Reflecting on the A to Z Blog Challenge – 2016

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]The 1st year I learned how important it is to start early: Research, write all posts before April 1. Exception: X and Z, usually put off until the last moment.  I edit or tweak each post near publication date.

The 2nd year I learned how important it is to visit as many blogs as possible leaving comments. Your blog stats will go up the more you visit others. I am following at least 20 new blogs.

The 3rd year I learned how important the presentation of a blog is.  Readability, ease of navigating the site, clarity of background/font, an uncluttered presentation that does not take away from the point of a blog…to be able to READ the information. Short posts work best not only during #The Challenge, but all year long.

The 4th year I learned how important it is to pick a theme that works with the nature of  #The Challenge. If the point is to encourage new readership, the subject matter better work for a one time visitor. A long tale that makes no sense on day 12, or a subject that is depressing, worthy as it may be, isn’t great for a “26 day expiration date opportunity.” Careful consideration of the goal: offering an interesting theme, which demonstrates that your blog is easy to read, worth someone’s valuable time to follow. Understanding what you are try to accomplish will impact the success of this exercise.

Once last tip: Make note of your stats as the #Challenge begins. How did it all turn out? What do the numbers tell you? Do you need to reconsider the template you are using for your blog because it is not user friendly and discouraged visitors. Did you pick a theme that in hindsight would have been better published at another time?

In case your interested: On 3/31/16 I had 430 followers. On 5/4/16 I  461 followers. On 3/31 I had 1768 followers on Pinterest and on 5/4/16 now have 1791. I only sold 3 books during the month, but truth in advertising, I didn’t buy any one else’s books either this year. 142 likes on my author Facebook page in March. Now 145. In March I had 669 visits, in April 1412. Not exactly over whelming results I suppose.  However, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I LOVE the #Challenge, my theme, the research, the writing, chatting with the bloggers who leave comments. I love finding new wonderful blogs. I am a better writer because of the discipline it takes to participate. I write a 2nd blog, that has benefited from and brings me deep satisfaction. The blog will now revert to things you would expect a writer, gardener, addicted reader and book-alcoholic to be writing about. I would love your company.

survivor-atoz [2016] v2

About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her:
This entry was posted in A to Z Blog Challenge April 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Reflecting on the A to Z Blog Challenge – 2016

  1. levelyn03 says:

    Thank you for your thoughts and insight. I love the advice.

    • It will give you a better experience next year if you learn from what worked and didn’t for others. Lots of good ideas come from these reflections. Participating and seeing a lot of really awful stuff that you can’t read has been enlightening too.

  2. Halee Pagel says:

    This was my first time participating in Blogging A to Z and the number 1 thing I learned was to plan ahead! I wrote about half my posts ahead of time but towards the end my writing was hurried and I’m sure the quality and presentation took a dip. Now that I know I can plan on writing almost all my posts ahead of time for next year’s challenge!

    • I did the same thing my 1st year too. Wrote as I went along which took all the time away from visiting. The quality definitely improves when you work sits, can be edited closer to publication. It will make your life much easier next #Challenge. It is fun, but a heck of a lot of work. You have to enjoy it or it isn’t worth it.

  3. kei says:

    Very good lessons! It was my first year, but I learned these lessons well. Especially to plan ahead! It’s a good discipline for blogging in general. I had a lot of fun, and found many new blogs (including this one!) so it was well worth the effort for the A to Z challenge. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  4. Sounds like you have learned how to rock the Challenge! I’m glad you found it a positive experience. I’ll be interested in seeing the “usual” Stepheny.
    Barbara, blogging at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

    • Thanks Barbara for being my blogging friend and leaving notes along the way. I do love the #Challenge. The writing makes me happy. Taking a little break from the “usual” Stepheny this month while I collect my thoughts of where to go next with the blog. I’ll be back!

  5. Rowena says:

    Very useful tips. I had planned to write my posts in advance and did get a fair bit done beforehand. However, I ended up almost abandoning reason and going with the flow which switched my writing from the left to right sides of my brain and totally exceeded my expectations. UNfortunately, that cut back on the amount of reading I got done and ended up retreating for the month and going into my writer’s cave….not easy when my kids at home on school holidays for 2 weeks but they also like their electronics. The posts were much longer than I intended but those posts have now formed the basis of a book. So, while it might now have conformed entiredly to the goals of the challenge, it’s enabled me to reach a long term personal goal. I found writing those posts everyday put a pressure on me and gave the work a framework and deadlines, which worked really well for me.
    For me, it’s really important to write something of substance that’s worth reading. This may not get those easy views and clicks but produces a body of work with meaning that you can be proud of.
    I have learned so much through this challenge both through researching my own posts but also through what I’ve read. It’s a fantastic exercise.
    xx Rowena

    • With all the work it takes, personal goals should lead the list. If you learned something, are satisfied with what happened with your writing, what more can you ask. I start from a place, like the book jacket on a novel. Does the first impression of the blog site itself encourage further exploration. Black backgrounds with font colors that don’t show up and having to click this and that and maybe find the post…that is a “goodbye, farewell, so long for ever” kind of song I sing. What does a person hope to accomplish by participating? Sounds like you have found a formula that worked for you even if you sort of backed into it. Thank you for leaving this helpful comment to others on the reflection. Let’s remain blogging friends!

