Claire Zulkey on the Intersections Between Blogging and Freelance Writing

by Loolwa Khazzoom • November 28, 2010 • Writing and Editing Tips

Her blogging site (along with some good elbow-rubbing skills) has gotten her noticed by editors at periodicals including The Los Angeles Times, Time Out Chicago, and The Wall Street Journal Online, as well as by So New Media — through which she has published a blogging book. A few years ago, I interviewed Claire Zulkey on the intersections between blogging and freelance writing. Her thinking remains relevant to today’s blogosphere:

When and why did you start blogging?

I started in 2003 because I’d been writing a lot online and wanted a place where all my pieces could be linked at once for easy finding. I thought it would be fun also to have something different on it, writing-wise, every day.

What was your writing experience prior to blogging?

I’ve actually been freelancing since college: I worked for a Tribune Company college news wire service, and I wrote for my college paper. Before that, I worked at the high school paper and did a little playwriting — which was really fun. I’m always amazed when I get paid to write (well, except when I don’t get paid enough).

Did you shop around your writing, or did editors find you through your blogging site? 

I have to admit it’s mostly been through people I know — people who I’ve maybe interviewed and kept in touch with, who come to me and say, “Hey you might be good for this.”  I think that’s a benefit of blogging — being able to reach random people like that and have them get to know you.  Thank goodness, because I’m apparently terrible at pitching stories!

What does your work life look like today – blogging and otherwise?

I have a day job, so that’s my priority even though I of course wish it weren’t.  Every day, I work a little bit on a book project, and if I’m working on a freelance assignment, that too. I tend to write Zulkey.com at home. Same with my LA Times TV blogging and the radio listings I write for Time Out Chicago.  I just have a checklist of all the things I need to do each day, and I try to plug a little bit on each (although of course I still procrastinate some and go a little crazy at crunch time).

What are some of the most prestigious places you’ve published?

WallStreetJournal.com, The Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and Elegant Bride are a few highlights. Also as a blogger it was always exciting whenever I got linked by Gawker. I got linked from BoingBoing one time too — that was very cool.

Please discuss the cross-over between super indie blogging culture and the world of mainstream publishing.

I think even the “super indie blog culture” is no longer what it once was. I think once the word “blog” was in the mainstream conversation, everyone either had one or knew of one. I recently heard about this one girl’s blog about her dream to get her wedding announcement in The New York Times, and I was like, wait, hasn’t that been done? Which isn’t to say that things were great when less people were blogging. But it’s not really an unusual hobby or project anymore. I think basically it just means you have to have more than just, “Hey look at this thing I’m doing online!”  And for established writers, I see more of them taking blogging more seriously, because, say, if you’re an author with a book blog, it’s pointless to have one unless you check in fairly frequently.

Did So New Media contact you, or did you contact them?

Ben Brown contacted me out of the blue and told me he really liked my writing.  It was very flattering!

How was your experience of book writing similar to or different from that that of blogging and article writing?

Well, for that particular book, it was not different at all, because it was mostly a collection of stuff I’d already written online. I am working on two other book projects right now, and it’s definitely hard to concentrate on something so big –not just the writing but the editing and the structure.

Did you ever envision that blogging would lead to income and mainstream recognition?

Oh I think that’s definitely overstating the situation with my income and recognition! But it’s definitely nice that I manage to make a pretty decent freelance income on top of my day job, and I think for sure the blogging helped that, in terms of exposure and everything.  I don’t think I’m necessarily an internet “personality”: I know there are people out there who’ve heard of me, but most people in the world are not internet people. Ask your family about Gawker, and watch them stare blankly. Some people know my name but it’s likely they’re already friends with my friends and so on.

Do you earn income from blogging itself, or does your income come from assignments which in turn came from blogging?

I make a tiny amount of money from ads on the blog site. But the majority non-day-job income are from those nice jobs I got from nice people I know.

What’s the top yearly salary you’ve pulled in from freelance writing – blogging and otherwise? 

This is not including my day job, but a good year I made about $30,000. I am not making as much right now. Please tell the IRS.

On Zulkey.com, you’re blogging about pop culture. Do you think blogs can get mainstream attention if they are “out there” – addressing more obscure topics?

I think blogs have definitely fed into that mentality that it’s perfectly normal conversation topic to seriously talk at the dinner table about what the hell is going on with Paris Hilton. And, personally, I love it — taking something trivial and trying to see what larger issues are at stake, possibly, behind it.  But yes, of course, the more innovative a blog, the better. We definitely don’t need another gossip blog –unless, of course, it brings something new, some voice, some point of view or something.

Why do all the successful blogs seem to be the humorous ones?

Well I personally don’t really read blogs that are otherwise, like news blogs or mommy blogs or anything like that. I think most people read blogs to make their boring afternoon go faster, so something that’s fun to read is going to bring you the most entertainment. 

What’s your take on “emotional exhibitionism” blogging?

I think it makes you feel important sometimes to share your life with the world: It makes you feel like a character in a book. I do not put much personal stuff on Zulkey.com just because it’s not that kind of site, but I do so other places on the web. (Not like there’s really anything very juicy. It’s honestly stuff like “here’s what’s in my purse.”) 

Is there a danger in blogging – the whole creepy stalker thing?

No, but we haven’t really heard those stories yet, I guess, about bloggers being murdered by their stalkers. You know, if it ever happens, it’ll be all over Drudge Report or the local FOX news about how blogging is putting you at risk. I just don’t put my address or social security number or phone number out there, and every once in a while if I get a weird vibe from someone, I just stop emailing with them. 

What tips do you have for freelance writers who want to use blogging as an entry point into a writing career?

  1. Don’t blog unless you really want to. 
  2. Come up with an interesting hook, angle or project. 
  3. Get people to read your blog.



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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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