By Anna Campbell
I'm delighted to welcome Michelle Buonfiglio, Queen of Bloglandia, to the lair. Michelle writes about romance fiction at myLifetime.com in Romance: B(u)y the Book. Within that is a blog called “Let’s Talk Romance.” She writes weekly columns about new romances, AuthorView interviews, Video AuthorViews and special features like this tribute to cover models.
Michelle has very generously offered one lucky commenter a prize pack of champagne bubble bath, chocolates and romance novels. Because I'm just so dang excited she's here at last, I'm offering another lucky commenter a copy of Sizzle, Seduce and Simmer, which features recipes and short stories from some of Australia's best romance writers.
So the long and short of it is, GET COMMENTING, PEOPLE!
Michelle, your blog began as Romance by the Blog and has since moved to myLifetime.com as Romance: B(u)y the Book. It has always been incredibly popular with readers and writers. The Banditas are a young blog and we’d love to know your secrets. To what do you attribute your blog’s long-lasting and unfailing success?
First, thanks so much, Anna, and my little Banditas for letting me join you in the Lair. What an honor, to be among such talent and wit! Can’t wait to chat today with everyone who hangs here.
Actually, Romance: B(u)y the Book came first! I wanted to write about romance fiction in a respectful way that appealed to the smart, savvy women who read and write it, as well as to introduce the genre to folks who don’t know anything about it. And I got a gig with WNBC.com and 80+ TV news websites to “webdicate” my opinion columns, AuthorView interviews, etc. It wasn’t so much about reviewing, as my trying to entertain and engage – hopefully! - while writing about books I love. The blog, Romance: By the Blog came about six months later, and I actually wasn’t too hepped to do it! I mean, I had a ton of work and deadlines as it was. But my husband, an Internet sales and marketing guy, kept saying, “If you blog it, they will come…” Plus, he thought of it as a way for me to meet women to talk with about romance, probably so I’d stop talking about it to him.
I think you Banditas probably are experiencing what I did, that you build slowly and welcome every single viewer who cares enough to make a connection by commenting at your blog. All the while, we write for the folks who are loyal, non-commenting readers. I don’t believe high page views equal success in “genre” blogging; it’s kind of a “who’s” reading your thing, who’s taking your info and sharing it with friends, either online or non-digitally. We used to call that word-of-mouth! It’s remarkably hard work, but the emotional payoff is enormous. I have no secrets, I simply did another thing my husband kept telling me when I’d get frustrated, wanting everything to happen yesterday. He said to just keep doing the work. Write as well as I can, interact with viewers, make friends, develop and be true to my ethics. That worked for me, because the right “who” saw my content, recommended it to someone at Lifetime, and it moved forward from there. I couldn’t be happier to have the platform to represent romance fiction to such a broad audience.
One of the things I love about RBTB is how you’ve established such a strong community. There’s a definite sense of girlfriends getting together to have a good goss and it makes guests feel immediately welcome and comfortable. How do you achieve this warm atmosphere?
I love the intimacy – and often outrageousness – of our blog, and was amazed from the beginning at how much women craved a “safe” somewhere to share how they felt about reading romance. The Bellas also are welcoming of new viewers, go out of their way to say hi, etc. The right mix of women seems to like dropping in, and I think the only really good thing I’ve done is let them help me set the tone, and afford them as much ownership as possible. And I’ve tried to make viewers feel not afraid to comment, though it’s always a challenge when there’s a core group of regulars. Empathy probably drives what I do - does that make sense? I’m just hardwired to worry about how I make people feel, to tap into their emotions. Recently, I think I lost a viewer because I communicated poorly, possibly ignorantly, and I’m feeling pretty awful over it.
Do you have any advice for people setting out to conquer the blog universe?
First, write what you know, as well as you know how, and as honestly as possible. You’ll gain viewership and reputation among people who want to read what you want to communicate. Next, decide your goal/s. Are you cyber-journaling? Do you want to make money with the blog? Do you want to build a community of like-minded folks, but not monetize the project? Second, work like a fiend to “virally” market. Connect with other similar bloggers, help each other promote, search out places like blogher.com to list your blog. blogher is the premier aggregating site for women bloggers, and is amazing. Finally, accept that the Internet is not anonymous. Make sure that you’re comfortable with something you’ve written coming back to haunt you. You can get in trouble for slander, copyright infringement etc. While there’s some leeway for non-commercial bloggers, look up laws on posting rights-limited images and content.
Have you noticed any differences in your blog since you’ve moved to Lifetime?
