People of Pace: Karen Sommerfeld

Let me introduce you to Karen Sommerfeld. Feld—not field. She’s a copyeditor extraordinaire with a sharp wit and a mean eye for detail. She has received the internal Spirit of Pace award for her work and willingness to help. Karen’s also a successful blogger who gets about 3,000 hits by mid-morning on her personal blog (“It’s like I’m a character in their lives, and my readers are my Greek chorus.”) and freelances with the website Purple Clover.

I sat down with Karen to hear more about her work. Color me silly, but I often cackle at Karen’s candor, self-deprecating humor and writing style. You’ll understand why after reading her responses below.

How did you start writing?

Someone gave me a tape recorder when I was a kid. I don’t know who it was, but I know that they rue the day because until I was a teenager, I had that thing in my hand and I’d interview everybody at every family get-together. I would do little reports on what my family had said, and I’d make up commercials and record those. So that’s when I realized I liked creating things. I started writing in high school when I joined the school paper. I wrote a column called “I’m Irked” where I complained about things. It included a recurring picture of me grabbing my mullet.

When did you start your personal blog?

In 2006, when I decided to go a year without spending money. My former husband and I dreamed up the idea. He said, “You should blog about this.” He’d been telling me for years to start a blog—he kept trying to start blogs and the only people who read them were his mom and me. They were just sad. To me, blogging was just this lonely, pathetic, geeky thing, but he said, “No, you’ll be good at it.”

I started to get readers right away. At first, I got 30 unique page views a day and I was so excited. By the time the year was up I knew I couldn’t stop blogging, so I just started to write about my dumb life. *laughs*

What tips have you learned about blogging?

When I first started, I thought I should publish a post every few days, so people wouldn’t get sick of me. But I started making friends with other bloggers and one of them said, “You should blog every day so reading your posts becomes a habit for people.” She was right. Once I started to do that, my blog traffic shot up. At that time it seemed like everybody was blogging, so to engage other bloggers I’d leave funny comments on someone else’s blog and a link to my blog. I started talking to people regularly and became friends with some who, to this day, I’ve never met. There’s one woman I talk to every day. She knows everything about me—more than anyone else in the world—and I’ve never even met her. It’s so weird….

"For this photo, I asked blog readers to send in their family photos and Photoshopped myself into them for kicks. I'm in the upper righthand corner."
“For this photo, I asked blog readers to send in their family photos and Photoshopped myself into them for kicks. I’m in the upper-righthand corner.”

I learned that you need to leave your readers wanting more, and to leave a lot of white space. Paragraphs should be short so you don’t get the dreaded TL;DR. And people said to me, “You don’t have enough pictures. I’m not interested in reading. I wanna see pictures.” Those non-reading people made me mad. I was trying to tell my story, not just show a bunch of pictures. But I noticed other blogs that didn’t have photos were sort of, well, boring, so it’s a rare day now that I don’t include a photo or 90. You wanna see my dog? Oh, I’ll SHOW you my dog.

You have a Facebook Group dedicated to your blog. How do you use social media to promote your work?

[My readers] started a Facebook Group about my blog. There were a couple hundred members before I even joined, ’cause I thought, how obnoxious, “I’m gonna join my own Facebook group someone created for me.” I’ll tell people in that group things I won’t put on my blog. It’s like having a little insider info.

Now I link to my blog on Twitter and on my Facebook every day. I think it makes a huge difference because otherwise, people may forget to look at my blog. I’ve had people thank me for linking my posts on Facebook because it jolts them to click through that day.

How has blogging influenced your work at Pace?

It influences my work more than I originally thought it would. When I’m writing an article for Pace, I remember the “white space” concept I mentioned before. It helps remind me to keep it short and leave them wanting more. I also remember to be real. If I write “your device” rather than “your phone,” well that’s something I would never really say, so I catch myself. If I sound like a phony, I try to change it. Oh, and even though my critics made me mad at first, I won’t ever forget that people like visuals, so I try to include them whenever possible.

I try to think about what would be interesting for me to read. I just wrote a post about Tiffany & Co. for the Pace blog. I’m all up in that—writing about topics I know that I myself would read. It’s one of the most-viewed posts on our company blog because it’s something that people want to read in real life. That’s my trick for creating content that works: Write content that real people would actually be interested in reading. My blogging experience has also taught me not to get freaked out by low numbers early on because I know firsthand that they can explode. If it’s slow, it might pick up.

How has working at a content marketing agency influenced your blogging?

I’ve worked on having more interesting headlines, which I learned here at Pace is important. Also, I’ve written more list posts because from my experience writing for clients, people like to read those. I think I’ve written more list-based posts for Purple Clover articles than my personal blog. And articles like the “Five Best Whatever…”—people like to click on those types of posts, too.

What are some brands that you love?

This sounds suck-uppy, but I click on everything Trulia sends me. (Full disclosure: Trulia is a Pace client.) And I’m not looking to move or buy a house right now. Like, there’s no way I’m gonna move, but everything they write about is interesting to me. I always click.

How do you stay disciplined enough to write every day?

I have the least discipline of anyone you’ve ever met. I’m lucky my dogs are still alive because I’m lazy and I indulge myself. And to me—[blogging’s] the part of the day I look forward to the most. I love getting up and blogging. It doesn’t take discipline because I just like it.

What is your creative process like?

During the day, if I think of something to blog about, I write it on paper because I’ll forget when I’m sitting down the next morning. I also take pictures of everything I do during the day, so when I plug in my phone the next morning, those pictures pop up and I remember to talk about what I did the day before.

"Here's when I tried to invent a gang sign for my blog. It didn't catch on." *laughs*
“Here’s when I tried to invent a gang sign for my blog. Needless to say, it didn’t catch on.” *laughs*

What are some of your proudest moments at Pace?

One was when Chris Yeich said to me: “Do you wanna write?” I almost cried. I was like, “Yes, I wanna write!” This is the first place I’ve ever worked that noticed I could write. I never had the nerve or the gumption to suggest that I do anything but copyedit.

… I just wrote a [Verizon Fios article] that I really like. It’s for the Fios Double Play feature, and it’s things you can’t do without a partner like trust falls and the tango. And I cracked myself up writing that. I liked it a lot. I hope it will do well.

Can you share some advice for working with a creative like yourself?

Don’t be discouraged when we look like we’re not doing anything, because if I’m trying to write something, I’m walking around the building and I’m Googling, “What is vellichor,” and the whole time I’m writing something in my head, and then I sit down and I’ve written it in 30 minutes. So just let us do what we need to do to get creative. I know it looks weird to people who don’t have the same process, but that’s what we have to do in order to produce great stuff.

What are your thoughts on current content marketing trends?

Brands that use buzzwords, blech. If a brand can offer something surprising and it makes me laugh, or it sounds like something my best friend would share with me, then I’m gonna like it. And I won’t even care that you’re trying to sell me something. Like that Cookie Monster iPhone ad.

What advice would you have for people who want to start their own blog?

Write every day. Be pithy. Be real, even it means someone might not like you. You can mean what you say and not be mean. And don’t ask your friends and family, “Have you read my blog today?” That’s putting too much pressure on them. You can do other things to promote it, like put links on social media. Just remember that if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. Don’t try to shove it down their throats. If you really want readers, change what you have to say rather than try to change what someone likes.

How would you parlay those tips into brand blogs?

Same thing. Take the Pace blog, for example: Any time we’re real and write about something people really wanna know about, people click on our posts. This is the kind of content that people are really interested in.

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