Last week, the day after the Newlyweds finale, my blogging agent fired me.
The reason? My social media numbers weren’t high enough.
Back in 2010, the idea that bloggers might need agents seemed preposterous, but the industry was changing at lightning speed: bloggers suddenly had influence, brands were desperate to harness it, middlemen were (apparently) needed to intervene.
Suddenly, brand partnerships and sponsored posts were everywhere. The money was excellent (I’ll be doing a post on this), but looking back on it, it feels like I went from being a full-time blogger to a full-time shiller. The landscape changed, and you had to fight much harder to find quality content. It was (and is) there—but there was (and is) a lot of noise, too. (Read this Harper’s Bazaar piece about Instagram sponsored posts and tell me you don’t want to bang your head against a wall.)
I’ve been uncomfortable with the sponsored post game for years now. It took the joy out of blogging and distracted me from the reason I was doing it in the first place: to connect. To share. To create a space that was different from what you could find in magazines. I got into blogging because I loved beauty, but when I’d sit down at my computer to write, I felt depressed. The PR packages would pile up. The products would go untested. It felt stale and I needed more.
Even before the show finished, I resolved that I needed to make a serious change. I loved the money that came along with a sponsored post, but hated the feeling that I was selling my soul, one product launch-review at a time. I knew that friends and bloggers I admired were able to maintain that tenuous balance, but for some reason, I just couldn’t.
The initial motivation for doing the show was a hope that it would catapult my good-in-the-real-world but lackluster-for-a-blogger social media numbers. My finances had all but dried up, Erik was completely supporting me, and I hadn’t yet sold Wisteria. I needed a Hail Mary, and badly.
I spent the better part of a year fretting about my Instagram photos: a wine glass stem here, an artfully arranged flower bouquet there, all designed to perfectly highlight that just-launched beauty product without making readers (oops, sorry, slip of the tongue there: followers) feel like they were being marketed to.
I used to say I loved beauty because you can be beautiful for free. It’s not necessarily about consumption. You don’t have to buy anything to look or feel beautiful if you’re armed with the right knowledge and attitude. But that wasn’t what it was starting to feel like.
I moved further and further down the rabbit hole of seeking sponsored posts, trying to please my agents, trying not to anger brands, and muzzling what I really thought about various launches (sometimes impressed, but often wildly underwhelmed)…because if I pissed everybody off, my income stream would vanish.
I know that we live in a world where you wouldn’t have I Love Lucy without Philip Morris: somebody has to pay the bills, and if you’re doing this as a job, that comes with certain grown-up, realistic, way-of-the-world trade-offs.
When I finally relaunched this site, I decided to remove the ads. If I’d still been making thousands of dollars a month, that would have been a much harder call: I’ll be the first one to admit that. But I wasn’t making thousands of dollars a month anymore: I was making less and less money blogging, had those damn stagnant social media numbers, and stopped going to beauty events and having energy to play the game altogether while I instead focused on my personal life. I started making noises on Facebook about the evils of sponsored posts, and the need to connect with readers instead of please brands. I let it be known, loudly, that things needed to change.
And then last week: the nail in the coffin. Fired. A chapter closed.
I wasn’t surprised when my agent let me go. It was a pleasant, amicable conversation about the state of the industry, the requirements for high social media numbers, and brands’ need for ROI—and I get it. If I were on the brand side, with bosses and spreadsheets to answer to, I’d probably make the same call.
It’s a business, this beauty industry, and how could I begrudge anybody else their bottom line when I have mine, too?
Although I initially felt fine after the chopping block phone call, later that night, malaise set in. How on earth was I going to make money moving forward? Were Erik and I doomed to be a one-income family—right when expenses were higher than ever because of Aurelia? Could I even get a real job? Should I take a position in marketing? Work as a travel agent? Get a job at Starbucks?
When I first moved to LA, after I’d sold two books to HarperCollins and was taking meetings at CAA—looking for all the world like a mid-20s success story—I simultaneously worked at a juice bar and as a receptionist, walking four miles a day through West Hollywood because I didn’t have a car. At my core, I’m a hustler, and I’ll do whatever necessary—pride and ego be damned—to keep moving on up. It was scary and wildly surreal to feel like my back was to the wall right when everything else was going so well, but that’s life, isn’t it? Onward.
Then Erik made a good point. While it was a blow to my ego, it was a wonderful opportunity to refocus and unleash my creativity. It meant I was no longer shackled to brands. I didn’t have to muzzle myself for fear of pissing anybody off. I could get back to the honesty that started me on the blogging journey more than 10 years ago.
I could stop worrying about curated Instagram beauty photos and instead post AS MANY DAMN PHOTOS OF MY DAUGHTER AS I WANT (which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past week). I’m sure I’m losing some followers after I’ve posted the fifth photo in a row of my chubby baby—like no human being in the history of the world has ever procreated—but that’s okay. It makes me happy: and it doesn’t have to be about the numbers anymore.
My blogger friend Felicia Sullivan—whose own site Love Life Eat is a brand-free space—shared an excellent blog post today: Why I Abandoned My Popular Social Media Presence. (I urge you to read it.) It’s all about quieting the noise, something that I know resonates among many friends and fellow bloggers, regardless of how much some of them are joyfully, deservedly killing it online. And beyond that: it’s about the idea that sometimes the numbers don’t mean a damn thing.
So here we are.
I’ve pressed the reset button. It’s the natural evolution of what I’ve been writing and thinking about for the past couple of years, and which has recently reached a boiling point.
For obvious reasons, I don’t have as much time for blogging as I used to. I live my life in Aurelia’s naps, and am still hurrying to finish my Wisteria draft before the due date. But if you click on my Q&A section and send me your beauty questions, I’ll get back to you at some point, post it here, and flood this space with as much honesty and truth as I can.
Beauty brands and PR firms might never send me another product for free. I might never get another brand deal, even if it’s a company I do actually like and believe in. Beauty press trips? A thing of the past. I need to make my money elsewhere and that’s scary: I’m still figuring that part out, and plan to freelance and pursue my career as an author. (A sure path to miiiillions of dollars! Just kidding. A sure path to about $20K a year.) I had a pretty good thing going for a while, and now I don’t. It’s partially the industry, and it’s partially me.
But I hope to to blog until the day I die. And I’m not going to let anybody tell me I’m not valuable to you.
Because I’m no longer beholden.
Because the industry is changing.
Because we may be few, but I know that people like me—who love beauty, but crave real answers—are still out there.
Because there’s too much noise and not enough points-of-view.
Because if you don’t evolve, you die.
Sometimes you need a push to make that leap. So here we are. I was pushed, and now I’m leaping and I’m moving forward.
This is not just a beauty blog anymore, and I want to be honest with you across the board. So let’s do that together. Let’s not mince words. Let’s talk about the things that people are afraid to talk about.
Get at me with your questions. Let’s get real.