Book borrowed from my local library.
Archives for May 2012
Blogging also enhances your ability to describe and distill complex information. How do you explain what happened in a 300 page book? How do you point out what made the point of the book work or not work? This requires a lot of logic and a lot of higher-level thinking to do. Whether or not you write a good review or a critical review, you’re putting a lot of thinking into the content and expression of those thoughts.
In addition to being able to point to the actual writing (or video), those who blog also have an opportunity to talk about communication via readers. You respond to comments and follow up. You also maintain communication with those who you work with, if you’re working with publishers or authors on different promotions. These seem like little things when you’re doing them, but they’re evidence of understanding the importance of two-way conversation and engagement.
The more work you put into blogging about a topic, the more you’re educating yourself. If you’re researching post ideas, staying on top of trends and influences in the field, making contacts with people in your interest area and allowing them to share their expertise, attending industry events, you’re furthering your knowledge on a topic area.
For book bloggers specifically, expertise is demonstrated through review writing, too. The more you’re able to discuss why a book did or didn’t succeed, the more you’re expressing expertise and knowledge of writing and story telling. If you talk about a book’s appeal factors or what similar books in the field are, you’re also showing off your understanding of the field.
Expertise sets you apart because it’s knowledge that isn’t always easily trained, and if it’s something you’re learning about because you’re passionate, then it will show through by virtue of your blogging about it. But more specifically, by being knowledgeable on a specific topic such as YA books (or picture books or middle grade books or adult books — you get the idea), you’re acquiring reader’s advisory skills, sales skills, and pitching skills.
A big aspect of blogging is networking. Good networking skills come through strong and effective communication and they play a huge role in developing expertise. When you attend industry events or make contact with people who are important in your world, you’re growing your expertise.
While the notion of networking can feel a little cold, it doesn’t have to be. I like to think of it less in the sense of trading business cards in hopes of getting somewhere and more in the sense of getting to know people and establishing actual connections with other people. It’s not about acquiring or achieving influence but rather sharing and interacting in meaningful ways that leave you and the other person with something you didn’t have before you conversed.
One of the biggest and scariest aspects of blogging — at least for me — is reaching out to someone new and communicating with them. It’s weird to reach out to someone who you do not know and try to open the lines of conversation, be it because you’re interested in interviewing them or because you want to talk with them about their book (even if I love a book, rarely do I ever actually reach out to the writer and tell them that because it is hard to put yourself out there like that!). Fortunately, social networking has made networking much easier in some capacities.
Events at places like BEA and ALA are all about networking and establishing and growing relationships. These are networking events, not “book” events. It’s through these you get the chance to practice your networking skills and it’s through these that networking can end up paying off for you (and the person you’ve made a connection with — remember, networking shouldn’t be cold and unfeeling).
However, there’s a fine line between networking and name dropping. When talking about networking your focus should be a willingness to reach out and meet new people, to establish connections, and create meaningful partnerships with others. Building relationships with other people is huge — especially in many service-oriented jobs — so it’s a huge asset. But don’t name drop, unless you’re asked specifically.
Your network is yours and yours alone, and it can be a huge benefit to you. And if you’re doing it right, it benefits the people in your network as much as you.
Public Relations and Publicity
If you’re doing any sort of blog tour or cover reveal or other publicity-driven promotion on your blog, then you are honing another skill set. But beyond those things, if you’re working with publishers or authors or third party marketing/publicity agencies, you’re helping out on publicity campaigns. Sometimes this means you have creative control and sometimes it means you’re following a specific request.
In either case, you’re minding deadlines, following a schedule and routine. But more than that, you’re taking part in spreading the word through your blog and through whatever other social mediums you use to publicize your content.
Bloggers who have review, contest, or any other policies are also practicing their PR skills. Writing these requires considering what your blog is about, defining your interests and audience, and delineating what you do and do not do (including things like whether or not you respond to all emails you receive, whether or not you participate in blog tours, and so forth).
Sharing your blog’s content, even if it’s all your own and not a part of a bigger campaign, is still publicity. You’re putting your work out there and spreading the word about what you’re doing. This is an important skill. You’re thinking beyond your own building (your blog) and finding new ways to reach readers.
Something so obvious but easy to overlook is that blogging requires using and learning technology and tech skills. Aside from becoming familiar with the ins and outs of a particular blogging platform, you’re learning how to best use the platform to your advantage. You learn how to tag and organize content, how to present it, how to optimize it for search engines. You also learn how to design for a digital platform and keep an eye to the mobile platforms through which people reach your site. If you pay attention to stats, you know how to use analytics, too. Depending on whether you do your own hosting or not or how much you’ve put into your blog’s appearance, you probably have a handle on a number of different web languages, too, including html and css. If you’re a vlogger, you’ve got a wealth of skills relating to using recording tools, editing tools, and you’re learning how to produce good quality video for web consumption.
