Apr 24, 2013

TWO HUNDRED posts. ONE thank you.

Greetings - 
You're currently reading the 200th post here on Ask A Punk. I don't know what percentage of small, one-person blogs chug all the way to 200 posts, but I'm guessing it is a fairly low number.

Obviously, I would have hit this number sooner if I hadn't taken that longer-than-expected hiatus, but the truth is, I really needed to take it when I did. Even though I knew I had done nearly zero in terms of promoting the website and getting it "linked up" in as many places as possible, I still had to admit that I was sometimes, in the dark quiet nights, disappointed that the blog wasn't reaching more people, wasn't connecting with a bigger audience etc.  I think I had reached a point with this blog where I was more concerned with 'outcome' than with 'process,' and that is never a good thing for any creative endeavor. During my time off I had to re-ask myself some key questions:

Q: Why are you writing this blog, really?
A: To have a forced, weekly deadline that'll have me writing on subjects I couldn't have come up with on my own. To (admittedly) reach a larger audience. To, as they say: "Become the expert."

The last part of that answer might sound a little odd coming from me and a little too much like marketing-speak, but that was the real catalyst. Here is how it happened:

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to pitch a "Punk Rock for Dummies"-style book to a literary agent. I spent a couple weeks writing up a very detailed chapter outline that was equal parts a 'history' and a real hands-on 'how-to' about the basics of playing instruments, writing songs and putting together a band on a zero budget. I thought it was a pretty good outline. When the agent rejected my proposal the reason she gave was: "I can't sell this, because I can't sell YOU... no one knows who you are."  ...this was a bit of odd logic. I looked at my bookshelf because in the past I have purchased about a half-dozen "for dummies" and "complete idiot's guide to ______" books - all on various topics that I needed to learn a lot about in a short amount of time... I didn't recognize the names of any of the authors of these books. All that mattered was the useful content, so why should it matter than no one had heard of me if they wanted a 'how to' on punk rock? ...as I said, the agent didn't tell me the idea or the outline wasn't sell-able, just that I wasn't. This point was later proven when I found out that she was actually pedaling my outline to better-known punk rock semi-luminaries, like the typical Hollywood weasel that she was. 

While I was telling a book business-savvy friend about this whole ugly scene, she had one piece of advice. She said: "So? Then become the expert yourself. Create some kind of a website and then in a few years maybe you will be well-enough known to get that book deal or something." It made sense, but at first I was stumped about coming up with something a bit apart from the typical record review/concert review/scene report kind of music website because there are already 1000's of those and, let's face it: I don't have the time, money or energy to start collecting records and handstamps again. Then I realized that I had spent my life reading advice columns: 'Dear Abby' and 'Ann Landers' as a kid, then 'Doctor Ruth' in print and on the radio, which also led to listening to 'Loveline' on the radio. I have also long read Dan Savage's Savage Love column, the LA Weekly's 'Ask A Mexican,' and the long-running advice columns on salon.com.  Suddenly the answer was obvious and that's when/how 'Ask A Punk' was born. 

So, five years, and 200 posts later, am I now the known expert? Probably not, but I have experienced some unexpected benefits. Being presented with a new question/issue every week, I really have had to decide where I stand on some issues that I otherwise probably wouldn't have given much thought to. That was another big draw for me: By soliciting questions from you folks, I haven't had to dream up a new 'topic' every week... which was a relief because I don't think what is generally ping-ponging around in my head on a typical day is stuff I "simply must share with my readers." Trust me - it would be tedious for us both.

I've had a lot of conversations with other people who are regular online creator/contributors - people who've got blogs, or a web series on youtube, or a twitter feed they've put a lot of effort into and I've noticed something: Everyone, even people I wouldn't expect it from, gets really cagey when asked about their traffic and analytics numbers. The "fake it 'til you make it" mentality is alive and well on the web... Everyone wants you to believe that their website is a major destination, their traffic is ever-increasing and they have a klout score surpassed only by the likes of Lady Gaga. I'll call some bullshit on that - here are the numbers for Ask A Punk.

AAP is currently averaging about 1000-1200 visitors per month. Major traffic sources lately have included stumbleupon.com (a site I really should visit and figure out, but haven't had the time,) google search results and links from a press release I put out a few months ago. 

While I have had paid ads on my site since day one, I have yet to receive a single check from google because my total accumulated "ad revenue" is still well-below the minimum $100 threshold required for them to cut me a check. Heck, I think it is still below $50. In the meantime, over the past 5+ years I have spent probably $200 (at least) for domain registration fees, that press release (which I don' think was worth the money) and other misc. expenses. So this hasn't been a money-making proposition, to say the least.

What I have gotten is a small, but steady audience of readers - for whom I am very grateful and, as I mentioned earlier, I've had the enjoyable challenge of figuring out where I stand on a lot of issues. I have also enjoyed cranking out nearly a half-million words on these various subjects, learned how to create an ebook and had my faith (and hope) in the punk rock ethos validated again and again by what my readers have contributed to the site. 

As I look ahead to the next 200 posts what am I hoping for? Some things are obvious:

I want my readers to be more involved and to leave more comments: I was hoping that the revamped site would make it easier for readers to find the 'comments' section and thus be more likely to contribute, but the limited customization options of Blogger weren't much help. 

I would like more people to buy the ebook of the first year's posts. I have gotten some good reviews and feedback on it and I gave away a ton of copies, but I won't be able to make a 'volume 2' until volume 1 sells enough copies to at least cover the costs of making it (which I measure in my time, since I did DIYed the whole thing myself anyway.) 

I also hope to attract more readers of course. I realize this is something I have to figure out how to do better myself - more links, more outreach to helpful websites (like stumbleupon) and that sort of thing. ...but also, I want to put it to my readers as well. If you've read THIS FAR into this typically long-winded post of mine, then I'm guessing you're a regular reader and used to me by now. I'm going to ask you to actively spread the word. If you can think of ten or four or even ONE person/friend of yours who would enjoy reading this site every week, now is the time to tell them about it. Shoot out an email. Post on your Facebook. Send out a tweet (I DO have an @askapunk twitter feed that I haven't been at all active with, and there is also my personal @planetoconnor twitter as well.) If any of you are familiar with the workings of stumbleupon or reddit or  goodreads or any similar 'discovery' pages,  I would be happy to hear your insights & advice. 

I'll be back next week with a regular question & answer column. See you Wednesday morning.

Good luck and thanks again for your continuing interest in Ask A Punk.