Relationships

Blogging as a Career

Over the years, many readers have asked about my career and blogging. So, I figured I’d write a post answering the most frequently asked questions (including moving to New York, boyfriends and break-ups)…

Why did you first move to New York?
I moved from Michigan to New York almost eleven years ago. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I stayed in Ann Arbor for six months and worked three jobs to save up enough money to move to New York. My first gig here was a full-time unpaid internship with Cosmopolitan Magazine for three months, to help get my foot in the door. I also tutored every day after work and on weekends to make money. I was super broke and had butterflies in my stomach, but was thrilled to finally be in the city.

How broke?
I was almost literally pinching pennies. Every day I’d order a $1.50 bagel with cream cheese for lunch, and I always really wanted to add tomatoes, but for an extra sixty cents, I simply couldn’t afford it. Every night I would walk home from work, since I didn’t want to splurge on the $2 bus fare. My first apartment was a small one-bedroom sublet in midtown which I shared with a guy friend, and he slept in the bedroom and I slept with a blanket on the old sofa in the living room. Now and again we had cockroaches and, even on the hottest days, we never turned on the air conditioner because we couldn’t pay extra on the utility bill. I cannot begin to tell you how much spaghetti I ate for dinner that year, just because it was the cheapest dish I could think of! Now whenever we have spaghetti, it takes me right back.

It was a drag to be so broke, but at the same time, it was exciting. I felt like I was paying my dues. If you ask pretty much anyone who lives in New York, they’ll regale you with terrible apartment stories, crazy roommate sagas, a history of scrimping and saving when they first arrived. It’s a rite of passage.

What was your first job?
Growing up I had a million jobs at restaurants, coffee shops, babysitting, shoveling snowy driveways, etc….but after my first few months in New York, I landed a full-time real job as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster (book publishing) for a year.

And then I decided to go to law school.

Law school?
Law school was a big departure. But back when I was graduating from college, I randomly took the LSAT, and when I did well on it, I figured I’d just apply to schools, and when I got in, I figured I might as well send in the deposit. One thing came after another, and it was a bit of a snowball effect. I figured I’d try it for a year. So I applied for student loans and started at NYU School of Law in 2002.

How did it go?
That year was really miserable. Part of it was personal—my college boyfriend and I had broken up, and I was pretty devastated; I lived in a tiny ground-floor dorm that looked out onto crowded Broadway, so I had to keep the blinds closed all day, and there was a hot-dog stand right outside my window, so the whole place smelled like boiled meat. Part of it was law school, itself—I missed working in books and magazines. I felt like I didn’t fit in with the other students and felt lame. I called my mom like 50 times a day. I sobbed on my dad’s shoulder when I went home for Thanksgiving. After finishing the first year, I decided to leave law school. That was actually an easy decision, despite knowing I’d have to somehow repay all the loans (a whopping $54,000 for just one year, zoinks!)

How did you pay back the loans?
As soon as I left law school, I felt flooded with relief. I knew I had made the right decision, even though it was a much, much less secure career path. To help repay the loans, I tutored and taught the LSAT for Kaplan on evenings and weekends, which was actually an awesome job. I made friends with some of the students, since many were my age. During the day, I got a full-time job with a small editorial/advertising firm. It was GREAT to work for a small company because I got a ton of work thrown at me and was just expected to figure it out. The atmosphere was intense, but I loved being trusted to get the work done, and the job gave me confidence that I could do anything. I rose up the ranks quickly (as you can in a small company), and also learned a lot about business, since the owner of the company was an incredible negotiator; I watched her approach big, intimidating brands and basically say, “We are worth this huge price; you should sign with us right away and you will never look back,” and people basically did. She showed me by example that you can ask for the moon and, if you really believe in yourself, actually get it.

What did you do at the company?
My position was an editor, and, over the four years I was there, we worked on some amazing projects. My favorite was launching a magazine called Bene, which was about how to live like an Italian (think: mozzarella, thick sweaters, mama’s boys). It was a dream project and I was asked to take the helm. I worked like a million hours a day, and my boyfriend at the time thought I was the biggest type-A stress case (which I was), but overall I loved it.

