Today I am delighted to be interviewing a travel blogger who seems to always be getting himself into tragic circumstances, and then writing about it with wit and humour.
He doesn’t really need much more introduction than that – I am of course talking about Mike Sowden, author of travel blog Fevered Mutterings.
In this interview, Mike tells us about his influences, how nudity can sell a blog, and the trouble you can get into writing romance novels. No, I’m not sure about it either. Enjoy the read – I certainly did.
Tell us a little bit about Mike, and your site, Fevered Mutterings
“Fevered Mutterings” is a weird name for a travel blog – but that’s because it wasn’t one until recently. I’ve always loved to travel and to obsess about faraway places, even when I was in them – born in Germany, grew up in Cyprus – and my magpie gene activated when I first discovered National Geographic (many of which are still filling the loft-space of my Mum’s house, and she’s still badgering me about it whenever I visit).
This version of FM has been around for about 3 years now, and it’s settled into a rhythm of mostly travel-related content because that’s where my thoughts are these days, and the direction my life is going in. Outside of FM I’m an ex archaeology student, part-time freelance writer and a part-time I’ll-do-anything-for-money. You’re not going to print that, right? I’ll be ruined even more ruined.
Why did you start writing a travel blog?
Because I attract misadventure. For years I tried fighting it, thinking it a curse: now I embrace it as the blessing it truly is. Actually, it’s the popularity of Bill Bryson that really paved the way. He’s a shiny-minded writer with strong journalistic chops and he could have define himself as a professional, an expert. Is that the Bill we know? No – he wants us to believe he’s a buffoon. He wants us to laugh with him, but also AT him. The result? Some of the best-selling travel books in the world, love them or hate them, rife with mishaps, misunderstandings and embarrassing faux pas. He doesn’t hide them, he lets us in – in fact, you could argue the tone of his books pre-date the best travel blogs out there now, the ones that are unafraid to show the reality and the failings of independent travel, the face-palm-SMACK moments that everyone cringes about in retrospect. People who depict themselves as human, not superhuman.
So, there you go. I go places. I get stuff wrong. Foreign people laugh at me. That’s usually why people read my work, and that’s usually why I write it.
How do you define success in terms of your travel blog?
Success is either when I write something that sounds exactly like what I’m thinking, or something that kick off a good discussion – ideally both at the same time. It sounds corny, but I’m always so very grateful when people take the time to write a comment that digs deep into their own thoughts. (I also like it when they argue with me). Good blogging is effective communication, going both ways.
And so I reckon success isn’t traffic or social media mentions (although those are nice when they happen). Success is about doing something that has lasting engagement and lasting value both to myself and to someone else. Success means making other people really think. Even if that thought is merely “oh Mike, what were you on when you wrote this?”
What aspirations do you have for your travel blog?
I want to be the new Rupert Murdoch. No, wait, not a good analogy at the moment. I want to be…the new Elvis! Girls, hamburgers, sequins. It’s my dream, and anyone who laughs at me on this one will be first against the wall. Laugh at me on anything except this! Yes.
Actually, aspirations are like goals. And goals…well, they kinda suck. I have things I want to do, yes. And I’m doing them, bit by bit. But over the last couple of years, all my predetermined long-term goals have hit the wall…and been replaced by others. So I refuse to think about what I’m going to do with my blog, and partly with my writing career. My focus right now is on right now. What can I pack into my day? What should I be working on right now? Where next? What’s the best way to do what I’m doing? What do I want to learn, and who should I be talking to? Goals and bucket lists…they set up an Ideal You. You are basically inadequate until you’ve done these things.
I’d rather remain adequate. 🙂
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
Probably like pretty much everyone who uses social media, I struggle to resist defining myself by my metrics. I’ve lost 10 Followers on Twitter overnight? Someone unLiked my Facebook page? I’M A WORM / I WILL CRUSH YOU TO GOO. etc etc. It’s all a bit ridiculous really, so I try to resist that call (and sometimes fail). The only metric I put any real faith in nowadays is quality comments, whether on my blog or elsewhere (eg. Twitter). I’ll choose people over traffic any day. Unless that traffic is prone to expansive, no-strings donations of massive amounts of money. Thanks in advance.
What techniques have you used to improve your traffic, and how successful have these been?
In terms of reaching the most eyeballs, Stumbleupon has been most effective. I’ve had a few high-traffic posts on there that have raised my blog’s profile in substantial, lasting ways. I’m really pleased that they were also some of my best posts. (Not to mention grateful).
