Gaby Dunn made all the right moves. She went to school for journalism and beefed up her resume and portfolio by writing for various news outlets, but when it came time for her graduation in 2009, the economy had tanked and so had the news industry—both of which now sit mostly in the same purgatory as they did then.
Dunn, like so many others in her cohort, took a job that wasn't quite in line with her career goals. She missed telling stories, and decided that if the news world didn't quite have room for her to share sources' stories, she'd do it on her own. And so 100 Interviews came to be.
Last October, Dunn set out to interview 100 different kinds of people—ranging from a one-hit wonder to a woman who pickets abortion clinics—in the span of a year. She set out to offer up their stories to the world on a blog hosted by Tumblr, and now, Dunn is fresh off the project and (at just 23 years old) is poised to sign a book deal.
Thanks to an interesting idea, a self-identified lack of inhibitions, and a whole lot of self-promotion, Dunn says she's changed the trajectory of her life and career—and she likes it that way.
Here's how she did it.
She made one big initial investment: Her time
When Dunn set out to find 100 interview subjects and post their stories online, she only intended to simply satiate her craving for storytelling. She eventually got plenty more out of the project—from improved writing and reporting skills to notoriety because of her site—but that's only because she didn't go halfway on 100 Stories.
She promised herself she would be honest with her subjects and make the most out of their time together, she says, and she didn't consider failure. Because Dunn ponied up a lot of her time and energy—"It's weird when you want to go out with your friends, but then you're like, 'I have to go to a chicken farm and do another weird thing,'" she says—her site's content became robust, noteworthy and well done.
She gave the people what they want (to share)
Dunn created her original subject list in a single night, and excluding a few minor additions and modifications, she stuck to it. But prioritizing them was key, especially when the blog was brand new. At first, Dunn targeted sources who had fan followings themselves. For example, one of Dunn's first targeted personalities was author R.L. Stine, best known for his wildly successful 90s kid-horror series Goosebumps.
He was a perfect candidate, Dunn says: he's active on Twitter, has tons of followers, and he appeals to the nostalgia for the 90s that grips today's 20-somethings. Stine signed on to the project after Dunn cold-tweeted at him. He brought 100 Interviews to a wider audience, and a big name to the endeavor. Dunn provided readers with something they'd find interesting and novel—and totally shareable.
She networked like crazy
When she'd finish a post, Dunn would seek out other publications that might be interested in its content. She'd pitch her lady-centric posts to Jezebel, the online information source with a feminist bent. She build relationships with other websites to grow her audience. "It's about getting whatever amount of eyeballs that you can get," she says. And now that the project's concluded, she's getting freelance writing gigs.
She leveraged her audience to create an even bigger one
By offering up something that people got excited about reading, she inspired them to share it. That idea got taken to scale when someone still unknown Dunn nominated 100 Interviews for the Village Voice Web Awards. She took the honors for best blog, and that's when she says her site really took off.
She branded herself—not just her website
Dunn admits that she sometimes over-shares, but that's partly why she's been so successful. Beyond sharing the hundred stories of her subjects, Dunn made sure readers could learn a bit about her, too. "You can't seem like a robot," she says, or people will quickly lose interest. When readers can identify your work with you—a specific person, with interests, a sense of humor, and a personality—they'll more readily latch on. "It seems like people really want to feel like they know you," she says, adding that she's made a point of keeping the tone consistent across her 100 Interviews website and her personal Tumblr, which is separate but still linked to the site.
She harnessed technology
Dunn came into her project with zero marketing background. As her project's following grew, she taught herself ways to maximize her impact online. While keeping in mind that maintaining a little corner of the Internet is essentially free, she sought to build her following and did so on her own, and on the cheap.
She promoted her work through a variety of channels, including standards Facebook and Twitter, and developed her novice HTML skills to improve the site itself. She delved into Google Analytics, and pieced together the information she gleaned to boost site traffic.
What's stopping you from pursuing your passions?