At the time of writing, I’ve had my blog set up for just over 4 months. It’s been a great experience and one I’m still really enjoying. Starting completely inexperienced and naïve, some might say I’m still both of these things, but I feel I’ve learned a few things to guide new bloggers, give an insight into the world of the blogger to others in the community, and share my experiences so far. The bulk of this post will be a Dos & Don’ts list. Whilst these are ‘Dos and Don’ts’ that I wholeheartedly believe in, they are guided by my own standpoints, opinions and experiences. I’m by no means the authority nor claiming to be the voice; only a voice. Sit back, relax and enjoy
the Spells and Spaceship’s beginner’s guide to blogging.
DO start blogging because you love the type of books you’ll be reviewing or discussing
The absolute fundamental rule is to have a passion for the type of books you’re going to be reading. This will be evident through your reviews and interactions but most importantly, if you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s just a hobby; go running or something.
DON’T start blogging because ‘Free Books!’
At the start of my blogging journey, I was bewildered that publishers and authors sent reviewers books to review. I only ever saw it as a bonus (though realise now it can be a double edged sword in some respects) but was always amazed that for a “simple” review, bloggers could get books sent to them for free. As you inevitably read more consciously and take requests, you’ll soon start to realise that if you’re in it for the free books, not everything within is as it appears without. Look at it this way: an author approaches you to ask you to read and review their book. If you accept, there is already a certain pressure and expectation to get started. This isn’t a casual read you don’t need to pay attention to now; you’ll need to talk about it afterwards. No matter how good the book is, this already in some ways gives you the ‘homework’ feeling – are you still reading for pleasure or through obligation? It’s one thing reviewing books that you have carefully selected yourself, but a review request can sometimes be a gamble. Many bloggers even receive surprise bookmail through the post – this can be awesome – but it can give unwanted pressure or guilt. A process many reviewers go through is realising their own self worth. It is not ungrateful or disrespectful to authors or publishers in recognising that the blogger is not always/usually the party with the most to gain from the arrangement. In the UK, the minimum hourly wage for 18-20 yr olds is currently £6.45. For over 25s, this is £8.72. Any paid work an adult does in the UK therefore, is always worth at least £6.45 per hour in theory, which incidentally is around the cost of most paperbacks online. One to two hour’s work will be enough to buy one paperback. Ebooks are considerably cheaper, usually as low as 99p-2.99. How long does the average book take to read – 6 hours? How long does it take to put a decent review together – usually at least 1- 2 hours. So if you’re reading and reviewing a book you weren’t already planning to buy yourself, if you love it, then great! If it’s not something you love and not something you were going to buy and read already, you’re giving up an average working day of 7-8 hours+ on a book in many occasions. The cost of the book is all it costs the author or publisher – if a few people buy or share the book based on your free advertising, it certainly makes it worth their while. My point is if you think you’re getting free books, you’re not. Not really. It’d be more cost effective working part time hours and buying the books with your earnings. Saying all this, it can certainly be mutually beneficial and you’re often exposed to books you absolutely love that you wouldn’t have even seen before. And of course, especially for indie authors, there are risks and costs of their own sending out their book for review.
DO value quality over quantity.
This goes for multiple contexts. Value producing quality reviews or feature posts over a multitude of poor quality ones – you’re building a reputation and you’re now in the entertainment business. If they’re always good, people will follow your posts and in some cases even look forward to and anticipate your posts as weekly reading. What I feel is really important is a quality of followers over quantity. If you go around just following anyone whose name you see, regardless of their actual interests, you build your mutual follower count but you don’t build your reputation or reach. If you’re a fantasy blogger, 5 dedicated fantasy accounts or fans of fantasy books will be more beneficial to you than 500 generic accounts who have no interest in reading, or reading your genre. This leads onto my next guideline…
DON’T underestimate the importance of interaction and mutual support.
There is a reading community. There is a blogging community. Each genre is part of a community. If you’re not going to be visible, this really limits your scope. The more ‘person’ there is to the blogging, the more people that will take notice. Robotically tweeting a review and leaving your interaction until the next one won’t do you any favours. You have a world of people interested in the same thing as you; talk to them! Support other bloggers’ posts if you enjoy them. Shout about authors you love or works you appreciated. Join in! It suits introverts and extroverts alike – you can take your time to reply, you can talk to whoever you want to and you can choose to be limited in the information you reveal but the main thing is just letting others see your personality and know your passion for the books you read! Things will start off slowly but keep going and you’ll be rewarded with your own little space within the community.
