My Spam Breakup

I started this blog in 2016. A friend suggested I share all the stupid things I do in life, especially in the kitchen and survive, despite constant bruises, cracks, and splatters. That seemed like a lot of fun, also a way to keep my fingertips in food writing as I slogged through a non-fiction manuscript about two teenage girls. I didn’t take the blog seriously and posted only occasionally (13 posts over 3 years) but I floated them on social media platforms and grew a respectable list of readers.

Last September, I completed what I considered was the final draft of the manuscript which was then promptly turned down by my agent (“you’re such a terrific writer,” she wrote in the rejection–one of the top five worse things to say to a writer you’re rejecting). I took stock of a publishing world that had extensively changed since twenty years ago when I published my first book. It’s not enough today to have a desirable manuscript. Publishers increasingly insist that an author bring a large social media following to the table. Without a championing agent and followers I was sunk.

I began to earnestly write posts while trudging back into the manuscript. I Can’t Believe I Did This has become a place to release my voice and thoughts into the world that I hope are both amusing (my continuing mishaps in life) and relative to current issues. My readership has grown. By March, God bless them, I had close to two hundred followers. Impressive to me, not so much for book editors. I installed a subscription option in the menu bar in late April and, two weeks later, my follower shot up to 252!

Don’t you think that’s incredible? I did, too. What’s more, the little world map on the stat page indicated I had an international readership in such places as India, parts of Africa and along the Pacific Rim. Stupid life mishaps are apparently universal.

There was just one nagging reservation–the number of readers with .ru domains. I turned to the brother-in-law who happens to be a high-level security expert.

“I’m getting weird domains like .ru That’s Russia, right? Are they hackers? How can I find out? I’m starting to get a lot of weird ones.”

He texted back, “Whois.”

(This reply resulted in several back and forths to sort out he didn’t mean the who’s on 1st base joke.)

“How you getting them?” He asked.

I told him about the subscription option and that WordPress had assured me they have a strong firewall and not to worry.

He asked for the link to the addresses to look them up. “Always good to know what the bottom feeders are up to.”

I sent the link. He diagnosed: Spammers had, indeed, found me but I did have what appeared to be a healthy number of real addresses. WordPress’s firewall is very strong. Everything should be fine.

Through May, June, early July, each post generating at least a dozen new readers. The husband theorized that I’d hit a stride with more regular posts and was nailing SEOs.

531 domains were listed as subscribers by the middle of July and began suspecting that they all might not be reading the posts. But, as it was pointed out to me many times, numbers were the only important factor to potential agents and publishers. So it was okay.

Some repeating domains: coolyarddecorations.com; leatherdocumentbags.com; from.crossandgarlic.com; softtolietpaper.com; firearmfind.com (my favorite).

Some user names: skyreveryUnrer; valyaha.belayruse; and ojubisobug, followed by ojubisobug.1, ojubisobugh and oju.bisobug.

Back again to WordPress their response was best summarized as: Even if they were spam addresses they won’t hack the site or mess with my writing. The firewall will shut down spamming comments. Somewhat reassured (the firewall really worked) I tracked at least nine new addresses after each post from July 16 to August 8. By August 11, the count was up to 639. On August 12, the stat mapped listed three readers from China, five from Russia and two each from India and central Africa.

My computer started acting up, often crashing when I was writing or researching and, in general, running very very slow. When the list hit 679, I said to hell with my publishing future. And–YIKES! Could an obscure blog be in the tool chest of some foreign country to influence the 2020 election? What do I know? Paranoid or not, I better figure this out!

In case you don’t know, there’s a service called WPForms that, for a price, enables you to build a subscription form specifically for WordPress that incorporates one of those captchas things. I signed up, spend several days trying to figure out how to create and install one of their forms and grew increasingly fustrated/annoyed that WordPress doesn’t automatically have something like this on their subscription widget.

By this past Sunday, the subscriber list was up to 925. I logged back on to WordPress chat and began to scream for help. A very patient and calm person on the other end worked through my problem for over an hour. He finally found a solution that he admitted was neither obvious or intuitive:

Go to General Settings-Memberships and make sure the box next to Anyone can register is not checked. People who try to subscribe to your blog will then receive an email asking them to check a box to confirm their subscription.

Lazy, stupid scambots hate extra steps and will go away. In theory, anyway. Best practice would be to figure out how to install and use a subscription form from WPForm.

I’ve spent the last three days going through my list and kicking off any address that’s suspicious or whose domain doesn’t lead to an actual site. I’m down to 362 supposed followers and mulling over some others (are there really three readers at newmanlaw.com?), taking no chances with comcast, and leaning towards knocking off aol and yahoo. That may very well land me back in the 100s. I’d be ecstatic with 200.

I hope this helps if you think you’re caught in the same situation. Extensive research over the last months indicate it’s a problem. I’m sleeping a whole lot better at night and, though disappointed my little site is anything but blazing, it’s comforting that there may be actual readers out there appreciating weekly smiles and weird recipes.

Final thought: Publishing is a numbers game. Serious writing is not. It’s about finding that one true sentence.

2 thoughts on “My Spam Breakup

  1. Yikes. I look at each new follower and go to their page. So far I haven’t been spam/followed. But I did get two spam comments the other day the WP correctly dumped into the spam folder. Vigilance is necessary, I guess, even for us little fish in the big internet pond!

    1. You’re smarter than I am! I’ve deleted the subscription option altogether. After I sorted through the list there were only 56 legit followers–that’s out of 900+ The general web slow down is next on the list to repair. I just think we’re living in such dangerous times that everything is vulnerable, even a dumb little blog site.