Then there’s anything you do to promote your content online. If you use Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or any other tool, you’re learning how to use the tool and how to use it to spread your content (and hopefully communicate beyond that to include networking). If you host contests, you likely use a third party program to use it and depending on how you write or schedule your posts, you may be an expert at cloud services like Google Docs. There are any number of other ways you’re using technology or learning new tech skills while blogging.
Highlighting These Skills
First and foremost, own what you do. Be proud of the fact you put work into a blog and that you invest not only your time, but also your mind and your heart. Once you are confident in who you are and what you’re doing, you’re more willing to talk about it with other people in a way that’s not self-defeating or belittling of it. It’s easy to consider what you’re doing “just a blog.” It’s not — it’s much more.
This sounds obvious, but it’s not: share your blog address. You can put it on your applications, on your resume, in your cover letters. How you choose to do it varies, but the key is to have it down so that other people can find your work.
When asked about what you do with your blog, talk about it openly and without shame. For whatever reason, many feel shame and embarrassment about being a blogger, but there’s never a reason to feel that way about something you love doing. Especially if it’s something that provides you legitimate marketable skills.
Use professional language when discussing your blog. The words and concepts are all there. You don’t have to invent anything new for what you’re doing — instead, think of how what you’re doing fits the skills required for a job, for a scholarship, or for other opportunities.
Highlight your achievements. If you’ve served on a Cybils committee, had your content shared on a big-name platform, started a feature that fills a niche in the blogging world, share that information. It says a lot about you as a person if you’re an active, engaged member of a community — as much, if not more, than if you’re operating in an echo chamber.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Use your name. If you want to talk about your blog professionally, then look the part.
- Mind what you say. If you are using your name and talking about your blog professionally, then always think about what you’re posting. Never post something you’ll regret. Remember that your name is attached to it.
- Don’t be shy. It’s easy to hide behind your blog, even if it can be one of the biggest assets in setting you apart. But you do it, and if you’re proud of it, show it off. Blogging is a huge undertaking and huge responsibility and it shows a willingness to commit, to engage, and to devote yourself to a passion.
- Play fairly. If you don’t own something, don’t take credit for it. Give credit where it is due and always ask before you simply take.
- Sell your skills. I’ve outlined a ton of things I think about in terms of what blogging brings professionally, but there are plenty more and they can vary by blogger, depending on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Never undersell the knowledge and skills you acquire on your own.
- Your blog is your portfolio. It is something you can point to, show off, and talk about. It is a tangible product. Make sure you’re producing a quality product. If this is something you want to point to as a professional tool, then make sure your blog works for you and not against you.
- Believe in yourself. This above all else is what will take you furthest.
Connor and Isabel (Izzy) met at camp, and when the summer comes to a close, they promise to keep in touch with one another via email. They’re good friends — though perhaps “friend” is a term Connor wouldn’t quite use. He’s definitely more interested in Izzy romantically, but he’s not the kind of guy to say that.
Over the course of the following school year, they exchange emails regularly, updating one another on what’s going on in their lives. Connor lives on one of the islands outside Seattle and Izzy lives in Seattle proper, so they’re not too far apart from one another. They just seem to not get the opportunity to see each other in person.
As these two characters exchange regular messages with one another, not only do we see Connor becoming more infatuated with Izzy, but we see Izzy spiraling into depression big time. It’s not pretty nor elegant. It’s downright ugly. We see it coming through in each of those emails she writes (or doesn’t write), as does Connor. But what will it take for either one of them to get her help?
Crazy is Reed’s third book, and I think it might feature her most fully-developed characters so far. Connor is a romantic kind of guy, but never once does he fall into the idealized male character many male leads can fall into. His life looks pretty good all around, too. His father’s not in the picture, but he’s got a mother who takes care of him and begs him to give back to his community. He’s happy, for the most part. Izzy, on the other hand, isn’t as happy. She goes to a good school (of the hippie granola variety), but she feels like she’s an outcast. Even in her small school, she doesn’t feel like she has any friends. Her parents and her siblings aren’t anything worth bragging about, and mostly, she feels like she just doesn’t belong anywhere.
When the story starts off, we get to see Connor and Izzy in their immediate buzzing post-camp state of minds. They’re funny and raunchy in their initial email exchanges, but even in the laugh out loud humorous moments, there’s something slightly off in the tone with which Izzy writes. In fact, she’s almost mean to Connor. But he takes it. He plays off it. Eventually, though, Connor gets tired of letting her treat him that way, and he dishes it right back at her. Their relationship — which I reiterate is all via email — is dynamic and painfully realistic. It’s a good and a bad thing for both of them, as they treat one another as best friends and confidants, then as bitter enemies. They’re loving and destructive toward one another.
