Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Branding Horcrux

The truth is when I said last week that I can’t keep up, I often can’t keep up with any of it.  I can’t keep up with Twitter and Facebook.  I certainly can’t keep up with the ever-changing social media field, jumping on each new site as it comes down the pike.  I can’t always keep up with the blog reading.  I find that I go through big stretches where I read without commenting because I’m reading from the iPad vs. on the computer.

If you had asked me a while back to describe myself, I would have told you that I move quickly.  But now, the stream of information, connection, opportunities moves too quickly for me.  I constantly come to the realization that I can’t keep up.

I can’t really keep up with blog writing sometimes.  I like to use it as a writing exercise before I start writing for the day.  A warm up.  A stretch.  Sometimes I need to use it to take something out of my head so I stop obsessing on it (and Josh, by the way, says thank you to all of you for being my listeners so he doesn’t have to be the only one hearing my thoughts).

I don’t like to feel obligated to post, though sometimes I do.  Obligated is the wrong term; it’s not that I feel like it’s a certain day of the week and I. must. post (except for perhaps Fridays with the Roundup).  It’s more that I’m itching to connect with people and this is the way I do it.  It’s more this burning need to write something good that will spark a conversation.

And even that; sometimes I can’t keep up with that.


I think this topic is mentally pinballing through my brain because the BlogHer conference is coming up.  I feel like my impulses haven’t changed.  When I went to San Francisco in 2008, I wanted to meet people face-to-face.  I didn’t really want to do the parties; I just wanted to get dinner with bloggers so we could hear each other and talk.  Some people wanted to party; others felt like me.  I was able to find my like-minded group easily.

In Chicago in 2009, there were some rumblings of branding, but again, it was very similar to San Francisco.  I met up with people I wanted to meet.  I did a lot of lunches and dinners with bloggers and then retired to my room to sleep before the panels the next day.  I tried out the parties and left them (but not before taking a tiara favour that I still wear around the house) because we weren’t a good fit, though I’m glad I tried them.

In New York in 2010, it felt like there was a shift.  A lot of people were speaking about branding.  They were skipping the panels to go to private events held by brands.  They were spending a lot of time in the swag rooms, talking with brands about how they could work together.  All of these things weren’t problematic in my eyes in-and-of themselves (I can also see the desire to monetize a blog; to turn a hobby into a living.  I have essentially done that myself inadvertently,  and I love that I can financially contribute to our family via writing).  But I had a harder time finding people who wanted to just sit and talk.  With me.  Without looking over my shoulder to see if there was someone better to meet that could forward along their goals.  I had fun in New York, but it was harder to meet up with that small group of like-minded people because the crowd was so large.  It was hard to find one another.

And now I am going to the 2011 conference, and I have a lot of fears of whether I’ll find the people this time who feel the way I do when there are going to be thousands of people there.  Who are simply excited to see someone face-to-face that they only converse with via email or read their blog.  I am worried that this year, I won’t find my people who want to grab dinner and quietly talk.  That everyone will be scattered to the parties.  I feel like, in general, it is easier to find people wanting to talk about branding and sponsorship than about writing.  I am hoping my perception is wrong.

I know I will find my like-minded people because I know from the comments on that last post that other nerd girls like me exist (nerd girls unite!).  We blog for the sake of blogging.  We may take opportunities sometimes, we may dabble in Twitter sometimes, we may wish aloud that we could get offered a new stovetop/oven due to our clout.  But at the core, it’s about the writing.  It’s about stringing words together.  Trying to convey ideas.  Trying to evoke emotions in another person.


As I said in that post, I am doing my first sponsored post this week.  I have mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, I am grateful for the opportunity.  Without it, I wouldn’t have the items I’m about to have.  On the other, it feels like you lose a little bit of yourself too.

Everything has a cost.  There are no free items.  You pay in time or energy.  You certainly pay in creativity.  While I work on this sponsored post, I’m not working on one of my own choosing.  Or working on the book.

