Throwback Thursday: My 2014 Blogging A to Z Reflection

Since the Blogging A to Z in April Challenge begins next week and I’ve put the Tolkien on hiatus for the next four weeks, here’s my 2014 A to Z reflection from my personal blog, which I have since moved to Just Gene’O and redesigned. Published May 19 of last year.

Among other things, you can look at it and tell I am much better at blogging now. I’d never publish something with text this dense and so little art today. Well, unless it was a Throwback Thursday from last year 🙂

The resource page of mine and David’s posts from last year never happened, because we got busy. This is a cool post for a throwback Thursday on the eve of the A to Z Challenge because, lack of sophistication in the blogwriting aside, it’s a window into where I was last year, and I am being quite honest here. About all of it.

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Diana alerted me to the A to Z Challenge in the most dramatic way possible. She reblogged the signup-page on Sourcerer in February as a surprise post. Perhaps she just did that in fun — surprise posting is a game we play with one another — but I have to imagine she did it that way in part because she knew I’d be skeptical. And she was right.

a-to-z-reflection-2014

A blogging challenge that requires you to post daily, six days a week, AND visit five other blogs every day is not to be taken lightly. It took me whole day to decide I wanted in.

The challenge was grueling by the end. It put a lot of pressure on my already-tight blogging schedule. The visits took more time than I thought they would, and prevented me from keeping up with a lot of my friends for a month. Still, it turned out well.

I’m pleased with the posts I ended up with. I got this blog lots of new followers, and found several bloggers to interact with that I otherwise never would have discovered. I’m planning to do it next year, perhaps with both of the blogs I manage. But I’ll be better-organized and the posts will absolutely be written in advance. Here are a few things the A to Z Challenge taught me.

  1. Short posts can be good, especially if they’re pithy and include either useful or personal information.
  2. Art is less important for something like A to Z than it is for normal, everyday posts. I spent too much time finding art for the early posts. The A to Z badges and the occasional pin from Part Time Monster’s Pinterest boards worked just fine.
  3. If you’re using a big challenge to gain followers and meet people, you get out what you put in. Halfway through the challenge, I had to cut down on the revisits and comments just to get the visits done. I still gained followers during the last two weeks, but not at the rate I gained them during the first two. And my comments leveled out when they should have been increasing.
  4. There’s a market for useful writing-related blog posts. It’s not a market that requires you to post every day, but even more than with other forms of blogging, quality is important. Writing posts must be well-written, and if you’re giving tips, the tips must be useful. That doesn’t mean you only have to talk about advanced techniques. If you’ve been writing for a while, things you view as basic are probably useful to someone in your following. Every writer learns skills in a different order, and no one’s good at everything.

Here are some things I should have done before April 1 that I did not do. I will do them all next year.

  • Didn’t write my posts ahead of time. I intended to do it in March, but March was crazy. I’ll not wait until March to get started for next year. I have next year’s theme picked out for this blog. I’ll have the list of specific topics by July 1. I’ll write two or three per month all year long and save them up. If we decide to do the challenge with Sourcerer, that decision will be made and topics chosen by the end of December. The posts will be written by multiple bloggers, or else Sourcerer won’t participate.
  • Didn’t sign up early. List placement is important. I’ll be watching for the registration page to appear next year, and I’ll sign up on Day 1. I’ll do it the minute the page is published, even if I have to take a couple of personal hours off from work to do it.
  • Announced my topics too early. I did not realize the topic reveal was a thing. Next year, I’ll do it at the same time as everyone else, and spend time reading and commenting on other peoples’ topics.
  • Didn’t download the A to Z-themed art beforehand. Because I didn’t realize it was there until a week into the challenge. Next year, I’ll have posts loaded and ready to go well before art is released, and  I’ll spend a Sunday afternoon in March adding the art to my posts. (Both this and the previous item are a result of the fact that I was too busy to learn everything I could about the challenge before it started).
  • Didn’t bookmark blogs from the list ahead of time. This just didn’t occur to me. Five new blogs per day for 30 days is 150, but lots of blogs drop out, and sometimes you have to visit 10 to find 5 you want to comment on. Next year, during the last week of March, I’ll create a folder in my bookmarks menu for the challenge, and I’ll bookmark 200 blogs from the list to start with. That way I won’t have to load the list even once during the first three weeks of the challenge. I’ll be able to open the bookmarks five at a time and get right to work every evening.
  • Didn’t get my reflection in before the page to index the link closed. I’ll write my reflection on April 29 next year and have it ready to go on May 1.
  • Didn’t use the WordPress tag indexes to full effect. I barely looked at my readers at all in April because I was slammed, and something had to give. I should have been spending 30 minutes each evening browsing the A to Z-related tags, giving likes and leaving brief comments.

To sum up. The A to Z Challenge is fabulous. I recommend you try it at least once. But it was tough. I spent so much time getting though it, Sourcerer’s growth stalled and I had to step away from the circle of bloggers who talk to me often. I had to shut down this blog for three weeks in May to get back on track.

I created that situation by not preparing for it properly, and that’s a mistake I will not make again. Next year, I’ll be set up to have my posts scheduled exactly 24 hours apart, and I will be ready to visit 5 or more blogs every night in the most time-efficient way possible.

Here are my 26 posts. The big surprise of the challenge for me was the number of posts I ended up with that apply either poetic or musical concepts to prose writing. I didn’t set out to do it, that’s just how they turned out.

Week 1:  AudienceBiographicalCanonDictionEuphony

Week 2: FantasyGenreHonestyImagesJargonKenning

Week 3: LyricMotifNarrativeOnomatopoeiaPacing(don’t) Quit!

