Monday, November 29, 2010

Ten truths about blogging

In the last couple of weeks, we've read a lot of posts in the blogosphere about reviewing and about blogging in general. While we have a *lot* to say on the topic, we decided as a team to offer something a little different -- our ten truths about blogging. This is a collaborative post, the three of us spending a long time discussing many of these issues and feeling the need to put them out there. We would love your feedback and thoughts. Feel free to share widely.

#1: This isn't our job.

We do not get paid to blog. We do not participate in Amazon Associates or Adsense to bring in spare change. We all work as full time librarians and do this out of a love of reading and sharing books.

An easy 60-70% of the giveaways we do are paid for out of our own pocket. As in, we buy the books and pay the shipping. We are lucky to work with a few companies that help us out along the way, but the bulk we do out of the love of getting books into readers' hands.

We spend a couple hours a week writing our posts, and sometimes we're able to produce a few weeks' worth of content in a day. But we certainly aren't blogging every day, though it seems like it. We work around our schedules to make this work.

We bring this one up in the case of authors or publicists who insist on deadlines for reading or reviewing titles. It simply can't happen. We read what we want to read and what we love to read. Much of what we read we don't even end up reviewing, but is just read for fun or to help us in our jobs. Want to know everything we read? You can see the good, the bad, and the ugly on our GoodReads accounts.

We are open to many pitches, but those with strings attached and tight time lines make us itchy. If you want your book reviewed, let us do it on our own or give us enough head time to do it (2-3 months is pretty reasonable).
The caveat to this is that we 100% follow requests for holding off on reviews until pub date. If you tell us this, you can expect we will follow without question.

This is our passion, not our job.

#2: There are jerks out there. Some of them are even authors or other bloggers.

Some people see authors as celebrities, and it's easy to understand why. But a jerk's a jerk, no matter what way they fall. There are authors who don't know how to use tact or style and some who are downright creepy in how they approach you.

We understand how hard it is to have your work out there and have it judged. It's your baby. But attacking a blogger for sharing an opinion of the work -- and remember, they write their reviews of the work and not you personally -- is downright classless. In a world that grows smaller and smaller thanks to the Internet, your words will come back to haunt you.

And for bloggers, take note: anyone can sniff out a phony. It's easy to see who does this for free stuff. It's easy to see who just tries to gain followers with no substance. We know and we talk.


#3: Respect privacy.

We do not, under any circumstances, share the emails or the private conversations that go on between ourselves and authors, publishers, or other bloggers. We have received some real hoots, but we don't post them. We don't make these things accessible for just anyone. We respect the privacy of those who choose to communicate with us. Many of these relationships are meant to be private, and private they should stay. As much as it's tempting to pull up a post and paste into it some of the ridiculous pitches or share a conversation with an author, we don't.

You shouldn't either.


#4: There are a lot of bad books out there.

Bad books are published all the time, and not just by vanity presses. We've all read our fair share of bad books. Some we give up on at the fifty page mark, some we struggle through to the end, hoping the book will magically transform itself into something worthwhile.

While we've noticed that some bloggers choose to only review those books they enjoy, that's not how we do it at STACKED. Our blog isn't a place for us to list only the latest and greatest. It's also a place to discuss the books that let us down and why. It's never a personal attack against the author, but we're honest and upfront. Some books are just bad. That doesn't mean they won't have an audience, and we do our best to identify that audience. Crappy books do still get lots of love from some people (and sometimes a lot of people). But we'll still call a spade a spade.


#5: It doesn't happen over night.

Blogging isn't easy. Getting readers isn't easy. But it gets easier with time. Your reviews get smoother, your style more refined, and you realize you do have a lot to say that's insightful or different from what else is being said.

We began STACKED in April 2009, a year and a half ago. We talked to a void. We got emails from our parents saying they read our blog thing. We were lucky to remember to post once a week.

Here we are in December 2010, and we have posts and plans for posts well on through June of next year. We have nearly 10,000 unique page views a month. That doesn't count the hundreds of subscribers we have or people who are kind enough to come back more than once. We plan our posts on a weekly basis, making sure we have something running Monday through Friday.

Keep working. It's hard. Sometimes it feels thankless, and sometimes it feels like you are literally writing in a void. But get your name out there. And see #6 and #7 for what really works.


#6: Being engaged with books and the book community is essential.

