5 lessons in book blogging

fifth-birthday

A significant milestone this week – the fifth anniversary of this blog. And a chance to look back over the last few years and appreciate just how far I’ve progressed. Not that I am claiming to be an expert now ; in fact I still feel I am wearing my ‘learner’ plates; but  I’ve definitely made progress. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the five-year journey….

Lesson 1: Avoid the ‘Build it and they will come’ mentality: I was disappointed in the first year that my posts didn’t attract many viewers or comments. I would look at other blogs and get envious at the response their content attracted. It took a while for the penny to drop that the world wasn’t exactly waiting with breathless anticipation for my thoughts on a Booker prize-winning novel. In other words that I couldn’t just publish something and expect everyone to rush to read and comment.  I’d have to work at it; I would need to engage more myself with other bloggers. It wasn’t until I began connecting with other bloggers, commenting on their posts and joining a few challenges, that things began to change.

Lesson 2: Add new content regularly: One of the questions most commonly asked of blog experts is “how often should I post new content’.  Not surprisingly the answer is usually “it depends.” By which they mean it depends on how much you have to say about your particular topic and what you think is your readers’ appetite for hearing from you. I’ve seen some blogs – usually ones which review products like cameras or software, which are updated everyday and sometimes even more than once a day. Equally I’ve come across blogs which just get updated once a month. The more common approach it seems is to go for three or four new pieces a week. When I first started I knew nothing about these best practices. I just posted when I had something to say – which was essentially once a week. But over time that’s changed. I no longer have to scratch my head to think of subjectsI want to write about and actually have a list of potential topics that I keep updating when new ideas come to mind (usually at the most inconvenient times like when I am driving and its too dangerous to start searching for pen and paper).  Even so I’m also conscious that it’s easy to overdo the content and irritate readers who are busy people and don’t have time to read multiple postings from me. Nor frankly do I have the time to do much more right now. Ideally I go for three posts a week but if some weeks that goes down to two, I can’t imagine anyone will cry.

Lesson 3: A blog is not just for Christmas. I’m sure you’ve seen ads with the slogan “a dog isn’t just for Christmas” aimed at people who bow to pressure from their kids to buy a puppy only to find the novelty wears off after a few weeks. But the poor animal still needs feeding, walking, cleaning etc. And so it is with a blog. It needs regular nourishment in the form of new content. If  needs to feel love through regular interaction; acknowledgements that people have taken the time and trouble to leave a comment so you should respond accordingly. And it needs regular maintenance – checking web links are still active for example, and archives are up to date. The key lesson for me in recent years is just how much time it all takes – and that doesn’t include the time to check out other people’s blogs and comment on their content…..

Lesson 4: Find your own voice. I mentioned last week that I’ve been doing some spring cleaning on the site (you can find that post here), visiting some old content and doing a refresh. Reading again those posts from five years ago has been a salutory experience. They were well written in the sense that were grammatical. But oh so dull and worthy. They don’t sound like me at all. Maybe some people right from the off have a unique style that reflects their personality but for me it’s taken a while to stop sounding like a professor and more like someone you could have a chat with about books. There’s a long way to go yet to achieve the tone I’d like but at least I no longer cringe when I read my posts.

Lesson 5: Stick to what you love

Creating the blog marked my entry into an entirely new world, one which had its own vocabulary. Readathon, meme, TBR: all foreign concepts to me. Fortunately there were a few kind people around who took pity on me and explained the new jargon. I must admit I got carried away for a time, joining multiple challenges and latching on to every new idea that came my way. It was fun initially but then began to feel that the blog was no longer my  space, it was being driven not by me but by the need to keep up with external events. Instead of writing what I wanted to write about I was answering prompts from challenges and readathons etc. Gradually I’ve been weaning myself off these. I still do a few memes like the Sunday Salon, Top Ten Tuesday and Six Degrees of Separation but only when I feel like doing them not because I am slavishly pedalling away on a treadmill. If a particular prompt doesn’t interest me then I let it go. In short I will do only what I enjoy doing.

