Feeling Fine and Bloggy

Do you dream of being rich and famous? Do you want your name to be known all over the world? Do you want people to hang on your every word and fall at your feet?

Image from paxtonholley's flickr account.

Well, writing a book blog is not a way to fulfill all those narcissistic desires. However, it is darned fun to do, and you have the chance to meet with folks who geek out over books as badly as you do. You swap recommendations like you once did Garbage Pail Kid cards, discover authors you might never have had the privilege of reading otherwise, and you’re compelled to spend time even more time in bookstores and combing your own shelves looking for unique books to up your blogging cred.

This week, the geniuses at The Broke & The Bookish thought outside the box and asked us to list our Top Ten Tips For New Book Bloggers. I’ve only been posting book blog posts for a few months, but here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up in that short stretch of time.

1. Use Goodreads—I had an account on this page for a long time before I really put it to good use. Now, I can’t imagine how I ever kept track of my reading habits without it. If you’re like me, you skim a book in the store but don’t have the money to buy it, so you put it down and promptly forget the author and/or title. With Goodreads, you can put it on your “to read” list (which can be sub-categorized into lists you design). Download the free app, and you can add books instantly using information or by scanning bar codes with your smart phone. When the time comes for a new list or selecting a new read, you’ve got plenty to choose from. There’s also a reading challenge you can enter and a bevy of widgets to use on your blog!

2. Incorporate images, videos, and photos—Books are about words, sure, but when it comes to blogs, sometimes a few visuals can go a long way and help your words be more engaging. For instance, one book list I did recently was about books you’d recommend to people who say they don’t like to read. Rather than pick ten books, I chose one central theme—my husband (who doesn’t like to read). Being a good sport, he was willing to pose for photographs to go along with the blog, which made it fun for me to write and for my readers to see. I highly recommend an account on Photobucket or a similar site to keep your photos and images safe and orderly. Three great blogs that do this almost exclusively with Microsoft Paint are Hyperbole and a Half, Fathertrek and Live, Nerd, Repeat. I laughed so hard at Hyperbole and a Half’s post “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas” I almost hyperventilated.

3. With lists, always write a short paragraph about each work—Whenever I do my top ten lists like this one, I always try to give my half dozen readers more than a sentence or two. If you recommend a book and only tell people, “It was really good. I enjoyed it so much!”, you’re not really giving them much to go on. Tell them about the engaging characters, the airtight plot, or the highlights that made it enjoyable (or awful) for you. Authors only make money if folks read their work, so I make sure to tell people about books I stumble across that are worth the read by showing why I enjoyed them.

4. Read book blogs others have written for ideas—Not only do you find great books to read, but you can also can borrow other bloggers’ ideas for your own future book posts. For instance, I’m always inspired by the posts I read over on Never Done It That Way Before and The Warden’s Walk. As a teacher, I lived by the C.A.S.E. model (Copy And Steal Everything). You don’t always have to spend all your energy dreaming up new ideas; use that time to craft your own version of theirs. Trust me, they’ll take yours and return the favor in kind.

Image from http://aptdesignonline.com

5. Write honest reviews for the books you read— When it comes to book reviews, honesty is indeed the best policy. I can say with 99.9999999999999% certainty that no one is paying you for your writing. Therefore, if you didn’t enjoy a book, tell your fellow readers why. You could save them some heartache and cash! For instance, everyone I knew waxed poetic about Eragon, comparing it to Lord of the Rings (not even close) and other fantasy classics. I was sorely disappointed by Mr. Paolini’s work, and I was out the cost of a hardback book because no one was willing to be frank. If more folks who disliked it had come out, and folks who had been on the fence had been more honest, I could have saved myself the time and trouble of reading it.

6. Vary your diet—Writing a book blog is a great way to make you read outside your “comfort zone.” If you tend to read only fiction, use the blog as a reason to explore memoirs or even something like graphic novels. You can choose books that are on the same topic you enjoy but that explore it from a new angle. For instance, if you normally love CSI-type fiction, you could broaden your horizons and go for the classics (Sherlock Holmes) or non-fiction (Stiff: Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach). Biographies about famous criminals, detectives, and mysteries are also great.

Image from goodreads.com

7. Explore the edges—You don’t just have to write about books. You can explore anything and everything beautiful and bookish. For instance, maybe you want to talk about great places to sit and enjoy a book in your area. You can do a how-to blog that teaches readers how to make handmade bookmarks. You can write profiles about your favorite local bookshops or even local authors. I highly recommend the blog For the Love of Bookshops if you’re looking for a good place to start. You can even write reviews of films based on books you’ve read.

