#AtoZChallenge 2015 Reflections

Today is May 4th, and it is time for those that completed the A-Z Blogging in April Challenge to post their reflections on the last month gone by. This year a staggering amount of blogs signed up for the challenge, over 1,700, which insured a wild amount of diversity, enthusiasm, and creativity for the event. Between bloggers donning new character costumes for each post, raiding their kitchen for the next best thing in extravagant cooking, or scouring history for all the most creative ways to die in medieval Hungary, 2015 was a knock out year for A-Z.

In regard to my own blog, there were a lot of new things I tried this year. I went ultra-visual compared to last year’s broader, more personal theme. I made my own banners to fit the style of my blog. I focused on following quality over quantity.

Things that Worked

On my blog, the following worked:

  • My banners were a huge success, and I’m glad I took the time in March to make them. You can see a gallery of all of them together in my Theme Reveal post.
  • Prescheduling all of my posts before the challenge saved me from complete burnout around April 15th.
  • Shorter posts meant the difference between engagement and drive-by likes, which I saw a lot of in 2014. This year comments were up consistently (at least 20 per post) which means I was able to build more relationships with bloggers throughout the month.
  • Prioritizing blogs based on platform (sorry Blogger and self-hosted people) meant faster, easier commenting, and the possibility of continued engagement beyond April. I still followed Blogger and self-hosted blogs that were either a) so awesome I felt it a crime to miss a post, or b) were very active commenters here, so I wanted to network.

Things on other blogs that I thought worked well:

  • Giving readers something to talk about. Many blogs included lots of different talking points, which made it easy to comment without having to know some external information. This kept their comment sections from being populated by “Great post. Stopping by from the A-Z Challenge” hit-and-run comments.
  • Guest bloggers helping to fill the gaps in the alphabet. This kept the voice and enthusiasm fresh.
  • Signatures in comments. For half the month, my new friend Linda Visman was commenting on my blog but her signature led to a dead site. We figured it out halfway through, and I was able to follow her challenge after that, but having a signature really helps people find the proper site you want them to go to. NJ had trouble with comments on Blogger leading to an unrelated blog, so yeah… signatures.

Things that Didn’t

On my own blog:

  • Falling behind on answering my own comment threads. I should have made returning visits to commenters my priority throughout the month, but only got there towards the end.
  • Not reminding people of my theme throughout the challenge. It probably would have given my theme more cohesion to make a small, repeating theme reminder at the end of every post.
  • Not keeping all of my posts under 300 words. There were a few that I prescheduled that I didn’t get a chance to go back and trim down, like Y is for 雪祭り, and they were far too long. It obviously meant less engagement, but also a time sink for those that did commit to read it on the second to last day… yikes!

On others’ blogs:

  • This is more personal preference, but posts that are hard to find context for, particularly serialized fiction or excerpts, didn’t work very well this year. For those that used these themes, how did you find your engagement?
  • Long posts with condensed information. There were several themes I really loved, but the information in them was so dense that it was hard to commit my brain to it every day in April. I’m looking forward to reading these blogs, at their regular scheduling pace, going forward.
  • Not committing the time to comment back. I know it can be a bit of a frustrating aspect in blogging to “return the favor,” as it can start to feel like people only comment so you’ll comment back, but nurturing blogger relationships is really essential to this challenge. You have one shot, maybe two, to engage a blogger enough to get them to return. You can do this by having excellent content, but also by contributing back to the community. Some people who weren’t doing the challenge, but still commented here, have earned a reader out of me. It works.

The Blogs

At the end of March, I made a Blogging A-Z Theme Reveal Roundup post. All of those blogs completed the challenge, and all of their themes were amazing, even though I dropped reading a few due to time constraints (and again, prioritizing those who were active in the commenting portion of the challenge.) Please visit that post to get my list highlights! They’re really all worth following. 🙂

But, there were a ton of other blogs that I didn’t get a chance to see before the challenge started, and some of them didn’t get nearly enough love… so I’m highlighting some new ones here. Follow these people!

  • 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary – this blog wins for most amusing, creative, and well-written theme. The posts were short enough to digest, full of humor, and great history lessons. Brainchild of Zalka Csenge Virág, who also did Epics A-Z.
  • A Mishmash of Media that Inspired My Writing – Susan Gourley was a frequent commenter here, and that was how I found her blog. Susan writes romantic science fiction, and I loved the nostalgia that came with her posts.
  • Women Who Write Science Fiction – Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, a speculative fiction author, offered a massive collection of female authors in April who write stellar science fiction. For those seeking more diversity and representation on their bookshelves, Almazan has some great suggestions for you.
  • George’s Guinea Pig World – I had the pleasure of “meeting” over 26 guinea pigs this month, some of which have been featured in Jemima’s Pett‘s ongoing Princeling series. I love the idea of this blog, and am learning a lot about brand just by seeing her in action. Plus, they were just so cute!
  • Epically Bad Movies – Lillian did an amazing job curating a host of movies that were so “bad” they’re awesome. A frequent commenter and all around interesting lady, and I’m excited to continue on with her blog!
  • My Fantasy Squad – Melissa Barker-Simpson had an awesome month showing off monsters who, in most cases, don’t get enough love in fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed her challenge.
  • My Life Lived Full – Joanne had a very successful A-Z, with a bustling comment section and posts that always earned a laugh or a cry. Her highly personal essays shed light on the power of perseverance, and lived up to her blog’s title.
  • Sara Letourneau – Sara didn’t participate in the challenge herself, but became a name I saw frequently in my comments section. I’m so glad I checked out her blog. As a fellow writer, a lot of what she offers on her site is relevant to my interests. Plus, teaholic. ❤
  • Spoken Like a True Nut – I really wish this blog had gotten more love. I really enjoyed its humorous stories, and Nutty is a great blogger. Definitely a blogger I’ll be engaging with in the future!
  • The Traveling Blackberry – This was an amazing blog and awesome challenge. Bob took me to so many corners of the world, with so many unique perspectives and experiences. Another blog that should have gotten way more love!
  • Thought on a Roll – A truly unique food blogger, offering recipes from all over the world. I loved this theme so much, and even made the first recipe she posted the same day! Challenge your tastebuds with world cuisine.
  • The A-Zs of University Life – Victim to Charm had a wonderful theme focusing on college life. The posts were very thoughtful and sincere, and Sabina is a very kind, energetic blogger.
  • Wangiwriter Poetry – Linda Visman had a wonderful theme of simple poetry that was easy to digest during the challenge. Not to mention she’s a very active commenter.
  • All But the Kitchen Sink – Trista’s theme on motivation for creative people was perfect. I love her tone, her techniques, and she really did inspire me to get more focused on my writing endeavors. A must-follow for me!
  • Allusionary Assembly – Kerry had an amazing theme dedicated to literary devices. I was astounded by her knowledge on the subject, but was even more flabbergasted by the lack of traffic she received. If you are a writer, follow her! She also is participating in a “year of letters to myself” which has been very touching.
  • Jeno Marz – Jeno didn’t participate in the challenge, either, but she commented almost every day here, and deserves a mention. Jeno does some amazing posts on science fiction on her blog, and she’s definitely worth looking into. ❤

