What I’ve Learned in Two Years of (Book) Blogging

what I've learned in two years of blogging

A few weeks back, I wrote about my plan to get a little more personal here on the blog, and I love hearing how other bloggers do their thing (Annie over at The Misstery recently published a great post about her blogging routine). So today, in celebration of Lectito‘s second birthday, I’m going to share a bit about what’s happened behind the scenes in these past two years: why I started Lectito, how I almost gave up on it and where I plan to take it in the future.

Getting started

I’m a long-time blog dabbler. I’ve Tumbled, Blogspotted and WordPressed for years, blogging about my travels, gardening, hiking, books, living as an expat in the UAE and general life stuff. For a while, I even blogged as a made-up alter-ego—who knows why. But none of these bloggy ventures lasted.

Then, in 2012, I started working for Ride On, a cycling magazine published by Bicycle Network (the final issue will be published this month *sobs*), and one of my responsibilities was to look after the mag’s blog and social media. Being a not-for-profit, we had limited resources (i.e. our time) to pour into the mag’s digital channels—at that stage the blog was just a free WordPress site. My editor was kind of like, ‘Meh, see what you can do with it when you get a spare minute.’ I took it as a challenge and made that blog my baby.

I learned everything I could about blogging and began following a huge range of blogs to see how other bloggers ran their sites. And I started experimenting. It was wonderful because no one had any real expectations for the site. My editor gave me the freedom to try new things and make mistakes (and, boy, did I make some rookie errors!). With the help of the rest of the editorial team, the blog continued to grow exponentially during my three years at the mag, and by the time I left, we’d turned it into a self-hosted site with a substantial readership and made it an integral part of our publication cycle.

Working on the blog and the mag’s social media was easily my favourite part of the job, and I started fantasising about taking what I was learning and launching a new blog of my own—something bigger and slicker than the blogs I’d previously abandoned. I used to scribble plans and templates in my notebook during my lunch breaks. But I was also discovering how much time it takes to run a blog well (especially in the early days), and back then I was devoting every spare minute to writing NeverlandIf I’d started a blog on the side, the manuscript still wouldn’t be finished.

And then my husband was offered a job in Perth, which for me meant bye-bye Ride On and hello full-time writing and freelancing(!!!). Neverland had just been shortlisted for the 2015 Text Prize and for the first time since finishing high school, I had a whole lot of time on my hands. I didn’t know anyone in Perth and I was missing the book clubs and book-loving friends I’d left behind in Melbourne and Adelaide. As a writer and freelancer, I was also looking for a way to get my name out there and to keep developing my digital media skills.

The time to launch my much-dreamed-about book blog had arrived.

I spent a month preparing for the launch by researching other book blogs, setting out my initial blogging goals and strategy, designing the site and its logo, setting up Lectito‘s Instagram and Twitter accounts, a Facebook Page and MailChimp templates and coming up with a rough posting schedule. I also wrote a heap of content, so that there was more than just a welcome post on the site come launch day.

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more time to prepare before going live. My goals were too many, too vague and too diverse. I was kind of overwhelmed with possibility, and I wanted to try everything. More than that, I hadn’t counted on how much harder I was going to have to work on Lectito compared with Ride On. For a start, I didn’t have an existing readership or mailing list (and, my friends, it’s true what the experts say: a healthy mailing list is gold dust). I also didn’t have an ever-expanding library of engaging content at my fingertips or help from a team of professional editors, marketers and graphic designers. Sigh.

Even still, I loved my first year of blogging! Sure, things didn’t go exactly to plan and Lectito wasn’t *quite* what I hoped it would be, but I was having fun. I was writing about something I loved and meeting other like-minded book bloggers from all over the world, publishers were sending me ARCs and my readership was growing (albeit very slowly).

And then I slumped.

Wanting to give up

It happened gradually. I’d wanted to make Lectito something special, but looking around, I felt I’d fallen into the trap of reviewing the same ARCs as countless other bloggers, and that I wasn’t offering much more than that. My TBR pile was growing waaaay too fast to keep up with, I wasn’t enjoying a lot of what I was reading and I was falling behind in my reviews. I spent all my time trying to play catch-up rather than researching and trying new things, and the whole business of blogging began to feel like a grind.

Also, and this is getting real honest here, I wasn’t enjoying blog hopping as much either. I follow some fabulous bloggers that I love dearly, and I’m always excited to share their work when they write something I find value in and want to tell others about. But there’s this weird unspoken pressure/expectation that you’ll read (or pretend to read), like, comment on and share everything (or almost everything) from all the bloggers you follow. I grew to absolutely loathe this.

