By Lindsay Pettee
With the advent of the internet and the cataclysmic technological changes over the past couple of decades, much has changed in the world of writing and publishing. These days, almost every business has a website, which in turn connects to their Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram in order to match their customers’ presence on the internet. Social media has become a way for anyone to create a unique persona that they wish to convey to the rest of the cyber world and one of these ways is through blogging. Most people who upkeep a personal blog may never reach a money-making level of notoriety but every once in a while, someone’s creation will get the attention of the internet world and suddenly the author finds their life under the spotlight.
Caroline Juen is one such blogger who has chosen to expose her thoughts, feelings, loves, and personal tastes with the gauntlet of the web. As a San Francisco transplant living in Los Angeles, she has created a website called “Love and Loathing Los Angeles” that has, in its short seven month run, garnered the attention of a large and ever-growing audience. Here, she offers up some advice to those who have considered voicing their own stories through a blog and how she has managed to fashion her own successful internet persona.
Tell us a bit about what inspired you to begin Love & Loathing Los Angeles in the first place and how did the concept for it come around? Was there anyone you looked to as a muse for your own website?
I’d been unemployed for about 4-5 months at this point, when one of my best friends and I decided it would be the perfect time to plan a trip to Mexico. Great idea when you’re broke right? Right, because if it weren’t for that trip and having the opportunity to actually sit and think (on a beach nonetheless), Love & Loathing LA would not have been born. I took a book with me, as you do if you’re planning on plopping down on a lounge chair for a few days, and it was one that surprised me because of how much it actually resonated with me. The book was called “The Sweet Life In Paris” written by David Lebovitz, and in short, the story was about his mid-life crisis which prompted him to move from California to Paris, in true freak-out fashion. The story, or stories I should say, are about living in Paris as an American and all the Parisian nuances one can expect to encounter when traveling there. I loved that the chapters were short, I loved that he was ballsy enough to move to Paris, I loved that he threw in recipes between chapters, and I loved that somehow I believed I could relate. When I finished the book I had an “I could do this?” moment, “I could write a book about Los Angeles, throw in my experiences, and maybe make a career for myself!” I literally wrote my first “chapter” on the plane back to California and the minute I touched ground, I called my mom to tell her I was going to be a writer. You’re thinking she probably put the kabosh on that idea right? Wrong, her reaction was more enthusiastic than I could have expected, “I told you you should be a writer! Honey this is great! I’ve been telling you all along!!!” It was then and there that we decided that instead of starting with a book, how ’bout I join 2013 and start a blog first. So here I am, 7 months later, doin’ my blog thing. The book will hopefully come about someday, but really I have David Lebovitz, the fabulous pastry chef living the truly sweet life in Paris, to thank for my inspiration. I really should send him a fruit basket or something.
The website covers everything from restaurant/bar recommendations, fashion tips, funny reader-contributed stories, relationship advice, etc. What kind of decisions did you make when you thought about the content you wanted to include on the site and how does each topic fit in with your overall personal vision for the site?
The concept needed to be one that hadn’t quite been done already, within reason of course. There are so many food blogs, fashion blogs, personal blogs, etc. out there in the universe and plenty of them come from the City of Angels. So part of the concept was the desire to be different but it was also partly because I couldn’t really be just one type of blog; LA is too big and too interesting to confine myself to writing about only one subject. I didn’t want to be your average “report and write” blogger, or, “Here’s me, and here’s me in an outfit again, and here’s me in a different outfit” blogger, I wanted to be multifaceted with Los Angeles as the main connecter between it all. My tagline is, “An ode to the City of Angels in all its weird yet charming glory” and whether you love, loath, live in, or find humor in Los Angeles, you will appreciate the concept. I try to cover all my bases without being redundant as to what may already be on other sites. I’m also trying to bring new things to the table like my “people of Walmart” inspired “Only In LA” section where I’ve pooled together the best of the best gems discovered via the hashtag on Instagram #onlyinla. I’m very busy in this city, I’m all over the place and I’ve done/tried/experienced a lot more than
your average Angeleno, so certain sections like “Where to Go” or “LA Local Spotlights” need to be included because there are things worth talking about in this city (in a fun, interesting way) that other media outlets aren’t exactly shedding light on. Another way I found a way to “be different”, especially in regards to write-ups on restaurants, was my desire to stick to what was actually good and not focusing too much on whether or not it was “hot”; my whole premise to creating posts is to write as if I’m writing to a friend, informing them on genuinely good sh*t. I don’t care if no one is talking about that restaurant or if it’s been open for longer than 2 years, if it’s good and it’s worth sharing then it’s my responsibility to my community and friends to do so! Just like David Lebovitz does when discussing Parisian nuances, I consistently add a personal touch to each post to bring some human life and personality to what’s being read; the last thing I want to do is come off as a glorified Yelp page. With each post the reader gets to know me better and better, we become “friends” as I like to think.
Blogging encourages the author to present their own personality in their writing and Love & Loathing LA definitely does not skimp on the sassiness! What have you found to be a challenge in keeping a consistent narrative voice and concept as the site has increased its audience?