And the future?

There is still so much about blogging I don’t understand (like HTML) and many best practices  I have yet to put into use like search engine optimisation. I’m also still vacillating on whether to go for a self hosted site to give even more flexibility in how the blog looks. So plenty for me to focus on for the next five years.

What lessons have you learned while blogging?

Whether you’ve been blogging for 1 year, or 5 or 10, I’m confident you’ve learned some lessons along the way. So do share via the comments option – what’s been your biggest learning experience? What do you want to learn next?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on February 19, 2017, in Bookends, Sunday Salon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. Great advice! Along with yours and all the other good advice, I’d add don’t be afraid to try something new or different especially if you start to feel like you are in a rut and getting bored. Also, you’ll eventually find you get lots and lots of offers for free books — practice saying no or just ignoring the email. It’s ok, it’s your blog and your reading time and you can read whatever you want to.

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  2. Congratulations Karen. I’ve enjoyed meeting you via blogging. You’ve become one of my regular go-tos, so well done. It’s amazing how time flies. When I started my blog nearly 8 years ago (May 2009) I had no idea that I’d be where I am today. I made mine public right off, but didn’t tell my friends or family, because I felt uncertain. I was doing it to give discipline to the notes I was making on my reading – but gradually people found me out!

    Your lessons are all good ones. I think the first one is THE big one, and one that many people don’t really get. It’s what makes a blog different from a webpage, really. Of course there are some bloggers who do attract people the way you first imagined but they are either already famous in some way OR have such a strong different voice they just rise above the rest of us.

    I never engaged in challenges or memes because I had a “purist” stance (!) and because I had enough things driving my reading without adding more! That has changed a little. I joined the Australian Women Writers Challenge to support Australian women writers and because it wasn’t a challenge. It’s a major part of my reading anyhow so I knew it wouldn’t add pressure the way other challenges would (even if I like the idea of them). And, I have in the last few months joined the 6 degrees meme because I love the challenge of linking books.

    Finally, pretty much from the start I’ve aimed for 3 posts a week, so my average is 13-14 per month. I think that’s about as much as I can impose on my readers! After all, they have other blogs they want to visit too!

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    • Gulp, I’m coming over all emotional having read your compliment. As for your Australian women’s challenge, that sounds more like a themed project to me. I define a challenge as one where you have to read a certain number of books within a specified time or read a certain genre again within a timeframe.

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      • 😀

        Well, AWW does have that. You nominate different levels of how many books you’ll read and review in a year. I choose the top level which is way fewer than I would read, anyhow, which is why I don’t see it as a challenge for me. You can nominate your own level, so if I wanted to challenge myself I could do that. But I don’t want to challenge myself because, while I’d like to read more, I think the proportion of my reading that is Aussie women is fine. If I wanted to challenge myself it would be elsewhere, like TBR or translated fiction, for example – but I’m not going there!

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  3. Well done on the five year milestone, and thanks for sharing what you’ve learnt. I especially like your first point about engaging with other bloggers and putting in the work to attract new readers. I’ve had my blog up for over a year now but only recently started sharing it beyond my circle of Facebook contacts, so becoming a part of that wider blogging community is one of my main goals going forward, along with building up to posting as regularly as I can.

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  4. Congratulations on the milestone!

    I think Lesson 5 is particularly important. I was seduced by all the memes when I started but now, like you, I just dip into them every so often. Blogging is my hobby so I refuse to operate it on a timetable!

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  5. Happy 5th ‘Blirthday’, Karen! After reading your post and all these comments, I can’t think of anything new to add. I agree with it all! I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is to just do what I want. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to keep up, but I hate feeling like I have deadlines to meet. The biggest lesson I still have to learn is how to visit and comment on everyone else’s blog without it taking up all the time I have allotted to work on my own. Ah, but it’s fun. 🙂

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  6. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here is a great post from the Booker Talk blog on the topic of book blogging.