  6. I certainly enjoyed your series Stepheny and your advice is this post is helpful. And now I’m looking forward to reading Facing East.

    • I would love to sign your book. If it matters, I could send you a note to place in the book. Just a thought. Thank you for reading the hotel and inn series. We did pretend to have tea together. Please let me know what you think of the novel. I home you enjoy it.

  7. patgarcia says:

    You did an amazing job with your theme about hotels. Every time I visited, I came away wanting to stay overnight in the hotel mentioned.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,

    • Thank you for leaving this encouraging comment about enjoying the hotel and inn theme this year. I love the research and writing and have never felt like I “survived” the experience, but benefited immensely

  8. randommusings29 says:

    I completely agree with everything you learned. Especially the part about having posts that follow on. I visited a couple of blogs that had ongoing stories as their themes and while I enjoyed the pieces I read, I just couldn’t justify going back and reading all the other instalments at the cost of not visiting so many of the other blogs.

    • I ran a cross a lot of blogs that had worthy ideas, but posted during the #Challenge were not suitable for the on the run blog visitors trying to visit as many blogs as possible. Proves that each year (4) I always learn something new. Cheers.

  9. So interesting to see your challenge skills evolving over the four different years. You are right about themes. I’ve visited hundreds of blogs recently, and the ones that have a captivating theme really stand out. A worthy goal for a future challenge.

    • Learning from a negative I guess because I saw A LOT of blogs that made no sense. I don’t think a theme is necessary, though for me I prefer it because it helps me research, focus, write. I like your ‘captivating’ designation, for indeed, it brings people back. Hope you will come and visit again when I start up again. Taking some time out to rethink the future direction of my posts. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  10. A.J. Sefton says:

    Excellent, well structured post with plenty of tips for me when I take part again next year. I made a list of what topic (person in this case) I was going to write about but wrote each blog the day before. Sometimes that was quite difficult. I’ll know better next time 🙂

    • Delighted my experience can be of help. We all start out writing the day before. I wasn’t sure it was “legal” to do otherwise my 1st year. You will know better next time, as you say, on many levels. Come and visit when you can in the months ahead. At the moment, I’m taking time off to rethink what I’ve learned and how to refocus. Bet you’re doing the same thing. Cheers.

  11. Jean Davis says:

    Sounds like you had a good month with improvements on all social fronts. Thanks for all your visits throughout April. 🙂

  12. Wow, you’ve written a thorough reflection post. I hate that I didn’t get a chance to read your blog posts during the challenge. I just stumbled upon your blog but I’m going to go back and read your post when I get a chance because I’m a mystery writer also. I like how you broke it all down. It really made a lot of sense. I’ve always followed a theme for my posts but after reading your reflection post you having me second guessing my plan. You’re so right. When new visitors stop by on day 11 or 21 we don’t want them to be so confused that they don’t ever stop by again. You’ve certainly given me something to think about. Nice connecting with you.

    Melissa Sugar @
    Melissa Sugar Writes

    • Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. A two week ‘time out’ family visit here and there. Glad the reflection made sense to you. Please come back and visit. I started a series of posts yesterday on summertimes when we were young and how to recapture some of those wonderful moments. I think you will like it. Thanks for leaving your comment.

  13. Congratulations on completing another year of the challenge! It sounds like you have learned a lot over the years. I was reminded for the second time of the importance of having my posts prepared ahead of time…maybe next year…
    I enjoyed the great stories and pictures of hotels I was able to catch during April 🙂

    • Glad you were able to visit some of the hotels and inns with me. I loved researching the posts and preparing…..ahead of time! Too stressful otherwise to make each publication day. Already thinking about what would be interesting for next year based on this year’s realization that not all themes work for the A to Z regardless of their merit otherwise. Just now I’m doing a series of posts in June on the summertimes of our youth and how to recapture some of those moments again. Come see me.

  14. Arlee Bird says:

    You’ve put your points across very well here. Nothing that I would disagree with in what you say. I especially am with you about the continuing series posts. If a post can’t stand alone then you can lose audience quickly if the story is not totally engaging.

    If you’d like to do a similar guest post on the A to Z blog then let me know. You have some good ideas to share from this post. If you’re interested then contact me at

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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