5 years in the Asylum

5 Years in the Asylum

5 years in the Asylum. Oh boy. I’ll give you (and myself) a minute to let that sink in. It feels like no time at all, and a very long time all at once. I sure had a lot of ups and downs both in my blogging life and my personal one. Covid notwithstanding. If I think about how many times I was just a step away from binning the whole site and walking away, it’s a small miracle we are still here. Still going strong. Well, strongish.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to mark this occasion. Around this time of the year I usually come up with a new feature to entertain myself – and you, dear reader. This is how To Be Continued…, What the Hungarian?! and The Questioning was born. Another favorite of mine is the Tales from the Asylum feature that started out as something fun for one of our SPFBO groups. I’m hoping to bring some of these back in 2023! And I also have a new one, because I can’t help myself 😀

My previous anniversary round-up posts (or their lack thereof) were a good indicator of how I felt about blogging in any given year. I was super enthusiastic in the first two years (2018-2019), then I was less enthusiastic (2020-2021), then I couldn’t make myself be arsed at all (2022). And here we are in 2023. While I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic as I was in the early years, I think I’m painstakingly slowly working my way toward enjoying blogging again. Taking 2022 easy helped a lot mentally, and I might be seeing the light in the tunnel called burnout. I might be talking about that more in another post.

As I certainly did use this blog occasionally as an outlet for my frustrations and as a form of therapy to write things out of my system. Laying myself bare in the process. Such as in my article about disability, or when I talked about the importance of self care (I was going through some very rough shit at the time of writing this), or when I explained why I stopped reading in Hungarian.

To celebrate our 5 years in the Asylum, I’m going to highlight our main milestones, some posts we’ve written over the years, and talk about some of the lessons I’ve learned. It’s very likely will be a long and rambling post, but I’m pretty sure you are used to that by now 😉

A Team to Conquer Them All

Naturally, I most definitely wouldn’t have lasted this long if not for the lovely ragtag group I collected over the years 😛 I’m proud to call them my friends, the best I could ever wish for, and certainly the few close ones I ever made in the community. They keep blogging fun for me through our chats and make me strive for being better because damn, they write some absolutely banging reviews. It’s only fair that I let them have the spotlight first to share some thoughts about our 5 years together. And no, I did not make them say nice things about me 😛 So here they come, in the same order as they joined the staff:

Jen

Five years! Wow! What a milestone for this little blog. I remember the day Timy asked me to go on this journey with her, and how thrilled I was to be a part of her team. And you know, that feeling has never gone away. We have grown a lot since that first year, with changes in family, friends, jobs, etc. but the one thing that hasn’t changed is our mutual love of reading and sharing that love with everyone we can.

Thanks to Timy, Arina, Paul, and our newest member Bjorn, for being the supportive, and fun people you are. I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to hang out with. And a special thanks to Timy for bringing me along on this journey in the first place! I am so glad that I jumped on board with you.

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Arina

Time flies when you rub shoulders with demons. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me.

5 years of the Asylum! That means about 2-3 years since I joined Jen and Timy at this cozy little corner. This blog has always felt the most genuine and fun place to be, and I’m pretty dumbfounded I got the chance to join it.

Our little assembled team of sarcastic misfits feels pretty great and makes reading as fun as it was when I was a kid, basking in the havoc the release of The Spiderwick Chronicles spread throughout our little high school class. Blood was shed for a chance at those library books, which were limited. Hair was lost. Firstborns were promised.

In retrospect, it was a test drive for the mayhem that upends the Asylum when Paul tells a dad joke.

Well, here’s to another year alongside this crew! We’re few but more’s a party anyways, and I always hated parties unless they gave out free gin.

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Paul

Back in 2020, when I first exploded onto the book blogging scene with all the ferocity and spectacle of a water-logged firework, Timy and Queen’s Book Asylum were the first to really make me feel welcome and part of the community.

Over the last five years, Queen’s Book Asylum has, under a couple of different names and kick-ass themes, been one of the best book blogs on the whole of the interwebs. Imaginative and engaging articles, purveyor of the finest reviews, a soundtrack greater than even Dirty Dancing, and a vociferous champion of self-published SFF.

Without the queen, though, we wouldn’t have any of it.

As the figurehead of this incredible blog, we also have to celebrate five years of Queen Timy (the terrible), first of her name, befriender of pandas, she of the purple and black. One of the kindest, most genuine, and most encouraging people I’ve met, BUT ALSO EVIL AND RUTHLESS. Someone who I am truly thankful to now be working alongside, AS A SERVILE PEON, and someone I consider a friend, THOUGH I AM TERRIBLY AFRAID OF.