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  7. Many congratulations. I greatly enjoy your blog and this post is useful and thought provoking for me.

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  8. I’m heading into five years too for my blog. Your ‘stick to what you love’ and ‘find your own voice’ is 5-star advice. I write a short story blog because I love to read short stories (and write them too). I don’t have near 1000 followers like you do, but the hundreds that do follow me are avid short story and fiction fans. I started my blog because I was looking to read free short stories by classic and contemporary writers every week and couldn’t find a blog that offered that. So, I created my own. I think the blog you write needs to serve the blogger as well as the followers. I now have posted 200 free short stories by over 100 master writers of fiction. I’m told by some that my blog is the most comprehensive free short story blog out there now. I’ve met so many fascinating readers and writers on my blog too! That’s the best part for me is the connection to other readers.

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  9. Happy 5th anniversary. Very good advice. I agree with your points.

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  10. Happy blogiversary! 5 years is quite an achievement and one I can really look up to, you are kind of an expert ;-). Its great to see you still enjoy it so much. Great points and I think like with all things in life, you really have to love something (or someone) and be yourself to make it work. I don’t know HTML either and everything is trial and error :-).

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  11. Good points all, though I tend to update once to twice a week and have barely done so since November (work and then War and Peace).

    The key one for me is Lisa’s point, building on others. It’s a hobby. The blog should never drive your reading or become work. The challenges, the free review copies, they’re all ways of letting the tail wag the dog and losing control over your own reading. It’s why I don’t do challenges (besides, what’s challenging about reading some books?) and am fairly select on taking review copies.

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    • Your point about the tail wagging the dog exactly describes how I felt a couple of years ago. I started weaning myself off challenges as a result. So now this year I view them more as my personal projects where I decide what to read and when. I still join in a few things like Ireland reading month but they are short and I have the books anyway. Ive also reigned back on review copies. Deciding for myself what I want to read is quite liberating.

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  12. I can relate so much to every one of your points. The social opportunities afforded by memes and such were really important to me in the beginning (3 years ago), but now that I’ve found a group of people who seem interested in what I write, a fact that still astonishes and humbles me, I’m less interested in doing those and more interested in homing in on my own interests and my own voice.

    One thing that changed for me along the way was that I started doing discussion posts as well as reviews. I was a bit shy about this at first, and questioned whether I could come up with enough ideas, but I’m glad I gave it a try as it’s become one of my favorite parts of blogging. And I’ve not run out of ideas yet!

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  13. oops, I meant: to many more years!! not too!

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  14. wow, congratulations! I definitely enjoy your voice in the blogging community, too many more years!
    I’m almost 6.5 years old. I think one’s own voice is the most important, and not comparing with others: what they do, how followers they have, etc. It is YOUR blog, and you do what you want to do with it, the way you want to do it. No pressure. It also helps to always stay away from controversies that keep popping up.
    I’ve also debating FOR EVER going into self hosting. I was almost ready for the jump, but then I heard thousands of self-hosted wordpress blog were hacked last month, so I’m back to thinking it’s not for me.
    HTML is not difficult. You could join codecademy online, it’s free and very well done. you can do a short section of a lesson per day if you wish, just a few minutes

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    • I saw a reference to codeacademy earlier today – it was in relation to developing children’s skills for the future employment market – but I did wonder if it would also be suitable for adults. i think you just answered my question

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  15. I so appreciated this post. I am newly into my second year, and while I am proud of my content, my following is a wee sprout. I definitely feel myself dancing the dance between writing for the joy of it and wishing I could improve my reach! Thanks for sharing your journey and congratulations on five years!

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  16. Happy bloggy-versary! Agree with lessons 1-5 as I’ve experienced them all myself. I think interacting with others is very important, and of course content as well.

