I started talking with friends and contributors about doing this year’s A to Z Challenge here back in the fall. We finalized the last few letters over the weekend and I stepped into the ring for us on Monday. We were the 96th blog to register, but we’d moved up to #94 when last I looked.The A to Z blog suggested last week that bloggers use their announcements to offer advice to folks who are doing the challenge for the first time. Last year was my first year, so my wisdom is limited. But I almost did not make it through, and I know why. Here are three things I did and did not do last year before April 1 that almost cost me the survivor badge.
- Did not get all the posts written. I planned to do them over Spring Break, but I had an awful March and couldn’t find the time. Not waiting until the last minute this year.
- Did not schedule the posts (because they weren’t written). If you can’t get the whole month’s worth written in advance and scheduled, at least have the first 14 ready to go and that leaves you 13 to write during the first three weeks of the challenge.
- Built a page to curate links to the blogs I visited. This seemed like a good idea, and I enjoyed it. But it added more work to an already intense month of blogging, and it is not required. I won’t be doing it this year.
Now a couple of things that didn’t necessarily put the challenge in jeopardy, but kept me from getting as much out of it as I could have.
- I revealed my theme too early and published my reflection too late, so I missed the opportunity to link those up with other A to Z bloggers.
- I did not discover until well into the challenge that I could get art for every day from the A to Z blog and eliminate the need to go scouring the Internet for shareable images. This cost me a lot of time in putting the posts together.
And a little free advice about the A to Z posts themselves.
A to Z is not just a posting challenge. It is a social event too. Its value is in its potential for discovery. So it’s important to play honest with the visits and to comment when you do. Otherwise, the bloggers you’re visiting aren’t going to know you were there nor have a comment link that they can follow and find you.
With this in mind, be sensitive to the fact that the primary audience you are writing for, aside from your regular readers, is A to Z bloggers who are also trying to post every day and visit/comment on five blogs. No matter what other characteristics your target audience might have, your A to Z visitors will have two things in common.
- Most will be first-time visitors, and
- they will all be extremely busy.
Posts should be short, catchy, and not include more than a couple of links. 350-500 words is the most A to Z readers are going to have time for, and lots of them going to scan that. The next day, they’re on to another five blogs. If you want them to come back again on a Sunday during the challenge, or try out your blog again in May, best be memorable and not ask too much.
It’s also important to answer your comments and visit some of your commenters. You will get comments. Just from my own experience with blogging over the last year, answering a first comment makes it much more likely that a reader is going to come back. This is another reason to get the post written early and not add any extra work for yourself beyond the bare requirements. Being active on your own threads is essential if you want to benefit from the challenge beyond April.
Most bloggers neither post every day nor visit five blogs per day. Many of your visitors will be doing the challenge just to see if they can. A lot will be hoping to find new readers and make friends. It’s hard to make friends through a blog if you don’t comment, and it’s best to do straightforward, ultra-reader-friendly posts for this.
Here is a list of the bloggers you’ll see here during April if all goes well between now and then. Links go to their blogs and their byline archives. For the sake of convenience, I’ve organized the list by author in order of first appearance. Here’s the alphabetical version with posting dates. Topics will be published on reveal day. (Contributors, if I have double-booked or crossed up any days here, just let me know and we’ll iron it out.)
Jeremy DeFatta — B, K, S
Hannah Givens of Things Matter — J
A Mystery Blogger — V
Thanks to all you contributors, and to our friends who have encouraged us as we worked to get this done. I’ll have communciation for you about loading drafts in the next week or two.
I’m following A to Z on both Twitter and Facebook, so if we’re connected on the other social media, you’ll be seeing a lot of A-to-Z sharing from me once we get into March. If you are a friend or reader here and you decide to take the plunge, you want to drop me a line so I can add you to lists and such.
Several of our friends are also registered already. I’ll have links to some of them in my announcement at Just Gene’O in the next week or so.