I agreed to do the post after I did an hour of undercover work at the store to make sure I was okay putting my name on it.  I’ve shopped at this store before, but never with the mentality of writing a post about it.  The store appealed to my interests, it appealed to my commie tendencies.  There is a good chance that I would have written about this store at some point in the future without being asked or given free items, just as I have written about LL Bean, IKEA, and Starbucks VIA without being asked nor compensated.  So why did the whole idea of a sponsored post for a business I actually like give me such pause?

Josh jokingly told me that in writing it, I had created a horcrux.  “You gave away your soul, just like Voldemort.”

Did I figuratively kill something with writing a sponsored post?  Did I tuck my soul away for some gear?  Was I now less of a writer, just as Voldemort was less of a human?

I usually think that “sell out” is a term those still in the trenches throw at those who are handed a great opportunity that we all want.  It’s a word that I think tells more about the speaker than the object of its definition.  And here I was, internally throwing this word at myself.  So what did that mean if I was the speaker and the receiver?

Voldemort shed his humanity, and I do think that in branding, we shed our creativity.  We become lesser writers.  We slither over the floor of the Internet rather than flying above our words.  I don’t truly hurt anyone other than myself with a sponsored post, though I may be abusing your eyes.  But this analogy of the horcrux spoke to me.  I feel like with each sponsored post, you both become powerful to other brands and you lose part of yourself.

I am trying desperately to hold onto myself.  To stick to my impulses to connect with others (that is, when I’m not hiding out in my room being all quiet).  To keep up.

To let go when I realize that I can’t keep up.  And accept that.


1 Finding My New Normal { 07.25.11 at 8:58 am }

Visiting from ICLW,,, well actually ICLW is here so I’m not really visiting from there…. I think you get my point.

I can relate to not being able to keep up with my blog, twitter, and facebook. I still ponder getting rid of my blog’s FB page because 2 months or so in I still don’t see the value.

Secondly I can relate to your feelings about doing a sponsored post. I don’t get approached very often to do this, but have always refused when I do. At the moment it just doesn’t feel right for me.

I have not monetized my blog and I’m not sure I want to. I write for me, to process my feelings of grief and my new journey through donor egg IVF. I’m not sure I want to turn it into something I make money from. My feelings may change down the road but for now that’s how I feel.

The one thing I don’t want to ever do is turn into one of those blogs that’s nothing but sponsored posts and giveaways. I don’t even read blogs like that. I mean what are they really trying to say? Did they ever have a voice, or were they always a commercial for this, that, or the other?

2 Becky { 07.25.11 at 9:04 am }

Isn’t that life? Trying to wade through what is progress in your world, while holding on to what truly makes you YOU. Such balance. Sometimes we fail and are, as you say, sellouts. However, sometimes we succeed, taking that progress and making ourselves better.

3 Kymberli { 07.25.11 at 9:19 am }

Don’t be too hard on yourself, Melissa. I think the ones who sell out are the bloggers who write for the sake of money, not those who accept money for the sake of writing. It’s a fine line, but I believe there is a distinguishable difference there. I’ve seen many writers whose content is utterly CONSUMED by consumerism – what results is vapid, empty writing that rarely provokes any thoughts than whether or not to enter some giveaway or another.

That is not you, and it will NEVER be you. I don’t think you’ll lose any credibility in anyone’s eyes because you’ve chosen to write a sponsored post about a product/store you really like. You’ve more than established a sense of mutual trust and respect between you and your audience; you didn’t start this blog and dedicate your time to it with the single-minded intent to make money. I, for one, think you deserve to be rewarded for your writing; we respect your opinion, and if writing sponsored posts means it adds to the quality of life for you and your family, then I doubly applaud you for being able to concretely benefit from the fine reputation you’ve established as being “mama hen” to the infertility community.

This does not make you less than. Besides, I don’t see you running around shouting Avada Kedavra at innocent bystanders.

4 Kristin { 07.25.11 at 9:33 am }

I will tell you what someone told me when I expressed similar fears…the fact that you are concerned about it, the fact that you are aware enough to even ask this question tells me that you are going to be just fine and you have escaped the branding horcrux.

BTW, I would love to catch lunch or dinner with you.

5 a { 07.25.11 at 9:52 am }

What Kym said.