I’m fully aware that not everything I publish is top shelf, so when another blogger likes and shares absolutely everything I put out and religiously likes all Lectito‘s Facebook posts, tweets and Insta pics, it feels like they’re just looking for a little quid pro quo, especially if they rarely comment on anything.

I tried to be all ‘I’m not buying into this.’ But then I’d feel extremely guilty for skipping someone’s latest post, or failing to come up with an insightful comment, or being reluctant to tweet about every post I read. Which is stoopid.

And here’s why it’s stupid: religiously liking other bloggers’ posts and spewing links on Twitter is a terrible strategy for growing your blog. It’s not real engagement, everyone knows what you’re up to and it’s a waste of time. I’m a bit of a stats nut, and I know for a fact that hardly anyone clicks through to my posts when another blogger just tweets out the links with no explanation about why they’re recommending it. More to the point, you’re not really growing your readership if the bulk of your traffic is coming from other bloggers who feel obligated to drop by and hit ‘like’ without reading what you write. Commenting on and sharing select content that you genuinely connect with is a different matter.

Long story short, as well as losing my blogging mojo, I started to feel disillusioned about the wider book blogging community as well. Not everyone, mind, just the overall vibe.

From last October to this April I hardly blogged, and when I did, my heart wasn’t in it.

I thought about giving up. Thought about it a lot. We moved back home to Adelaide in early December and I was pregnant by the new year, plus I landed a few big freelance contracts, a literary agent and a book deal in quick succession and also bought a house (all while curled up on the bathroom floor with morning sickness). It felt like life was tugging me in a new direction and Lectito was the lowest priority on my list.

BUT I wasn’t quite ready to pull the plug. I still remembered how much fun blogging could be. I knew I’d fallen into a bit of a hole with Lectito, but I was also convinced that I could still turn it into the blog I’d daydreamed about when I was working at Ride On. To do so, I needed to completely rethink my approach.

Making a fresh go of it

I’d always resisted getting too personal with Lectito, and not just in terms of tone and content. From the beginning, I’d set a bunch of unrealistic expectations, and become frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. Which is silly. I’m convinced part of the reason I was able to do good work with the Ride On blog is that there was so little pressure. It was just something I was passionate about.

This is something Elizabeth Gilbert touches on in Big Magic, which I adore. My copy’s in storage while we finish sorting out the house, so I don’t have it on-hand to quote, but she basically says that you shouldn’t stifle your creativity by making demands of it, for example that it make you money. Basically, creativity for creativity’s sake is A-okay. This is something I struggle with because I do earn an income from my creative work, and, consequently, I’m not so great at distinguishing between passion and profession. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it means that I tend to make unrealistic demands of my creative hobbies. Like, I enjoy cooking, but if I can’t be bothered putting up a dish worthy of inspiring a few bad puns from Matt Preston, I’m likely to give up entirely and opt for plasticky pre-made awfulness.

I know, I know: it’s a problem and I’m working on it. But Lectito fell into this category too. Because I was using skills that I’d developed in the workplace,  I wanted it to be somehow ‘successful’, without having a clear idea of what that success would look like, and when I felt it wasn’t going to plan, I was ready to ditch it.

It took me a long time to realise that I could apply my professional skills to something that I primarily do for fun, and to recognise Lectito for what it is: a passion project, even if it also makes up part of my writing portfolio. That may sound super obvious, but for me, it was a real light bulb moment and has led to a bunch of changes. In my recent post ‘A More Personal and Flexible Approach to Blogging’ I wrote specifically about how I’m shaking up my content. But I’ve also been rethinking my approach to blogging more generally. Over the last couple of months I’ve been pretty ruthless about what makes it onto my TBR and I’m taking a break from NetGalley. I also unfollowed a bunch of blogs I wasn’t interested in and am just reading posts from other bloggers that genuinely spark my interest and am sharing those posts that I really enjoy, and, consequently, I’m falling in love with blog hopping again and having more meaty discussions with fellow bloggers! Plus, I’ve discovered a bunch of new bloggers (and I actually have time to read them). I still feel a bit guilty for not reading everything, but I’m trying to get past that. Now that I’m not feeling overwhelmed by all the reviews I haven’t written, I’m making time to research new blogging tools, attend webinars, contribute more to the blogging FB groups I’m part of, etc. and also devote more time to big picture planning—all that nerdy stuff I get a real kick out of and enjoy just as much as writing posts.

The result? I’m enjoying working on Lectito a thousand times more than I have in a long time and I can’t wait to see what the next two years bring!

Over to you

How did you get your start in blogging?

Have you found that the way you think about your blog has changed over time?

Have you ever gone through a particularly bad slump (and, if so, how  did you pull yourself out of it?)

—Margot XO 

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