Category Archives: Blogging

Let The Challenge Begin

Only a few months after I declared I would make 2020 a challenge-free year, what have I gone and done but sign up for a challenge. 

In my defence, I’m not embarking on a reading challenge. I know from past experience I am abysmal at those and rarely manage to complete them. My new project is more focused on how we share our love of books. It’s a blogging challenge called Blogging From A to Z.

Book Blog

Blogging A-Z is a month long initiative where the idea is to post a new topic every day during (we get Sundays as rest days) using the letters of the alphabet. It’s going to be quite tough to keep up that schedule but I’m going to give it a go.

Of course I can never do things by half. I’m making this task even harder by blogging on a single theme: tips and tricks on book blogging. So starting April 1 you’ll see a series of posts in which I discuss the challenges of book blogging and suggest ways to get around them. I’ll also pass on some best practice recommendations from the blogging gurus. 

What You Can Expect

Some of the posts will be answers to problems you’ve told me are your biggest headaches. I asked this question via Twitter recently. Here’s a sample of what you told me:

Blog headaches

Some of you talked about pressures of time, others about how to build connections. Some bloggers wrestle with motivation. Others with writing reviews. We may not get to address every one of these but I’ll try my best.

One word of caution. I don’t claim to be an expert or a master. In fact I’m still learning. I try to apply what the experts recommend (though often their advice is more geared to commercially focused sites). But mostly I learn by trial and error and by drawing on the experience of other seasoned bloggers. So don’t be surprised if you find that instead of giving answers and solutions, I’m asking for help myself with some of the challenges I experience.

I’ve been running the Booker Talk blog now for eight years. To mark my recent anniversary I wrote about 3 lessons I’ve learned in that time.

The one lesson that stands head and shoulders above the rest is that there is a tremendous spirit of camaraderie within the world of book blogging. Social media can often be a very judgemental and hypercritical. space. Book bloggers however are invariably courteous and generous, more than willing to pass on the benefit of their experience. A few of these kind souls will be contributing to my posts for this challenge, giving us a “behind the scenes” perspective on how they run their blogs.

If you’re just starting out as a book blogger, I hope my posts will help make the process a little less daunting. If you’re a seasoned hand, I hope you will still find some new ideas and tips. Let the challenge begin……

Join The Discussion

Are you wrestling with a book blogging problem? Have you found a technique that works for you? Do let me know. You don’t need to sign up to the challenge to take part. You can simply leave a comment on each blog or follow the discussion on Twitter using #A2Zbookblogging

3 Lessons From 8 Years Of Blogging

It’s celebration time here at BookerTalk headquarters as we mark another anniversary for the blog.

James Orr @unsplash.com

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 learning

Source: Cristian Mihail, The Art of Blogging

Lesson 3: Don’t Sweat The Figures

Trung Thanh @unsplash.com

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 ….

Thank You

You inspire me. Give me confidence. And make me feel alive.

Spring-cleaning the blogsite

springcleaningI know officially we are still in winter in the northern hemisphere so it might be a little premature to think about spring-cleaning. And indeed I’m nowhere ready to throw open all doors and windows into the house to let in the clean air which was my grandmother’s preparation for cleaning the house top to bottom. It’s far too cold right now for that kind of malarkey.  But with the fifth anniversary of this blog imminent it feels the right time to do a bit of a dust and polish of the site. I’ve also been goaded into action by some tips shared via a podcast I follow called Pro-Blogger which has some useful advice on how to make your blog more effective.

I’m gradually working my way through all the 100-plus editions of the podcast. Some are not relevant because they are designed for people who want to monetise their site or have a self-hosted domain. But one piece of advice I’ve started to follow is about improving old content.

Darren, the guy behind Pro-Blogger says he has a weekly habit to revisit old posts and assess if they can be improved – maybe redirecting links to more recent content, adding new ones or updating the content with more current information.   His point is a few minutes spent on tweaks can mean readers get a better experience of the site. Plus each time you refresh the page, it is crawled by Google so you get more chance your site will be included in search engine results.

I’ve started with my posts from year one of the blog. What an eye-opener that has been. When I started back in 2012 I really didn’t know a) how to blog b)how to write a good review. So the early posts were very insubstantial. No links, no formatting of text to help guide readers around the page more easily, no photos to break up the text. These are all changes I’ve been making over the past week. I’ve also changed categories, tags and headings. Often I’m making small cosmetic changes such as ensuring consistency in the format and colour used for headings and book titles. I don’t want to alter the actual content unless I think a reader would get to the end of it and wonder why they bothered wasting their time. So with a few of them got more of an overhaul – like my first Booker prize title review The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens where I combined the review with some earlier published content about the author.

I’ll finish 2012 by the end of the week and then move onto the next 12 months. It’s something I can do easily in about 20 minutes per post and watch TV at the same time.

One positive thing has come out of this exercise – it’s shown me than in five years though I still consider myself to be still very much a learner, I have definitely improved.

How are your blogging skills?

Though I’ve learned a lot in the last five years there are still aspects of blogging that mystify me so I’ve been making a conscious effort to learn how to fix issues and some new techniques. What have you learned recently that has made a difference to your own blogging?

Blog Feedreaders – Recommendations Needed

sundaysalonOn this grey and rather windy Sunday I’ve been doing some clean up of the long list of blog sites I follow – not just for book stuff but other interests like genealogy and crafts. Problem is to keep up with all of these in a reasonable time frame which is where feedreader are enormously helpful. But I’ve yet to find a great one so I’m hoping a few of you with more experience than I have can come to my rescue.