Here’s to another five years; keep rocking, keep kicking ass, and keep being you!

(Can I go home now? I did what you asked, and I miss my cats.)

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Bjørn

When I was still young and gorgeous – now there’s only “and” – writer with one book out, I was absolutely terrified of book bloggers. I was also fascinated. How does it feel to be on the other side? How do authors react to a bad review? How do you react to that? Is it easier to write a bad or a good one? How does a person decide “I’m going to be a book blogger?” What if you’re not in the mood for, say, a romance, but you might be six months from now and you’re offered one now? So, I purposefully looked for a blogger whose requests were closed, and I emailed them to ask those questions and many more.

Things changed since then… Four years later we’re close friends and I joined the Asylum staff recently – so far, apart from SPFBO, I have written one (1) review, because I’m very prolific. BUT! Another one is coming this year! All my questions have been answered and some of those answers turned out to be very… interesting. One thing I know for sure, I am glad to remain a mere squire and leave the Queen with all the power. Because running an Asylum is a lot of work.

Milestones

What’s in a Name?

Probably the most notable change over the years was that we’ve changed the name of the blog back in 2021. I wrote about my reasons in THIS POST but in a nutshell: I loved the name RockStarlit BookAsylum, but it didn’t work as a brand. Eventually, I just became so pissed that no one ever gets it right, that I went and changed it. The fact that I already had the Queen (Terrible) Timy persona firmly in place made this choice, and the switch easier. I eventually changed our domain too, although we kept the old one for redirecting purposes. Which is not a good idea if you want to stay low budget… Is this a good time to say we accept Ko-Fi donations? No? Oh well.

The Hard Numbers

I usually don’t talk much about our stats – maybe once a year around this time and when we hit a big milestone. They are not as good as I’d like them to be, but then are they ever? I expected to reach 100K views overall by this point, but the truth is, 2021-2022 weren’t our best years as blogging took a backseat. Right now the goal is to reach that specific milestone, but unless we’ll get our best year yet in 2023 (which is not very likely) probably will happen around the 6th anniversary. That actually would be pretty cool.

We are not one of the biggest, most influential SFF blogs out there as I envisioned 5 years ago, but somewhere along the line that became less important. Naturally, I want more, because I always do, but I’m quite content right now. It’s easy to forget how far I come already, and no one can take that away from me. Plus, working yourself into burnout really doesn’t worth it. Believe me, I know.

The coolest milestone we did have though, was that we’ve posted our 1000th post in December 2022! I took the opportunity and wrote an article about reviewing. All going well, I probably will have my individual 1000th post sometime toward the end of 2023. Can’t say I’ve been idle in these past 5 years, huh?

New Endeavors

Over the 5 years in the Asylum, I got to test my boundaries with some cool stuff. Some turned out to be short-lived endeavors, others became a permanent feature of my blogging life. I talked about this before, but one of my biggest blogger goals back in 2018 March was to become an SPFBO judge. Little did I know my wish will come true within a year. Over 5 years, I was part of 4 SPFBO seasons (I had to take a break for SPFBO 7 due to burnout, but I wrote about my SPFBO journey HERE). I indeed feel very lucky, as I started blogging because of a couple of self-published author friends I made (so you know who to blame), and advocating for them always has been one of our main goals.

Talking about indies, I had a short stint as a beta reader which also has been one of my dreams, and hoped to make a career out of it. Didn’t work out quite as much as I hoped though (I made some good friends, which is definitely a bonus), so that’s in the past, although I still like helping out if and when I can. I’ll never not be super proud of being the beta reader to one of my favorite authors, Benedict Patrick, and neither will I ever stop being insufferable about it 😀

Another very interesting journey I got to take along with the most amazing Justine Bergman, was running Storytellers on Tour. We organized all kinds of bookish events for indie SFF authors. While I loved to help authors find their audience, it was a lot of work. I don’t think we had a day off during the 1,5 years we’ve had SOT. It was also a big factor behind my burnout. And honestly, I didn’t like that my blog turned out to be a SOT promo site because we barely posted anything else during that time. It definitely was a good lesson, and I learned a lot about blog tours – wrote about them in THIS POST but I also recommend Arina’s from the blogger perspective – and the scene itself.