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
Being super-organised is a must when you’re travelling. This really sank home to me when I went to Austria last week, and realised all the blog-related things I hadn’t set up in advance. But also, travelling gives you a certain amount of free time to scribble or tap. When I haven’t been travelling (which is 90+% of the last year), I’ve been working 30+ hours a week in a day job. Sometimes that’s really hit my blogging hard. I still haven’t fully overcome it, but I’ve become a lot more professional about it, both in a blog-for-fun sense and in a freelance writing business sense. You *have* to ring-fence your time. And that’s tough, when writing is also a thing you do for fun. The spill-over can ruin you, if you let it. Don’t.
What sort of time commitment do you put in to your travel blog on a weekly basis?
I’ll say 5-10 hours, although that varies, and discounts all the stuff around it (social media, e-mails, Web development reading, reading other blogs etc).
If there was one thing you wish you could have known before you started writing your blog, what would it have been?
Don’t be afraid to believe in yourself and what you’re saying. Don’t flinch from writing things that expose the inner you as the soft, pink, pathetic, mewling thing that it really is sometimes. Also, have a big button that says “Please donate massive amount of cash here”.
What have you found to be the best way to go about generating an income from your blog?
Until now, showcasing my writing. I haven’t scored any big advertising deals, or been paid to feature any products, although I wouldn’t say no if the deal/product was right (and I’m currently working on a guide to my home city, so I’ll be using my blog to get the word out). But I’ve used my informal writing to bolster my formal writing and get my name out there, and it’s directly helped make me money as a freelancer.
How do you go about promoting your travel blog?
I paint the URL on my chest and then walk round town naked.
(Okay okay, I’m kidding. Not completely naked. Speedos).
Twitter has been an enormous help for getting the word out. It’s also a great way to connect with like-minded (or indeed unlike-minded) people in the travel-writing / travel-blogging industry. It’s plugged me directly into the community and I can’t think of any other way that might have happened, at least that quickly.
Twitter is an extraordinary tool for generating a buzz – taking my friend Jodi of Legal Nomads as a prime example. She’s utilized Twitter in extraordinary ways and connected with a huge amount of cool people, most of which end up at her website (which is itself terrific). That’s Twitter used right. Not many people use it that well.
If you have questions or problems with your site, where do you go to find answers?
My site hosts Bluehost have been unwaveringly helpful. Can’t recommend them enough. But in terms of specific technical issues, Chris of The Aussie Nomad and Anil of foxNoMad (see Anil’s interview here) are good, smart people to talk to. Otherwise, wild frenzied Googling, while screaming. Always works.
You have been writing for a while. How have you seen travel blogging evolve, and where do you think it is going?
Firstly, “travel blogging” has grown into such a massive, amorphous blob of Stuff that I’m wary of generalising about any of it. Really, just huge nowadays. There are people focussing on factual, destination-based writing, people more interested in gadgets and the How To side, people who best love the stories, people who most want to capture the world in pictures, and many many other types, all under the umbrella term “travel blogging”, and booming every year, more sites and more sites and even more more….
Where I think it’s going is better understanding existing between bloggers and other people in the industry – the PR companies, the travel agents, the resorts and so on. I attended the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Manchester earlier in the year, and some really good discussions on this topic kicked off when one of the attending PR companies said “we’re new to this – help us meet you in the middle”. Everyone is in the same boat. It’s too new for there to be “rules” (not that we want any of those things, frankly). It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a little chaotic. It’s still being thrashed out. So don’t judge your success in comparison with other travel blogs – judge it on your own criteria, whether that’s connecting with a certain audience or making a certain amount of money. When you came along, they threw away the rulebook. Remember this.
And finally, what key advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
A few years back I got chatting to a writer who tried to do what many, many writers have thought of as a dream job: writing Harlequin romances. Yes, really. And he (yes, he was a He) burned out really quickly. Yes, Harlequin romances come out every month and they’re a huge, accessible, well-paid market for writers – but if you don’t care, you can’t do them. You fight against the tide, and then it sweeps you away in a torrent of existential misery. No job is worth doing for any length of time if you genuinely hate it – so why choose a job where you don’t care?
Care enough, and it will never feel like a chore. It may not even feel like a job. Caring is how you stick in there long enough to get somewhere. So I’d say examine yourself (I don’t mean….just, just put your clothes back on already). Think about what side of travel thrills you, what your voice is, what your passion is. Now – build a blog around it. Ignore everyone who tells you you’re doing it all wrong, and do what feels right to you. The result will be fully yours, and when you have an engaged audience, it will be fully theirs too. You’ll both care.
Also, read my blog for all the answers about travel-blogging, and by “read” I of course mean “donate to”. Yeah. Want to see a grown man cry? Pay me to do it. Yeah.
Massive thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer all of my questions and be entertaining with it. You can find more from Mike on his website, Fevered Mutterings, and of course you can follow him on both Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t forget you can see more tips from other travel blogging experts by checking out the rest of the series, which thus far has interviewed nearly twenty successful travel bloggers. Enjoy!