8. Write consistently—One thing that’s great about The Broke & The Bookish meme “Top Ten Tuesdays” is that it happens each and every week. That means I’m guaranteed a writing topic at least once a week. Typically, I get at least one new follower or reader per book blog, and every little bit of notoriety helps. I don’t have to exhaust my brain thinking of a topic, only the books I want to put on that list. If I can’t think of anything, I do skip that week or make up my own, but doing these posts has compelled me to blog more consistently, and not just about books.

9. Don’t give away too much in your reviews!—Yeah, I know this contradicts what I told you back at number three on this list, but there’s a slight difference. I once had a professor who said that a book is like a virtuous girl; it doesn’t give everything up on the first date. He also advised that an essay (or, in this case, a blog) should be like a girl’s skirt—long enough to fully cover the topic but also short enough to be interesting. (He really isn’t a creeper. These two quotes weren’t so odd when they were in context.) Suffice it to say, you shouldn’t rob your readers of their fun by telling them too much before they read the book. I know how you feel; you’re excited and want someone to talk to about this amazing read. You’ll just have to wait. Telling someone about the plot twist in the middle (even if you don’t tell what it is) robs them of the surprise. Sometimes, the moment when a book slaps you in the face like is the best part.

Image from http://blogs.edweek.org

10. You have a personality. Use it!—Sure, you’re writing about things that other people have penned, but there’s no caveat that says you can exercise your writing chops when you’re talking about books. I try to write in such a way that my voice comes through. What I say is important, but how I say it is also key. People like people who are like them, so finding new word nerd friends and devoted followers means you have to show them the goods. If you’re humorous, let that come through. If you have a great vocab, use it to your advantage. Teach people, engage them on a personal level. You’ll find that you are also a writer who is worth reading. Who knows? Someone may be blogging about one of your books one day!

9 thoughts on “Feeling Fine and Bloggy

  1. Wonderful post, Jamie. I think the best point you make is about honesty. Too many of these book review sites I see glowingly review each and every thing they read, even if it’s a steaming pile of horse manure. And for the record, I seriously enjoy your reviews and hope you get a book published!

    1. I feel like some people think they need to be “nice” about it all the time. I say that constructive criticism is best. Point out what was good because someone might read a book just for that type of thing. However, for folks like you who don’t care for it, they can steer clear of the work. If it has been published, someone obviously liked it enough to invest in it; it just may not be for you. I gave the Eragon example, but there have been other books people faunched over that I couldn’t care less about. Different strokes for different folks, right?

      Thanks for the sweet compliment! I seriously enjoy your blog, too. I read each post, but I don’t always have time to comment. I just think that you approach life from such a fun and fresh way; I admire you and your writing so much! (Anyone who practices sarcasm and humor at such a high level deserves a prize!)

  2. Good advice! Let’s see if I can organize my responses.

    1 – Probably an excellent suggestion, though I’ve never used their service. Instead, I use my local library’s online service, which operates similarly, although being much smaller in terms of users. It lets me separate books into lists like “Finished,” “For later,” or other custom lists. And I can put the books on hold right from the lists and pick them up from the library when they’re ready. Anytime someone recommends a new book or author, I find the name on the library site and mark it “for later.” But I haven’t gone to many of those books yet, as I still own plenty of unread ones!

    2 – Hence why I do movie and webcomic reviews! And why my early book reviews featured pictures of different covers for the book. Too much text with no pictures on a blog does get tiresome and it’s easy to lose one’s place in reading.

    3 – Yup! Hence why even the Memes take me awhile. I’m never happy with just a few sentences, I’ve got to figure out exactly why I made my choice,

    4 – Aww, thanks for linking and the kind comment. Obviously I agree with this one too. The Egotists Club, Jubilare, Catecinem, you, and many other blogs have enriched my literary life.

    5 – Absolutely vital. My frank review of Waverly Hall yielded some of the longest and most productive comment discussions on my blog! It’s also helpful to try to look at a book from different perspectives in a review, to see how different readers might see it.

    6 – I need to read more nonfiction of all kinds.

    7 – I try to keep my blog focused on fantasy and speculative fiction stories, but I’m open to reading a variety of blogs. I like that you, The Egotist’s Club, and Catecinem frequently write about other issues in life, faith, and culture. It enriches the conversations about literature.

    8 – Heh, that’s something I’m working on. It’s also why I do the memes — they give me a topic and a schedule!

    9 – A big one. If a review spends more than a short paragraph summarizing plot, my eyes glaze over and I’m likely to skim or skip the review. But then, sometimes it’s hard to say anything about a story without mentioning certain plot elements. One reason I read professional reviews is to find the ones that master this balance. Roger Ebert’s pretty good, as is David Edelstein.

    10 – I love my thesaurus, even though I find it’s not prudent to use it very often. ‘-)

    1. Thanks! This one was really fun because I got to think about what I did that worked and what didn’t. It scratches my “teaching itch,” which does flare up from time to time.

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