A Letter to AAR’s Readers

May 8, 2007

 

When you try to be something you’re not, failure is the result.

Last week after watching my Dallas Mavericks, ranked number one in the NBA, lose the first round of the playoffs to the eighth-ranked Golden State Warriors, my husband and I had a series of impassioned debates on who was to blame. We both agreed that star forward Dirk Nowitski and coach Avery Johnson were at fault, but differed on the percentages to assign to each. Nowitski, whom I’ve seen score fifty points in a game, is a pretty intelligent guy, and my guess is that he knows himself and his limitations, and tried his best to live up to expectations, but simply couldn’t. If you try and force a beta into becoming an alpha dog, you will have failure. Sure, a beta can have alpha moments, but he can’t be transformed into what he is not. And so I assigned most of the blame to Coach Johnson for trying to force Nowitski to be the Mav’s alpha dog.

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I’ve never been particularly popular, and it once bothered me a great deal. While I had good friends throughout my formative years, and among those friends was always one who was part of the “in” crowd, I’ve never sat at the metaphorical “cool” table…not as a teenager or as an adult. That’s never going to change, and I accept it as fact, much like I accepted my nickname of Laurie Hates Books for the first several years I was online.

In my case, this lack of popularity means that I’m not one for being fads or trends when it comes to life decisions. My husband may be the Taurus in the family, but in following a course set for myself, I’m steady, methodical, and reliable. When I transformed the old Archives of Laurie Likes Books into All About Romance and brought in other people to review for the site in January 1998, I had a plan in mind, and put it into motion.

I wanted the site to move from a “me”-centric one to a staff-centric site that looked and read as professionally as the online version of any mainstream magazine. I wanted to continue to write online for the site, but knew that down the line I’d need to move far more into the background and allow talented staff to shine. I wanted to empower those who wrote at AAR, to give them confidence in their abilities and allow them to develop new skills. I wanted AAR to be a full-service site that would satisfy enough readers so that if they had but one place to go online to read and talk about romance novels, they’d go to AAR. And if I was going to spend most of my time managing AAR, I wanted to make money from it, enough money to earn a small salary, and eventually, pay a staff. All of those were and are my behind-the-scenes goals (click here for our public mission statement).

In the near-decade since devising this plan, romance novel websites have come and go faster than the blink of an eye. I’ve read things online touted as brand new, yet we wrote about them years before. I’ve watched new technologies arise and seen cliques form that don’t include AAR. And all of that is fine with me, as long as we continue to achieve our goals and to be what I set out for us to be, as pretentious as that might sound. AAR may not be the flavor of the day, but to me its value grows out of its goals and mission.

Despite the premature death knoll for websites, AAR continues to flourish. If we’re obsolete, nobody’s told our readers. I think there’s room for everybody, and our stats bear out this belief. Last year we averaged a quarter of a million visitors viewing just over a million pages of AAR content each month. So far this year we’re averaging 300,000 visitors viewing more than 1.2 million pages a month. Yes, it’s frustrating to me that since our forums are not hosted internally, our full traffic numbers aren’t captured at sites that track traffic, but that doesn’t change the fact that we continue to grow, or that we continue to strive to make AAR the best at what it is.

Late last year and earlier this year, for instance, I grew ever-more concerned over the number of reviews we post each month. I went all-out to try and increase our review staff, and in the past couple of weeks we’ve brought in five new reviewers. My estimate is that these new reviewers will allow us to post fifteen or so additional reviews a month. When we had major problems with our message boards earlier in the year, I sucked it up and moved to a new host and newer technology, and for added measure, created two new forums for our readers…it’s that “full-service” thing. And last year we experimented with new commenting technology and created an off-topic blog to take advantage of our talented staff’s diverse interests.

Most of my time these days is spent administratively, which, quite frankly, isn’t all that fun. I trained in management, so I’m able to perform as a manager, but I’d much rather be reading and writing about reading than what I generally do, which is edit, moderate, trouble-shoot, design, and work with advertisers. On the other hand, I’m a far better designer than I once was, and my design work and foray into flash design has energized me to the point that I’m considering taking a class in graphic design this fall. Developing new skills has been an added bonus for me as well.

After more than a decade of writing At the Back Fence, it’s not nearly as easy to come up with new and exciting ideas, which is why I’m thankful for brainstorms such as the one that led to this week’s column. I happily stayed up until the middle of the night choosing just the right /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages for the column, and felt giddy with geeky excitement because I learned how to convert music files and create an online music player.

I’m far less interested in the shenanigans of authors and others online than I once was, and prefer for AAR’s staff to focus on books as well as those of us who read them. That’s because another of my unstated goals relates to a part of our mission statement; by allowing “romance lovers to share their views, ideas, and experiences,” we come to know ourselves better. As with the current column, I believe many of our best columns were strong precisely because they put us in touch with ourselves as readers, helped us realize we are part of a community, and allowed us to have fun with our obsession.

In addition to being steady, methodical, and reliable where AAR’s path is concerned, you can add uncompromising to the list…well, if uncompromising sounds grandiose, substitute plain old stubborn.

While I like to think we’re still going strong, I’ve never taken AAR’s long-term existence for granted. And though I’m ready, willing, and able to adapt AAR as we’ve done over the past near-decade, I won’t compromise on my vision. If that means we cease to be relevant to readers, so be it. If it comes to that, I’d rather close up shop than try and be something we aren’t. That would doom us to failure.

To paraphrase Green Day, I chose a particular fork in the road and followed it. Even if that road comes to an end, I’ll know it was the right road to travel, and at that point, will hope that you enjoyed the journey along with me. All that said, if I’m right – and I hope I am – that road has not begin to run out! (Regardless, if you’re a fan of Good Riddance, please enjoy the video.)

I’ve not linked this letter to any of our forums because I’m not looking for feedback. And while I realize I can’t stop others from discussing it either here on AAR or elsewhere, please accept at face value that I simply felt the need to share with you, AAR’s readers, where we are – and why – and what you can expect in the future. And expect that a continued future for AAR is in my plans for a long, long time to come.

 

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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