If I’ve missed any of you, I apologize! Please leave more recommendations or acknowledgements in the comments, and I’ll check them out! 🙂

The Stats

I love looking at stats… pouring over them, and in general, this year was much better than last year. Here are some screenshots of how my blog performed:

As far as my actual individual posts, I was interested in how many comments I got this year vs. last year. So, you can count this as my Table of Contents, as well!

A is for 秋 (91 comments vs. 96 last year)
B is for 仏 (76 comments vs. 124 last year)
C is for 文化 (72 comments vs. 59 last year)
D is for 地異 (50 comments vs. 59 last year)
E is for 興 (54 comments vs. 27 last year)
F is for 冬 (58 comments vs. 20 last year)
G is for 庭 (90 comments vs. 15 last year)
H is for 春 (64 comments vs. 11 last year)
I is for 一乗寺 (57 comments vs. 16 last year)
J is for 旅行 (44 comments vs. 24 last year)
K is for 北野天満宮 (19 comments vs. 17 last year)
L is for 土地の人 (45 comments vs. 25 last year)
M is for 山 (32 comments vs. 15 last year)
N is for 夏 (50 comments vs. 26 last year)
O is for 温泉 (48 comments vs. 13 last year)
P is for 道 (39 comments vs. 8 last year)
Q is for 観音 (18 comments vs. 12 last year)
R is for ラリー (21 comments vs. 20 last year)
S is for 神社 (26 comments vs. 14 last year)
T is for 寺 (32 comments vs. 19 last year)
U is for 宇治 (29 comments vs. 19 last year)
V is for 自販機 (42 comments vs. 20 last year)
W is for 不思議 (51 comments vs. 11 last year)
X is for X (20 comments vs. 15 last year)
Y is for 雪祭り (24 comments vs. 15 last year)
Z is for 材料 (41 comments vs. 41 last year)

Totals: 1,193 comments in 2015. 741 comments in 2014. 60.998% increase!

The numbers are in! This year was definitely better than last time, and most importantly, I realized my goals: meeting new bloggers, increasing engagement, and focusing on quality over quantity for longer-lasting results.

How was A-Z for you this year? Don’t forget to take part in a much deserved After-Party over at Victim to Charm!

82 thoughts on “#AtoZChallenge 2015 Reflections

  1. This, Alex, was an awesome post! I love how you took such care with analyzing the month-long challenge, and even more impressed at the analytics between last year and this one. You truly are thorough. But seeing the numbers is a clear way to evaluate your progress and growth evolution.
    Regardless of all that, I really enjoyed the posts that I did read, and I’m determined to go back and catch many more. It was a brilliant way to learn more about this marvelous country you’re living in for a little bit longer and continues to whet my appetite for a someday visit. You’ve been a terrific advertisement for the country and culture.
    Lastly, thanks for the link and summary of the many new bloggers I can’t wait to check out. Talk about going down a rabbit hole. This will be entertaining.
    Congratulations on a spectacular job, Alex. I’m amazed at all your hard work. And grateful for it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Shelley! I had a lot of fun this year. I felt like I found a lot more high-quality blogs, which was the best part of the month. 🙂 BTW- Your new profile image is gorgeous! (Of course, you always are, but, you know. 😉 )


  2. WOW this was some reflection post. You nailed it. I didn’t get around to nearly as many blogs as I wanted. I need to figure out how I want to do that during the challenges. Your theme sounded fascinating. Hope to see you on the Road Trip……I’m there now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Paula! It’s a really hard thing to strike the balance. I think the trick is to start combing the blogs that you want to follow at least a month before, to create a strong list that is fun to read (and this also helps you find blogs that you will CONTINUE to be interested in after April, which was really important for me this year.) All the best! BEEP BEEP.


  3. INtriguing reflections. (That “IN” was a mis-type, but I left it because it seemed to fit.) I appreciate you admitting the positives *and* shortcomings in your month; I learn from honesty. It gives me something to think about in my blog and future challenges. Your kudos blog summarys above are succinct and interesting that I am now following entirely too many other blogs…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know the feeling! I’m following about 350 blogs right now. Hard to keep up, haha.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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