I think the biggest challenge right now is that there is only one of me! I’m a one woman operation, and sticking to a content calendar driven mostly by the ‘written word’ can get relatively tiring when you’re the only one producing the work. It’s a great concept because people have a good idea what to expect on a daily basis, it’s just quite an undertaking to make sure I’m posting interesting and quality articles five days a week, minimum. I have my “templates” and I usually stay within a 500 word max, otherwise it would become much more time consuming than it already is. Other than that, I try not to work around too many “rules”, because frankly those can be boring. Love & Loathing LA is organized, but I have to make it exciting for my own sanity, and of course for the sake of my readers. If I go off track and skip a day on my content calendar, so what? Whatever I’ve decided to write is probably a more interesting read than whatever I was “supposed” to write that day. You can tell when I’m seriously excited about something and when I’m writing for writing’s sake, so I try to get my ideas going ahead of time to prepare but, as with anything, that doesn’t always work out. I love plans but I’m not one for routine, and because of that I wish I had more contributing editors to help bring more (and different) content to the site. I can support the idea of sharing the space when it’s work produced by others on my terms or guidelines. For example, even though I’m not the one writing any of the “Tales From the LA Underground” stories, the concept of people writing their “only in LA” ridiculous stories was mine, and they fit in with the overarching theme and general narrative of the site, which is simply supposed to be humorous and enjoyable. If someone wrote me a story about getting beat up and mugged or something not so funny, it would not end up on Love & Loathing LA…that hasn’t happened yet and thankfully I don’t think it ever will. It doesn’t take long to navigate around my site to figure out what mood I’m trying to convey.
Do you find it challenging to reveal so much of your personality through your writing? Or in other words, do you ever feel pressured to change or “tone down” your writing for the sake of pleasing a wider audience? If so, how do you overcome the fears of putting yourself out there on the internet, a platform so notorious for public shaming, criticism, and differing opinions?
My biggest challenge is perhaps being too sarcastic, and coming off too offensive and/or too edgy. My sense of humor is not obvious or slap stick, it’s sarcastic, which can be difficult to convey through writing and tone can be difficult to establish so I work hard to get it just right. My voice is what makes my blog successful, that is for certain. Whenever I meet with a new PR girl or social media strategist, the first thing they bring up is how you can totally hear my voice in my writing and meeting me really takes that to a whole new level. I always take that as a compliment, but, because I’m so honest and sassy, it’s something I have to be aware of when I’m writing because I never want to take it too far. If I were honestly writing how I speak there’d be a lot more “f*cks” and “sh*ts” peppered in, but I know it’s in my best interest to tone it down. I can be intelligent and sassy, “sass with class”, and get my point across without making people get hung up on shock value. My policy is to never write anything negative about anything or anyone, if I’ve found something I don’t particularly care for then I simply don’t write about it. Negativity is 100% not something I want as part of my blog. Sass yes, negativity no. There have been parts of some posts I’ve re-read and panicked wondering if people were going to be upset because I said something along the lines of, “He’s a badass mother f*cker”, and it’s moments like that I’m terrified to think I may have offended someone. But then I remember that whatever I say, I say endearingly, as if I were speaking to friends. “Would Chelsea Handler freak out?!” I ask myself, and usually the answer is “Nope”, so I stay true to who I am but I’m certainly conscious of how things may sound. Lots of editing goes into my finished products, but I don’t mind that, I find it’s good to be challenged, I’m not jaded by any artistic limitations – you’re not a good writer in my opinion if you can’t respect having to be somewhat flexible in your craft. Truth be told though, if there was shaming or criticism ever aimed in my direction, I’d probably go cry for a while but I’m prepared for that day. “Haters gon’ hate!” In this day and age of people feeling free to speak at will like real troll-ish, hateful humans on the internet, we bloggers (and anyone with an opinion for that matter) have to expect it to come our way someday.
What has been the most rewarding part of running Love & Loathing Los Angeles and do you have any tips for writers out there who are considering starting their own blog?
The most rewarding part of Love & Loathing LA is the confirmation from people I admire that I’m doing the right thing and am on the right track. I met an incredibly inspiring PR girl who came to me to do a collaboration with a local juice company and during our meeting she said, “You have no idea what you have, do you? I’m so excited for your future, you’ve got something really great going on.” That was huge, someone in the industry completely reaffirming my goals and the reasons as to why I do what I do was a sigh of relief. Of course it’s also the little things, like a simple “re-tweet” or “regram” from a restaurant, a “thank you” email, a “can we buy you a drink!”, and being invited to cover exclusive events that make it all worthwhile. It’s been a whirlwind seven months, I truly never expected to find this kind of success so early and I’m thrilled there’s still so much to uncover and experience while taking my little internet baby to the next level. Since starting a blog it’s funny how many people have reached out to me about their desire to start their own blogs and what I’ve told everyone is: DO IT. Everyone needs some sort of (creative) outlet, if you think writing is that outlet, then do it. I think we all need something to call our own, something to be proud of, something that is truly unique to ‘you’ – whether it’s a journal, a collection of your photographs, creative writing, or a smorgasbord of it all, get to conceptualizing and make it happen, it’s good for your soul. If you, like me, want to make a career out of this blogging thing, I 100% recommend you invest in a design. From logo to website, branding is the key to anything in our visual world; find a way to stand out. In all, put your heart and effort into it, even if it means once a week, you’ll be a better person for going for it and investing time into you and your own internet baby.
You can visit Caroline’s internet baby here for more sassiness and anything you need to know about Los Angeles.