It's important not to restrict your discussion of books and reading to your blog. Other online social avenues - such as Goodreads and Twitter - are excellent places to promote your blog, but they're also a great way to get involved and become more fully immersed in the reading world. Don't just link to your most recent posts (but do be sure to do this). Link to other posts you see and like, comment on other blogs, re-tweet another reader's insightful one-liner.

Your blog will benefit from both your increased exposure in the online reading world as well as your expanded knowledge of the subject. You'll find new topics to discuss, new viewpoints to consider, new books to laud or lambaste. Your blog will be more current and relevant and you'll enjoy the writing of it more. And as always happens when one reads, your writing and reviewing skills will improve.


#7: Don't be just a self-promoter.

In order to be engaged and in order to develop real opinions and thoughts, you have to share. Don't just share your stuff. Share what other people say. It is okay to comment on other people's blogs. It is good to do that. It's good to retweet and relink things (with proper credit).

Share books between bloggers, too. We've exchanged ARC copies, both within ourselves and between other book bloggers that we've become friends with. Don't hog the spotlight. Collaborate and discuss. It makes for a sharper review and a deeper community.


#8: People will steal.

It's a common phrase that mimicry is the highest form of flattery, but it's also annoying and often infuriating. The first time it happens, it can be a shock. Unfortunately, ideas, sentences, and even entire passages or entries are stolen within the blogosphere all the time. Often there's no recourse other than shouting about it online, as the recent Cook's Source episode shows. Sometimes this can actually produce results.

What this theft shows is how vital it is to credit our sources as bloggers. If a summary comes from Amazon or Goodreads, we say so. If we participate in a meme, we make sure to state where the idea for the meme originated. If another blogger's post provided the seed for one of our entries, we credit them. It's not just a courtesy - it's the only right way to do it.

As for the times when theft occurs? Don't be silent about it. If you've fully engaged yourself in the online book community (see #6), you may find yourself with a surprising number of supporters who are willing to do a good bit of the fighting and shouting for you. If someone's using your identity, say something. If your review shows up uncredited, post something. This community protects its members, but the only way to get protection is to speak up.


#9: Don't force a following.

There many blogs out there which require readers to follow their blog in order to enter contests and giveaways, or to gain extra entries. But is this truly a reflection of your following? Or just an extra step that an occasional reader can take in order to profit themselves? True followers will find your blog eventually, if you cultivate and nurture a readership through honest, solid reviews, consistent posting, and engaging content. For many blogs, it may be that the number of 'followers' is not an accurate measure of readership. Because we do not force our following, we are more confident in the truth of our statistics. It's a point of pride and, at times, a total shock to us. We are humbled people read us and interact with us.


#10: Sometimes we write crappy reviews.

Sometimes we have a busy week at work, or things pop up during the weekend, when we were planning to devote a few hours to blogging. Sometimes we're in a hurry and slap our thoughts onto the page/screen a bit more haphazardly than we would prefer to. Sometimes we summarize the books ourselves, sometimes we don't have the time or energy to use more than the summary from Goodreads. Or sometimes we just can't put our finger on what criticism is nagging at the corner of our minds or of what exactly bothers us about a certain character. But we try. We do the best we can. And sometimes it's just crappy.


But that's our whole point. We write crappy reviews sometimes. Our blog isn't perfect. Neither are books. Or authors. Or the blogging community. But we're here every week, because of our love for literature, our desire to share something with others.

And hopefully you all feel the same way.

Remember, too, to always be respectful of those on this side of the blog. The screen is one dimensional, but we are real, breathing humans. We have feelings. Sometimes, what you say can hurt us. There are days we want to quit doing this. Before you click submit or hit the send button on your computer, take a second to think -- REALLY think -- about what you're saying and the impact it might have on some
one else.

30 comments:

  1. The two items that hit home with me the most are the privacy issue and the stealing. I often cringe when people share private email on twitter -- not just when that sharing is to criticize.

    The other thing is stealing. I'm not perfect, but I always try to give credit where credit is due. Sometimes it's really hard to come up an original idea, but it's always easy to mention the blog or blogger who gave you the idea for your own post.

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  2. More and more I have to remind myself that, #1, this is not my job. Thanks for helping me feel I'm not alone.

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  3. Ohhh, I want to shout #1 and #5 from the rooftops! Great post, STACKED Girls. :)

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  4. Terrific post as usual. It's so easy to start feeling like blogging is a job.

    And I just cannot believe how much garbage gets published.

