It’s celebration time here at BookerTalk headquarters as we mark another anniversary for the blog.
Eight years ago I came up with the idea of starting a book blog. To be frank, I had only a very sketchy idea of why I wanted to do this. The ‘plan’ , such as it was, came down to this: I would read all the books that won the Booker Prize and would write about them.
It didn’t take very long before I got a big dose of reality.
- Blogging was more time consuming than I expected and
- I couldn’t read fast enough to create new content more than once a week. Even with my limited knowledge of blogging, I knew that wasn’t how it was supposed to work! and
- I’d been overly optimistic about the level of interest my blog would generate. The world, it was clear, was not waiting for my thoughts on book XYZ.
This was a project that looked like it wouldn’t even last six months. Fortunately there were plenty of people around who did know how to run a book blog. They were more than generous; sharing their advice and insights and giving me confidence.
So just over 1,100 posts later and amazingly I’m still here. Of course things have changed over the eight years.
The site has gone through more than one design update. I’ve moved away from the initial focus on the Booker Prize in favour of broader topics. And I’ve tried (though not always succeeded) to write in a more personal tone.
I’m still making tweaks however; adding more sub titles to posts for example to improve their readability or looking for more interesting graphics.
I know a lot more about blogging now than I did eight years ago, most of it learned the hard way through trial and error.
Lessons From The Front Line Of Book Blogging
Lesson 1: Blogging Takes Energy
I wasn’t completely naive when I started BookerTalk. I knew I’d have to put effort in to creating content, formatting pages and posts etc. But I never appreciated just how hard it is to come up with something to say every few days.
I also hadn’t figured in the amount of time required to respond to comments from readers and to read other people’s blogs.
Doing all this while working full time and having to travel for my job was exhausting. I’m not surprised that 90% of bloggers quit after a few months. Or that many bloggers that were very active when I started out, suffered burn out and lost their enthusiasm.
Two things have helped me keep going.
One has been to keep a note of possible blog topics.
I learned very early on that just posting reviews wasn’t going to work – I take too long to write them (the curse of perfection!) and I don’t read enough to do more than one review each week. Clearly that wasn’t enough to sustain a blog.
I knew I needed other material. But there’s nothing worse than just looking at a blank screen trying desperately to think of something to write. Now, when I’m struggling for inspiration I take a look at my blog topics list. Some topics are reminders of books I need to review. Some are ideas for list posts and discussion topics. Others might just prompts like “My favourite XXX”. You can find loads of ideas for blog topics online; most are not relevant but others you can easily adapt.
The other thing that’s helped in recent years is to be more disciplined with content creation. Most blogging experts I came across, advised me to have a blogging schedule. where I wrote a new post every day, or once a week or three times a week.
No way can I post every day. I try to have a new piece of content every couple of days. It doesn’t always work out that way because, as we all know, unexpected events in life can throw the best of plans out of the window. No way do I ever want to tell a friend “Sorry, I can’t meet you for lunch, got to write my blog post.”
You have to choose what works for you – only you know how much time you have available and how much you have to say. And – more crucially – how important blogging is to you. If it’s important, then you’ll put the effort into it, just like you would any other hobby or interest.
I don’t claim to have nailed this – but I’m working on it!
Lesson 2: Try, Fail, Try Again
I wish I’d kept a record of all the changes I’ve made to the blog since I started. It’s been a laboratory for experimentation. A place where I tried different approaches, some of which failed miserably, others that I maybe kept going longer than I should have.
But that’s the beauty of blogging. You can use it to test out an idea. It’s not like the traditional media world where everything you have ever written is captured for posterity. If you try something new and it doesn’t work on the blog, you can just delete it or make some upgrades.
Don’t like your post heading? Easy – just change it. Several times if you want to (just be careful not to change the slug or it will create a problem for search engine traffic).
Don’t like the navigation of your site? Easy again – create a new menu or move pages around within the existing menus.
I know my early attempts at reviews were pathetic. So I’ve deleted a lot of them. Others I have re-written so I don’t feel quite so embarrassed when I read them now. At one time I did a weekly post based on literary news/author news but I abandoned it because it was taking me far too long to do the research and I simply wasn’t enjoying it.
The point really is that the blog has evolved as I’ve tried to figure out what works best for me and my readers. It will likely evolve again in the future. The world of social media changes fast. What works today on a blog won’t necessarily work in the future. So I have to keep trying new approaches, failing and trying again. As Cristian Mihai says:
Effective bloggers never stop learningSource: Cristian Mihail, The Art of Blogging
Lesson 3: Don’t Sweat The Figures
There were times early on when I posted what I thought was a great piece of content only to find it generated little reaction. Sure I got a few ‘likes’ but hardly any comments which is the kind of interaction I value most.
When that happens over and over again, it’s easy to get despondent. Why bother you think if no-one is paying any attention. I started to doubt myself, especially when I saw other bloggers get scores of comments on their posts.
The lesson I’ve learned is that it takes much longer than we expect to build up a following on a blog. You can do it more quickly if you write lots of click-bait type content but that’s not what interests me.
It’s not just a case of writing ace content. You have to engage with people on their blogs – read what they’re posting, comment on it and share it via social media. The more I did that, the more people paid attention to what I was doing and I started to get more comments.
But here’s the thing. While it’s gratifying to get loads of comments, if you put too much emphasis on the numbers, blogging can get depressing.
Like most new bloggers, I fell into that trap. I regularly checked the traffic to my site, looking at:
- Number of visitors
- Number of comments
- Number of followers
If the visitor count was up, I walked around while a smile; but if it went down and stayed down, I went around with a scowl.
It took five years (I’m a slow learner!) and a health scare to put all this focus on numbers into perspective. I still look at the stats; but not every day.
I pay more attention to the level of interaction I see via comments. Why? Because ultimately what keeps me motivated to blog is the connection to people who share my love of books and reading.
Blogging is a social environment. It’s a platform for you and I to talk to each other even if we are thousands of miles and many time zones apart. We may never meet in person but we can become friends through our mutual love of reading. Without the social element, of blogging, I may as well just write journal entries into a notebook.
The Best Reward
That social interaction more than compensates for all the times I’ve struggled to write a post or had to wrestle with the technical side of WordPress.
So to everyone who has sent me a message or left a comment; given me suggestions for new authors or shared your experience ….
You inspire me. Give me confidence. And make me feel alive.