I’ve been running the Lesbrary since 2010, and during that time, I’ve learned a lot about book blogging. I still feel like a beginner in many ways, and I’m always hoping to improve, but I have found a few tips and truths that have made book blogging better for me. Here are the top things that I wish I had known in the begging—it would have made the process a lot smoother! If you are an aspiring book blogger, or even someone who has been book blogging for a while, hopefully some of these will be useful for you.
1) You Don’t Owe Anyone Anything (If You’re Not Getting Paid)
This is a very broad statement, and it’s the top one that I wish I could impress on my beginner book blogger self. It’s so easy to get bogged down in feeling like you’re not doing enough, that you have to craft these perfect publicity posts for a publisher, that you’re not reading enough or not reading the right books or not reading deeply enough. It can be overwhelming, and it took me a while to step back and realize: this is something I’m choosing to do in my spare time. It has grown and it’s a big part of my life, but there are things that take priority: my health (physical and mental), time with family and friend, my day job, etc. I shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
2) You Don’t Need to Review Every Book You Get
In the beginning days of the Lesbrary, I was over the moon that any author or publisher would deign to send me an ebook for review. I used to guarantee a review for any queer women book I got sent. Partly that was my misplaced belief that there was a scarcity of queer women lit, but it was also a devaluing of my time. It takes time to read a book, think about it deeply, and then craft a review. For publishers and authors, you’re performing a service, and getting sent a book isn’t the same as being paid for that labour. So in any case, don’t make ARCs feel like a chore or a source of stress. If you get sent a book that you haven’t requested, there is no obligation for you to read it. Obviously it’s not a good idea to request a bunch of ARCs and then not read them, but it’s also inevitable that you will get an ARC that it turns out you’re not as interested in as you thought you’d be. It’s okay to put it aside.
3) You Don’t Have to be an Expert
This is one I still struggle with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “I can’t write a recommendations post for lesbian graphic novels: I haven’t read nearly enough of them!” only to stumble on a popular “10 LGBT Books You Should Read” post that is operating from a far narrower reference point. I’m never going to feel “well-read” or like I’m an expert on any genre or topic—even after devoting ten years to exploring queer women lit—but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write about it. I don’t need to have read every lesbian fantasy novel to write a post about them. You also don’t need to be the best writer in the world to write a review. Just find your own voice and stick to it: some people write emotional, GIF-filled reviews. Some write philosophical reflections on books. Some just try to give the information that will help someone decide whether to pick it up for themselves or not. There’s room for all styles of book blogging on the bookternet!
4) Read What You Want to Read
It’s easy to get swept up with the latest book buzz, or feeling like you’re a failure as a book blogger if you haven’t read X (the “classics,” the New York Times bestseller, the upcoming release that everyone is fighting to get an ARC of). And that can be fun! But it can also mean forgetting your own taste in books. Just like you don’t have to read unsolicited ARCs, you also don’t have to read what “everyone else” is reading. Ariel Bissett made a (what turned out to be very popular) video titled “7 books i want to read that nobody cares about,” in which she talked about the books she’s excited about that are obscure, that BookTube will never talk about it. I think part of what made that video popular was that it taps into that joy of reading that doesn’t rely on other people’s opinions. Don’t forget about that joy of reading what you care about, regardless of your perceived audience.
5) It’s Better to be Consistent than Prolific
In my time on the queer book blogosphere, I have unfortunately seen many amazing blogs rise and fall. So many book blogs will start that are putting out amazing content at an astonishing rate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “What am I even doing here? They’re doing what I’m trying to do, but much better than I am.” The vast majority of those blogs, though, no longer exist. Part of that is, I’m sure, that blogs are ephemeral things. But I think that it’s also because they burned out. When you start a blog, you have so many ideas and so much excitement. It’s easy to push out tons of content all at once. But then you start to exhaust both yourself and your ideas. I would highly, highly recommend making a blogging schedule that you can easily maintain, and scheduling content in advance. If you have lots of ideas and energy now, schedule them spaced out a bit, so that you have time to recover when you need it.
6) Use Auto Text Expander
Going from those big ideas to the minute, I also wanted to mention the little things that make blogging easier for me. Book blogging, in my experience, is email-heavy. I get emails submitting ebooks for review, and I email my other reviewers to schedule posts and pass on eARCs. Most of those emails are essentially the same thing typed over and over. Only recently, I found the Google Chrome extension Auto Text Expander. With it, I have shortcuts, so when I type “mailing address,” it will expand to my mailing address. When I type “revs” it will expand to my standard reply to emails submitting a book for review. It’s saved me a lot of time and typing, and it’s helped me to standardize these things, so I don’t have to remember what I usually say in each circumstance.
7) Use Google Calendar
I have become so reliant on Google Calendar. I schedule everything through it, because I can send myself email and phone reminders in advance, and I can set up repeating events. So, because my reviewers on a monthly system (one reviews the first Monday of each month, for instance), I set that up as a repeated event, so I always know what day to schedule those for. I also set up reminders for when I should be doing things like my bi-weekly Link Round Up, or my yearly call for reviewers.
8) Take Notes While Reading
This is something I periodically have to relearn. I don’t have a great memory, but I always seem to think that I’ll remember the important things about a book. In reality, once I finish a book, I have trouble remembering all the important points that I wanted to touch on. Now I’ve pretty much trained myself to whip out my phone and make a note every time I think something like “This is dreamlike” or “The writing is poetic.” I just keep rough notes, including page numbers of any quotations I want to include, and that makes it so much easier to write a review later.
9) Ask for the ARCs You Want
I’ve stopped reading a ton of ARCs, because I realized it was a point of stress for me, but I do wish I could reach back to my beginner blogger self and tell her that the reason I wasn’t getting the ARCs I wanted was because I wasn’t requesting them! There are some big time bloggers who get sent endless unsolicited ARCs, but the vast majority of book bloggers, even popular ones, reach out to publishers to their ARCs. There’s no harm in sending out a polite email with your mailing address, if there’s one you’re really looking for! I would advise that you build your site a little bit first—gather an audience and show consistency in putting out content—but after that, go out and request! Don’t expect them to come to you.
10) Start Organizing and Tagging Now
These last two are the ones I’m really feeling right now. I am attempting to make my site more usable and searchable, but with such a big backlog, it’s a daunting task to go back and tag everything that’s ever been posted. I did originally start with a tag system, but it was too ambitious, so I abandoned it. Now, I just wish I had been tagging by genre and other basic information. It’s a lot easier to start organized than to try to organize it all later.
11) Get Help When You Need it
A little while ago, I migrated from a free WordPress site to a paid one. It turned out to be a lot more work than I expected, and it was really stressful. Part of that stress was trying to do everything myself, even when I had no idea what I was doing. I do think there is value to spending a few hours trying to tinker with my site’s layout even when I didn’t know the basics of coding, but with a little more knowledge, I would have known to make a child theme, which would have prevented me from irreversibly altering my site. Some things would have gone smoother if I just accepted that I didn’t have the time or skills to do it properly and instead coughed up the money to hire an expert. Commissioning Rosalarian to do my banner art was probably the best purchase I’ve ever made: it adds professionalism to the Lesbrary, and it’s something I could never do myself. Knowing when to get help is a great life skill, and it definitely applies to book blogging.
Those are my top 11 things I wish I had known before I started book blogging! I hope that was helpful for you, and let me know if there’s anything you’ve learned on your book blogging journey that you wish you had known sooner!