About the author: By profession Vanessa Musson is a freelance market researcher, specializing in industrial products. Her work involves a lot of overseas travel, to places as varied as chemical plants and wind farms, oil fields and cotton fields, stately homes and sewers. In her free time Vanessa writes the blog Bonkers about Perfume, which combines lighthearted perfume reviews with zany travelogues and the occasional post on beauty products for that unfortunate crossover condition of “problem mature skin”.
I am a relative newcomer to perfume: for most of my life I was largely indifferent to scent, occasionally succumbing to the heavy sell tactics of sales assistants at airport duty frees, and politely wearing whatever anyone might think to give me as a gift. Not very often, mind, for when I was struck down out of the blue by “sudden onset perfume mania” in 2008, I had just one rancid bottle of Estée Lauder Intuition to my name, barely touched in the seven years I had owned it.
But all that changed, and within weeks I went from zero to raging “fumehead”, and I’ve never looked back. 18 months on, I decided to start a blog. For the previous eight years I had written a humorous column for a business magazine, based on my misadventures on overseas work trips. Its sudden closure prompted me to seek out another creative writing outlet, and my newfound interest in fragrance provided the perfect vehicle. Bonkers about Perfume was born. And now another two years or more have passed, and here you have it: 5 things you might wish to consider if you are thinking of starting a perfume blog of your own…
Do you have anything new to add to the conversation?
A while back, there was a post on Grain de Musc about the recent proliferation of perfume blogs. Denyse used the colourful phrase: “metastasising like crazy”, which troubled me at the time, though I don’t think the analogy between newbie bloggers and rampant tumours was meant to be taken too literally. Her point was that new entrants add to the general noise and fragmentation of the blogosphere, resulting in less meaningful dialogue amongst perfumistas. It is true that there are a lot of fragrance blogs now, but most of the ones which stick in my mind have carved out a distinctive niche for themselves. Now Smell This itself has been likened to CNN, an up-to-the-minute news service which also features in-depth analysis (in its perfume reviews). Katie Puckrik has cornered the epistolary format with her Perfume Pen Pals series, while The Muse in Wooden Shoes weaves perfume into a diary of family life. On this subject, Brian of I Smell Therefore I Am chimes in: “I want to add something valuable to the conversation, rather than simply contribute to the din”. So yes, there is room for everyone in the “fumisphere”, but to stand out in this growing crowd, find yourself an angle…
Can you keep a sense of perspective?
It is easy to get delusions of grandeur when you see yourself in print. Blogging is effectively a form of vanity publishing — there are no hoops to jump through, no labouring over the perfect query letter that will convince agents or publishers of your writing talent. Just hit “Publish your post” and you’re done. Or that’s what it can feel like. In all the years I wrote for the business magazine I only ever encountered five readers — there may have been more, but I had no way of knowing. I wouldn’t have done anything differently though. My answer to anyone thinking of starting a blog is to feel the void and do it anyway. Blog because you love to write — and if anyone reads your stuff it’s a bonus. That said, if you do want to be read, you’ll have to learn to network: see the “Do you play nicely with others?” section below.
Do you have time?
Linked to the notion of a sense of perspective is that of commitment and continuity. I have been surprised by how much time I spend researching, writing and proofing my posts, as well as tracking down pictures to illustrate them – anything from two hours to (very, very occasionally!) two days - depending on the scope of the subject. I have got into a rhythm of posting 2-3 times a week, but I can’t maintain this momentum when I go off on my long work trips, and no longer stress about that. Now, I know that some bloggers manage to maintain a “regular service” by writing posts in advance or engaging guest contributors, but in the run-up to my trips I am usually in such acute headless chicken mode that I barely find the time to wash or eat, never mind delegate! And whether or not you allow yourself posting breaks like me, the fact remains that if you want your blog to “stick to the (cyber-)wall” long term, you need to be able to spare a fair bit of time on a regular basis..
Decide how you feel about writing negative reviews
My mother used to follow the axiom: “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” There is a similar school of thought in the perfume blogosphere, whereby some bloggers only review perfumes they like — or are painstakingly diplomatic in their remarks about a perfume, regardless of what they may privately think. The rationale for this is deference to the scent in question: these bloggers feel that a negative review may harm a scent’s reputation, yet the fact that someone doesn’t like a fragrance should be no reflection on its merits. My own stance on the matter is that I mostly review perfumes I like, because it gives me more satisfaction to spread the word about the scents I really rate — and hope that others might also enjoy — than it does to diss the duff ones (to my nose). There again, I have been known to write off the fragrances I don’t care for in flippant two-line nuggets, and occasionally to feature outright scrubbers at more length. I make it clear that this is just my opinion, and that I am drawn to rather shy and retiring styles of fragrance as a rule. Frankly, I think it is helpful to anyone researching a particular scent to be able to cross-reference opinions from bloggers whom they know to have divergent tastes. The odd negative review in the mix helps nail their overall assessment of whether they might like something or not.
Do you play nicely with others?
Yes, Perfume Land is a community like any other. I’d go so far as to say that the perfume blogger “characters” you meet in cyberspace have parallels in your average high school classroom. For example, there are the exceptionally gifted students, who are in a higher stream for certain subjects such as chemistry and history of art; then you’ve got the quietly studious ones, who keep their heads down and don’t socialise very much. There are also a handful of geeky kids, a popular prom queen or two, at least one class joker, and a gaggle of quite promising pupils who nipped out in their lunch hour and never came back. And as a community, the perfume blogosphere is governed by the same golden rules of neighbourliness and good turns. When I started Bonkers, I naively thought that you just put up some interesting content, sat back and waited for readers to find you. That’s like staying in every night, hoping to meet your future husband. If you want to get your writing noticed, you have to be prepared to promote it. Sometimes that means promoting the posts of your fellow bloggers, who will hopefully return the favour. Social networking (Facebook, Twitter, comments, blog rolls, retweets and links of all kinds) is the beating heart of the perfume community. I may be guilty of not pulling my weight here — the promotional aspect of blogging can sometimes feel a bit like “hustling”, and I am not a natural hustler. Likewise, sometimes the social networking “noise” just adds to the noise of the blog posts themselves, and there are days when my head simply spins from the frenzy of endlessly scrolling communication. The long and the short of it is that I enjoy the writing more than the selling. But these days, to get ahead in any walk of publishing, it is increasingly important to work at both, and “playing nicely with others” is key to the long term success of your blog.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, I haven’t forgotten the interests of your blog audience in all this, but if you can’t play nicely with your own readers you really shouldn’t be blogging!
Be sure to check out Bonkers About Perfume tomorrow, when Vanessa will be talking about five more things she has learned from blogging.