When did you start your blog?
Five years ago, I broke up with that same boyfriend and needed a distraction from feeling sad (read: eating potato chips and watching TV). (Funny that now that I’m writing this bio, breakups seem to be at the crux of all my positive life decisions! When a door closes, a window opens, right?) To distract myself, I decided to start a blog. None of my friends had one, and I only read a few—Design*Sponge mostly. Blogging as a career didn’t really exist; never did I imagine Cup of Jo would be anything more than a fun hobby. So I worked on it at night and on weekends. I got really into it and would stay up til 2am working on it. (Here’s my first post!:)

When did your blog start making money?
As I said here, shifting from blogging-as-a-hobby to blogging-as-a-career was a very slow transition and one that I had never anticipated. After a year or so, I started featuring a few ads on my blog to earn some pocket money. And after a couple years, I quit my job to focus on freelance magazine writing (Glamour, New York Magazine) and grow my blog, so it became about half my income. But only about a year ago did I finally realize that my blog had officially become my full-time job—both financially and time-wise. And I was happy and surprised. (Also here’s my work/life balance post, if you’d like to know more.)

What are your favorite parts of blogging?
* Having a close relationship with my beloved readers. Starting the Motherhood Mondays column took the relationship to a new level (do you agree?:), because we started discussing marriage, breastfeeding, depression, infertility, everything. Having these conversations has been an incredible, eye-opening, heartwarming experience.
* I LOVE LOVE LOVE when readers stop us in the street because it’s so awesome to meet readers in person. Blogging can feel isolating sometimes, since you work on a laptop at home, so it’s amazing to meet people. (And everyone is always so nice and cute!:)
* Writing about a bunch of different topics. If we do a bedroom makeover or I read a fascinating parenting book or I’m itching to write a guide to NYC, I can just do it. That’s great, since when you work for a magazine, your “beat” tends to be much more limited. And the great thing is, if I start feeling in a rut, I can just shake things up. It’s a real gift to have editorial control.
* Working with photographers, designers and illustrators. Now and again, I’ve worked with super talented people, like Jamie Beck, Jenny Komenda and Gemma Correll. It’s been such a pleasure and honor. I’d love to do more collaborations in the future.
* Alex being awesome. Alex helps a lot with my blog, not so much in the nitty gritty, but just overarching conversations about ideas, worries, etc. He jokes that I’m the CEO, but he’s the chief strategist, director of communications, personal chef, mailroom guy, and psychotherapist for Cup of Jo. :) And he’s written a couple posts, including 8 confessions of a new dad and his side of the birth story.

What are your least favorite parts of blogging?
Obviously, I feel super lucky to have the job I do, and any negative aspects are absolutely worth it. But I think it’s important sometimes to talk about negative parts of your job, so that other people don’t assume your job is perfect and thus feel bad about their jobs. (It’s like when you’re secretly psyched to read that food critics often get food poisoning:) So here are a few things that can be a drag…

* Negative comments. You know that punched-in-the-gut feeling you get when someone criticizes you? Well, if you have a big blog, you get negative comments pretty much every day, so you have that feeling at some point every day. Sometimes the comments are just from someone cranky (and then this mantra applies), but often they’re from smart readers and thus are really constructive and helpful for growth. I take negative comments seriously and try to learn from them. Criticism helps you grow, as both a blogger and person, and of course I welcome honest comments from my readers. Like I said, though, negative comments can be very tough to read. I’ve always been sensitive to criticism, and I’ll admit, I’ve called my mom in tears more than once. It can feel very personal when you’re writing about yourself and your life.
* Feeling isolated. While working from home, it’s easy to feel lonely without co-workers, especially when you’re working on the laptop on your bed, ha! It’s often fun and social to have a team around you…and sometimes I just want to gossip about The Bachelor the next morning! It’s also tough to never have a sounding board—even just a co-worker to ask, is this idea good or totally crazy?
* Working on vacations/Christmas/weekends/etc. Since I started Cup of Jo five years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a vacation where I didn’t spend some time working—including our honeymoon. Blogging never stops, and running your own business never stops. Since I don’t have anyone else working with me who can take over in my absence, I always have to take time to check in (to upload guest posts, to answer timely advertising questions, etc.). After all, my advertisers are depending on being able to communicate with me, and I owe it to them to have my traffic stay the same even when we’re out of town. I don’t really mind it, though, since I feel lucky to be blogging overall.

