When I agreed to write a blog post for Angry Robot, Lee Harris suggested possibly writing about starting a book blog. Which I am going to do – but all prefaced by you realising that I TOTALLY fell into the whole affair and feel as though I am still groping my way to decent and regular content!
First of all: why start a book blog?
On a personal level, I started my own book blog because I wanted to keep track of all the books I was reading, with a few comments alongside so that I could identify them in the future. Because I am afraid, people, that my memory is failing me as I get older and sometimes I have that terrifying moment when I get a couple of chapters into a book and I realise “I’VE READ THIS BEFORE!” I had been putting my reviews on Librarything up until that point, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that my well-written, thoughtful reviews (yes, I am that egotistic) were being overshadowed by such glorious critique as “This book is really good. I wish that I was Bella.” I’m being generous with the spelling in that quote as well. I complained to a friend about this, and he suggested I start a blog and put my reviews on there. I wasn’t lying when I said I fell into it!
For a person who sits down and decides that they want to start a book review site, I would urge you to let the idea bubble away for a week or so before taking the plunge. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. I say this because I didn’t realise the commitment involved if you want to run a successful book blog. Sure, if you are just planning to throw up the occasional review and pad out the rest of your blog with commentary about what is going on in your life, or political rants, or personal thoughts on life, the universe and everything then get you gone and started! If you want to provide thoughtful and in-depth content about books (reviews, articles, interviews) then this is going to become an extreme time sink – don’t say you haven’t been warned.
I also offer this stark admonition: do not start a book review site for the free books. Just do not. Publicists are very happy to send out books – once they realise that you are serious and committed and providing decent reviews. To start with, be prepared to write reviews on all the books you already own – because, seriously, as someone who wants to set up a book blog, you should have a fair number. You should be deeply enthused about all the books that you currently own and acquisitive about all the books you plan on buying. The free books come later. They are a wonderful perk – but a privilege, definitely not a right.
Part the second: Setting up said blog
You’ve made the decision to set up your blog. You have grand plans for stupendous content. You are prepared to read A LOT. Now what? You have some practicalities to decide on, such as what name to assign to your blog, whether to use a free platform or take the plunge and buy your own site, and what sort of regular posting schedule you will work towards.
I spent the longest time trying to think up a name for my blog. At first, I wanted something that would reflect my own name. Then I threw around a few ideas on the theme of fantasy and science fiction. It was a moment of desperation that had me thinking of just books! I glanced at my floor to ceiling bookshelves – and then had it! Floor To Ceiling Books. For me, it was important because it means I’m not limiting myself to any particular genre. It is also memorable, and suggests the enthusiasm inherent to any blogger – that of having far too many books to read. So, although it was a last ditch name, I am now extremely comfortable and confident with the name I ended up with.
I would warn you not to pick any name that is too long, or that you’d be embarrassed to have on a business card, or that is anything like the names already out there! Do your research, people! Do a search on the Internet to see if someone is already using your carefully-chosen name – no one likes their work or identity stolen!
Now, as to the platform for your blog – I will say straight up that I am virtually a technophobe when it comes to writing in code and developing a website. This means that a) if you’re looking for technological speak and a genuine analysis of whether Blogger or WordPress is the better option, you’re best going elsewhere and b) if I have managed to use both Blogger (for Floor to Ceiling Books) and WordPress (for Fantasy Literature) then, honestly, everyone can!
The point I want to make is that in your first burst of enthusiasm, you might decide to purchase your own domain name, hire a graphic designer to do your banner and create your identity, buy 100s of business cards ready for all those events you’ll be attending….. STOP! Don’t do this! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – blogging is a commitment and a time sink, if you want to build a successful blog. Until you know for sure that you are prepared to put in this work and effort, go for the free option – you can always make the change later! I chose Blogger, because I was more familiar with the name, but both Blogger and WordPress have advantages and disadvantages so I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.
Lastly: the myth of the posting schedule…
Some bloggers I know have an absolutely dedicated and fixed posting schedule – see The Book Smugglers and Book Chick City for fantastic examples of this. Their readers are comfortable with what they will be seeing on certain days, and I’m sure it makes it easier on Ana, Thea and Carolyn to know what they are posting when. It really is an excellent idea to plan. I…don’t. I wish I did. I’ve tried. My method of posting is to do everything on the fly – I’d love to recommend this method to you, but the scattershot approach really does leave you panicking as to what you can possibly fill your blog with while you are neck deep in reading a 600-page epic that will take a good couple of days to finish and you can see all the other bloggers producing fabulous articles and reviews and interviews and… *breathe* Yes, there are definite advantages to planning!
What I will advise is that prior to starting your blog (I mean, you don’t have to start it immediately – what’s the hurry?) you build up a nice little backlog of reviews, all written and ready to go. This means that if you ever find yourself struggling through a long book, or stuck for content in general, you will have the option of posting one of these reviews instead. I wish someone had told me this before I started!
Third Point: Publicising your blog
This is actually the fun part! As far as I’m concerned, it has meant surrounding myself with like-minded people on Twitter, joining in with blog comments and going to conventions – chattering about books and joining the enthusiastic community makes publicising your blog incidental.
Twitter and Facebook remain great resources for reaching out to a diverse readership – but you have to be patient. People can’t be forced to follow you, and won’t appreciate it if you just use the social network for blatant pimping of your new blog. Rather, join conversations, get to know people and only once people are accustomed to your name and your existence should you ask for contacts to help spread the word about your wonderful book review site!
Use forums and messageboards sparingly: regular users will know when you are only there to try and get new readers for your blog. Again, become a part of the community. Post your reviews directly to the website, rather than just spamming links to your blog. Use a discreet little signature on your posts that will send people to visit.
If your content and your reviews are good, the publicists will come to you. Don’t chase too hard – it makes you look pushy.
Always remember the reason you start your blog, whether it is talking about books, reading new genres and authors, or sending the word out about criminally under-read subgenres (Paul Smith, I’m looking at you!) When the going gets tough, or you run into blog politics (which woefully do exist), remember that you are blogging for pleasure and for yourself first and foremost. If you are happy, your blog will be happy!