My BlogCon Speech: What It Takes To Make It As A Blogger

by John Hawkins | September 13, 2010 12:57 pm

It is a great honor to be here at the first inaugural Tabicon 2010, which is being thrown by my close personal friend Tabitha Hale. I understand Freedomworks also has some small role or another in putting on this event; so I’d like to thank them for their efforts as well — whatever they may be.

Now, since I am here in front of a whole roomful of bloggers, I thought I would talk about some of the things I get asked privately — questions like, do you have advice for me about building up my traffic? What’s it’s like being a professional blogger? And are Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin as hot in person as they are on TV? The answer to that last question is “yes” and “yes,” my friends.

Now, way back when I got started — and this should encourage you — I had no contacts in D.C., no contacts in the blogging world, and no special skills that gave me an edge. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a professor. I’m not a reporter. I did technical support for a living. In other words, when your grandma’s dog peed on her hard drive, then she put it in the dishwasher to get it clean, took it out and wondered why it didn’t work, I was the person she called — and, yes, that did really happen.

Back then, I would get up, go to work, come home, work until the wee hours of the morning pumping out 4 solid blog posts a day; then I’d get 4-6 hours of sleep and do it again. After doing that for a year, I had 1000 people a day reading me. After two years of that, I was at 3000 a day. After four years, I had 8000 people a day reading me and went full time.

Now, I’m at around 14k people a day on Right Wing News, 14k on Linkiest, and another 5k or so on Viral Footage. On RWN, there are roughly 14-18 posts a day, M-F, another 8-10 per day on the week-ends, and I have something like 30 bloggers writing for me at least semi-regularly.

I tell you all this to emphasize that the blogosphere is a much more mature market now and it’s tougher to be competitive. It’s sort of like laundry detergent. By that, I mean, if you want to start your own brand of laundry detergent, you’re competing with Tide, Cheer, Dash and all those other nifty brands you know by heart. It’s the same in the blogosphere: if you start a general purpose, national blog today, you’re competing with me, Ace of Spades HQ, Gateway Pundit, Redstate, Michelle Malkin, Hot Air, and other blogs that have been around for years building up name recognition and audiences.

So these days, when people ask me what type of blog they should start, I always tell them: find an interesting niche, one that can draw an audience, and kill it. Cover it better than anyone else can and become the go-to spot for that topic.

For example, that’s what Pamela Geller does with Atlas Shrugs. She’s the best in the business at covering the radical Islam beat. It’s what Andrew Breitbart does with Big Hollywood. It’s what I’ve tried to do with Viral Footage, which is all videos, and Linkiest, which is all links.

Also, here’s another hard truth, one that a lot of people won’t tell you. Being talented, persistent, and working hard is not enough to make you a successful blogger. Let me repeat that: Being talented, persistent, and working hard is not enough to make you a successful blogger.

There are, however, three other things that you can do that will help take you to the next level and I’m talking about them now.

#1) First, you need to know what you’re trying to do. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? You’d think everybody knows what they’re trying to do, but they don’t. I know this because I regularly have bloggers ask me for advice about how to get better at blogging and the first thing I always say is, “Well, what are you trying to do? What’s your goal?” Almost inevitably, they tell me that they don’t know. Well, if you don’t know what you’re trying to do, how are you going to do it?

#2) This is something that’s going to make everyone in this room happy, because you’re doing it right now: it’s networking.

There is a lot of truth to that old saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

That being said, blogging is not a good old boys’ network where people only plug their friends. Let me tell you how it works. I’m more likely to look at the blog of someone I know than the blog of someone I don’t know. If I get a link request, I’m more likely to link the person I know. If I have to choose between linking two different roughly similar articles and one of them is from a random blogger and the other one is from Mary Katharine Ham, who’s always really friendly when I bring people up to meet her at events like this one, I’m going to give the link to Mary Katharine.

#3) The last and most important key thing is to stand out. Look at the most successful people in the blogosphere, people who are all more successful than me. Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit puts up great material and he gets it up first. I have no idea how he gets it up so fast. Ace from Ace of Spades HQ is not only one of the best writers in the business, he’s got a wild unique writing style. He’s like an Ewok on meth and if Ace writes it, you’re not going to forget it. Michelle Malkin was a well known columnist before she ever started blogging and she’s a great researcher. So, you have to ask: what makes you unique? So, you’ve got to stand out.

Now, if you do all these things and you succeed, you’ll find that blogging has a unique set of rewards and challenges.

On the challenges side, the biggest one is money. The honest truth is that I could go to D.C. and get a job working for a think tank, doing consulting, or working as a congressional staffer, and I could easily make twice what I do now while working less hours.

There’s also a great deal of what you might call “unpleasantness” in this business.

I get threatened with lawsuits. Heck, I had a threat this week-end before Blog Con. I’ve also had every vile thing you can imagine said about me publicly — and if you’re a woman, you’ll get it even worse. All the same things that are said about me, will be said about you, but there will be gross sexual comments as well. Furthermore, I don’t care if you look like Miss America, people will come out of the woodwork to tell you how ugly you are.

On top of all that, I’ve been in ugly public feuds, I’ve had people threaten to go after my friends, the RNC blackballed me from the 2008 Republican National Convention for being tough on them and John McCain, and back when I had a day job, yes, I did get in trouble for posting to my blog on the job.

On the rewards side, I can’t tell you how cool it was to be driving down the road and hear Rush Limbaugh mention John Hawkins and Right Wing News on his radio show. I’m also a big Anthony Robbins fan. After writing something nice about one of his books, he wrote me a personal thank you email which I really appreciated. Because of this business, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some big name conservatives. I’ve interviewed Ann Coulter 7 times and Michelle Malkin actually asked me to read over one of her books before it was sent to the publisher, which I considered a high honor.

It’s also nice to reach so many people. In an average week, if you include my Townhall column and the radio shows I do, I have a chance to influence more than 100k people a week. It’s also great to be able to influence what’s happening in D.C.

For example, after the NRSC endorsed Charlie Crist, I got teed off, wrote Erick Erickson and suggested we get together and publicly put a boot in Jon Cornyn’s behind. We did, other bloggers like Robert Stacy McCain joined us, and by the time we got done beating on them, they didn’t publicly endorse another candidate in a competitive primary this year.

On the more positive side, I wanted to get the GOP House leadership on the record on Obamacare. So, I reached out to John Boehner, Mike Pence, Eric Cantor, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers. 72 hours later, all of them were on the record on Right Wing News.

And isn’t that what we got into this business to do? We got into this business so we could influence people and help change things for the better in this country. Well now, we have a chance to do that when it really matters. So, whether you’re Ace and have 100k people a day reading you or you have 50 people a day reading you, don’t give up, keep working, keep reaching out, and we will take this country back with your help!

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