I’ve only been blogging about books for a year, so that makes me both qualified and unqualified to give advice about it. I figure I’m as qualified as most people out there when it comes to giving advice to random strangers on the internet, but please, take it with a grain of salt. There’s no way I can know your exact personality and set of circumstances, therefore this is more of an article with general guidelines rather than strict book blogging rules.
So why am I even writing this? Well, before I decided I would blog about books I went looking for advice specific to book bloggers. There was a shocking lack of it, especially for a newbie with virtually no knowledge of the industry and community. I don’t wish that feeling of flying by the seat of your pants on anyone, which is why I’ve compiled this article. Here are some bits of ‘wisdom’ I learned the hard way.
1. Be polite and flexible when you work with authors, but know when to put your foot down.
Being a book blogger who accepts indie and self-published submissions, I get to work one-on-one with a lot of authors. This is probably one of the best parts of my ‘job’ (aka volunteer work/hobby). However, there is one particular incident that I’m ashamed of and I want all new book bloggers to avoid.
A couple months into blogging I was sent a book by an author and gave it a not-so-great review initially. About 3/5 stars, if you’re curious. Since I let authors get hold of a copy of my reviews a week in advance of the publication date, this author asked if I could change the wording around a little bit to make it less ‘harsh’. She pressured me because she had spent the money to ship me a print copy of her book all the way up to Canada. I felt guilty about this and changed the wording and the rating so that it was a little less harsh, but never an outright lie.
This was a mistake I’ll always regret.
Honestly, being polite and accommodating is important when working with anyone (especially authors), but you have to know when to put your foot down. You have to set moral and ethical limits for yourself that you will not cross under any circumstances. I crossed that line once and vowed never to do it again; I’ve kept that vow. That is why I am always extremely open in reviews about when an author sends me a book in exchange for an honest review, whether it’s a print or ebook edition. And that is why I am telling all you new (and old) book bloggers out there that you need to stand up for your right to your opinion. It’s okay to give a mediocre, even negative review. What’s not okay is to lie. Don’t learn that the way I did.
2. Set up a clear, highly visible and easily accessible review policy.
This piece of advice actually serves two purposes:
a) To help authors submit books for review more easily so you can discover great new books.
You’re not going to discover new authors for free unless they can actually see your review policy. Most authors are really careful about following review policies, so it’s in both parties interests to have a clearly defined review policy. A review policy usually includes what genres you will review, which ones you won’t and how to submit review requests (email, contact form, other). It doesn’t have to be complicated or long. In fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t. Which brings us to the other purpose a review policy serves:
b) It protects you from bad authors.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of bad authors already. You know these people pretty much as soon as you open their email to you: the stench of entitlement is wafting up from their every word and they have not even taken the time to find your name, let alone read your review policy. If this happens, all you have to do is either not reply at all and ignore them completely or send back a reply containing only a link to your review policy. This will either drive them berserk and they’ll attack you in an hilariously grammar- and spelling-mistake ridden email or just crawl into a dark hole to lick their wounds. It honestly depends on the author.
However, having a review policy on your front page, preferably under a tab at the top of your website makes sure that you, the reviewer, are in the right should the author in question attack you verbally online. On the internet, judgements are made at the click of a mouse, so be ready with your defense. Otherwise you’ll be tried, convicted and executed in the Court of Internet Opinion.
3. Pick a pace you can stick with during both your busiest and laziest weeks.
Let’s get one thing straight: You are not me and I am not you. This means that while I am able to update my blog daily, you might not be able to. That’s perfectly okay. You don’t have to update your blog daily and read like a crazy person in order to get popular.
What you do have to do, however, is blog consistently. If you post one thing every single day for a week then post nothing at all for two months, don’t come crying to me that your stats are inconsistent. That’s the internet: people move on. But if you pick certain days that you will post every single week, your readers are more likely to come back. Even just once a week, as long as it’s consistent, will help you in the long run. Have a slow week and get lots read? Well, you can post ahead for the next few weeks! That way, during a busy week, you don’t have to plunk your poor tired self down to read when you really don’t want to.
Yes, it’s that simple: blog consistently.
4. Mingle with other book bloggers, but don’t self-promote blatantly.
I couldn’t tell you how many comments I’ve read and deleted that looked like this:
Hi! You have such an awesome blog/wrote a great review. Could you please check out my blog?
[Link I never click on.]
It’s comments like this that not only insult my intelligence, but make sure there is zero chance of me ever checking out your blog.
This is the internet, though. It’s totally okay to self-promote. But what’s better is to mingle with people in your niche in a meaningful way and build working relationships before you beg for favours. This can be done by leaving meaningful comments on a blog, connecting with bloggers on a social network or any number of ways. It’s really not that difficult. Just mind your manners, children.
I could give out dozens of more tidbits of advice, but this article has already topped 1100 words. Something tells me that most people have not read the whole article and have skipped down here to my conclusion. That’s okay; just go back and pick & choose from my advice if you need it. If you don’t need it, great! If you do, I sincerely hope that it was helpful and good luck with your blog.