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  5. I think good book bloggers deserve major respect. I certainly couldn't do what you do--I think it takes guts and grace to talk honestly about what you enjoy and especially about what you don't. It's a labor of love, plain and simple. And it blows my mind.

    As an author, I have this funny struggle going on in my head. Logically, I know that my book can't be for everyone, and that's okay. Heck, I know there are members of my own family that aren't going to like it. I understand that. It makes logical sense. But emotionally? I want everyone who reads it to think it's TOTALLY AWESOMESAUCE. It sounds so ridiculous, and I know it's impossible, but it's still true. But I think I'd rather have an in-depth critical review from somebody who really THOUGHT about my book--good and bad--than someone who blows smoke up my skirt for no good reason. The first has value--it can make me better; it can make me think; it can make my readers think, and aren't those all good things? The second? It just makes my skirt smoky.

    So there are a lot of us authors out there who really appreciate what you and all the other fabulous book bloggers out there do. But we generally don't speak up because then it looks like butt-kissery, and that's the last thing we want to do because then it looks like we're trying to sway you. And we appreciate you BECAUSE you're not swayed, so we don't want that! I think the whole crazy situation results in you hearing more from the people who are rat-in-a-coffee-can insane and less from those of us who really appreciate what you do (and who may or may not be rat-in-a-coffee-can insane). So I'm going to take a leap here and say thanks. Thanks for not being skirt-blower-uppers.

    Or, um, something like that.

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  6. @Carrie thank you so much for chiming in from the author end. What you say about knowing it's not for everyone is the same thought WE have in writing -- we know not everything is for everyone, which is precisely why in a critical and thoughtful review, we mention who the book WOULD work for. That is key to this.

    @Kathy When I have a rough day or post a review I don't feel is good enough (a couple in recent memory, even) I have to remind myself it's not my job. It's okay not to be perfect. The only standards are the ones I set myself. And the weeks where we post only one kind of thing, like only reviews, I have to remind myself that it's okay. It's not my job to be "on" all the time. I do it because I LIKE to do it.

    @Beth The privacy thing is huge for me. I think it's too easy to want to say something exciting or to want to highlight something ridiculous in full glory. But we can't. As much as it kills us, to maintain a good reputation, keeping your lips sealed is essential.

    @Abby & @Janssen Thanks ladies! :)

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  7. A WONDERFUL post! Agreed with all of the above. Well put!

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  8. I need to keep in mind #4 more often because sometimes I just don't feel motivated enough to write about a book that didn't work for me but yet just because it didn't work for me, there is always an audience out there.

    And #10 too. I was feeling the crappy writing just last night and I was really derogatory in my head about it but you know, sometimes crappy writing happens. I have to just go with that.

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  9. Excellent post, you lovely librarians! I've been feeling #10 at my own blog a lot lately, but #2 particularly hit home with me. I'm a full time writer who also blogs, so the jerks seem to come out of woodwork quite a bit from both sides. I've written about the need for reviewing more than just the good books before, and I've seen what happens when you don't do it. The dialogue about books shrinks, and readers suffer, sometimes without even realizing it. We need to keep talking about that.

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  10. Ah, love this post. I'm particularly partial to #10. So glad you articulated all of these so well!

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  11. This is a wonderful post! I've had my blog for a while (I started it to use in my lessons) and it's transformed since July of this summer. It's so fun meeting/interacting with other bloggers, connecting with authors and participating in challenges.

    Thank you for saying you write "crappy reviews." There are definitely times I rush to put a post together and am not always proud of it. And you're right about reading other blogs. I've read and subscribed to a lot of blogs, and while mine are sometimes similar, I also have my own spin on my reviews as a teacher.

    Thank you again for writing this! I hope more people read this (I'll be RTing it).

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  12. OH man, I could write a novel in response to this vision of awesomeness! But I'll refrain and only write a few paragraphs. ;)

    I know we've discussed this on Twitter a lot lately but the theft/credit of source issue is one that bears repeating over and over again. Not only is it unprofessional to poach another person's ideas without crediting them for inspiration but it's just downright yucky. I've never understood how people who clearly jump on the bandwagon don't realize that people actually see it happening. Particularly when it's not just one time but multiple times across multiple bloggers. I mean I get that it's nearly impossible to create 100% original content on a book blog these days, especially given the sheer quantity out there now, but still...give credit where credit is due.

