Friday, January 11, 2013

The Numbers Game

There's something I've wanted to talk about for a long time, something that I've kept carefully squirreled away in my drafts until the right time. I think now is the right time.

It's January, a clean start to a new year. It's also a very busy time in blogging and publishing. The holiday lull has worn off, and everyone has turned their attention back to bookish things. Scores of new books are coming out. Bloggers have looked back at the previous year and are now planning how to make the new year even better. It's all grand and exciting.

Unfortunately, with the anticipation for books and ARCs and the careful study of the past year, an insidious component sneaks in, one that dogs us throughout the year but has the opportunity now of all times of the year to cause the most grief. I'm talking about stats.

Stats, for you non-blogger folks or very new blogger folks, are a big deal in the blogging world. Follower counts, comments, page views, unique visits, and mentions help shape how a blog is perceived. Blogs with bigger followings score more ARCs from publishers, more attention in blog tours and giveaways, and more prestige and respect in the community, or so it feels. Obviously, the wisdom goes, if so many people like you and visit you, you must know what you're talking about. You must be doing something right.

I started a blog to 1) talk about books and 2) learn more about the publishing industry. That's it. I knew forcing myself to write a blog would improve my writing and teach me far more about the publishing industry as a whole than being a mere observer ever would. I was also tired of not being able to discuss what I read with people around me. For me, blogging wasn't a popularity contest. It wasn't a numbers game. I saw the "popular" bloggers as people I could learn from rather than as rivals.

At least, that's what I thought until suddenly I didn't.

Stats are insidious because they seem so easy to compare. If two blogs start at the same time, clearly the one with the most followers at the end of the year is the better blog, right? Or if two blogs join a blog tour, the one with the most page views is the better blog. And don't even get me started on comparing Stacking the Shelves posts. In the world of stats, the bigger number always wins.

Like most bloggers, I struggled with stats. I thought I was doing everything right. I wrote thoughtful posts, I promoted, I connected with other bloggers via their blogs and Twitter, I responded to all comments promptly, etc. etc. And yet other blogs seemed lightyears ahead of mine. I can't tell you the number of times I would come across what I took to be an "established" blog, only to find out that they were actually a few months younger than me!

I knew being jealous was wrong. I knew it was wrong to fault other bloggers for putting in the hard work to make their blogs such a success. But I also knew that I wasn't the only one feeling the bitter creep of envy. (At times I even secretly hoped that one day I would be the one causing such feelings!)

And then, one day, I came across a post by Ms. Kelly at Stacked. It was entitled "Let's talk about stats, baby" and I settled in with a masochistic relish. Being a well-written, well-respected grandmama of a blog (2009 is decades in blog time), Ms. Kelly's stats were sure to wow and amaze this baby blogger, and they did.

But then Ms. Kelly wrote something that I promised myself I would never forget. It's all mixed in among different paragraphs, so pardon my ellipses.
Everyone reaches a different audience and everyone has different goals, and the entire beauty of the blogging world is that everyone can coexist like this. ...

We don't do it for the stats, and we don't do it to see our numbers explode. We don't do it so we can get the next greatest promotion nor the next biggest title. ...

Stats tell us NOTHING. ...

They don't tell us the true impact of what we're doing. They don't tell us whether what we said made someone buy a book. They don't tell us how many people added a book to their GoodReads to-read shelf (sure you could extrapolate, but that's giving yourself a lot of credit). They don't tell us anything about ourselves except that we exist and, in some cases, we should be paid attention to. Because we ARE reaching someone.
After reading those words, I immediately went to my dashboard, opened up a new post and wrote "Numbers mean nothing. I am reaching SOMEONE." It became my new motto.

Now, was I instantly cured of stat-itis? Absolutely not. There were still times I wanted to pitch a fit because Blogger X got a million ARCs and I got none or because a post I had written and adored was ignored. But when I felt myself feeling particularly envious of a blogger, I would go out of my way to promote and befriend them. It's much easier to celebrate the successes of a friend, much easier to enjoy the growth of a blog you yourself subscribe to.

This year, two of my resolutions relate directly to my continued prevention of stat-itis. One states that I will continue to avoid the numbers game. I will keep my eyes off follow numbers that are not my own. I will look at Stacking the Shelves post to admire rather than to compare. I will continue Blogger Spotlight with joy and promote a good blog here and on Twitter whenever possible without hesitation. Blogging is not a zero-sum game. A win for "them" does not mean a loss for me or vice-versa.

My second resolution is to help baby bloggers. If blogging as a whole prospers, my blog prospers with it. New bloggers are not competition or bugs to be crushed. I would not be where I am without kind elder bloggers who were willing to answer my many questions.

Stats, no matter what they are, will never be enough. There will always be someone with more followers, more page views, more publishing contacts, more ARCs. Focusing on numbers will make me nothing but unhappy. Focusing on reaching people, however, will make me glow, because all it takes is one.

One person finding their new favorite book. One new reader where there wasn't one before. One new thought put into someone's head. One new way of looking at the world.

So I put to you this challenge. This year, instead of making resolutions regarding numbers and stats and coming out on top, focus on your quality instead of your quantity. Do what you can to aid the bloggers around you. Squelch jealousy as it arises. And remember that numbers mean nothing. You ARE reaching someone.