Has Toby changed your work approach?
Having a baby forces you (in a good way) to take time off. Whereas I used to take on a million side projects, I don’t anymore. And I love that we have hours built in every evening to go to the playground, sing, play the bongos, make jokes, ride bikes. Apparently the average toddler laughs 400 times a day, and those throaty giggles are totally contagious. Alex is also really laid-back and talented at relaxing (ha), so that has been good for me. He has taught me to stop more often and smell the roses.

Any advice for growing a blog?
People will like reading your blog—and you’ll enjoy writing it—if you’re true to yourself and your posts come from the heart. When you write a post, imagine your mom or best friend reading it. Does it sound like your voice? Does the topic fascinate or inspire you? Is the post clear, enticing and visual? Do you have a point of view that’s different from other bloggers? Write about what you love. I think everyone has an amazing blog inside them, or a story to tell, and I really encourage people to go for it. If you’re starting out, best of luck!

Do you have any tips about starting a magazine career?
I did an interview about my magazine work which might answer some questions. I also love the websites Media Bistro and Ed2010. They have great advice about pitching stories and interviewing; plus, they have job and internship listings. There are obviously many different paths to success, and I would recommend staying very open to opportunities (even low-paying or no-paying ones, at first) and doing all you can to get your foot in the door. Good luck!

What is the biggest misconception about bloggers?
When it’s done right, blogging should look easy—just how magazine articles and books should look easy and fun. But it doesn’t mean that it is easy. I wrote about the behind-the-scenes of running a bigger blog in this interview. There’s so much back-end work, including negotiating with advertisers, redesigning your site, working closely with lawyers when developing contracts, hiring contributors and graphic designers, building a presence on social media, answering hundreds and hundreds of reader emails every day, doing guest posts and interviews, the list goes on. Funnily enough, after a while, the actual writing-of-the-posts feels like only a small part of your daily work (even though that’s obviously the best part!:).

How do you earn money and handle advertising?
For the past six years, I’ve sold most of the ads myself. I’ve worked primarily with small brands, such as etsy shops and jewelry designers. I love working with small business owners and supporting female entrepreneurs.

Now I’ve also decided to work with an ad network that handles banner ads for bloggers. It’s a big step, but I’m excited to free up more time to focus on editorial posts. Starting now, I’ll also be doing a few sponsored posts per month, which I typically sell directly to brands myself. For years, I didn’t accept sponsored posts, but now I’ve seen that they work really well with brands you actually love (such as Pinhole Press and The Honest Company). And I’ll mark them very clearly with text at the top or bottom of the post. So, it will be very clear when something is sponsored; I hope you guys will enjoy the posts, which will help keep Cup of Jo running smoothly.

What do you think about the future of blogging?
I always tell Alex that I’m riding the wave. Blogs probably won’t be around forever (although of course I hope they will!) and you never know how quickly the industry will change. After all, when I started five years ago, I never thought blogging could be a job, and now it is, and maybe it won’t be in the future. There’s definitely not much job security. But I’m grateful to be doing it now, and hope to keep blogging for as long as possible.

If you have read this far, bravo, haha! Thank you so much, and I hope this answered most of your questions (and probably way more:) If you have any others, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I want to reiterate how much I love blogging and how much I love my readers. Thank you again (so much) for everything. Love, Joanna

  1. Lorraine says...

    I was looking for some advice on blogging and came across your website. This is such a helpful post. Thank you so much for sharing and keep doing what you’re doing! :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all this!

  3. I love this post!! Started working on my blog a bit ago and now after baby, I am kind of expanding it and we’ll see how that goes. You are right, it’s nice to be able to write about what you are passionate about. I definitely want to read the “Interview” you mentioned in the misconception about bloggers answer, but the link looks broken. If you get a sec please let me know the link so I can read more. It’s awesome that you are able to blog for a living, Cheers!!

