Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

State of the Minion Address

[Tap-tap] Is this thing on? Okay…

I started this Tea Trade blog in April of this year because of one occurrence – tea was dominating my writing website. My “Steep Stories” category – a section devoted to leafy wonderfulness – needed a new home, one with an appreciation from likeminded folks. The biggest problem it had, though, was its complete lack of focus. It was as if my mind had taken text form. But for some reason, it was met with approval from the burgeoning community.

It was to serve as a Litmus test for my tea writing – to see if it was even plausible to put tea to fiction, musings, and reviews in an interesting way. And – most importantly – gain an audience. However, its biggest hindrance was its disparate narrative. Cohesion was not my strongest suit. I had no clue what my niche was, or what sort of theme the new “Steep Stories” blog would have. Tea fiction really didn’t work as a sole magnifier, rants were few and far between, and I already contributed to two review sites. What would make this blog stand out?

A couple of weeks back, it finally occurred to me that it was developing its own focus. More or less under my notice. The only reviews I posted to the page were teas with unique stories and/or origins to them. I decided I best make it official and finally unveiled the oft-mentioned Tea “WANT!” List – a growing collection of strange new teas I wanted to try before I died. (Okay, yes, it should be called a Tea Bucket List, but that sounds too morbid. “WANT!” just sounds more childlike.) It seemed like a perfect manifesto to springboard from.

Then a funny thing happened. Well…not funny…more like…peculiar.

Yes, this is the *actual* tea inventory stack.

That same week I found myself bombarded. I put in my orders with the two review sites I was a part of, received three-to-four new packages in the mail, and still had to contend with a backlog of review inventory. Yes, I actually had to use the word “inventory”. By last count, the amount of teas I had to plug through had climbed to a staggering fifty-plus.

I know what you’re thinking, We should all have such problems, a**hole!

Believe me, I’m not complaining. I am eternally grateful to the vendors that valued my opinion enough to send me anything. What it did, though, was remind me that I needed to actually keep a schedule. So, I started mapping out what teas were going to what sites. Unique teas would stay on the “Steep Stories” page, manly teas would post to the “Beasts of Brewdom” page, and the reviewer samples would go to the respective sites they were shipped from.

Realistically, I could get through one (maybe two) tea reviews a day. An average write-up took me about an hour or two, depending on type and brewing specs. Blogs were another story entirely. A typical “Steep Stories”/”Beasts of Brewdom” post – with accompanying pictures – took anywhere from four hours…to two days. That’s a hefty chunk of time.

When I thought I had everything mapped out, I noticed a sobering trend. My readership had dropped significantly. Most recent entries were met with deafening silence compared to posts past. That and my own writing site had seen a drop-off by about two hundred views. Tea folk are generally a more polite lot than the rest of the Internet; they won’t outright say, “You suck!” However, no response is a response.  Something was clearly wrong with my new “business” model.

Which brings me to the questions I wanted to pose to you, fair reader(-s?): When you visit this page, what have you come to expect? What works and what doesn’t? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? Should I leave reviews solely to the review sites – even the unique ones?

Or are you all just shaking your head and thinking, Quit your bitchin’ and get back to “work”.

I ask these out of logical necessity. Contrary to popular belief, blogging is a lot of work. I’m not getting paid for any of this (well…except in tea). Keeping a semi-regular schedule of two-to-three updates a week – on top of a one/two-review-a-day – writing schedule equates to roughly 36 hours. That’s right…a day-and-a-half. Last week alone was two-and-a-half.

Clearly, I’m doing something wrong. I’m just trying to gage what that is, adapt accordingly, and cut corners where I can. I don’t want this to be another tea reflection or review site. There are plenty of other folks on Tea Trade that are far better at those than I. (The Devotea’s Tea Spouts, Lahikma Joe Drinks Tea, The Purrfect Cup, Teaconomics and The SororiTea Sisters come to mind as shining, more worthy examples.) Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for listening to my tea-fueled identity crisis.

lazyliteratus

Tea blogger, professional cleaner of toilets, amateur people watcher.

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26 Comments

  1. I read everything you post. I usually don’t comment on anything because I usually tell myself I’ll think on it then comment. But then life happens and I don;t comment.

    Basically for me, just keep doing what you are doing!

  2. Ok, here we go, many times I question as you have. It is not easy keeping the words flowing, although for some, like yourself, you do it eloquently. I totally enjoy your posts and have even ordered teas based on your descriptions (see What Am I Drinking 3) and the Fortune story gosh! I may not always leave a reply (I many times have to stop myself from what I consider “cute quips” for fear of being misunderstood ;-)) So, find the organization that’s best for you and to quote the literary master himself “Quit your b_______’ and get back to “work”. By the way no need to review what I sent. It was a gift.

    • No one should feel obligated to reply. Heck, I often don’t on some of the ones I read. Call me lazy. I just wanted to get an idea of what was considered intriguing or not.

      And there’s already a write-up planned for your book…count on it.