The Good, The Bad, and Everything in Between

Blogging, like everything else, has its good and bad sides. On one hand, I made some really good friends and had some of the best times of my life thanks to these people. I visited the UK more than once to meet them (hello BristolCon buddies!), I got to visit Dublin and attend the WorldCon in 2019, and I found a community I wanted to belong to. Never in my life, had I thought I would be able just to waltz into some of my favorite authors’ DMs to shout at them for things they did to their characters. Nor that some of them would go as far as name a character after me (Mike Shackle, David Hambling), or even BASE a character on me (Peter McLean). How fucking awesome is that? There are things I achieved I would never trade for more followers, more likes, or more blog views.

And while I had some highs both in blogging and my personal life, I also had some lows. One can never be part of a community and not encounter drama in some form. Unfortunately, I had my share of that, and can’t say I enjoyed any of it. They were, however, good lessons about friendships and how not to handle problems. Communication, my peeps, is key. If you don’t tell me you have a fucking problem, then don’t be surprised if I had no idea there was a problem in the first place. Learning it via tweets is not very entertaining. Nor is it learning stuff via trusted friends.

I found that friendships in this community tend to be a bit superficial. While I love connecting with authors and fellow bloggers, and threw myself into the community happily as a newbie blogger, I became more cynical over the years. I can’t help wondering where the lines are between me as a person, a friend, and a blogger. Are we using the term “friend” too freely? I think so. I always used it very sparingly as to me it means a closer connection. But I see people throwing that word around like confetti, and I wonder if it really has any meaning anymore. And I think I fell into this trap too because I wanted to please, I wanted to feel welcome and as if I belonged, so if people referred to me as their friend, then I happily took it as validation. I’ve always been a validation seeker thanks to low self-esteem.

And it felt good to have that illusion. But that’s the thing. Sooner or later that illusion falls away and not much remains, but disillusion. And a weariness with which you watch people who approach you. Because more times than not, people only see the blogger, and their interest stretches as far as my uses as such. And interestingly, they only remember me when they need something of me. Of course, there are exceptions, and I believe that I did make real friends, but I certainly lowered my expectations. Admittedly, I’m not perfect, and I also failed to maintain some of the friendships which I regret. Interpersonal relationships have never been my strong suit. But I keep on learning and I hope that I won’t make the same mistakes twice.

Blogging sometimes is an uphill battle, especially if you have mental health issues to deal with on the side. Anxiety, in my case. Sometimes it’s hard to make your brain shut up. There are shit times. There are times you want to chuck it all in a bin and set it on fire just to be on the safe side. There are times when you question whether people care about what you do, or more importantly if it matters whether they care or not. What doesn’t help in those times is looking at your stats or comparing yourself to other bloggers you consider to be more popular/succesful than you. Therein lies a treacherous road into a personal hell. Besides, success means different things to different people. The important thing is that you know your limits and and adjust your goals accordingly.

Am I envious of other people’s popularity? Sure I am. And sometimes that stings, you know, seeing people (especially those new in the community) succeed where you keep failing. And that’s when I try to stop, look around myself and ask if I really want what they have. With high popularity comes higher pressure, and I don’t think I’d be able to deal with that, thank you very much. I also find that I have no taste for the popularity game anyway, and I’m mostly content with what I have now. I learned my lessons, and they will learn theirs. The internet is big and I don’t have to play with others if I don’t want to. I’m not very good at pretending to like people I actually don’t like at all. For better or worse.

Give Me a Five!

Fine, I’m done with being a downer. To close this already very long post on a high note, let me share with you 5 of our most popular posts over the past 5 years. Pages and SPFBO content are not included – those are always very popular, obviously.

10 Books Featuring Kids in Adult Fiction
10 Books Featuring Kids in Adult Fiction
15+ Underrated Self-Published Fantasy Books
15+ Underrated Self-Published Fantasy Books
Bjørn Larssen author spotlight
Pride Nights at Queen’s: Bjørn Larssen – We Exist
10 Books Set in an Asylum
10 Books Set in an Asylum
SPFBO Interview with Mark Lawrence
SPFBO Interview with Mark Lawrence

Phew. It wasn’t easy to squeeze 5 years into one post, and it probably became a lot longer than I wanted. And I also probably left out a lot of things I wanted to say. Oh well. Finally, I’d like to say THANK YOU to everyone who was part of my blogging life in some way. These past 5 years wouldn’t have been the same without you, without the experiences we’ve had and the lessons you’ve taught me. I don’t know what lies ahead, but thank you for having my back nonetheless.

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