  4. Henrietta Bancsov says...

    You are so encouraging to my little spirit right now. I’ve read this post through sifting through your blog probably five times this past year and it always uplifts me. Reading about your work history and your work ethic and all the advice you have to offer has helped me through any dreadful feeling I’ve been going through. I’ve been going to school while all my friends have graduated by now, then got to a point where I wasn’t doing well and felt discouraged enough to not want to finish school. I’ve felt like I should be doing so much more with my life by now, and this post was very encouraging, as well as your other posts about handling and balancing life. I’ve been at a job where it’s been bringing my positive spirit down and decided to make a change and take a pay cut back to another job that offers more creative freedom and happiness. You are such an encouragement! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I just started my own blog to chronicle my transition from a practicing attorney to a writer. It was just created a few days ago, so definitely in the beginning stages, but your article gave me a lot of great ideas to think about as it grows. Thank you!

    amberbyersblog.blogspot.com

  6. I’ve been following your blog for the daily.Such supportive advice.I appreciate how keen and sensible you are in your writing. Thank you!

  7. I just took the leap into blogging a week ago and am really enjoying it so far. This was such an encouraging read, I appreciate how thoughtful and realistic you are in your writing. Thank you!

  8. Hunter says...

    Joanna,

    I realize this post is several years old now, but I am 21 and about to move to New York and have been searching far and wide for encouragement and tips that will ease my nerves. I am a long time reader of Cup of Jo, and reading this narrative about crummy apartments and $1.50 bagels made be feel so encouraged. Especially coming from someone I admire so greatly – you!

    Thank you for creating this fabulous corner of the internet!

    xxx, Hunter

  9. My friend shared your blog with me! Thanks you for sharing your journey. As a blogging newbie it’s constantly great to hear a experienced bloggers knowledge.

  10. I’m so glad my mom shared your blog with me! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. As a blogging newbie it’s always great to hear a seasoned bloggers experience and that it can actually be a full-time gig if you stay true to you :)! xo-Lindsey

  11. This is actually the second time I’ve read this post! I just started my own blog as a way to feel in control of my destiny while looking for a job. Though it seems like it takes a long time for a blog to give your a paycheck, the feeling of being a “boss” of something is worth the effort. Thanks for the post!

    Julia
    http://www.whenthegirlsrule.com

  12. alexandra says...

    Hi, Jo! I love your blog so much! Every time I visit, I remember that I almost became Anton and Toby’s babysitter! :) (if only I could have committed to a year!) I feel like that’s a little nugget of joy I can carry around with me, haha. Anyways–you inspire me always and I hope to follow a path like yours someday, from magazines to making my own mark. xo

  13. Wow! This is so encouraging. Thank you for sharing Jo. Loved reading from top to bottom. You are my newest favorite blogger. I have your page bookemarked. So refreshing! Keep up being that ray of sunshine you are. Thanks for the advice and cool links for media practitioners and to your work. XO

  14. Thank you for posting this about Blogging. I am in my 60’s, about to be retired, and have always had a passion to write. I have not “marketed” my website http://www.moonflowerblooms.com to anyone but close family and friends and am gaining the courage to put it out there.
    I believe that writing comes from a place inside of you that is just itching to be expressed so am excited to give it a chance for the next chapter of my life.
    Your blog is great and everything you have written here I will refer back to as I embark upon the journey of writing.
    Thanks for sharing. That’s what blogging is all about.
    K

  15. Love your blog, your story, and your advices. I’m working on creating my very first blog. Cup of Jo is an inspiration!

  16. I was looking for bloggers inspirations and your site was one of those sites that really caught me. I clicked on your first post link and I love how your blog started from something very small to this successful one that you’re running now. Thanks for the inspirations! -Lovely

  17. I’ve been following your blog for the last three years and I love this post about your history. It really is refreshing to hear you talk about your journey and though this post is old, it provides so much motivation for those of us who haven’t had as much success. Keep doing what you’re doing, we love hearing about it!