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  17. Happy 5th! I agree with #5 the most. There’s really no extrinsic necessity to this activity for any of us, so really the only thing I feel I’ve learned for sure is to do it the way I like it – and that includes how long or how often I post. That way any conversations you do get will also be ones you want to be in, not responses to you trying to be something / someone else. You do you! And that’s great.

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  18. Congratulations on your anniversary:)
    Others have said it but I will too: it’s a hobby, a very satisfying one, and therefore it should be enjoyable. I avoid the sense of obligation that comes with blog tours and challenges and I only do memes when I’m in the mood because I know that what my audience really wants is reviews. (Sometimes readers even ask me to review something in particular, and *chuckle* nag me if I don’t do it soon enough!) What I’ve learned is that it’s my blog about my adventures in reading and I’m not going to read to anybody’s agenda.
    One thing though: I don’t revisit old posts. I’ll fix a stray typo or broken link if it comes to my attention (which usually happens because I’m referencing the review in a review of a related book) but I don’t do much else.

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    • Well said Lisa, I think I’ve learned the hard way that challenges can sound fun initially but after a while I realise I am reading to someone else’s agenda. I only update old posts for things like formatting and links.

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  19. Congrats on your 5th anniversary. My biggest struggle is in trying to put up more than one post a fortnight. I don’t read quickly enough and my writing time is getting even more limited now that I am the stay home parent to an almost-2-year-old while studying as well. My other issue is the battle between your first point and your fourth. Sometimes I am tempted to do the sorts of things that would get me more views, like challenges etc, but I don’t for the same reason I don’t join a book club – I have plenty of my own reading to do, in the order I want to do it in, without diverting towards other books for other reasons. So I err heavily towards your fourth point and I write the way I want to. It means I don’t have the same experience of cringing at my old posts because they all feel like me, but they are very long and analytical which is not what a lot of readers want. I would love to have more views, followers and comments but not if I cease to be myself or have to read things I don’t want to. One thing I did last year that had great impact was reviewing an unpublished novel after being contacted by the author. Fortunately, it went on to be a well-received first novel and it now gets more views by far than any other recent post. I am currently reading another novel after being contacted by the author (though it is not unpublished). I am trying a couple of new things this year. I started a Twitter account. It is not having any impact yet. Maybe I need to work at it, or maybe the effort will never match the reward and I should stick to something else that may yield better results. My wife is also encouraging me to VLOG. I loathe the idea of appearing on camera like that, but it may be a good idea. I might replace the posts about my book shopping with videos. I have a lot to learn about video editing though and it’s not like I know as much as I should about things like HTML yet either. This is a very long comment, but I just can’t write a short one. It would not be me!

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    • I dont read anywhere as many books as some bloggers – until this year my time was limited too (by work). So just like you I didnt have much to write about. But then I started doing non-review topics which have helped. I have a Twitter account too but frankly, am not sure it is worth the effort…… as for vlogging, no way do I want to go down that path. I’ve seen a few and have not been impressed. Is it worth the effort of learning editing – for me no.

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  20. What a great and informative post to celebrate your fifth anniversary. I particularly agreed with your point about finding your own voice – as I’d previously reviewed on Amazon my earliest reviews were without any of my personality (and the very early ones are simply awful)

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    • This ‘lesson’ seems to resonate with a lot of people judging by the number of comments Cleo. It’s probably the hardest part – we can learn the technical stuff just through regular practice, and can resolve questions like how often do I post by trial and error. But deciding to plough your own course is the big leap in the dark for most bloggers….

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  21. Congratulations on the anniversary and on discovering and being happy with your own improvements.

    I remember when I started out reading a post about tips for bloggers where the importance of commenting on other blog posts was mentioned, not to be a silent visitor and I think that was very good advice, to engage in the conversation, which adds so much more to the reading experience.

    I’ve always had a thing about maintaining the freedom to choose and so deliberately avoid challenges and blog tours, anything that brings obligation because it detracts from the joy for me.