Reed is smart in setting up the book with dual narrators and offering not physical interaction. We’re forced to understand Izzy and Connor as individuals and as a pair through only their words. As a reader, I was immediately drawn to Connor, and it was because I thought Izzy used him. She’d made it clear she was lonely, and Connor was an easy person to turn to. But she makes fun of him and she doesn’t really talk to him. She talks at him about her problems and doesn’t ask how he feels. As the story progressed, though, and as I saw Izzy unraveling mentally, my heart really went out to her and to Connor. It’s brilliant because I became Connor in a sense, since I never quite believed Izzy’s stories after being mistreated; but when she hits her complete breaking point, suddenly her entire storyline made perfect sense to me. I was now everyone she’d been complaining about, and I was Connor, feeling like I had been a terrible friend in ignoring her cries for help. Moreover, the set up also helps us see why Izzy would feel comfortable telling Connor what she does and why she would feel he really wasn’t an ally to her. Aside from the skewed perspective she has because of her mental illness, she’s also aware of the screen divide. She’s comfortable treating him as she does because there’s not a physical repercussion.
There is no shying away from the details of bipolar disorder in Crazy, so don’t expect something watered down. That’s what made this book so powerful. Reed isn’t afraid to give an honest picture of how consuming this mental disorder is, and anyone who has suffered from depression or knows someone who has will see this hits very close to home. When Izzy hit her lowest points, I found myself choking up, not only because of what she was going through mentally, but also because I had misjudged her the entire time. I felt like I did to her exactly what she said everyone else did to her. I was so, so happy she had someone like Connor in her life at those moments, and since I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll just say that at the end, those characters got exactly what they needed and deserved. I think Connor and Izzy may be two of my favorite characters in a long time.
Crazy is a fast-paced read, due in part to the alternative format. It was an uncomfortable book to read, and it was effective because of that. I was never quite sure whether I should be laughing when I was or crying when I was. The emotional tone shifted frequently and needed to. Reed writes with a frankness and honesty, and she’s authentic. It’s easy to make a comparison to Ellen Hopkins, as fans of Hopkins’s storytelling will no doubt find Reed’s books appealing, but I think Reed is really carving a niche for herself. Her work appeals to both more reluctant readers because of her set up, execution of story, and pacing, but she also appeals to those who like having something to dig into because of those same reasons. Crazy will appeal to contemporary fans, particularly those who are fascinated with or have experienced depression.
Review copy received from the publisher. Crazy will be available June 12, and you will get a chance to hear from Amy herself that week as part of our Twitterview series and the summer blog blast coordinated by Colleen Mondor.
This week’s entry in our “So You Want to Read YA?” series comes from Nova Ren Suma.
I occasionally find myself the lone YA writer in a room full of writers of adult literary fiction. I also occasionally find myself having to deflect comments about my books (I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “No, I don’t write about vampires”) and explaining that, in YA, we have the same kinds of books the adult shelves do. We have vampires, sure, and we have science fiction and we have stories about the end of the world. We have fast-paced mysteries and thrillers. We have love stories. We have sad stories. We have funny stories. We have beautifully crafted literary novels, too. We have every kind of book you could imagine.
I often find myself recommending some of the novels that had an impact on me, both as a reader of YA and as a writer. There’s the poetry and imagination in Feathered by Laura Kasischke, which effectively changed my life, and Lips Touch, Three Times by Laini Taylor (which I love all the more for being a short story collection). I’ve been known to read the first page aloud from Paper Towns by John Green to anyone who will listen, and I’ve lent out Good Girls by Laura Ruby to so many friends, I don’t know where my copy is anymore. To show what’s possible with multiple perspectives, I recommend Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia and Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles (title similarity a total coincidence). I wish everyone would read How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff. For a true sense of being a teenager and why I find it so important to write about this intense and confusing period, I’d recommend Beautiful by Amy Reed. To show that YA novels can take huge risks—and do not shy from very dark content—I’d show Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. I will never be able to keep my eyes dry after reading Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, and I challenge you to try. And for anyone who doubts that YA contains books of true literature that would hold their own on any adult shelf, I insist they read Hold Still by Nina LaCour. My latest discovery—thanks to a recommendation from a certain blogger for this very blog!—is The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin, which I will probably be running around recommending to teens and adults alike for months.
One of the best parts about blogging is getting to know other bloggers and not only getting to know them, but actually learning from them. Every blogger brings something different to what they do, be it by the way they approach writing or reviewing or by virtue of having a background or experience outside of blogging that influences them.
It’s from that thought where Liz and myself starting thinking: wouldn’t it be neat if a bunch of bloggers tackled a topic about blogging — ethics, politics, practices, etc. — that allowed them to really share the knowledge or background they have on those topics?
Welcome to an unconventional week of bloggers talking about blogging!
Over the next five days, ten bloggers will be tackling a host of different topics through the lenses of their own expertise. We’re hoping this is not only helpful for new bloggers, but also seasoned veterans and anyone who interacts with bloggers or wants to be better about interacting with them. Check out the schedule below for participants and the topics they’re talking about. As posts go live this week, I’ll come back and link them up here.
We hope this is an opportunity for an open and honest discourse on blogging, but we also hope it’s educational and enlightening. Feel free to jump into discussions this week. We’re all eager to talk about these issues and share our knowledge as best we can.
Monday, May 28
Tuesday, May 29
Wednesday, May 30
Thursday, May 31
Friday, June 1