  18. I’m late to the game here, but this gave me a much needed boost. There’s a level of embarrassment around starting a blog (is my voice worthy of a site? will people care? will my family laugh at me?) and I’m having a hard time pushing past it. Your openness around just about everything makes me feel like I can actually do it. Keep on being you.

  19. I re-read this post every time I’m feeling uninspired or uncertain about starting a new blog from scratch. The ideas for it have been rooted in me for a long time but it took a while to realized that I could start on a brand new platform that would be allow me to build a more cohesive brand. That probably sounds confusing, but I just started on Yebbie Life even though I’ve been developing the idea for over a year. I especially like your advice about writing from your heart. Since a big part of my new blog is to be more of my self both online and off. Thank you! Would love to run into in NYC one of these days too :)

    x Tali
    http://www.yebbielife.com

  20. A really interesting post, thank you Joanna. Often when you read posts about blogging they contain a load of practical tips about how to earn money from your blog. I think it is really obvious when a blogger is writing just to earn money. There is no passion or honesty and it feels like the blogger sees their writing as a job, a chore. What I really love about your blog is the beautifully crafted posts about motherhood and relationships. It is clear from your writing that you really live blogging for the blogging journey not just for money. I think this is really important. I have just started a blog http://www.thesingleswan.com about my journey as a newly single mother. It doesn’t look anywhere near as professional as yours and I don’t earn any money from it. I just like writing.

    Thanks again for the post. I was really interested to read about your career.

    All the best

    Pen

  21. Thank you so much for all of the great tips and tricks. Your blog is so inspiring, and your authenticity is refreshing! Information on your career path is so helpful, as I am running my own blog at the moment and trying to balance school! (www.relentlessredimere.wordpress.com)

  22. Your blog is tour de force, Joanna. Thank you for sharing your tips and wisdom!

  23. Dear Joanna,
    This blog post gave me so much inspiration and courage as a starting up blogger! I just started my blog at- http://www.boboandbibi.com on behalf of my love towards writing, photographing, and sharing experiences with others.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences to come a long way. :)

  24. well, if my blog is just half as beautiful and uplifting as yours one day, I’ll be happy. Just starting out so this article is a great boost to the type muscles! Keep doing what you do! love dot and baby henry xx

  25. Char White says...

    Dear Joanna, this article Blogging as a Career has been very insightful! I have been researching this topic for days to the point of weariness and your words have given me focus again and a real view of this new direction in my life should I pursue it. Congratulations on your success and look forward to reading more of your posts! Thanks again for your words of wisdom,
    Char White, Indianapolis

  26. Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog via a friend’s recommendation. I love your site and your insight. This is helpful information. I’ve been blogging (and mothering) for a little over four years. Hoping to turn my blog into some kind of part-time income, but not sure how/where to begin. I appreciate your thoughts on the subject!

  27. This post is amazing. So inspiring, informational, funny and great! I love binge reading your blog, even if I’ve read the post already.
    Love it!

    Just working on my own now and you’ve definitely given me the kick I needed to start creating great content. Can’t wait to get home and write!

  28. I made it to the bottom!
    Never hard to get there; so enjoy reading your blog, Joanna.

    I love your perspective and mode. Your honesty and genuine flare is refreshing too. I think I’m a younger audience compared to the majority of your readers, but you’re cool (perhaps this gives away my age), and I often feel as if you’re me in my future because I like your thinking and style.

    Have a wonderful week ahead! X, Fei.

  29. As someone just starting out in the blogging world (and really enjoying it!), I really appreciate your helpful insights and you sharing your experiences!

    gemerald.squarespace.com

  30. This is hugely inspirational. Thank for you answering these questions.

  31. These quotes are so good! I really needed them, thank you.

  32. joanna, at 22, i’ve lived in NYC and interned for Teen Vogue magazine and was offered another internship at Marie Claire and Lucky, and you continue to inspire me and help me push forth every day. i have anxieties just as you discuss here on your site, and while sometimes they feel debilitating, i know to just keep going and believe in myself. i truly admire you and love you joanna! thank you for being you. xoxo tracy

  33. This post was so helpful and inspiring! I just started my own blog and, beyond the constant advice and tips I get from my “pro blogger” girl friend, I have no idea what I am doing! But every day is so fun and I try to learn something new to improved my page (and my strategy) every day. A Cup of Jo has recently become one of my daily pleasures and I thank you for what you do.