I would say that you have pretty definitively established your brand. When I come here, I know I’m going to read about women’s issues (including infertility, parenting, and other stuff), Harry Potter, the tormenting of Josh and the twins, guitar playing…well, basically anything you really, really like.

6 Mina { 07.25.11 at 10:26 am }

You know, sometimes, when you ask a question like this, I can see you with the eyes of my mind, when you were little, nerdy, book lover, specky and totaly tormented by a question that the grown ups didn’t even care about. As I see it, you are not selling out your soul. You are turning an opportunity into something useful for you and your family. You are not to blame, if people listen to you and go shop where you say, they do it because they trust you and not because they are blind. Your readers are not sheep following the shepherd or the dogs, they are intelligent human beings who like you. Very much. But they do their own thinking, most of the time. You are not tricking anyone.

This is very different from a link to a blog whose owner had suffered the tragedy of losing his unborn son a few weeks before the due date, and who appeared in the lfca. While I was very sorry for his loss, I did not like it AT ALL when he posted urging the readers to start following his blog, and the more followers he had, the more he intended to donate to an organization who helps bereaved parents cope with their tragedy. He was talking 100 followers for ten USD or something. Curiously, only positive comments appeared on that post, the ones with questions were not approved. Now THAT is a horcrux, in my opinion. When you try to turn the loss of your child into an increasing number of followers, so that you can turn the blog into money.

You are very considerate for asking this and I am even fonder of you for all your care, you really respect your readers, and they surely respect you back. 🙂

And I do feel the same way about the new gimmicks, twitter, fb, whatnot… I can’t tell you how it feels to have no other friend in town to talk to about minor things a mother may want to talk about, about sleep, schedules, food, clothes, you know. I do miss that a lot. Having you ladies, means the world to me. But I can’t keep up with the blogs, so other new tricks are out for this old mare. So yeah, way to make me feel even more ancient. 🙂

7 N { 07.25.11 at 10:53 am }

<3 <3 <3

I hope you have a great time. 🙂

8 Rachel { 07.25.11 at 11:33 am }

I trust you. This web-site, the blog-roll, and now ICLW have NEVER steered me wrong. If you are doing a compensated blog posting, it will be worth it.

Everything that you have done in relationship to the ALI community has (as far as I know) been done with healing, growth, and love in mind.

That’s all I have to say about that! 🙂 xoxo

9 slowmamma { 07.25.11 at 11:59 am }

This transformation reminds me of the process of gentrification of neighborhoods. It all starts with something very unique, the building of a genuine community, usually by young, relatively poor but industrious, artistically inclined individuals. When it begins to gain recognition for the special place it has become, commercial interests come in and, eventually, the original spirit of the place is loved/purchased to death. However, the good news is that, even if SoHo is now a millionaire’s haven, there is most likely a scrappy community coming together in what is left of urban Detroit or somewhere else.

I hope you have a wonderful time at the conference. Even in the sciences, I’ve always thought that conferences are really about meeting people face to face and building new/stronger ties. I hope you get to do lots of that.

10 magpie { 07.25.11 at 12:22 pm }

1. I’ll see you in San Diego!!

2. Read my (not sponsored) post tomorrow in which I bite the hand that didn’t feed me. 🙂

11 Heather { 07.25.11 at 1:02 pm }

I’m a bit bitter at BlogHer and conferences of that sort.

Anyway, this whole branding thing pisses me off because I would totally sell my soul to Lysol, but they don’t care about me. Most of the time I feel like this blogging thing is nothing more than a high school popularity contest—tending to get clicque-y.

And most of the time I feel like my words are simply a gift for my children someday, because no one really “listens” to the words anymore…people are all about giveaways and reviews and…I just can’t do all that. And I won’t do anything that is not beneficial to the special needs community…

I could rant on this for hours. 😉 Love you…

12 JDragonfly { 07.25.11 at 1:29 pm }

I also agree with Kymberli. You have credibility, and have established trust and respect with your audience. I am glad that you so thoughtfully consider what sponsored posts you write, but am also glad that you and your family will benefit from the work you do for the community on your blog.