Since Lifetime’s a large cable network in 90 million U.S. households, they obviously have style and content standards, legal eagles, branding issues – checks and balances you don’t have to deal with when you blog on your own. But they also have a built in female viewership who love romance, sex, hot guys and the stuff we love to talk about at RBTB. Add to that the ability to produce multi-layered promotion packages for authors and books, and I’ve got the platform I dreamed of the very day I envisioned RBTB. Only better: I get to shoot video interviews and upcoming romance features shot and produced by the Lifetime Television crew in our LA studios! I’m considered the editor of my blog, but even so, I really erred toward the side of caution at first, staying kinda mainstream in the content. But now, looks like anything’s fair game. Which is good, cause as my Bellas would tell you, I can pretty much turn any blog discussion into a naughty celebration of the merits of length vs. girth. Technically, we had lots of glitches at first. But myLifetime.com’s in the process of rebuilding their blog tool, and in the second quarter, we’re actually consolidating all RBTB content into the blog, which I’m totally psyched about.
Could you describe your ideal guest?
You, Anna! Now, I’m not just doing the pretty here. But when you came, you did the things that make GuestBlogs successful. First, you made it about connecting, not about book promotion. Book promotion always should happen as secondary to making friends with readers, and giving your friends a new experience. To that end, you brought along the Banditas and your readers. This infuses new life, gets a different vibe jazzing, and often encourages lurkers to be brave enough to comment. Most important, you take time to swap comments with individual viewers. That’s the connection that RBTB is all about. Guest blogs – any promotion – should be symbiotic. The buzz phrase of Internet 2.0, or the “new age” of encouraging “users” to direct/generate content (UGC) and thus make it more vibrant is: Be Generous. That means link, share and reciprocate. It all comes back to you.
Wow, thanks, Michelle, she said, blushing. Now I’d love to talk about you, seeing you spend all your time on the net offering authors a wonderful opportunity to promote themselves! Could you tell us about your background? I notice you didn’t read romance when you were younger. What books influenced you when you were growing up? Were you always a reader?
Oh, yeah. Like so many romance lovers, I was a total nerd about books; they were my best friends, etc. I used to fantasize I lived in “olden” times, because I was chubby, and figured they dug chubby chicks then. Once I got to college, I was lucky to be introduced to sophisticated stuff, and learned how to study it. Some of the books that still affect me were by Kozinski, Nabakov, Percy; at least I think of them often in a series of images and emotions. I love A.S. Byatt’s Possession. That and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are two of my fave books ever. But my writing style, I think, is most influenced by sports writer Rick Riley, and Fr. Bede Hines. Riley, of course, wrote for Sports Illustrated and writes succinctly, always tying in real life and his readers’ realities to the issue he takes on. Bede Hines taught me a valuable creativity technique. We pulled random photos from the paper, and created a tight short story from each. Now, I can pretty much link any vignette or riff to a book I’m featuring, and work a smooth transition in the process. It’s also a great blogging technique. I’ve also worked in PR, marketing, sales, fund raising and I spent many years as a stage performer and public speaker, wrote and voiced, produced radio and TV ads. All this stuff comes into play when I create a package to promote an author and, in doing that, the romance genre.
What was the first romance you read and what was it about that story or subsequent stories that converted you into the tireless advocate for the genre that you’ve become?
Vicki Lewis Thompson’s The Nerd Who Loved Me was the first contemporary romance. Although when I look back, I’d always fantasized about love, loved the opera – which is romance set to score, no? (Anna: YES!) – and so it makes sense I’ve been drawn to the genre. Anyway, I’d read only lit that was “good for me,” and Oprah books and stuff. And this book was so sexy and joyful and kinda funny, it hooked me. Then when I found historical romance, the deal was sealed; I could read an historical romance every day for the rest of my life and never get tired. I hope they have them in the afterlife. My drive to promote the genre comes somewhat from being a zealot, partially from being an “advocate” from way back. I always seem to need a cause. But writing about romance, spending time with fellow readers, moving within the industry and having fellow writers as colleagues – it’s about as perfect a place as I’ve been in my life. It’s very empowering to feel that I’m helping women embrace their fantasies. Those fantasies can be readers wanting to be part of a large community of women whose tastes matter, or writers who wish to further their careers by meeting a broader audience.
Have you ambitions to be a romance writer yourself?
Ugh, no. But RBTB did start from my thinking I’d like to write a romance. Then I decided quickly I wasn’t any good at it and didn’t enjoy it. Having had that experience, as well as being a writer, these things make me better at what I do. I look at books I consider for promotion with an eye toward the sweat and blood and heart that goes into writing a manuscript, let alone getting it published. It keeps me humble when I’m doing my job, and reminds me that I feel really good about the way I choose to write about authors and books.
Michelle gets paid to read romance novels. How cool would it be to have her job? Would you rather have long-range deadlines of novel writing, or daily deadlines of feature writing and blogging? Michelle will drop in to answer questions - I know I've got lots I want to ask her (and I got to do the interview!). And don't forget the Bandita Booty for two lucky commenters.