This event is hosted by Ruby's Reads and Small Review. Thanks also go to Michelle from Book Briefs who tweeted about it. I might have missed this otherwise.
I'm going to write in response to the big blogger questionaire. There are definitely some areas that I have advanced further in then others. But I feel that I do have some general advice I would like to share so the questions regarding that seem like they would be worth answering. I'm going to take part in both events, though, because in truth I feel like I am somewhere in the middle. I'm not brand new -- the blog is nearly seven months old -- but I'm a far cry from being a really big blogger either. The fact that I'm actually good with that now -- and that I know what I want from my blog -- is a large part of why I'm choosing to answer the way that I am.
Q: When did you start your blog?
A: I started my blog on June 8th, 2011. It originally began as a random blog for the sake of having a blog, since most of my friends on Absolute Write had one. When I reviewed The Hunger Games and Summer on Fire in late July / early August and got such a positive response I decided to focus it more. The name I Write, I Read, I Review comes from the fact that I am a writer with a book blog. I'm currently in revisions for my first novel, Moon Dance. Interesting fact: my book blog helped me find critique partners for my book.
Q: Do you ever still feel like a newbie?
A: Absolutely! I think that the moment I ever fully stop feeling like a newbie -- which to me means feeling I have something left to learn -- will be a day I do myself a great disservice. I still get yeses *and* nos from NetGalley requests. I get excited about every comment that is posted on my blog and every blog related e-mail I get. I suck at managing my TBR pile. I still haven't mastered the art (or science, maybe?) of scheduling things in advance (I know how to do it. It's getting it done that is the problem!) I still wouldn't dream of contacting a publisher about reviewing something (other then via NetGalley.) ... The list goes on and on.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you've faced so far? Have you made any mistakes other bloggers can learn from?
A: The hardest thing for me is telling people no. I like being told yes about things, and so I figure that others do, too. But here is the truth: for every thing to which you say yes, you are silently telling something or someone no. And all too often, the people we give the silent no to are ourselves. Balance is the key if you want to stick around. There are too many books in this world for one person to try and read them all. And each month's new releases and requests are the exact same story: there is just no way it can all be done.
In my review policy and process pages I state that time is the real resource that readers have to realize they are expending when they read books. My other hobby is gaming. It is expensive and it can be time consuming. But if I put the same amount of money into books that I put into a standard game, it equals out to anywhere from 32 to 48 hours of entertainment, depending on the books I buy. (I'm talking abouit standard priced paperback or hardback books. $10-$15 per, with an average reading time of 8 hours per book. The number gets insane if we start talking Indie stuff.) Time is a far more precious commodity then money, too. Why? You can earn money back. Once time is used, there are no exchanges or refunds.
The same thing applies to blogging. Each component takes up time and as a blogger, the most vital thing to decide is where you want to invest that. What are your passions? What do you want your blog to bring to the world? Do you want to spend 3 hours a week blogging or 30? Being honest with yourself and producing something that you are satisfied with -- or better yet, proud of -- is the greatest challenge, in my opinion. Being able to look yourself in the eye about what your doing is vital. You are your first and last audience for anything you write. If you aren't loving what you are doing, find out why and do something about it. The most important thing about your blog is *you*. You are the one constant, the one variable, that no other blog on the net can reproduce.
Q: What did you find the most discouraging about being a new blogger? What did you do about it?
A: I've gone through phases with regard to this, so I'll point out a few things here.
-- I couldn't find a blog design that I was totally satisfied with. I am relatively good with HTML but I don't have any training in CSS, which is the guts of most blogs. I can make minor alterations, but generally when it comes to big stuff I am clueless. Fortunately, if you are willing to learn there are people willing to teach. For instance, my lovely berry pink quotes are CSS that is from a tutorial done over at Parajunkee's View as part of Book Blogging 101.
-- If I don't post every day, every hour, every minute, all my readers will disappear. Figuring out how often you want to post is likely something that will take time and effort to balance. I went from being a fairly laid back blogger to blogging about everything I could get my hands on. Now I strive to blog about the things that matter to me. Would I love to receive ARCs for every book *I am excited about* and be on blog tours for all the authors whose work I obsess over? Sure. But would that leave me time to help other Indie authors? Time for my family, friends and other hobbies? Time to discover new books and authors I love? Time for my own writing? Probably not. Which leads us to...
-- If I'm not reviewing an ARC, nobody is going to care. Ready for the truth? I get more discussion by naturally reviewing books that I already wanted to read then I have gotten for anything I have reviewed ARC-wise. And I have noticed this a lot when looking at reviews on other bloggers sites, too. (Please not that when I say this, I am talking about other bloggers who *appear* to be at about the same *stage* of blogging that I am.) Why is this? There are many reasons. Some people do not like reading reviews of books they have not read yet. Many ARC reviews are extremely vague to avoid ruining the book being reviewed. And since less people have read the book, and more people are trying to protect its contents, there is less room for discussion in general. Relax, chicken little! The blogesphere is not going to think you have demon pox for not drowning in a swamp of ARCs.