Week 4: RevisionSocialToneUtopianVillanelleWorlbuilding

Week 5: XanaduismYarnZeugma

I’m planning to post these links on a resource page sometime this summer along with links to David’s writing-themed posts from DBCII. That will give us 52 posts on writing to share with other writers. Starting a glossary of writing techniques is the reason I chose the theme I did. David’s topics don’t overlap with mine very much, and we didn’t collaborate on the topics. It’s just a happy coincidence.

survivor-atoz [2014]

My A to Z page is finally updated and Sourcerer is back on track, so I’m going back to posting here more frequently, and filling in with reblogs and short comments on other bloggers’ posts as I have time.

A to Z Badges by Jeremy of Being Retro

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Blog Traffic and Engagement: Awards, Bloghops, Linkups, etc.

I’ve been fascinated by blogging awards and similar activities for the entire time I’ve been blogging. Today I’ll share my take on them and give a few pointers to bloggers who are thinking about inventing their own. I’m talking about blogging activities that have the following characteristics:

  • A blogger writes a post and nominates other bloggers to participate in the activity by doing a similar post and nominating others.ballotmarkers
  • The nomination post comes with rules, but blogging being what it is, they are a bit like the Pirate Code — more guidelines than actual rules.
  • Nearly always, one of the first two rules is to link back to the person who nominated you.
  • The idea is to keep the activity alive, spread it through the blogosphere, and get bloggers linking to one another.

I like these activities, but not everyone does. To some people they feel like chain letters or like a way of pressuring other bloggers for links. I don’t look at them like that. Well, they are a bit like chain letters, but in a way that I find appealing. The reason I like them is that I enjoy linking to other bloggers, and enjoy posts in which bloggers link to a other blogs that they follow. I discovered most of the blogs that I read often through such posts.

I also think they’re a good way to pay a compliment to other bloggers. I usually add a disclaimer to nomination posts which says, basically, I won’t be offended if you choose to not even acknowledge this award. It’s just my way of saying your work is worth reading. And I try to get some inkling of how a blogger feels about awards before I nominate them. I try not to nominate people who actively dislike them or who have award-free blogs. I think of this as basic good manners.

All that said, these types of posts do have a few drawbacks. How significant the drawbacks are will depend on your blogging style and the amount of time you have to devote to blogging, so your mileage may vary here.

  1. They ask people to write a post, and write it in a particular way.
  2. The more extensive the rules, the greater the investment of time and mental energy required to participate.
  3. The post itself, once it’s done and published, asks other people to write a post, and write it in a particular way.
Dragon's Loyalty Award

Dragon’s Loyalty Award

Even for those of us who thrive on engagement and collaboration, these are not drawbacks to be taken lightly. Diana and I had a long conversation about the pros and cons of award participation when we received our first few. I think of blogging as a subculture, and it’s one that values autonomy and independence. Telling people what to do with their blogs, or straight-up asking for links, is a bit of a taboo.

I don’t think blogging awards rise to that level. If I did, I’d have an award-free blog. But it is important to keep in mind that, when you nominate people for things, you’re at least strongly suggesting that they write something with requirements another person came up with, even if you’re careful to be clear that you aren’t asking them to write it. That’s why we always attach the disclaimer.

I have an idea for a blog hop, but it’s not fully developed yet and I likely won’t have time to think about kicking it off until October at the earliest. Developing it has got me thinking about how to design an award post that has a chance of succeeding and becoming popular. Here are a few thoughts on some things I think you should and shouldn’t do if you’re starting an award.

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StumbleUponBlog: Join me and together we can rule the galaxy!

That’s a way over-the-top headline just to get your attention. I doubt we’ll rule any galaxies in the near future, but we can dream. I’ve learned what I needed to learn about Twitter and drawn a blueprint for other bloggers to follow. I am now turning my keen analytical mind to StumbleUpon. Today I’ll give you a little history, my theory about how it works, and some accounts to check out and follow if you like them.

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Blog Traffic and Engagement: The Power of Search Engines

We’ve made some progress with SEO (search engine optimization) lately. Today I’ll discuss our recent improvement in search engine referrals using Jeremy’s Is Batman A Marvel Character Trapped in the DC Universe? and Diana’s Penny Dreadful Séance Review as examples.

I know very little about optimizing posts to get searches. It isn’t something I even thought about until a few weeks ago. I had a private conversation in March with CompGeekDavid about blog traffic which made me think this blog, in particular, should be getting more search traffic than is. That prompted me to do what I always do when I encounter a problem like this. I started asking questions, looking at stats, and reading stuff.

Jeremy and Diana both get more search engine referrals than me, and they have from the beginning. That’s to be expected. They write a ton of posts about comics, books, movies, and television. That stuff is called “popular culture” for a reason. For the last little while, all my blogging has been oriented toward social media, inequality, photos, music videos, and speaking directly to blogging buddies. I do blog about Tolkien at Part Time Monster, but that’s a pretty narrow niche, and it only trends when new movies are released. What I write just isn’t as popular, search-wise, as Batman and Penny Dreadful.

That said, I don’t think any of us were getting as many search referrals a month ago as we should have been getting. We’re still not, but we have improved our search traffic here in the last few weeks. Two months ago, we were getting fewer than 10 search engine hits a day on most days. Now, on most days we’re getting 50 or more. Both Jeremy and Diana have played important roles in that.

Early in the Penny Dreadful series, I read an article which led me to believe that search crawlers weight headlines and first paragraphs very heavily. Based on that information, I advised Diana to use the series and episode tiles in the headline along with the word “Review.” I also suggested that she include as many of these items as possible in her first three or four sentences:

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