13 HereWeGoAJen { 07.25.11 at 1:37 pm }

Exactly what Kym said. I love it when my friends get money or free stuff for writing. But I don’t read any of those blogs where people write in order to get free stuff.

Also, I think your writing and your blog are totally worth money. If I were rich enough, I’d pay you myself. But since I am not, I am glad when other people do. (And I hope this makes sense. It didn’t come out exactly how I meant it.)

14 May { 07.25.11 at 3:52 pm }

You don’t need to worry about horcruxing your soul, my dear.

I’m not attending BlogHer, but I live in the area and would gladly drive down for a ALI lunch or dinner in the Gaslamp.

15 Elizabeth { 07.25.11 at 3:55 pm }

What Jen said! 🙂
It’s interesting to compare to other media – kind of like product placements in films. Are those horcruxes too?
Your posts on the business side of writing books (how to find an agent, how to sell your product) are interesting to think about in the context of a discussion on blogging for money, too. Because as much as you’re putting out a piece of art, you do have to keep in mind what is going to sell.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a bit as a recent twitter war kind of roped me into the drama as a rubbernecker, and made me think a lot about what it means to make a living from blogging and how it affects the blog itself. I’m not going to say more about that here though but it’s just interesting – there seems to be a vibe among women bloggers right now, a sort of gestaltic uneasiness about the public/private dimensions of blogging, and what happens when commercial interests intersect with what has become a very, very blurry line between those two spheres.

16 Heather { 07.25.11 at 4:11 pm }

This is the first year I’ve been able to attend BlogHer. I’m so hoping to have your 2008/2009 experience. I know the conference has evolved since then, but as big as it is, there must be pockets of old-school BlogHer within it. That is the dream I’m clinging to, at least.

Also hoping to meet you face-to-face while I’m there!

17 Justine { 07.25.11 at 10:12 pm }

I think that the people I *don’t* trust are the people who write positive things about everything, just to get stuff. There are plenty of them out there. I’ve even won things from their giveaways. (Heck, who doesn’t like winning things?)

But your blog is different, and YOU are different. And I don’t think you’re going to turn your blog into a marketing opportunity. Branding, well … there *is* something about Stirrup Queens that could be considered a “brand,” but I think it’s a “for-good-not-for-evil” one, if that makes any sense.

I wish I were going to BlogHer. Because I would totally meet you for dinner and quiet conversation and pick your brain about writing, which I have been doing a terrible job with lately!

18 edenland { 07.25.11 at 11:51 pm }

The landscape has changed SO MUCH, over the years, hasn’t it? It’s crowded. There’s a lot of people – it’s just firing up down here in Australia, and oh my goodness.

For the first time ever, I did a giveaway on my blog yesterday. For the company who is sponsoring me to fly to BlogHer. I hoped I did it justice, but it felt like a piece of my Heart fell off. It’s not why I blog – I mean, these perks are GREAT … but I started blogging to document my IVF process. Then all this Life happened, and now it’s all gotten really big.

I am about to write another post, over the top of my giveaway post. And it will be getting back to me again – me and my readers, and the amazing community of people I have found through blogging.

It was a highlight for me, in NY last year, to meet you Mel. A TOTAL HIGHLIGHT. My biggest regret was not coming out to dinner with you when you asked one night – I was all manic and had to rest in my hotel and then found myself at a private party featuring boxes of dildos. And I kicked myself, back then … “I blew off Mel for THIS????”

Please can I grab a bite with you this year? Lunch or dinner or anything in between. I would love to sit down with you and have an actual conversation – you know, like the olden days.


PS I am navigating many offers from brands. It’s tricky, but I hope I can do it well. It gives me a bigger platform to tell the world that it’s ok to be fucked up.

19 Bea { 07.26.11 at 8:00 am }

Next time I get the opportunity to come to somewhere even vaguely in your neck of the woods, we are having that dinner. Even without a conference! As for the rest, I echo what others said. A post isn’t going to kill you, and especially if you are genuine about the product. It’s when you stop all your real writing you have to worry.


