Tracy Kaler followed an unconventional path to writing. She’s a ballet dancer turned interior designer turned blogger. She fell in love with New York City as a child and in 2007 realized her lifelong dream of living in Manhattan. A few years later, she started blogging about personal experiences and ultimately launched Tracy’s New York Life, a cultural, lifestyle and travel blog written from a New Yorker’s perspective. She joins us this week to talk about her journey and to share her strategies for building her unique brand.
In your previous life you were a ballet dancer and then an interior designer, how did you segue into blogging?
I started to dabble in writing before I relocated to the city. Then, when I moved to New York in 2007, I wrote stories about my life here to keep in touch with friends and family by email.
One of my coworkers had started a blog, and she told me about it. I asked her, “What’s a blog?!” She explained the gist and suggested that I start one. In 2010, and without much thought, I went to blogspot.com and started a blog. I had to assign a name, and the first thing that came to mind was “Tracy’s New York Life.” I copied and pasted one of my first stories, hit publish, and closed my laptop for almost another year.
In 2011, I was frustrated with my job and needed a creative outlet, so I opened up the blog again and started editing and posting my old emails. After that, I started writing new posts several times a week on the blog. From there, Tracy’s New York Life was born, so I consider my start year 2011 because that single post in 2010 didn’t accomplish much of anything. I did plant the seed, though.
Then in November of that year, I lost my job. I realized that I wanted to take a new career path, and give writing a real shot, so I started freelancing and blogging more. In fall 2012, I began working with contributors on the blog to try and expand the audience. That’s when the blog transitioned from a personal blog to a lifestyle blog. Although I still write some personal posts and keep my readers involved in what I’m doing, the blog offers an in–depth look at city life and tips for those who travel to New York. Certain aspects of the blog also make it somewhat of a love letter to New York City, the city I’d wanted to live in since I was 12 years old.
Your blog’s main focus is your life in New York and advice for travelers to the city, but you also write about travel. How were you able to incorporate travel into the mix?
Answers.com approached me a few years back and asked me to be their New York Travel Expert. I wrote more than 50 travel-related articles for the site so that endeavor helped to brand me as a local travel writer. Plus, I’ve written many articles for tourists traveling to NYC, both on my blog and other sites. Also, I’ve covered escapes to Long Island, the Jersey Shore, Bucks County, PA, Coastal Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina, and the Western US. My recent trip to Ecuador was my first international trip that I wrote about on my blog, and I plan to cover more. I continue to dream of places I want to visit, and I think travel is an essential aspect of New York City lifestyle, so it makes sense to include it.
You have done a fantastic job of developing a following of fans all over the world. Tell us a little bit about how you built your following and how much time it required. What tips do you have for others to grow their followers?
Social media has been a huge help to my blog. I knew virtually nothing when I started on this journey, so I took a Social Media Bootcamp in 2012, which gave me a pretty thorough overview. From there, I needed to decide what platforms would work best for my blog and me. A great tip –– don’t attempt to do too much to start. I began with Facebook and Twitter and then added Pinterest, and eventually Instagram. Social media is the best way to connect with people anywhere, but it does eat a lot of my time. At times, I feel as if I spend too many hours on social channels, but growing a following is essential to blogging and becoming an influencer.
Establishing an email list and offering readers a chance to subscribe via RSS is also a huge help. You want to give people multiple ways to connect and read your blog or whatever you’re writing. The more choices you offer, the more readers you’ll attract.
How long did it take you to begin monetizing your blog and how did you go about it?
I started doing sponsored stories about a year or so after I started blogging full time. Having a media kit and rate card is essential if you want to start selling advertising on your blog. Initially, sponsored posts were few and far between, but over the past year, they’ve become more regular. Certain times of the year tend to be more popular than others, but generally we do about three or four per month, and other months we’ve done as many as six. Six is our limit, as I would not want the blog to be a site of ads.
Here’s a bit of advice. I turn down many requests because they aren’t a good fit and because I do not sell links. I won’t compromise my site’s health or reputation, and I suggest that other bloggers be careful with the brands they choose for partnerships.
I know you use contributors for some of your posts. What traits do you look for in a writer and what tips do you have for someone wanting to pitch you an idea for a post?
I think first and foremost, the pitch must be related to life in New York City. You’d be surprised at the number of pitches I receive related to random products or people who have no connection to NYC! It’s crazy. Granted, there’s a wealth of topics that we cover (food, style, people, life, culture, travel) but the NYC angle has to be there. Locals who read my blog appreciate the tips and enjoy the entertainment factor. People around the world read my blog to feel connected to what’s going on in my life and the city, or to get help when they’re planning a trip. So stories have to fit within those realms.
I look for writing and blogging experience, as well as a social media following to bring traffic to the blog. I prefer that my regular contributors live in one of the five boroughs so they can stay in touch with local happenings.
Like any publication, it’s essential to do your research before you pitch, whether it’s a local blog or a top magazine. I look for original pitches about stories we haven’t covered, or if we have written an article on the subject, I need a fresh angle.
I know you are planning a European trip to meet some of your readers. Tell us about your plans!
I hope to visit some of the European cities where I have fans later this year. I am in the planning stages now. Also, I have business contacts as well as the editor and publisher of my upcoming New York City Guide (scheduled to be released by National Geographic France in March) in cities like London and Berlin. I think it’s important to connect with people in person rather than through a computer only. I’m looking forward to traveling to Europe and putting faces with names and online voices. I couldn’t be more excited!
Tracy Kaler began her blog in 2011 as a hobby and as a way to document her experiences while living in Manhattan. Since then, the site has evolved into a collection of all things New York. Tracy’s New York Life has features on food, style, people, art and culture, city adventures, as well as travel, because New Yorkers need to escape the hustle and bustle and recharge. In 2012, Tracy’s blog was parlayed into the popular lifestyle column on Metro NY, “Moxie in Manhattan.” Her writing has also appeared in BrickUnderground, The Epoch Times, Olive Oil Times, Business Insider, and a host of other NYC blogs and publications. You can follow Tracy in her New York life on Twitter and Instagram.