When it comes to the world of blogging, many have tried their hand at the art of the digital media platform, but few have created an undisputed legacy as “The Best Blogger in Peoria.” As the author of the Meanwhile, Back In Peoria… Marty Wombacher hosts this local travel blog with endless personality, posting day in and day out.
Marty and I have pierced the virtual reality veil and have hung out on several occasions offline. He is the genuine article and has been as consistent with his trade as he has been quirky and charismatic.
We recently caught up at Rhythm Kitchen in downtown Peoria so I could introduce him to PEN, and because I’ve always admired his business-minded approach to blogging, and wanted to find out his secrets. Marty dishes up the reality and work that it takes to make it in the blogosphere below.
First, can you talk about how you got into blogging?
I started blogging on May 4, 2009, back when I was living in New York. Before that I was strictly a print guy. I had published two magazines, POP and fishwrap and written two books, 99 Beers Off The Wall and The Boy Who Would be a Firetruck. The Fire Truck book came out in 2008, and I gave a copy to a friend, who said, “When are you ever going to get out of the print world and start a blog?”
I told him I had no idea how to start an online blog—I’m not a tech guy. He said, “Do you really think everyone out there who’s doing a blog is smarter than you?”
That got me thinking, and I started looking at blogs, and so many of them were just so god-awful horrible and vomit-inducing, that I was certain I could do better. I started researching hosting sites, found SquareSpace which is really user friendly, and started to work on my first blog which I called, The Marty Wombacher Show. That blog was a complete and utter failure, because I laid it out with a magazine mind. I hadn’t yet learned to separate the online world from the print world. They are two very different animals.
After I failed to get an audience, I took a long look at it, figured out what I was doing wrong, and then I started A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars, and that blew up after some publicity in New York. I had developed my own style of blogging from that moment on.
“I laid it out with a magazine mind. I hadn’t yet learned to separate the online world from the print world.”
What are the other blogs you’ve done and are they still active?
In order of appearance, they were: The Marty Wombacher Show, A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars, Marty After Dark, and Tripping With Marty. They are still online, but none of them are active.
How does this version of publishing your thoughts and storytelling compare to other writing experiences and journalistic endeavors?
It’s a lot quicker on every level. My blogs have all been updated daily, so every morning is a new deadline. The magazines came out two to four times a year, so I had months to think about them and do layout.
With a daily blog, every day you have to have a new story, which is usually done the day before. I usually work on the photos and art the night before, and then get up early in the morning to write the copy and find the proper links for the story, before publishing it between 11:00 a.m and noon. It’s pretty much instant gratification or disappointment, but you can’t gloat over success or worry about failures very long, because you have to put up a new one the next day.
I have found the whole process very exciting and addictive. However, there is a burnout factor, and I took a break for three months last year, and this year I’m taking February and March off, and will be back on April 4th.
Over the past three years, how has your audience grown?
I already had a built-in audience from my past blogs, so when I started MBIP in 2012, I had more New Yorkers reading it than people in Peoria, and that has all flipped around.
Now the majority of hits are coming from Peoria and surrounding cities. On facecrack I have 16,707 “likes,” and I have over 5,000 followers on Twitter. I get between 500 to 2,000 unique hits a day, but who’s counting? Oh…I am! Every. Single. Day. OCD alert!
Do most people associate this as a food blog?
I don’t think so. I think people see it more as entertainment, where every day is a new journey and adventure. While there’s plenty of posts about food and drink, the posts also deal with the chef or cook making it, and the bartender or waitress delivering the drinks and food.
I also go to businesses, shops, historical sites and other places for the blog that have nothing to do with food or drinking. I really try to have as much interaction with people as I can. People have always interested and amazed me, I get to meet new people every day doing the blog.
How has MBIP stacked up against those other blogs and things you’ve written like P.O.P?
I think MBIP is the culmination of everything I’ve learned from print and blogging so far.
It seems like there are many bloggers that start with good intentions, and end up sputtering out over of a couple of months. It can be a lot of work.
A lot of people don’t realize the work involved in a daily blog and I kind of hate those people and wish they didn’t exist.
Most people reading MBIP probably don’t realize that you also have a job. How do you balance the two?
Very carefully! I don’t blog about my job, and I try to keep the two world’s separate. My life is kind of schizophrenic in that way.
Certainly the thought of being in business for yourself with your blog has crossed your mind. Have you made any attempts to make money from MBIP, or do you see it one day possibly being something you could do full-time?
I sold advertising in 2015, and it was a total pain in the ass. I made a few thousand dollars, but it wasn’t worth the headache, and the blog became more like a job that I don’t like going to, and I’ve already got one of those!
I took a break, and when I came back I ditched the advertising and put up a PayPal button where people can buy me a virtual beer. I think sometimes people are too driven and hung up by money and it stops them from doing something they have a real passion for.
“I think sometimes people are too driven and hung up by money and it stops them from doing something they have a real passion for.”
Beyond the Facebook likes, local notoriety, and good meals, what have been the biggest surprises that have come from running a travel blog?
When I started the blog a lot of people told me I’d run out of places to go and things to do. I wondered how long I could sustain it, and now after three years, I think I can do it for at least three more years. But I’ll probably be dead before then, so I’m not really going to worry about the future too much!
What’s next for MBIP and where do you go from here?
I’m going to go to the bathroom. I’ve been holding it in for about half an hour, and soon there’s going to be a glorious explosion on the porcelain throne! I can’t wait!
Okay, I have to ask: What’s your favorite restaurant/last meal/beverage of choice/best server you’ve ever had?
I agree, that does have to be asked. But it doesn’t have to be answered. Ha!