  34. Just discovered your blog and I’m loving it! Such a great selection of articles.

  35. I think one of your best gifts is that you know how to approach a controversial subject lightly enough that no one feels threatened by it. I noticed on your public breastfeeding post that people commented on it mostly with tact. Even people who disagreed seemed almost apologetic for disagreeing.
    I think your ability to write clearly without any judgmental tone, strikes a chord with your readers and makes your blog very accessible. The fact that you realized you should put the negative sides of blogging as a career, shows that you understand human nature well enough to successfully share and tap into some fun and important aspects of life.
    It looks like keeping a blog like yours could be so simple, but that is only because you are talented enough to make it look that way. Anyway, I just wanted to point these things out because it is what I have noticed over the years of reading your blog…almost every day. Thanks for this. My sister and I really enjoy reading and talking about your posts. I read Cup Of Jo in the morning along with my emails and quick Facebook check. Your blog makes each day a little more interesting.

  36. Hi! I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it!! I’m starting at U of M in the fall and your whole story about moving to New York, getting a gig with Cosmo and starting your own blog is so inspiring to me and gives me a lot of hope for my own future. Thanks for sharing such an awesome post, and GO BLUE!

  37. Hi! I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it!! I’m starting at U of M in the fall and your whole story about moving to New York, getting a gig with Cosmo and starting your own blog is so inspiring to me and gives me a lot of hope for my own future. Thanks for sharing such an awesome post, and GO BLUE!

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  39. Jo, I’ve just loved your picture and this warm open article :) Greetings from Patagonia, Argentina

  40. Really awesome post for blogger. It could help any internet marketer. Blogger should have to read this post if they want to develop their carrier.

    WordPress designer

  41. How do you feel about using blogger versus WordPress as a professional blogger? I use WordPress at work, but for my own blog I would like to use blogger due to the ease of use. Can you do a blog post about the use of blogger? And why you prefer it?

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  43. What an incredible post!! Such an inspiring story Jo! I learned a lot from this post and it just reassures my love for blogging. Clearly you’ve been through some really rough times but hard work definitely pays off and you are proof of that! Very inspiring post, thank you for sharing!

    http://Www.lifethroughmycloset.com

  44. Having just graduated and feeling very lost, I loved reading about how you started off. Hard work really pays off and this was a really insightful post! Thanks!

  45. You are lovely and an absolute inspiration. It’s funny how by simply following this blog you can feel like a friend. I hope you continue to love what you do, worry less (don’t we all need to do this??) and enjoy the little moments. I loved reading this and realizing that we all have to start somewhere. Thanks for being real and honest. Your blog is a happy start to my day. Ps. I now call Michigan home and love it. ;)

  46. Law school sucks.

    Great post :). Thank you!

  47. I just stumbled across your blog and I just love this post, especially the advice you gave about writing from your heart, like you’re talking to your best friend or Mum. I’m a complete (insecure) newbie to this blogging thing but when I read your post, it did actually feel like you were talking to us/me even though I don’t even know you!
    Thank you,
    Nhan
    http://www.myloveforparis.blogspot.com

  48. Wish I understood why women’s magazines, knowing how hard it is for young women, often single, starting out in the city, pay little or nothing for interns. You’d think they would be at the forefront of really well-paid internships that fully support these young girls so they can begin their careers fully empowered. Aaand the best childcare facilities, etc…maybe they have that, I don’t know. I suppose it’s because the publishers are still male-based? So sad.

  49. I love your blog, and what excellent advice! I used to own a few boutiques (featuring esty like indie designers) and I love fashion, food and also happen to be a mom of kids ages 10 to 22! I am starting a blog for women 30+. Do you do all your own design. It is the technical aspect that scares me!
    xo

  50. What a great post. Thanks for this. I do freelance writing but just blog for my family. I’m amazed by you guys that make this work. Way to go! Personally I just love having a log of my family. Blogs are the best. :)