Q: What do you find most encouraging about being a book blogger?
A: I love the community! As I said earlier, my background is primarily as a gamer. Which means that I am often the solitary girl in a jungle of guys. They don't care how fascinating the role reversal characterization of Katniss and Peeta is in The Hunger Games. They wouldn't understand, or likely notice or feel, the absolutely sizzling chemistry between Daemon and Katy in Obsidian. And they would probably either be confused over or outright laugh at my latest book boyfriend crush, which is definitely Jem from Clockwork Angel (<3!).
I'm certainly not saying there aren't any great male YA book bloggers out there. Benji from The Non-Reluctant Reader, Adam from Roof Beam Reader and Kevin from Try This Book On For Size all immediately come to mind. But there is no getting around it -- the large majority of blogs that I follow and blogger friends I've made are fellow ladies. And as someone who has spent the large majority of her life with only or primarily male friends, this is an interesting change and in some ways quite a learning experience. It's so nice to be able to have a blog that is done in swirls of bubblegum and berry pinks with hearts and butterflies and not have it be viewed as a weakness! *laughs*
I love how often we unite about things, whether it's through events like this one, or memes like IMM or Top Ten Tuesday, or advice columns like Book Blogging 101 or to support a noble cause like You Give = We Give. For the most part, the book blogging community seems to be committed not only to raising up the books that it loves, but also the bloggers who love them. That's something to be proud of, ladies and gentlemen alike.
Q: If I Could Write A Letter To Me... (What 5 things would you tell your newbie self?)
A: Alright, here we go:
1. Read first, blog later! I wish, wish, wish I had read and written reviews for ten books before I started to seriously promote my blog as a book blog and get people reading it. Why? Because I'm always behind! And there really seems to be no way to ever catch up. (I won't lie: there are still days I'm terrified that if I don't post something that all my readers will disappear. I'm always secretly afraid that people will stigmatize my blog as being a memes & giveaways only blog, which seems to be viewed in a very bad light. That's a whole other topic for a whole other time, though.)
2. Make sure all your social media matches up! If you haven't started yet, set all that stuff up first. You can do this while you're taking pauses from r&ring those ten books. You want Twitter, facebook, e-mail, klout, etc. to all connect properly. In my case half of my stuff is Kathy (Ann) Coleman and half is Katallina.
3. Find a central image to tie all of your stuff together! It can be anything, really. My friend Krystle uses a red butterfly, and Giselle uses a coffee / expresso cup. A lot of bloggers use the really cute avatars from Parajunkee designs (I'm seriously thinking of getting one of those, past self!)
4. Take some requests, but leave room for life, too! While there is something to be said for grabbing hold of every opportunity that you get, what do you do once you get them all? If you end up feeling tired, frustrated and blocked then you've probably taken on too much. "Know Thyself" may be the most well known quote from the oracle, but "All things in moderation" isn't too far behind it.
5. You are the U in Unique! There will come a day when you will have to decide between honesty and what you think can *maybe* make you famous. Remember that you are the thing that makes the blog unique. Being a successful person mist come before the desire to be a successful blogger. Because if you don't have the former, you won't do any good if you achieve the latter. "Honesty is my policy, fairness my guide." it may sound a bit deep or serious, but I do really mean it. You need to make sure that you remain you. If you take nothing else away from my post, *please* let it be this. This is important.
Q: What do you like most in blogs you've read? Have you tried to replicate it?
A: I've found a lot of the memes and features I take part in, and events I have participated in, thanks to the blogs that I follow. I have certainly taken some things that I have seen, such as likely quote boxes or making sure that every post I do has an image for the "You might also like..." addon that I have at the end of my posts. But while I use other blogs to find out what is going on, I do my best to make sure that I put my own spin on everything that I touch. If I just copy what someone else did, it means I didn't really do it. It shouldn't be here.
I am extremely careful about using things I find from others or that are inspired by others. I would rather give someone credit for their part in an idea -- such as Marie from Ramblings of a Daydreamer when I did the Keeping it Real Reading Challenge, or Working for the Mandriod with regard to the categorized approach of Lets Talk About Love -- then not credit someone and have someone mistakenly feel that I stole another blogger's idea or copied them.
The only thing I can think of that I wish I *could* be brave enough to replicate from other blogs is the way that bloggers unite to create events. Shyness in contacting others about things is still one of my greatest weaknesses and one that I will hopefully someday get past.
Q: What do you dislike about blogs you have seen? Do you try to avoid it?
A: Please be aware that this question, and its answer, are very subjective.
Music that auto-plays. This annoys me to no end. It's totally cool if you want to have a playlist with music that I can click on, or if you want to do something where there is a video with something you like. But anything that automatically puts sound through my TV makes me want to get off a site as quickly as possible. I am a nightowl and I leave my volume on low, but constant sound that I don't want can still wake family up. Or mess up anything I might already have playing. Or just irritate me. By the way, it also tends to slow the way your page loads, which is never a good thing.