DO shout about the books you love.
Some genres don’t get the readership figures others get, and in any genre there are thousands of brilliant authors unrecognised for their work. One positive review can have a snowball effect that really gets an author noticed; don’t underestimate your influence. Tell an author you loved their book that you gave 5 stars to. Any normal author will at the very least be pleased you enjoyed their book. For some, you’ll make their week and bring a tear to their eye. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to tell somebody that the months of hard work they put into their book has been noticed and appreciated. Conversely, if you disliked a book, don’t tweet the author. Don’t tag them in your 1, 2, 3 star review. I personally only really tag authors in 5 star reviews now (used to for 4 stars too) – often I don’t if there was something particularly critical in the review. No author should be coerced into reading a critical review and potentially ruining their day.
DON’T forget that you’re doing this for fun!
Once you start stressing out, making schedules for yourself or apologising for not reading or reviewing earlier, you’ve taken yourself out of hobby territory and into a work environment, which nobody wants. You’re not paid for this, which makes you the boss. You choose what you read and when you read it. If you have an agreement with an author or publisher then fair enough, but otherwise don’t allow yourself to be backed into a corner and begin doing a job for others rather than an extension of a love of reading for yourself.
DO think of creative or topical features to make your blog stand out.
People like reviews, especially if it’s a book they’re weighing up. But features get the clicks and the interactions. People on their lunch break or scrolling after a long day would rather read which 10 books have the best dragons for example, than an analysis on one particular book. It’s always good to put the time in to create a feature every so often in which readers can casually scroll through the post and offer their own thoughts, in comparison to a critical review of a book they haven’t read yet. It’s also a good opportunity to get to know others within the community.
DO take into account the genre you’re blogging and the audience you’re aiming for.
Will sci-fi fans sign up to your newsletter in which you mostly discuss romance? Will fiction fans in general want to follow you if the majority of your tweets are about your favourite sports team? Will your followers appreciate that joke you wanted to retweet? Which sort of leads me onto my next point…
DON’T compare yourself too much with other bloggers.
Sure, there’s loads to learn from others, and you shouldn’t be shy in watching from the shadows (metaphorically of course) or looking what makes others successful, but there are so many variables that it really does make the most sense to mainly concentrate on improving as a blogger yourself without comparison. Some bloggers don’t have a day job and can churn out content 10x faster than one who works each day, for example. Some work collaboratively, some bloggers have been doing it more than a decade – I’d say that’s ample time to learn some things you might not be familiar with. Others blog for a different genre than you, one that might be infinitely more popular. I’m aware for example that if I read more YA books and tweeted a lot about them, I’d likely increase my following massively. Linking with one of my previous points though, this wouldn’t be me, and I wouldn’t be blogging for the simple love of the type of books I read.
DO stay true to yourself.
Don’t allow others to influence your opinion on a book. Even if the whole world adores a book, if it didn’t work for you, then others have to accept your viewpoint. Books are subjective and not everybody is going to agree. Sometimes you’ll love a book others hated, and other times something about a book others hated will just really resonate with you. That’s one of the beauties of the industry. Equally, don’t ever feel pressured to rate a book highly just because it addressed important themes, if the book itself is terrible. And don’t feel you have to rate a book lower if the story is simple or unoriginal. Your rating comes from your enjoyment of the book, or how highly you thought of it. Enjoyable isn’t always the right word to use – there could be a brilliant book that makes you feel sad. You can accept that a book is excellent even if it doesn’t appeal to your personal tastes. Not all 5 star ratings are created equal. The main thing here is that it’s important to be honest. Plenty of other people will usually review the book, and the more people that do, the more representative the overall consensus becomes of that particular target market. Everyone is different, so it’s important you represent your own likes and dislikes to better inform others like you.
DON’T talk about a book in absolutes.