    LOL on the "we know and we talk". It's very big brother! But again, I agree, the constant pimping of expertise can get old. Fast. Especially when a person is pimping expertise in everything.under.the.sun. I'm sorry, but no one is an expert in everything that comes across a discussion on a twitter feed.

    I have to say it seems like the blogosphere is getting better about review practices. Sure, there are some out there that get a bit more obnoxious than others thinking that they are being funny or what not but all in all I tend to see reviews that are more reserved in their criticism while still being honest. Respect is the name of the game as much as possible. Like you've said just because the reviewer doesn't like the book doesn't mean others won't.

    Anyway, before I get much more long winded just wanted to say. I AGREE! :)

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  13. Loved your post! You said a lot of the things I've been thinking - especially the bloggers out there who make you jump through hoops to follow them just for giveaways - and then make you tally up all your entries. Drives me batty!

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  14. Great post! Enjoyed the read. I agree blogging is a labor of love, not my job. I started in August and have grown each month, we are all at different blogging stages and have our own opinions about how to "run" our blogs. I have things planned for 2011 I never would have thought to do when I first started. I especially enjoy the support the majority of the blogging community provides each other. Blogs should reflect the blogger, just like a book. :D

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  15. Laughed out loud at #5! Just started my blog a little while ago and my most dedicated reader is my Mum. She just emailed me about a typo today.

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  16. These are all the reasons why I'm always reading your blog! :) I agree with most everything you've said!

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  17. Thank you for sharing this! This is a book bloggers bible!

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  18. For #9... CAN I GET A WITNESS?

    I like to enter contests. I don't like it when blogs want me to jump through a lot of hoops to do it. "Follow me, tweet in 9 places, post on Facebook, link to my blog..." blah blah. It's not worth it! Give me a nice, simple entry, and if I don't win, oh well, no biggie!

    I came here--I can't even remember how I found your blog. Maybe through a contest link. Heehee. But I liked what I read here. Nice reviews, reviews with substance. Yours is one of the blogs I will ALWAYS read no matter how little time I have, because I like what you have to say and I like the way your review books. You're right. True followers will come and they will stick around, regardless of if you have giveaways. Truth be told--a lot of blogs I started following to gain a contest entry I recently deleted because I realized I never actually read their posts. I just followed to get the entry (and I didn't win anyway).

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  19. I have to chime in again now that I'm a little more awake because #10 really hits home with me, too. I love it when I write an eloquent, creative, unique review. But far too often I don't do that... and part of me wishes to spend more time on writing amazingly creative reviews... but a bigger part of me wants to, y'know, sleep and shower and stuff. And there's also this pressure with all the books I'm sent to reviewreviewreview, so sometimes I do value quantity over quality just because I feel like I have to, in order to keep up.

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  20. Great list - I can feel the flow of inspiration that prompted you to write this list.

    I'm sharing your link/post on Twitter, really really good.

    Read Aloud Dad

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  21. Yes, yes, yes, ALL OF THIS is SO true!

    Especially the this is not our job one. And the engagment one. And the self-promotion. Well, basically all of it.

    If you aren't in this for passion or love of books, GTFO.

    Fabulous post :-)

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  22. I shared this on my blog. I read it this morning and have been thinking about it all day. Thanks for sharing this. I am a little confused about what people are stealing. Are people taking other people's reviews or meme? (Pardon me, I'm rather new at this).

    http://textnjava.blogspot.com/2010/12/off-we-go.html

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  23. This is a beautiful post with a great amount of sound advice. May I link to it in my Thursday News Roundup?

    -Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

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  24. Oh I love this post!! I was nodding my head along the entire time. This is everything I want to say to bloggers-new and old. This isn't my job, I do it for fun and sometimes it takes a back seat because it has to. I didn't gain a huge following overnight and I HATE when people force following-I want to know people follow my blog because they want to not because they wanted a prize. Ugh-that drives me crazy and I hate seeing new bloggers have hundreds of followers and all they post are reviews that aren't that thought out (and not very often), memes and contests galore.

    I also love that you said 2-3 months is good time for reviewing. I read terribly slow (at least I feel like I do) and I have a full time job, grad school, two commitees and a husband and dogs on top of blogging-so sometimes reading and blogging just doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

    And I also love that you address that blogs are our opinions and sometimes we won't like a book! That just happens and it's OK!

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  25. I think this might be my first time here...but you've gained a new follower! Thanks for this eloquent post.

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  26. @Lenore: THANKS! you're a bit of a legend so i'm flattered!

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