I currently use two readers:

  • one that is part of WordPress which I like in some ways because I can decide whether I want each new blog post sent immediately on publication or a weekly digest. i also like the fact I can get the alert coming into the email in basket so I can quickly decide do I want to do anything other than read it (such as like it or read comments, or add a comment). But it does clog up the email basket quickly. However I know I am not good at keeping up to date with the Reader Feed on wordpress itself and there is no way of marking which post I read. Nor can I find a way to put different blogs into categories so I could get one feed for book bloggers, another for publishers and another say for genealogy.
  • Because WordPress can’t meet all my needs I created a Bloglovin account which fills in some of those gaps – it lets me put groups of topics together. But it’s not that user friendly. For one thing -I don’t like the fact the reader gives me only a few lines of the post and to read more I then have to click and then often to leave a comment click again. And then if I want to tweet this or include the url in a post I find it shows the bloglovin url rather than the actual url on the site. Very time wasting. The big problem however – and this is getting to me more than an irritation  – Bloglovin  does not like to work on my iPad. It keeps crashing no matter how many times I try uninstalling/reinstalling and then updating.

There has to be a better solution around – one that will work effectively with Apple products which is all I have (laptop, phone and tablet). I want a reader that is uncomplicated to use, gives me flexibility to manage feeds of different categories and from different blog host platforms) and is ideally free.

What do you all use – have you found an ideal solution? Please let me know before I lose all my hair and nails fretting about this.

Technology challenged

I shall let you in on a secret. I’m old enough to remember a time before laptops and desk top computers.

tehnology bluesAs I bashed out news stories on an ancient manual Remington, cursing the keys that kept jamming, I looked longingly at adverts for electric typewriters. But the newspaper company I worked for was stuck in the dark ages. I changed to a company I’d heard equipped their journalists with portable computers. No more rushing out of the court room to try and find a public phone that worked so I could dictate the story before deadline. Paradise would soon be mine I thought. Hmm. The machine was portable strictly speaking but still took muscles the size of Popeye’s to lug around in its metal carrying case. And then to use it to file stories you had to couple some rubber caps over the speaker of the phone. But the caps were round and my phone at home had oblong speakers. So no hope of rolling out of bed late and still making the deadline.

I changed careers and this time got  a desk top computer. It was progress of a sort but it was DOS based so not wonderful. We bought an Amstrad at home and – after much frustration – got it to connect to something called the Internet. What a revelation. When my husband needed my help to write colour pieces on “preparing for your wedding’ I could with a few clicks discover wedding traditions in other countries with which to regail readers.

Life – and technology – moved on. Today I can sit in my garden typing this post while connected seamlessly to the Internet. My iPad tells me when I’ve read more pages of a book on the Kindle than I have on the iPad and do I want it to synchronise for me. At work with a few clicks I can share my computer screen so I can collaborate real time on documents and presentations with colleagues in other parts of the world. I can even do teleconferences via the computer from home and no-one will ever know I’m still in my PJs…..

And yet….

You knew there was a but coming didn’t you???

Though I consider myself to be technology savvy I have yet to conquer some of the whistles and bells capabilities of the WordPress platform I use to create this blog. I managed after a fashion to grasp the basics (and I do mean basic) of HTML. But I absolutely cannot get some of the widgets to work.

Three times this week I tried to create a poll. I see it on the draft version of the post. But when I go to preview, all I see is a string of code.

I can’t get the icons for my social media accounts to increase in size either. If you look on the right menu on my home page, you’ll see how minuscule they are.

Nor can I get the tagline of the site to appear lower down the header image so it is more readable.

Is it me or is it really this difficult???

 

It’s Saturday…

I should really be packing my suitcase for my trip to India later tonight. OR writing my letter of complaint about the way our local council is handling its proposal to downgrade our library to a voluntary service. I should also be tackling the bottomless pit that constitutes our ironing basket.

I am doing none of these things.

I am instead getting distracted by the multitude of interesting bookish type pieces of news coming through from blogs I follow and newsletters etc.  I thought I’d share a few of these with you (you’ll thank me for this I’m sure since you know you don’t want to be doing ironing, shopping etc either).

bookshop imaginationFirst item to catch my attention was this photo collection showing imaginative techniques some booksellers are using to get us to buy more of their stuff. These people have far more wit and creativity I have. I just wish the website had indicated where to find these wonderful places. Take me to them right away!

 

Then I saw that Ragan.com has published a very useful 16-point checklist that bloggers can use to make sure your content is top notch before you press the publish button.  Some of the 16 points are, I would hope, common sense actions we all take anyway – like checking for spelling errors. But there are others that I don’t think about such as “Did I break up my content into sections with headings?”. I know I do with some long posts but maybe not enough. I also don’t pay much attention to tagging photos or content. Maybe you’ll find some new tips yourself from this article.

And finally, a thought-provoking piece in the Guardian about the future of writing. With a headline The Death of Writing, how could I resist? The full title of the article is the Death of Writing – if James Joyce were alive today he’d be working for Google – in which Tom McCarthy argues that today:

it is funky architecture firms, digital media companies and brand consultancies that have assumed the mantle of the cultural avant garde. It is they who, now, seem to be performing writers’ essential task of working through the fragmentations of old orders of experience and representation, and coming up with radical new forms to chart and manage new, emergent ones.

McCarthy’s argument isn’t one that can be summarised easily so I suggest you take a look yourself. I’ve read it through twice now and am still trying to work out my response.

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