Today is the first-ever Book Blogger Convention, and instead of posting the usual “Best of the Blogs” roundup, we are thrilled to welcome Rebecca Joines Schinsky to The Book Case. Rebecca is Associate Director of the convention, but she is probably better known for her smart and funny posts at The Book Lady’s Blog–on everything from author events, to new books to her disdain for Nicholas Sparks. Below, Rebecca offers her advice for starting a book blog; if you’ve ever wondered about sharing your love for reading with a larger audience, you’ve come to the right place. Thank you, Rebecca!
When Eliza asked me to write this post, my first thought was, “Finally! An excuse to share all of the wisdom I’ve earned the hard way these past two years!”
Then I remembered that I’m really just making it up as I go along…
But I must be faking it pretty well if Eliza thought I actually, like, know things about blogging, so I figure I’ll take a stab at it. How bad could it get? I mean, I’m already known as that girl who talks about throwing her panties at authors.
(See what I mean about making it up as I go along? You can plan that kind of ridiculousness.)
Anyway, without further ado, my top five tips for new and would-be book bloggers.
Do Your Homework
I started blogging the way I do most things–I jumped right in. That was fun, but I did it without any real knowledge of different blogging platforms, software, gadgets, etc. I had (briefly) used Blogger in the past and didn’t love it, and several of the blogs I was reading at the time were on WordPress, so I just trotted over to wordpress.com and signed up for an account. Then I proceeded to stumble my way through it.
That’s not a bad way to learn, but it is very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and it can be stressful. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time learning about the options, talking to established bloggers (BTW, I love getting email from new bloggers and people who are thinking about starting), and considering the possibility of self-hosting. I’ve just made the transition, and I wish I’d started off self-hosted from the very beginning.
Also: do some googling and make sure there’s not already a blog or business with the title you’re considering. I really learned this one the hard way, as The Book Lady’s Blog started under a different name and changed when I got a scary “cease and desist” email from a business I’d never heard of but who had a copyright on the title I’d chosen.
Don’t Obsess About Free Books
Getting review copies and ARCs (advance reading copies, which are also called galleys) is privilege, not a right, and you don’t have to get them in order to write a fabulous blog.
Start off reviewing whatever you like, whatever you are reading. Sign up for the early reviewer programs at Goodreads and LibraryThing. Subscribe to Shelf Awareness, and click on their banner ads for ARCs. (You’ll be tempted to go crazy on it at first, but beware: the TBR pile will quickly grow to frightening size, and you’ll be wondering why the hell you requested that book in the first place.)
As you develop your blog and build your profile in the community, publishers and authors might reach out to you to ask you to read and review their books. It’s exciting when that happens, but don’t lose your head—accept the books you are actually interested in and pass on the rest. Consider posting a review policy on your blog that will help interested parties identify the books that will be a good fit for you.
Bottom line: you’re not entitled to free books, and it’s important to learn the etiquette that goes along with requesting them and reviewing them.
Regardless of what your goals for your blog may be, you need to get connected and meet people. If you *really* just wanted a place to record your thoughts, you’d write a diary. Blogging is about sharing your thoughts in a public forum, and it is much more fun when you have a little help from your friends.
Visit and comment on blogs you enjoy. Participate in the conversations that crop in the comments on your blog. Jump into the craziness that is Twitter. Don’t be intimidated by the supposedly “big bloggers.”
Social media is the great equalizer—you can tweet alongside your favorite authors and your idol bloggers, and there’s a good chance they’ll tweet back. All you have to do is reach out.
Which brings me to:
Save the Drama for Your Mama
So the post you wrote didn’t get any comments, or a blogger you’ve visited and commented on hasn’t commented on your blog, or someone didn’t respond to your tweet, or maybe you’re just feeling left out and lonely. These things happen. To all of us. You and your angst are not special.
Put your big kid underpants on and deal with it.
Nobody likes to read a whiny blog post about how alone you feel and how badly you wish more people would comment on your blog (hello, can we say fishing for compliments?), and nobody—really, nobody!—wants to read another post or tweet about blogging cliques. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no two people define the “big bloggers” the same way, and there’s no secret blogging mafia who controls the internet.
Really, it’s the internet. It’s open to EVERYONE.
Take a few days off if you need to. Think about why you started blogging in the first place. Send an email to a trusted blogging friend. Remember that other bloggers have lives, too, and it’s probably not personal.
But keep it to yourself.
And please, for the love of all things sacred, don’t write a post that you know will be controversial just to stir the pot and drive traffic to your blog. Yes, the bump in hits will be nice, but it is so not worth it. Do you really want to be thought of as that person?
Be Yourself and Have Fun
Yes, it’s the same advice your mother gave you when you headed off to summer camp, but it’s still applicable. In fact, starting a blog is a lot like going off to camp in some ways. You don’t really know anybody, and you have to just put yourself out there.
My blog has A LOT of my personality in it, but that’s not a requirement. You can be as private or public as you like, but be true to yourself and your voice. Sure, it might sound like fun to write all of your reviews in Yoda-speak at the beginning, but how sustainable is that? Do you really want to be saying, “Loved this book a lot, I did” for the next ten years?
Talk about books the way you’d talk about anything else. Let your readers get to know you.
Anybody can write a summary or review of a book and post it on the internet. By being yourself, you make your blog a unique space, and you give readers a reason to keep coming back.
Also: do what works for you. There’s no right or wrong way to write a blog, no set number of required posts per week, no mandate on how often you blog or what you blog about.
If you build it, they will come. Write great content that reflects who you really are, and you’ll eventually find the right audience.
Photo by PJ Sykes.