Anything that is a pop up that I need to click shut. Those programs that offer award points? *bang, bang, shoot, shoot* and I don't remember what blog had it, but there was a twitter bird that I thought was totally cute til it started flying down the page as I scrolled and landing amid the blog's main text. It was likely because I had the blog zoomed in, but still ... I think it might be the sole most annoying thing I have experienced in seven months of blogging and I hope never to encounter it again. It drove me nuts!
I am potentially guilty of two, possibly three, major offenses. Many people feel that my current header is pixelated. (I actually left white around the letters on purpose.) Some people feel that my blog is too bright and that the background I have is too busy. (Others love it. So do I.) And some people feel that a blogger who likes having things in their side column should run a three column blog. My blog is two columns because I don't have to have it zoomed out as much and I can still see the whole thing -- including my background -- this way.
The big thing I tend to be concerned with being accused of, as I said earlier, is the "Oh, it's just a memes and giveaways blog" stigma. It never occurred to me that I should check the balance of content on blogs that I read. I have always just used the thing at the bottom of google and scrolled through what's been posted, clicking on what I want to read, or going through linkys for events or memes I like and finding blogs that way.
I've actually found that the race to make sure I have two reviews up every week, no matter what, was really dampening the whole thing for me. There are some weeks where I might read five books. There are others where I might read one. How and what I read should not be dictated out of fear of being a "meme" blog. (Especially since I like memes just as much as I like reviewing and anyone who thinks this has likely left a long time ago.)
Right now, for instance, I have three books read and ready and I'm working on reviews for them. One should have went up on Tuesday. It didn't because I'm sick, I overslept and I didn't feel up to doing the video review I want to go with it. Anyway, enough on that!
Q: How did you bring your blog to the attention of so many people?
A: Let me ask you a question in return: are you looking to get big numbers, or are you looking to get people who visit (and comment) consistently. Because the advice I would give you is different depending on the goal that you want to achieve.
If you want big numbers, join giveaway hops. My blog gained nearly 250 followers in October when I took part in three Halloween hops. People like free stuff, and they don't tend to mind clicking ***a FEW*** buttons for a shot at it. Make sure that you use stuff like Twitter, groups on GoodReads that have space for giveaway advertising, Contest Girl, the giveaway group for BookBlog.ning, an event announcement on goodreads, etc. to promote it.
If you want consistent readers, you'll need to work harder. Get out there and take part in events and memes to make sure people know about your blog. Make sure you tweet your posts, but also take time to get involved with others on twitter by joining conversations. Follow other bloggers, authors, publishers, etc. and don't be afraid to speak up! Visit blogs and leave *intelligent, well thought out comments*. "Great review!" is nice, but it really doesn't encourage any further discussion. On the same token, when you post something consider whether it will invite others to leave comments. Do you ask questions? Seek opinions?Say things that might make someone want to say something back? This stuff takes time, but as the weeks turn into months, you will find your blog growing and you will notice certain "faces" popping up in the comment section.
Q: How did you get your first ARC / first ARCs?
A: When it comes to mainstream publishers, I have had the most success using NetGalley. Since most of my requests -- ones I make or made of me -- tend to be electronic I purchased a Kindle to make my life easier. (Looking back I partially wish I'd purchased an e-Reader with a touch screen. I generally have to decline PDFs because they do not work well when paired with my vision and the 5 way button that a Kindle uses.)
I have won a few ARCs in giveaways. If someone is doing a giveaway for a book you are dying to read, enter it. :) What do you have to lose?
The largest majority of my requests come directly from authors, though. And while I don't always say yes -- I've become very, very cautious about what I accept -- I am always deeply touched that someone would like me to read their story and share my thoughts about it with the world. When I do say yes it is generally having read a sample of the work and feeling confident that I will at least enjoy it. Which, for me, is as it should be. I don't have time to read something I am not connecting with. And if I realize I have made an error 100 pages into a book and it completely isn't working for me (or worse...) I think I am doing someone a greater service by contacting them and telling them it is not for me, rather then pretending I read it and writing a review.
That's why, for the most part, I either stick to reviewing stuff I purchased or I do everything I can to make sure I have some idea what I'm getting into before I accept a review request. I treat every book, whether I buy it from a store or not, as if I have (or am going to). Because one of the things I've learnt since I started book blogging is that there is no such thing as a free lunch -- or a free book. When I started looking at every book as if I was going to buy it I started making much smarter decisions and found that what I decided to do was a lot more balanced when dealing with authors and publishers.
You still there? I'm impressed! Thanks so much for sticking with me through all of that. I had no idea how lengthy this would end up being. I hope that some of the things I have said are of assistance, or at least get you thinking. Every blogger gets the blues every now and then. The big secret, the answer to all prayers, is to remember that once you can answer "What's wrong?" the next question should be "Okay. So what can I do about it?".
To quote Josh Groban, "Don't give up ... You are loved."