Speaker Spotlight: Ariel Meadow Stallings

This last featured blogger announcement for the Portland is pretty special to me, and really brings home how small the world can be when you’re a blogger and able to make connections through your website. I am beyond pleased to announce that this speaker is Ariel Meadow Stallings, the founder of the Offbeat Empire lifestyle sites.

I met Ariel back around 2001 when I moved to Seattle. We’d “met” through our blogs, and then met in person at a bloggers meetup. Back then, there weren’t very many people calling themselves bloggers, and it was easy to know the few dozen people doing so in your city. We became friends, and I have fond memories of hula hooping on the roof of her apartment building at sunset. She was a raver with multi-colored hair, editing a couple of zines and sites and writing reviews for Amazon.com to supplement her income. If you had asked either of us then what she would ‘grow up’ to be, it wouldn’t have been the head of a wedding industry business.

When she got married, Ariel wrote a book called Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternative for Independent Brides, and started a site to go with it.

In the years that followed, she grew it into a business, added more sites to complement other areas of the Offbeat lifestyle, and developed it all into today’s Offbeat Empire. Now running a successful web content business with a small, dedicated staff, Ariel is also a mom (hello, Offbeat Families) and recently renovated her Seattle home (and hello Offbeat Home & Life). In short, my old raver friend has totally grown up into an amazing role model for anyone hoping to build a business starting with their blog.

Her session in Portland will be an interview/conversation rather than a presentation, and will really give you a chance to get to know her and how she accomplished what she has. If you would like to suggest questions for the interview, please leave them in the comments — note that we won’t answer them here, we’ll save it for the interview at the Portland event. In the meantime, here’s a little Q&A to get you started.

ariel-chairs

Q. What made you start blogging?

A. I was editing a rave magazine in 2000, and got an inquiry from a freelancer who linked his blog as his writing sample. I was immediately struck by the immediacy of self-publishing… I was sick of being beholden to the magazine model of printers and distribution, of having to wait months to hear feedback about the work I was producing. Thanks to the joy of ye olde Blogger.com, I was able to have my own blog within an hour of being introduced the the concept.

Q. You started as a personal blogger and now have your own Empire running on WordPress. What made you shift from a personal site to professional ones?

A. I came of age with the early wave of personal bloggers, and was totally focused on first-person writing. After a couple years, I started exploring more topical publications, first with Hooping.org in 2002 (dedicated to hula hooping) and then with offbeatbride.com in 2007. I shifted to WordPress when I launched offbeatbride.com, which was originally just to promote my wedding memoir that I was oh-so-excited about. Within a few months, it became clear that no one cared about my stupid memoir, but everyone loved the website.

Part of this shift to more topical writing was getting sick of talking about myself, but part of it was also in response to some pretty intense trolling that I dealt with for several years. While my desire to be a publisher never slowed, my patience with personal attacks got pretty thin. I made my personal blog members-only in 2009.

Offbeat Bride eventually grew to be a whole network of lifestyle sites (including offbeatfamilies.com and offbeathome.com), and while the writing is remains personal and first person, it’s most definitely NOT my personal story. I still write on my personal blog a couple times a week… while the readership is about 100 people vs 1 million people on my work blogs, it’s the best 100 people ever.

I wish more of my old-school blogging colleagues had members-only blogs. Personal blogging is still awesome.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. First answer: Revenue. HA! Just kidding. (Sort of?)

Second answer: Chartbeat! I’m addicted to watching real-time reader counts after publishing something.

Third answer: New toys. I cannot lie! Nothing like a fresh WordPress update with new functions to fiddle with to keep me excited. I did a HUGE redesign of all my site templates last year, and the new format made writing on the same old site feel new.

Q. What’s your most popular post?

A. I got left at the altar: turning heartbreak into artwork
This post was carefully engineered to hit a sweet spot… Just negative enough to get the drama-hounds on Facebook sniffing the air and baying into the wind… but not so negative that it’s out of line with our mission — which is all about empowerment.

Ultimately, the story garnered huge mainstream media attention — the bride ended up on the Today Show — and even made waves internationally.

I wrote all about the strategy behind this post over here:
http://offbeatempire.com/2014/12/taint-week-2014

Q. What are some of your other favorite posts?

A. There but for the grace of pageviews go I: where blogging and my business are going,

See it, click it: getting over my RSS/old school blogger brain, and

Clicks don’t lie: people gravitate toward drama (and who am I to deny them?)

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. Over the years, I’ve got some truly amazing feedback about how my publications have made real, tangible differences in readers’ lives. Offbeat Bride isn’t curing cancer, but the site’s commitment to inclusivity and tolerance is downright revolutionary in the wedding industry, and knowing that we’ve changed people’s minds about trans* issues, or marriage equality, or how they communicate with the people around them… it’s hugely motivating.

I also love that as a publisher, I’ve been able to get my contributors noticed on a national level… in some ways, I consider myself as much a publicist as a publisher, and nothing makes me happier than when one of our stories blows up in the mainstream media. I love being the person who delivers offbeat culture to the mainstream’s consciousness.

Q. What are you hoping to share with the Press Publish audience?

A. A sense of wonder at the unexpected paths your career can take. I thought that getting a book deal was going to be my ticket out of web writing… and instead the blog supporting the book grew into a publishing company that now supports a staff of six. I found the wedding industry exhausting and stupid, and yet now here I am, not only a part of it, but actively working to improve it. Life is weird. Make plans, but enjoy the ride!

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I’m mostly stoked to talk to other people who spend as many hours a day living inside WordPress as I do!