Rarely is a book only good or only bad. Again, it comes down to personal opinion so a popular and respected method is to convey why something may work for some people but not others, or to make clear that whilst something didn’t work for you, other readers will love it. Be mindful that the scene that meant nothing to you could be a serious trigger for somebody else. I feel it’s important to pick up on any such themes in your review to both better understand the book and to inform potential readers what they are getting involved in. Your underlying responsibility (if it is a review request in particular) is to inform readers. You’re not doing the author a favour long term by encouraging as many people to read it as possible; you’ll be a much bigger help encouraging the people to read it who will be likely to actually enjoy it. This is why conveying who the book will work for and who it won’t (or why it worked/didn’t for you personally) is a great technique to use.
DO be mindful of unconscious bias.
Especially as you build up your followers and perhaps people begin to look to you for recommendations, you have the ability to be a power for good. It’s relatively well known that if you ask for fantasy recommendations, especially on Facebook and Reddit, you’ll be given the same predominately white male names with books over a decade old. Some of these books are awesome, I’ve read a few of them, and they’re there by merit. I will not for a second suggest you forego these names (nor any author based on their nationality, gender identity, skin colour, etc.) All I suggest is that you be mindful that you are giving opportunities to authors of diverse backgrounds to be one of your favourite reads. You don’t have to love a book from any particular group, you can still be honest, but be open. Here isn’t the place for a discussion or an argument on why particular names come up in the top ten recommendations lists – I looked at that in a little more detail (but by no means exhaustively) in my Diversity post, but can we say honestly that minority authors are really given the same chance? If you make an effort to read diversely, it helps encourage diverse authors to write. And even if you only look at it for selfish reasons, surely a divers range of authors in your genre will only create a wider range of different books and viewpoints, enriching the choice and experience of the reader. You’ll be doing your bit to make the community a place in which everybody feels not only welcome, but included.
DON’T allow a reading slump to derail your plans.
Most people have these reading and blogging slumps. I can guarantee most of the time, nobody will even notice to the extent you feel they will. You’re under no obligation to publish content at any set intervals, and nobody will, or should, expect you to. If you want a month off, take it, just as you would if you weren’t blogging. This is for you first and foremost, and if others enjoy what you do then great!
DO experiment a little with your blogging format.
I encountered a number of problems when I first started blogging – both with being unfamiliar with WordPress (still having some difficulties!) but also the way I wanted to review books. You’ll find you will probably chop and change the way you do things, but my initial style changed from one post to the next. Having a routine does help to alleviate the pressure that you might feel when you first start and want to make sure you create a good impression.
DON’T be afraid to be selfish.
As mentioned multiple times, this is a hobby for you. It is meant to help reduce stress and anxiety by giving you an outlet to focus on and share your passion. You may be passionate about helping authors, changing the way things are done and many others aspects of the reading community but ultimately you’re doing this because you want to. The bills aren’t paid from your blogging. It’s not the only thing to do with your free time; reading, for a start? So if you’re finding it a hassle, take a break. Don’t find yourself answerable to others, read what you want and review what you want. Quit a book if you want. Politeness is important and it also goes against etiquette a little to be accepting requests and not actually reviewing the books, but this just means it’s more important to only review books you want to. If you’re asked to review, you’re within your rights to say you’ll review it in a few months, or that it isn’t really your thing but that you’ll try it; that you might decide not to read on. If you’re up front especially, it takes the expectation from you. I’m not currently taking review requests BUT if something came along that appealed beyond most other things on my TBR, I’d read it. I can do that, I’m in control of how I operate. You must always remember this. And always remember that although hopefully there’ll be people who enjoy following your blog, if you don’t stick to schedule or you change books, or miss self imposed deadlines, nobody else will notice like you think they will. It’s likely it means a lot more to you than it does to others. Basically, RELAX. And enjoy it. Blogging is usually a lot of fun and very rewarding when others tell you they really enjoyed what you created or what you reviewed. When you love a book and you help the author sell more is a special feeling too!
So this wraps up my little beginner’s guide – things I learnt or existing viewpoints that were reinforced along my short journey into blogging so far. Please let me know if you agree or disagree, if you have any additional advice you think I missed off, your general thoughts or comments are welco! Thanks for reading. If you’re thinking of starting out blogging, I wish you the best of luck. Any help you need I’m only a DM away!
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