I’ve seen quite a few of these types of posts going around recently, and with my two year blogiversary in September (holy crap, I can’t believe it’s been two years already!) I thought it would be fun to reflect on what my expectations were going in to blogging and what I learned along the way. Hopefully, if you are reading this and are either thinking about blogging or just starting out this will help you!
It ain’t easy
When I got the idea to start a book blog I thought I would just spend a little time on the weekends writing reviews and then just post them whenever I wanted to. I was so incredibly wrong about the amount of time that you need to put into not only your blog, but also interacting with others to increase your blog traffic. For the first year of my blog I literally just wrote a single paragraph as a book review. There was no information about the book itself, and the reviews were basically “this was good, I enjoyed it.”
I also didn’t even bother following or commenting on other blogs for the first year, and that was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made with my blog. You need to put work in to get the level of success you are looking for. It wasn’t around my first anniversary that I realized that the twitter account I made when I started my blog should be used for actually interacting with people instead of just as a place to tweet reviews. After I started becoming active on twitter, I realized that people who blog aren’t just reviewing books – they are making lists and discussion posts and TBRs. There is so much more that goes into a book blog than I originally thought!
Free books? Maybe Not.
While I definitely didn’t start blogging and reviewing books to attempt to get free review copies, I knew going into it that it would be a possibility. What didn’t occur to me is that a lot of publishers require you to have a certain following and no surprise, I was turned down in the first few months of my blog. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t get books to review from publishers as a smaller blog, but maybe give it a few months to make sure that 1) you want to continue blogging and 2) to build up a little bit of a subscriber base to read the reviews! Publishers want to make sure that the books they are sending out will be talked about and the word will spread, and that doesn’t often happen with smaller blogs.
I also don’t request ARCs from publishers very often any more because I want to make sure that it’s a book that I’m VERY excited for before putting myself out there. A good way to start getting review copies as a smaller/newer blogger is through NetGalley, where you can read and review e-ARCs, but if you really want to request from the publisher you need to make sure that your email looks professional. I found a ton of resources online, but there were also a few things that I couldn’t easily find. I’ve compiled everything that I learned into a requesting ARCs guide to help others!
Don’t Stress About the Numbers
I know that it’s nice to see your subscriber count rise and get tons of likes and comments, but in the grand scheme of things they don’t matter. What does matter is that you have meaningful interactions with people about the thing you love, in this case books! I know that in order to get those meaningful interactions you actually need to attract people to your blog, (I’ll mention some ways of doing that later), but that doesn’t mean you need to do anything you can to increase your subscriber count. And if it seems that you aren’t getting anywhere don’t worry, success-in any form-will come eventually. Just take your time and write the posts you would want to read and everything else will fall into place!
Find your niche-but don’t always stick to it
If there is a specific genre that you love the most, write about it! But that doesn’t mean you need to box yourself in to just that genre of books. For example, I label myself as a fantasy book blog because I mainly read fantasy, but that isn’t all that you can find on my blog. I do read science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery/thrillers, and everything in between! It’s okay to branch out and not stick to one thing, in fact, it’s a good idea to diversify your reading and your posts! Not only can you reach a wider audience if that is what you want to do, but you can also more accurately show people what it is that you like in books and you may help someone find a book that they never thought they would enjoy because it was outside their comfort zone.
Form your own opinions- you matter!
I know everyone always says be yourself, but it can be a lot harder than you think it is to truly be yourself, especially when you’re just sitting down at a computer and writing out a blog post or a review. Don’t be afraid to say that you didn’t like a popular book, because there will be other people out there who feel the exact same way. As a blogger, you aren’t required to love, or even like every book that you read. In fact, it’s better if you DO review the books you don’t like! But don’t just say you didn’t like it, try to give reasons to support your view so that you can not only share your honest thoughts, but you can start to have those meaningful interactions that I mentioned earlier.
Not using social media was one of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started blogging. I knew enough that I would want a twitter account so that people could retweet my posts, but I wasn’t being active on that account AT ALL for the first full year of my blog. In case you didn’t know, people won’t follow your additional social media accounts if you ONLY post about your most recent blog post. Go and interact and make friends! You’ll end up meeting some fantastic people who support you and will even help spread the word about your blog because they know you are genuine and want to interact with you!
This is something that I wish I knew about sooner. Canva is both an app and a website that you can use to make fantastic blog headers, twitter headers, Instagram stories and so on and so forth. If it’s something you need a professional looking graphic for, Canva is your best friend. Before I was using an app called Phonto which allows you to put text on a photo, but that’s pretty much it. Canva has made my life so much easier with making blog headers/featured images that actually match each other because once you make a template you can just continue to use it and rename it! There are so many uses for canva, this image I inserted to the right here was made with canva and it’s just a super simple version of what you can do. There are a lot of templates that you can pay for, but there are also plenty of free options! All my featured images and Instagram stories are now created with canva and I have no idea how I managed to survive before I discovered it.
Link, link, link!
This is something that I’m still working on myself, but I wish I had known this when I first started blogging! A lot of the more “professional” bloggers talk about retention and how to basically prove to google that you are a legit source to get more people visiting your blog, and one way to do that is to link out to other posts on your blog. For example, if you mention that you really love self published works, I might link back to my Self Published Fantasy list. If you mention any book that you have a review for already on your blog, link back to that review! Not only will people be able to easily find that review, they’ll stay on your blog longer and may do some more reading! This isn’t limited to just your blog posts either, link out to your other social media accounts so it’s easy for people to find!
Stock photos are your friend
This is only something I’ve learned recently, and I’m still working on implementing it. There are always tips to break up all the words in your posts with photos, and I used to think that it was too hard to take all these photos that correspond with what I’m talking about on my blog, but while that’s nice, it isn’t necessary to have a photo of that specific book on that page. For example, a post like this one isn’t talking about one specific book (or any, for that matter) so you can either take your own photos, OR you could use free to use stock photos to add a little ~something~ to your posts! I really like using Pixabay for any of the stock photos that I use, and I really wish I had started using them sooner!
Scheduling is a life-saver
Again, I wish so badly that someone had told me that you can schedule posts through WordPress when I first started my blog! I was writing my posts the day I wanted them to go live and it was SO HORRIBLE. Then I figured out that I can write blog posts in advance and it’s been the best thing ever. I can write a handful of blog posts on the weekend and schedule them for my usual post times of Monday, Wednesday and Friday so I don’t have to worry about it! Now I just need to start scheduling my Instagram posts and I’ll be golden! If there’s anything that you get out of this post if you are a new blogger, it’s that scheduling your posts will save you so much time and hassle.
Find your balance
Balance can mean a few things: balance with blogging and your real life, blogging and actually reading the books you blog about, blogging versus bookstagram versus twitter, there are so many ways to find your balance! If I’m being honest, you may never find the perfect balance of all of these things, but you can at least find something that feels right to you and allows you to do what you love and enjoy the wonderful experience of blogging!