I was thinking back over my first year as a blogger, reflecting on how much I've learned and how much I didn't know when I first started. It's a long list. Instead of doing a Top 10 Tuesday list today, I've decided to list just a few things that I wish someone would have told me as a newbie blogger.
* Generic backgrounds do you no favors.
When I first started blogging, I used the generic Blogger bookshelf background. It's free, it's easy, it features books. What a win, right? Wrong. Having a generic background says that you're a) a newbie, b) technologically incompetent, c) lazy, and/or d) unprofessional. I'm not saying that you should rush out and pay for a snazzy custom design, but a little bit of digging around the 'net will uncover several quality design sites that offer free backgrounds.
* Plan ahead!
As I've mentioned before, I didn't start legitimately planning out my blog posts until last November. Between both of my jobs, holiday madness, and my volunteer work as the director's assistant at a local play, I needed to streamline my process. Before, I would sit down the weekend before and pound out all my posts for the week. A meme or two here, a discussion post there, and one review as the cherry on top. But I was figuring everything out literally in 24 to 48 hours. That wouldn't fly any longer, so I started mapping out my week ahead of time in iCalendar.
I still write my posts the week before, but I'm able to plan further and further ahead now. If I need to go on vacation, I can write and schedule EVERYTHING in advance. It also helps me visualize my meme-to-original-post balance. (I'm still working on that particular thorn in my side.) For reference, here's a screenshot of my iCalendar plan for December.
|Click to enlarge|
Random, startling drama aside, the book blogging community is freaking awesome. Out in the wilds of the internet are hundreds - nay, thousands - of readers who want to squeal over books with you. By socializing through Twitter, Goodreads, and other places, you'll make some great new friends. Socializing can also double as networking, though it's best if networking comes around as a bonus rather than the main intent. The more people you talk to and genuinely befriend, the better chance you have at someone actually caring about what you write. And those people tend to write some pretty cool things themselves.
* It's okay to review a book you don't like.
It's hard, I know. It can also be really scary to review books you don't like. After all the author drama last year, every negative review feels like a land mine waiting to go off. I understand. However, you have the right to say what you think about a book. Your blog doesn't have to be sunshine and roses. If a book is bad, say so. You're a consumer advocate. Don't be rude. Don't be unnecessarily vicious. But speak your mind. It will be okay. (Also, as a bonus, negative reviews seem to garner unusually high traffic. I don't know why.)
* CAPTCHA is evil.
Evil, I tell you! Eeeeeeviiiiiiiiil. I know you're a newbie and freaked out about spam, but Wordpress and Blogger have fairly decent built-in spam detectors. You won't be inundated with poorly written invitations for dating sites, I promise. CAPTCHA, on the other hand, keeps out as many legitimate commenters as spammers. I hate trying to jump through the CAPTCHA hoops, and I know several people who flat-out refuse to try. Don't hate your readers. Get rid of CAPTCHA.
* Take notes while reading.
Right, right, mind like a steel trap. You can remember every book you've ever read if given enough time. Got it. But you know what you can't remember? Character names. You suck at remembering who was who after finishing a book. Also, it's best to record personal reactions to scenes and motifs in real-time so that they translate well into a review later. Suck it up. Take notes.
* Authors are nice.
Authors are so, so nice. I know in your mind they're like intelligent rockstars, but seriously, chat with them on Twitter. A surprising number of them are devoted Doctor Who fans, and all of them are genuinely fun people. Be polite, don't infringe upon their time, and find common ground. The authors don't bite, I promise.
* Pictures. Pictures are good.
Even the best, cleverest post will lose a reader if it's boring. Long, unbroken paragraphs + boring. Add some visual interest. Even a simple stock photo will help break up the monotony. Pictures in a blog are like way stations on a trip. They give the eyes a chance to stretch their figurative legs. Also, GIFs are super-funny.
* Don't be greedy.
I know everything is new and shiny and lovely, but don't ask for all the things. Not only do you not have time for everything, but you probably won't get even a fraction of what you ask for, you'll be branded as a nuisance, and you may not even like what you do receive. Be selective when approached by self-published authors. It'll save you loads of later guilt when you DNF their books. Also, as hard as it is to watch everyone else get all the new shinies, it's better to build your blog before asking for things. You deserve nothing. You are owed nothing.
[Note: This is one I'm still working on. I've been lusting after one particular ARC since October and found myself pouting today when yet another person squealed over finding it in their mailbox. Sigh. I deserve nothing. I am owed nothing. I deserve nothing. I am owed nothing.]
* It never hurts to ask.
The flip side of the last point is you never know what you'll get if you follow directions, show some respect, and ask politely.
If only I'd known then what I know now. What tips do you wish you had known when you'd first started blogging?