    Finding one’s voice is a wonderful objective,one that takes practise, I like that a blog allows us to develop that. This would perhaps be my biggest lesson learned, that I understand more now what my writing voice is and how to channel it, it requires regular practice!

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  22. Congratulations on your 5th anniversary of Excellence in Blogging. I think your recommendations are first-rate. As a comparatively new blogger, my own recommendation is that one write to work things out and clarify them for oneself. Don’t expect to find a regular readership and accept that. If you will write it without a single reader, then it’s worth writing.

    I decided to make my blog public simply because I primarily blog about other people’s poetry and believe that it’s nice to promote great poets–living or dead.

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  23. Congratulations – that’s a real achievement. And excellent advice which I can only agree with. Here’s to the next five years!!

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  24. Very helpful post! I’ve only been blogging since oct and your advice is very helpful, thanks!!

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  25. Congratulations on your blogiversary, 5 years is a long time to keep the momentum going so I’m glad you’ve found what works for you. While I’m still a relative baby (1.5 years) I agree with your thoughts. It’s easy to get sidetracked into following the trend or sucked into taking part in things until you can feel it’s other bloggers that are dictating your content rather than you. I think staying true to yourself and enjoying the process is the key and not getting obsessed with the popularity of other sites or comparing your content. As my blog is primarily an outlet for my reviews I started to feel I wasn’t a proper blogger as I wasn’t doing Q&A’s, Blog tours, features etc. However I don’t really have the time (or if I’m honest the desire) to organise all those things and once I accepted I’m first and foremost a reviewer I felt much less stressed. The features might appear as and when but I’m no longer worrying about them.

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  26. Congratulations and well done. All of the above is sound advice to which I can add only the following – the piece of advice that I”ve had to tell myself most often – blogging is an unpaid hobby. There’s no point stressing or being competitive about it. That only leads to burnout. (I have chilled out muchly since I began. Now I only need remind myself when other blogs reach 1m hit milestone. 1m!!!! Only in my dreams.)

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  27. Congrats on the anniversary. Wise words as always. I think remembering why you are here in the first place counts for me above all else. I have to keep reminding myself it’s not a competition (for likes, followers, or so on) – and then I go and see some six month old blog celebrating its 1,000th follower and think “what am I doing wrong”!!

    On the other hand I follow some brilliantly written blogs that have even fewer followers than me, and hardly any likes, so perhaps the answer is nothing at all. As long as I still enjoy doing it then I will keep on writing.

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  28. Lesson: remember this is supposed to be fun…and everything you said. Congrats on your blogaversary.

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  29. Congratulations, Karen. Lots of good advice here, much of which is applicable to my own experience, but I think the best is ‘In short I will do only what I enjoy doing’. If you’re not enjoying yourself your readers probably won’t either.

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  30. Happy 5th anniversary of blogging! I’m coming up on two years and still feel quite envious of more successful bloggers. I have tried to engage more with the blogging community via friends of friends and some Facebook groups, but keeping up with other people’s blogs does take up a significant amount of time, as you’ve noted. I’m grateful for the loyal followers and commenters I do have.

    I aim for 2-3 posts a week, and I agree that it’s now no trouble coming up with ideas. I have a several-page document full of possible future posts! It had never occurred to me to go back to past posts and try to improve them, though.

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  31. Congrats on five years of blogging, and we do learn a lot over the years. In my first year, I hardly ever connected with others in the community (I hardly knew there was one!), but when I started to do so, I found I was having fun.

    Developing one’s own voice is a good lesson to learn, and takes time.

    I haven’t started with self-hosting, primarily because of the panic that fills me when I think of having to sort my own issues, without a host.

    I do have one site (my website) that has its own domain. But it’s still part of Word Press.

    Enjoy the process! Great post.

    Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

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  32. Congratulations! I found a lot in common with this post – think you’ve captured the experience spot on – as well as the ongoing mysteries of things like HTML and Search Engine Optimisation. I say them regularly but I’ve still absolutely no idea what they mean!

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