There’s a military saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy… My plan had been to roll out a new website as my author platform, incorporating my existing blog with a whole bunch of extra stuff that I’ve got planned for the future. I want to make the leap from being an online poet to a professional writer, and an all-in-one, all-singing, all-dancing website was part of this.
Well, that was the plan.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
I’d done my research beforehand. Numerous “why you should self-host” articles were consumed… Almost all, incidentally, with affiliate links to self-hosting services (I’ve no problem with this, to be clear – but it’s not an impartial sample, and means that people have made choices that are right for them, and have commented accordingly. They may not be right for you.)
Own your own site.
Room to expand.
WordPress could shut you down at any moment, if the urge took them.
It’s the only way you’ll be taken seriously as a business.
It’s the only way you’ll make money.
It’s exactly what I wanted to hear. My impending redundancy from my job has sharpened my mind about what I want to do in the future, about what I need to do, and ultimately how I put food on my family’s table.
I jumped in with both feet.
And then the problems began.
You see, what I hadn’t realised was HOW my readers were accessing my site.
The numbers of people following my site has been growing gradually over my 18 months of blogging to date. Between WordPress, Twitter and Facebook, I have over 2500 followers. I know there are other sites around with far larger followings, and many amazing sites with far fewer (which always baffles me). I’m talking numbers not to brag, but for context.
Of this number, I have a small but vocal minority who regularly take the time and trouble to read, like and comment on my stuff. They are generous with their praise… sometimes they are a little batshit crazy too, but I LOVE that!
(If you’re wondering if this last comment applies to you, by the way, the answer is already yes 🙂 )
I love the energy and the banter.
This interaction is becoming ever more important to me, and my only regret is not having the hours in the day to reciprocate fully on their sites. On your site.
Along the way, I guess I changed from being a compulsive (if middling) poet, to a blogger who happens to be a writer/poet too.
I am a blogger.
I am also a writer.
Then the rollout of the new site hit a speedbump… A sizeable proportion of my followers (although not all) were relying heavily on WordPress Reader to access my site.
They would read my posts, hit “like” (hopefully), and be able to comment (even better), all through the Reader. I always reply to every comment (at least a like), and enjoyed the little chats that sparked off these. The little back-and-forths of wordplay, puns, jokes, anecdotes, lives shared, support offered.
Souls touching, though oceans divide us.
I know owners of other sites who bemoan the lack of comments or interaction on their sites. I am blessed to have this, and don’t take it for granted.
Then I learnt that, although posts from the new site appeared in WP Reader, and people could like them, they could not make or view the comments.
Although the new site is WordPress hosted, this does NOT mean that it’s the same as having a WordPress blog. (That had been my understanding… big learning curve this week.)
People could still leave comments by visiting the site directly, but they wouldn’t get notified of my replies unless checking back in manually.
The back-and-forth element was gone, shuffled off, gone to meet its maker.
Some lovely people persevered regardless, manually checking in. I am not sure I would have the time to do that on anyone else’s blog, so would not ask that of anyone either.
There is no workaround for this. No plug-in to fix the problem. (I contacted WordPress directly to check – their ridiculously titled “happiness engineers” are actually very helpful, even to the technically-challenged like myself.)
There are some other factors in there too.
I hadn’t expected to lose the little green follow button in the bottom right corner… Or the blue “following” icon in WordPress (I found a site claiming to have found a way to set one up… Hours later, it simply didn’t work)…
The emphasis with self-hosted sites is on building up the all-important email list, rather than these “softer” forms of following. Don’t get me wrong, I have plans for that email list, but in my head it’s a different beast to the daily output on here. It needs to be something that warrants the extra effort of jumping through the hoops of filling in your name and email, because I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
Losing those easy ways to connect is a big thing for me, even if it slows down building up an email list to hawk my wares.
(You are going to buy my stuff, right? Bags of it. Wondering what to get your partner for your anniversary? My stuff. That perfect last minute Christmas gift? Yep, more from me. A leaving gift for that guy at work you never really liked? That too. Right?)
This blogger is starting to paddle in the marketer’s sea, but I’m doing it my own way. The way that feels right to me.
One thing that I really hadn’t expected was for there to be fewer WordPress options at start-up, when going self-hosted. For example, I couldn’t replicate my existing blog theme, and there were only a small number of free theme options. This may be a case of the blind man wandering into the new kingdom and not understanding what he sees – there are scores of plug-ins for almost every situation, for one – but first impressions were … guarded. This place just wants my money…
Maybe if my blog had fewer followers or commenters, or I’d done this a year ago, all of this would be less of an issue. No point in regrets or what-ifs – I need to deal with what’s right for me, right now.
So those plans, two sites in one, have had to change.
Two into one don’t go.
Maybe part of the problem is me wanting two fundamentally different things at the same time – the static site plus the dynamic blog; the “hey look at me” with the “hey talk to me“. Software is good , but people are always more complicated.
I need to respect my writer yin and blogger yang.
The two sites will remain as two entities, bridged by a workaround that I’ll blog about separately. (Go to the main site – http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/ – and click on “Al’s Blog” at the top. See what happens. Cool, eh? That took me half a day to work out!)
The writer site will develop slowly as I learn more about how I can use that, and present myself best. I’ll post some longer articles there, less often – maybe a couple of times a month at most. I hope some of the readers of this will take the time to go and check it out…
(Hey, most of you have been dragged that side and back already, like a reluctant child on a family trip to a stately home… Sorry ’bout all that. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve now transferred all of my followers back to this blog – courtesy of WordPress again being helpful.)
This blog has been given a stay of execution, and will live on, changing and growing all the time.
Thank you for being, and continuing to be, a part of this journey with me.
Now, who wants to chat below the line? 🙂
Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/davidkingham/7688812482