      • Of course, yes, there is no reply “obligation.” I think when we enjoy reading a post, it doesn’t feel like an obligation, it’s just like continuing a conversation. To me, that’s what successful blog posts are, they are, or spark off conversation. But I guess we all like knowing, that the blogger we replied to – also enjoys replying to our own humble posts. If you see what I mean.
        I’m going to be writing a post on that subject at some point, aah..when I get around to it.

  3. I like your reviews of unique teas; I don’t go in much for reading reviews in general because 90% or so of said teas aren’t available to me down here anyway. But I like yours.

    I think there’s plenty of scope for tea-fue led ranting and raving; we all have our unique style. Perhaps you might need a little holiday from this blog to come back with a fresh perspective, or perhaps you should aim for updating a bit less frequently, to take a bit of pressure off?

    • I’d thought about a once-a-week schedule, and that would seem rather prudent. At present, though, I have nine blogs brainstormed and in the pipeline. My usual “schedule” is two a week – sometimes less, sometimes more. But you may have a point.

  4. Geoff, I think the posts of yours that I like the most are the ones that have a story to them, in fact, sometime I feel that what is probably a more interesting story gets interrupted by a tea review. I like that you have access to exceptional teas. Portland is such a hotbed for the tea industry/scene and having you there as our Tea Lover-at-large makes it exceptional.

    I often don’t read tea reviews unless they are about something rare or interesting and when you’ve written about something unique, I like that (I loved your leathery tea post!) You are such a skilled and talented writer that I’m ready to send you flowers or something (that’s not very manly – maybe a jug of moonshine!) to keep you inspired.

    For me, and I think a lot of people, we like your interesting stories about things, people and how you personally connect it with tea. I’ve often said that drinking tea (while very nice) isn’t often about the tea itself, but about the people and stories that are going on around the cup – and that is where some of your best posts have come from.

  5. Speaking entirely from personal experience, you cannot always judge the quality of your writing by the number/quality of comments that your blog attracts.

    It simply doesn’t work that way. Might be easier if that was the sole indication, but it’s not reliable. Not by a long shot.

    Folk are busy/preoccupied. They read what you’ve written and move on. They comment on something that touches them one time and then neglect to do so the next.

    I know you didn’t write this to simply get reassuring positive feedback. That’s not your style. Nevertheless, I’m not entirely sure you’re going to get the answer you seek here in the comments. You’ll get a piece of the puzzle & it’s definitely important to know what your readers want/expect, but ultimately you have to find out what you want from this.

    Why do you blog? What purpose does it serve?

    I’d have to agree with Peter that the posts of yours I like most are the ones where you go on a tangent. Where an actual tea review is almost slipped in apparently as an afterthought. I also liked your post on Persian tea. It really made me thirsty.

    One often isn’t an adequate judge of his own work. A turn of phrase that I laboured over and still recall fondly might not please anyone but me. Something that from my perspective was scrawled on the page as an afterthought is relished by a reader.

    The questions you ask are simultaneously answerable and elusive. Fortunately, I’m sure you’ll keep at this in one form or another and continue to entertain us till at least the end of the Mayan calendar. Maybe even a few days thereafter.

    • Well spoken, my articulate, flask-bearing friend!

      I’d add, too, that second-guessing one’s audience is psychological quicksand. It’s not a type of quicksand I’ve learned to avoid, but none the less… Way to go for asking directly!

      And, as with automobile traffic (or so I’ve heard), you’ll sometimes see more or less random fluctuations in site/comment traffic.

      • “Psychological quicksand” – I like that. A lot, actually. Very apt way to put it. Part of it was fueled by my usual writer-y insecurity, admittedly, and I do know that comments aren’t a good judge of good traffic. If there weren’t numbers to support my worry, I would’ve shooed it aside; but there was evidence of it. So, I’m re-thinking my “model”.

    • You raise a good point or several. Comments aren’t a good judge of whether or not a work is good. But I was also seeing the analytics on my own side as a parallel. The drop was synonymous with that. Very easily made connection. The consensus seems to be that the more anecdotal the review or post, the better it is. I’m mostly trying to get an idea what my strengths are according to the supposed audience there is out there. As to why I blog? No clue…

  6. What do I read? Everything.

    What do I react to? Not everything.
    To tea reviews? It depends on whether I feel really interested or I find something strange in the review and I want to ask.
    To the rest? Usually, yes.

  7. Well Geoff, I’m intrigued by the list of bloggers that you describe as better than you.
    I mean obviously I am, but as for the rest, well, how does one judge?
    Like @jopj , I am guilty of ‘meaning to reply” and also of sometimes missing posts for a day or so (like this one).
    But your contribution to the overall tea discussion is unique. As fas as I know, no-one else has used “pu-er” and “socks” in the same sentence, gone out on a limb on tea for sexual dysfunction and and rewritten tea-history as religious porn.
    Not too many people can boast a track record like that.

  8. Oh, and I think one tweet on twitter should be enough to review most teas

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