20 Elizabeth { 07.26.11 at 8:06 am }

I also wanted to say that you are such an authentic and beautiful person, there is no way you’d go all voldemort on us. The Sorting Hat says so. You are too full of light and love. Yor gut instincts will steer you true and there’s always Josh too. You have one of the most generous hearts I’ve ever encountered, genuinely so. XO

21 Chickenpig { 07.26.11 at 8:40 am }

Yours is one of the few blogs I read that is written by an honest to g.od published writer! I am actually excited and waiting to PAY for the chance to read the sequel to Life From Scratch, I enjoyed it that much. When people will pay to read your words, that doesn’t make you a sell out, that makes you a PROFESSIONAL. Here on your blog I get the pleasure of reading your well crafted words for free. 🙂

This post reminds me of something my Spanish professor said about Picasso. (the two grew up together as the upper crust of Spanish society and had remained friends into adulthood). He told us that Picasso could blow snot into a hanky and sell it for 10 thousand dollars, that is how commercial he was. The moral of his tail (I think) was ‘don’t be ashamed if you are so great that ppl will pay for your snot, as long as you stay true to yourself and continue to make great things. Otherwise your snot is useless.’ (?)

So…um…be thankful that you are so awesome that ppl will pay for your snot, and it doesn’t make you less of an artist.

22 coffeegrljp { 07.26.11 at 10:03 am }

I think Kym is totally right. And Becky too. Balance is never easy but in my mind, life isn’t all or nothing and balance is THE key. When I worked in politics, the question was always “how do we advocate for our cause?” Do you try to stay outside the system and rant at it and demonstrate and be as big and bold and loud as you can and get in people’s faces to push them to really rethink their ideas? Or do you approach change more quietly by working from within the established system – say by trying to run for office and thereby toning things down a little since that’s usually what you have to do in order to gain acceptance from the larger community and “system”. It’s basically the difference between being an outsider or an insider – you can be effective in both ways, but sometimes it might be more effective to try one or the other depending on the circumstances in that time/place.

I think of this as the same. Just because you accept payment and work within the system (so to speak) doesn’t mean that you’ve sold your soul. It just means that you read the landscape and saw that there was a reason/benefit to working “within the system” (of branding and consumer affairs etc.) for a while. You can always leave it behind.

23 coffeegrljp { 07.26.11 at 10:05 am }

Oh and when I said “balance is THE key” it sounded like I’m some expert on making that happen. Totally not the case. I barely have time to read posts these day – not to mention writing them!

24 Chickenpig { 07.26.11 at 2:05 pm }

PS I think the whole point of the Harry Potter series is that children are our immortality. The things we put our hearts and souls into give us immortality. I think the end of the last book says it all, when the grown heroes are putting their children on the train. Harry’s parents live on through him, and he will live on through his children, and Rawling will live on forever in these books.

You have to intend for something to be a horcrux. The post you jot off for profit may be a spell, but you have to PUT your soul into something on purpose. As long as you’re careful where you put your soul, you’ll be okay 🙂

25 Lut C. { 07.26.11 at 3:21 pm }

Enjoy Blogher!

I don’t think I’ll be approached to do a sponsored post any time soon. Spares me the dilemma.

At the very least, I would expect to be told when a post is sponsored. I would feel duped otherwise.

26 Vee { 07.27.11 at 8:12 am }

Oh me too, I can’t keep up neither. I agree with what Bea said and I’m inviting myself to dinner too 🙂

27 Calliope { 08.01.11 at 10:39 am }

SAVE TIME FOR ME!!! And I loved what Eden said because yes – there is a bit of WOO when talking to a brand and getting to say, out loud, “I went through infertility hell and used donor sperm and then the internet got me pregnant…” just saying.

28 {sue} { 08.03.11 at 12:22 am }

Last year was my first BlogHer and it was overwhelming to me with the brands and the suites and the private parties… and the 1500 people. I was there for the conversations as well. And I did find some good ones. (Although I spent a fair amount of time freaking out over it all.)

I have so many of the same thoughts as you on sponsored posts. I have done a few, but only for things that I would absolutely use myself and would recommend to other people. I do feel like it junks up my flow though.

Great discussion.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author