to write about things that I genuinely wanted to write about, without that relationship and feeling of being beholden.

  3. Yay! As a fellow academic, I love meta-blogging. Agreed on all points - though I often find posts I wrote a year ago with typos in them, I have to admit. Then again, you should see the last couple chapters of my dissertation! At least I hold myself to the same low standards throughout my writing. (Really though, in blogging it comes from the "oh shit, I have spent an hour on this post, I need to stop and do some real work" moment and with the dissertation it was "just fucking finish it already").

    Did you see any of the sponsored toilet paper posts a few months ago that were about avoiding skidmarks? Yikes! I have got some emails asking me to post about travel to Las Vegas or glasses just because they asked (or for the "the chance" to have my post featured on some company's website, etc.). Um, pass. Fortunately I don't get much PR spam, presumably due my my blog's screaming obscenities.

    1. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time meta-blogging than I do blogging! And I totally support the "just fucking finish it" approach to the dissertation--I'm stuck about 2/3 of the way through my third chapter and am waiting for my frustration to boil over into "JUST FUCKING FINISH IT" rage, at which point I will actually finish it. I mean, probably.

      Yes, the toilet paper posts made me despair for humanity. Why would you whore yourself out like that? Why??? It didn't seem like the bloggers were even getting paid (in anything but toilet paper, that is).

  4. I think I've probably did several of the "don't" since the inception of my blog. :) It's ok, as it was a good learning experience. One thing though is that your advice of do's and don't's apply very well to the personal kinds of blogs, but I think it's still ok to be motivated by the monetization, press samples and stuff. And then a whole new set of do's and don't's will be more applicable to that set of blogs. Not my cup of tea, but I still think it is a valid way to beauty blog. (except the proof reading! everyone has to proof read or at least spell check! :D)

    1. ^^^ rule #1, never comment on blogger without checking for grammar first, bc inevitably, shit grammar ensues.

    2. I feel bad that I haven't installed Disqus! My problem with it is that the Disqus account I've been using for a few years is totally unrelated to my blog name, so I'd either have to change my handle or, I guess, start a new account. But Disqus seems much more commenter-friendly, so I'll look into it. I hate not being able to edit my comments!

      Like you, I have no problem with the existence of professional, monetized beauty blogs, though I personally don't read many of them. I do think a blogger has to choose one or the other, though: either create a personal blog and keep it personal, or go for money and press samples and be honest about that. There are some big career blogs that manage to sustain a personal feel, but by and large, those started years ago as personal blogs and grew organically.

  5. This was a fun read! I think the only thing I have to add, as a blog reader and not a blog writer is: I tend to get bored fast of hyper-stylized beauty blogs with a constant stream of press releases and ad copy pictures, rather than comprehensize reviews and pictures the author herself took. I like simple layouts and thought-out posts more (which is why I love this blog in particular!). Also, maybe it's because I'm nosy, but it's nice to at least occasionally get a glimpse of the blogger's personal life. I'm not asking for mother's maiden name and ATM PIN's or anything--simply a mention of oh, my boyfriend thinks this is silly, I took a trip here and took a picture of this amazing building, and for breakfast I like to make this oatmeal. Little tidbits like that make me love a blog and look forward to reading.

    Also, I love satire and don't love constant praise of every little thing on a blog, but I'm really not a fan of GOMI. My ventures on there saw many, MANY mean-spirited comments and ripping apart women on and on, for sometimes hundreds of pages. To me it's a page filled with more hatred than constructive criticism, but that's my take and I understand how it can be enjoyable.

    1. I have conflicted feelings about GOMI, and I respect your distaste for it. The fact is, I'd probably be a better person if I didn't read it. Immersing myself in snark tends to numb me to the worst of it and make me assume that the Internet is a more hostile place than it really is. At the same time, I think GOMI is a necessary evil. Big, glossy, heavily curated blogs can make their readers feel inadequate. Bloggers are often dishonest about sponsorships and affiliate links. It's nice that there's a place on the Internet where these things get exposed. (GOMI's coverage of the Anthroholic scam a few years ago was an actual public service, imo.) It's a shame that legitimate criticism has to coexist with petty, mean-spirited comments, but I've found threads where the pettiness is kept to a minimum (and I don't read more than a few threads regularly, because I'm not familiar with most of the bloggers discussed there).

      And I agree about the importance of personal details. I don't understand why anyone would start a blog if all they were planning to do was repost press releases, yet those blogs do exist! I enjoy beauty blogging because it allows me to share a few things about myself without putting the focus on my life 100% of the time.

  6. Great advice! I'm certain I've violated at least a few of these in my time, but I'm conscious of the fact that those weren't my greatest moments.

    I have one Do and one Don't that I'd add to the list (although I could probably phrase them both as "Dos"):

    DO find your own voice. This may not happen when you first start, and your writing style may change, but it's important to have some kind of character to your writing. I find that just reporting on the usual details of products gets monotonous pretty fast if there isn't a sense of the personality behind it.
    Also, talking about your own feelings and reactions to products helps readers determine if they share your criteria for evaluating product. I get frustrated hearing people say things like "this blogger says the product wasn't pigmented enough, but I liked the colour, so she must be wrong". It's more likely that you have different expectations about how pigmented a product should be and letting your readers see a bit of your personality helps make your own biases clearer.

    DON'T be afraid to post off-topic. I don't mean the toilet paper reviews, but rather things like this post, where you talk about issues related to blogging, or about your writing process, or about a lot of things. Reviews are available in lots of places, but thoughtful commentary isn't so easily found.
    I also think that giving yourself the leeway to talk about other things helps keep the blogging experience fresh and exciting for the blogger.
    Ok, I'm going to stop this now before I take up all the space here...

    1. All great points! I totally agree about posting off-topic. There seems to be a general assumption that a blogger can be either niche/specialized or more broad-ranging, but not both. I like to think that I've achieved a balance between these two categories, though, and you definitely have as well. I don't want to have a lifestyle blog in which I talk about myself and my personal experiences all the time, but I also don't want to have a beauty blog confined to swatches and reviews. Neither would feel natural to me. It's nice to have a ready-made focus, though, even if I depart from beauty occasionally.