In the last couple of weeks, we’ve read a lot of posts in the blogosphere about reviewing and about blogging in general. While we have a *lot* to say on the topic, we decided as a team to offer something a little different — our ten truths about blogging. This is a collaborative post, the three of us spending a long time discussing many of these issues and feeling the need to put them out there. We would love your feedback and thoughts. Feel free to share widely.
#1: This isn’t our job.
We do not get paid to blog. We do not participate in Amazon Associates or Adsense to bring in spare change. We all work as full time librarians and do this out of a love of reading and sharing books.
An easy 60-70% of the giveaways we do are paid for out of our own pocket. As in, we buy the books and pay the shipping. We are lucky to work with a few companies that help us out along the way, but the bulk we do out of the love of getting books into readers’ hands.
We spend a couple hours a week writing our posts, and sometimes we’re able to produce a few weeks’ worth of content in a day. But we certainly aren’t blogging every day, though it seems like it. We work around our schedules to make this work.
We bring this one up in the case of authors or publicists who insist on deadlines for reading or reviewing titles. It simply can’t happen. We read what we want to read and what we love to read. Much of what we read we don’t even end up reviewing, but is just read for fun or to help us in our jobs. Want to know everything we read? You can see the good, the bad, and the ugly on our GoodReads accounts.
We are open to many pitches, but those with strings attached and tight time lines make us itchy. If you want your book reviewed, let us do it on our own or give us enough head time to do it (2-3 months is pretty reasonable). The caveat to this is that we 100% follow requests for holding off on reviews until pub date. If you tell us this, you can expect we will follow without question.
This is our passion, not our job.
#2: There are jerks out there. Some of them are even authors or other bloggers.
Some people see authors as celebrities, and it’s easy to understand why. But a jerk’s a jerk, no matter what way they fall. There are authors who don’t know how to use tact or style and some who are downright creepy in how they approach you.
We understand how hard it is to have your work out there and have it judged. It’s your baby. But attacking a blogger for sharing an opinion of the work — and remember, they write their reviews of the work and not you personally — is downright classless. In a world that grows smaller and smaller thanks to the Internet, your words will come back to haunt you.
And for bloggers, take note: anyone can sniff out a phony. It’s easy to see who does this for free stuff. It’s easy to see who just tries to gain followers with no substance. We know and we talk.
#3: Respect privacy.
We do not, under any circumstances, share the emails or the private conversations that go on between ourselves and authors, publishers, or other bloggers. We have received some real hoots, but we don’t post them. We don’t make these things accessible for just anyone. We respect the privacy of those who choose to communicate with us. Many of these relationships are meant to be private, and private they should stay. As much as it’s tempting to pull up a post and paste into it some of the ridiculous pitches or share a conversation with an author, we don’t.
You shouldn’t either.
#4: There are a lot of bad books out there.
Bad books are published all the time, and not just by vanity presses. We’ve all read our fair share of bad books. Some we give up on at the fifty page mark, some we struggle through to the end, hoping the book will magically transform itself into something worthwhile.
While we’ve noticed that some bloggers choose to only review those books they enjoy, that’s not how we do it at STACKED. Our blog isn’t a place for us to list only the latest and greatest. It’s also a place to discuss the books that let us down and why. It’s never a personal attack against the author, but we’re honest and upfront. Some books are just bad. That doesn’t mean they won’t have an audience, and we do our best to identify that audience. Crappy books do still get lots of love from some people (and sometimes a lot of people). But we’ll still call a spade a spade.
#5: It doesn’t happen over night.
Blogging isn’t easy. Getting readers isn’t easy. But it gets easier with time. Your reviews get smoother, your style more refined, and you realize you do have a lot to say that’s insightful or different from what else is being said.
We began STACKED in April 2009, a year and a half ago. We talked to a void. We got emails from our parents saying they read our blog thing. We were lucky to remember to post once a week.
Here we are in December 2010, and we have posts and plans for posts well on through June of next year. We have nearly 10,000 unique page views a month. That doesn’t count the hundreds of subscribers we have or people who are kind enough to come back more than once. We plan our posts on a weekly basis, making sure we have something running Monday through Friday.
Keep working. It’s hard. Sometimes it feels thankless, and sometimes it feels like you are literally writing in a void. But get your name out there. And see #6 and #7 for what really works.
#6: Being engaged with books and the book community is essential.
It’s important not to restrict your discussion of books and reading to your blog. Other online social avenues – such as Goodreads and Twitter – are excellent places to promote your blog, but they’re also a great way to get involved and become more fully immersed in the reading world. Don’t just link to your most recent posts (but do be sure to do this). Link to other posts you see and like, comment on other blogs, re-tweet another reader’s insightful one-liner.
Your blog will benefit from both your increased exposure in the online reading world as well as your expanded knowledge of the subject. You’ll find new topics to discuss, new viewpoints to consider, new books to laud or lambaste. Your blog will be more current and relevant and you’ll enjoy the writing of it more. And as always happens when one reads, your writing and reviewing skills will improve.
#7: Don’t be just a self-promoter.
In order to be engaged and in order to develop real opinions and thoughts, you have to share. Don’t just share your stuff. Share what other people say. It is okay to comment on other people’s blogs. It is good to do that. It’s good to retweet and relink things (with proper credit).
Share books between bloggers, too. We’ve exchanged ARC copies, both within ourselves and between other book bloggers that we’ve become friends with. Don’t hog the spotlight. Collaborate and discuss. It makes for a sharper review and a deeper community.
#8: People will steal.
It’s a common phrase that mimicry is the highest form of flattery, but it’s also annoying and often infuriating. The first time it happens, it can be a shock. Unfortunately, ideas, sentences, and even entire passages or entries are stolen within the blogosphere all the time. Often there’s no recourse other than shouting about it online, as the recent Cook’s Source episode shows. Sometimes this can actually produce results.
What this theft shows is how vital it is to credit our sources as bloggers. If a summary comes from Amazon or Goodreads, we say so. If we participate in a meme, we make sure to state where the idea for the meme originated. If another blogger’s post provided the seed for one of our entries, we credit them. It’s not just a courtesy – it’s the only right way to do it.
As for the times when theft occurs? Don’t be silent about it. If you’ve fully engaged yourself in the online book community (see #6), you may find yourself with a surprising number of supporters who are willing to do a good bit of the fighting and shouting for you. If someone’s using your identity, say something. If your review shows up uncredited, post something. This community protects its members, but the only way to get protection is to speak up.
#9: Don’t force a following.
There many blogs out there which require readers to follow their blog in order to enter contests and giveaways, or to gain extra entries. But is this truly a reflection of your following? Or just an extra step that an occasional reader can take in order to profit themselves? True followers will find your blog eventually, if you cultivate and nurture a readership through honest, solid reviews, consistent posting, and engaging content. For many blogs, it may be that the number of ‘followers’ is not an accurate measure of readership. Because we do not force our following, we are more confident in the truth of our statistics. It’s a point of pride and, at times, a total shock to us. We are humbled people read us and interact with us.
Remember, too, to always be respectful of those on this side of the blog. The screen is one dimensional, but we are real, breathing humans. We have feelings. Sometimes, what you say can hurt us. There are days we want to quit doing this. Before you click submit or hit the send button on your computer, take a second to think — REALLY think — about what you’re saying and the impact it might have on someone else.