Blog Sabotage!

Long time readers have probably noticed a metamorphosis. Even more personal, focusing on life and issues outside of marketing, this has become much more of a writer’s blog than a professional marketer’s vehicle. Along the way over the past four months, I shed about 50% of my traffic! One could say I sabotaged my own blog.

Certainly if you are one of the seven angels of blogging doom, the critical pen is flying right now. Not so fast.

A year ago, I would have been freaking out about such a traffic dip (In fact, I was). This time I’m not.

The renaissance of this blog that began last summer was part of my effort to market the last book. In doing so I built superfluous traffic related to marketing. This was done by playing some popularity games known to generate eyeballs on today’s social web.

Then after SxSW I changed course.

Why?  If I had kept going as I was, when I launch Exodus this August most readers would likely have felt robbed. Imagine getting non-stop marketing blogs every week, year after year, and suddenly have a post-apocalyptic science fiction book dropped in your feed.

I also realized that from a reputation standpoint, I don’t necessarily need a well trafficked marketing blog to generate business. At this point in my career, continued public successes like the Demand Success conference, and general online visibility matter more.

Why not start a second blog? Because I want to write fiction, and am a man that works, who fathers a child, and who desires work life balance. I’d rather write one blog well than two poorly. So I made my decision, and redirected my resources rather than redeploy new ones.

If my blog was a garden, I pruned back bushes, cutting away dead growth, and replanted several vegetables and flowers. As a result, while smaller, those of you that visit and comment seem more engaged and frequent. Thank you for that.

Now I simply need to stay the course and let the blog grow. Here are the things I did to cut back and refocus:

1) Shifted Topics

I shifted topics, added essays, and focused more on science fiction, writing, essays, philosophy and general musings on writing. That was the first clear cut. People were visiting for marketing and social media schtick.

While readers still get a blog or two a week on marketing, it’s when there is something to add to the conversation as opposed to meeting a weekly quota. The lesser marketing conversation will continue, but it is not the business blog that old readers were visiting.

In addition, it’s been a while since I wrote an essay, but that has more to do with fatigue and readying Exodus. I expect to return to long form in the not too distant future.

2) Removed Share Counts

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Image by IkariCologne

When social sharing counts first became popular during the rise of Facebook and Twitter, many bloggers resisted including the numbers. We argued content should stand on its own merit, and become shared because it was good, not because it was popular.

But the social web thrives on attention and popularity. When people see high share counts, they are more likely to reshare. And to some extent — like almost every blogger — I succumbed to that.

As time passed, I even made fun of it with posts and commentary. After joining Triberr, my share counts swelled thanks to new distribution. And as those numbers grew, I enjoyed a new perception of popularity, right or wrong, with high public share counts. I am not sure that perception was accurate given the nature of Triberr (which I still love and use).

To this day I think many total share counts are gamed, the blogging equivalent of the steroid era in baseball. Automated tweets plus anomalies like Buffer counts cause me to snort when I see these numbers. For example, the Buffer reshare number is added to the total share number, in spite of Buffer shares getting double (or triple or quadruple) counted when they are sent through networks like Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn.

I know too much about share counts to consider them a valid metric, even if they create more traffic. Look, I want my stuff read. But I want people to share my content because its awesome or it caused them to think or some other reason.

If my content is popular because of its strength then I’m OK with that. I’m not OK with the perception of popularity based on reshares, though. To me that wreaks of an attention bubble. So I made the change in late April to remove share counts. You could call this move a return to old school values.

3) Cut Frequency

I found that writing essays, publishing four times a week here, once a week on the Vocus blog, and book development this Spring was exhausting mentally. I needed to cut something, or start sacrificing my work and family life quality. So I reduced a post a week, and also rerun the periodic relevant Vocus post.

Boy, that move from four to three posts was a precipitous blow. I lost 30 percent of my traffic by simply going from four to three blogs a week. Frequency matters a lot when you are building the fly wheel. It matters most to Google and the search indices, but it matters.

Now that I am through editing Exodus, I still have book work to do (production and marketing), and am not eager to return to a higher frequency. There is a short term fix for frequency that will be revealed during the September/October/November timeframe.

But after that I intend to go back three posts a week so I can start working on The War to Persevere: Book Two of The Fundamentalists this winter.

Conclusion

Sometimes the road less traveled is the one that feels best. I can live with the lesser result in exchange for focusing on my current writing projects, as well as writing what my heart desires.

What do you think? Pruning or self sabotage?

Featured image by Thomas Kilpper.

Crazy Characters Work Better

So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.

When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.

Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.

Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.

Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.

Favorite Crazy Characters

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This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!

In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.

While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.

A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.

This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.

Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.

In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.

Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.

What do you like about your favorite characters?

My First Novel, 19 Years in the Making

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Image by Vindaloo

Over the past few months I babbled about a secret project in blog posts now and then. It’s time to lift the curtain and reveal the project. I intend to release a science fiction novel at the end of summer.

Here’s some more babble for you. Exodus (Book One of the Fundamentalists) has been 19 years in the making. Nineteen fricking long years.

But first let me thank Patrick Ashamalla and A Brand New Way for this incredible new web design. It’s a responsive design offering unique experiences for the traditional web, tablet and mobile visitors. Check it out!

The new site accommodates Exodus with both its own section and RSS feed. The book will be available for purchase in both print and electronic editions, and will use the RSS feed to publish each chapter over a course of 70 days. Empowering people to read the book for free is a side benefit of independent publishing. If you want a preview copy in late July/early August, sign up for book updates, too.

I hope you enjoy the new experience, and thank you for continuing to read my stuff. Now, onto the book…

A Tale of Two Decades

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Exodus is the opening salvo in a science fiction trilogy that centers on the themes of utopia in a technological dark age, and the disruptive power of religious fundamentalism. In later entries to The Fundamentalists, the power of technology and principles of freedom are examined as the narrative progresses through steam punk to hard science fiction.

Exodus was first drafted in 1994 as my senior creative writing project at American University. My literature professor and mentor told me I’d be crucified if I published it. It has been refined six times since then, including a near miss with a publisher in 2004.

I believe Exodus has always been a keeper, one that just needed more wisdom as well as the ability to effectively deliver a captivating product.

All of this effort — an effort that is now finally coming to fruition — was necessary. Without it, I don’t believe the product would have been ready. Without the business books, social media marketing experiences, and yes, failed attempts to find a publisher nine years ago, I would not have found the courage to release book myself.

Reading Guy Kawasaki’s A.P.E. and C.C. Chapman’s Amazing Things Will Happen were the final pieces of motivation. The creative war fought within ended, and the final push began last January. I hired editorial support, and the rest is history.

Exodus may still fail. I know that. But I’ll be damned if I don’t follow my heart’s passion, and release this book.

I probably won’t blog about the novel itself again until August, but if you do read it, you’ll see some essay themes threaded in the text here and there.

Sign up if you’d like private updates. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Once again, thank you for continuing to read me through the years.