Things I have learned in 16 months of book blogging.
I was cruising though some old blogging dramz–I admit it, I’m a bit of a voyeur when it comes to internet drama–and I started thinking about things that I’ve learned this past year-plus while writing this blog. I’d been a blogger before this, but nothing like IB; it was my own personal blog where, besides a couple of hits on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed, I got almost no attention and, in truth, preferred it that way when I was writing over there. (If you follow this blog at all, you know I don’t shy away from controversial topics and opinions. Multiply that by a factor of 1000 and narrow the content down to the most controversial topics only; that’s kind of what my personal blog was like.) I’m always looking for ways to improve this blog, and seeing some of the decisions made by other bloggers got me to thinking about decisions that I’ve made. Some of them have been good, some pretty dang good, some ill-advised, some verging on disaster.
I decided to write about them. So here they are.
Book blogging is both a lot of fun and a lot of fucking work. Satisfying work, to be sure, but a lot of work–well, if you do it properly. There’s the reading, there’s the writing, there’s the editing, there’s the social media, there’s the tweaking of blog design, there’s the coordination of contributors if you have ’em, the reading of comments, responding to comments, the occasional troll-busting. I love it and I wouldn’t change it (well, maybe the trolls), but dang, it is not for the lazy.
You meet a lot of freaking awesome people. You guys. I cannot even begin to tell you how you have enriched my life this past year. Not just my co-bloggers, but my commenters, my Twitter friends, my Facebook peeps. I love talking to you all–even the people I get into minor scuffles with over my (rather strong) opinions. You’re my reading family now. It’s the best thing.
Like attracts like; you set the tone for your community. I sometimes marvel at the fact that we get some of the BEST comments here. I’ve seen other fora devolve into what amounts to internet poo-flinging, but we so rarely have troubles here that I was actually kind of shocked when an honest-to-stars TROLL appeared the other day. I had not had to bust out the troll banner in a year. I can only figure that it comes from us setting the tone early on. We’ve always had a no-nonsense troll and harassment policy, but we also try to respect our commenters and their opinions, and make arguments like adults without getting into poo-flinging territory. Even if we disagree, we can always hug it out at the end.
I can imagine that if we had acted terribly, all of our amazing commenters would have gone away and we’d be left with nothing but shit-smears of humanity. Or nothing at all. I’m sure I’m oversimplifying, but I do know that part of having a good atmosphere is treating others as you’d want to be treated. I hope I’ve always been good to y’all, and I hope I’ve said I’m sorry otherwise.
Speaking of “I’m sorry,” I’m glad that’s a phrase I don’t have a problem saying. I’ve made some major boo-boos. I have. I mean, I guess we all have at some point or another. I hurt a couple of people’s feelings, and I have to tell you, I hate that. I’m glad I was able to reach out and try to make amends–I’ll never understand, in fact, people who will never admit they were wrong about something. (That’s funny coming from me, as I’ll hold onto an argument far past the point of prudence, unless someone proves me wrong.) The best thing you can do when you fuck up is admit that you fucked up, not just for the other person but also for yourself: that’s a wound that will fester until you make it right.
Unless you’re a sociopath, in which case, um, I’m sorry about your affliction, I guess.
When you write about people on your blog, they can see you and might actually click over to read it. This should be a no-brainer, but some people, you don’t expect to visit your blog. I didn’t expect Curt Matthews from IPG to visit this post, for example. You know, the one where I kind of made it my life’s mission to destroy his math. At the time, I considered myself a Righteous Defender of Truth and didn’t mind that we locked horns; while I still stand by what I wrote as far as my math and my ideas, I also wonder if, perhaps, I could have opened a conversation there instead of totally alienating Mr. Matthews. Food for thought.
If you stress about stats, followers, numbers of comments, and whatever, you will go out of your fucking mind. Early on, I stressed about all of this stuff. Someone unfollowed me on Twitter?? Oh no!! Why?? What did I do wrong?? Am I tweeting too much in the morning? Oh em gee, my traffic dipped, I better write another post ASAP!
This? Gets very tiring. And very stressful. So I just stopped. Yeah, I still keep half an eye on my stats–more to see what is going over well, and what’s not, so I can keep the blog content up to standard–and yeah, I keep .. maybe a quarter of an eye on my Twitter count, as it sometimes alerts me to awesome stuff like this:
Just Followed @thebooksluts. (Girls just want to read fun?)
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2012
(Yes, I’m still pretty squee over that.)
Otherwise, I’ve decided to just keep cranking out the best content that I can, do some moderate sharing, and just talk to people without looking at the stats too hard. It seems to be working okay.
If you do good work, you will get people style-biting you. Suck it up. I’ve had more than one person (and this is a touchy subject if some of you remember that fateful Reading Rage Tuesday that’s now private–so I’ll just say, I’m NOT including that person in this list) try to copy my writing style. Not in a mean way, but in a.. “hey, I really like what you do so, I’m going to totally try to do that too because it speaks to me!” kind of way. I’ve had friends lift entire sections of my blog content and slightly re-word it into their “own” words. And it bothers me, despite being also somewhat flattering.
One time, it bothered me so damn much that I made an issue of it right here on this blog, and that was a huge mistake. I hurt the woman’s feelings and, even though I still think there were some fishy things going on, I needn’t have done that. (That was one of those public apology times.) Unless someone is straight up plagiarizing, I will never, ever make an issue of style-biting again. Mostly those people go on to find their own rhythms and styles, anyway, as they write more. It’s just way too much stress for something that, at its root, happens because someone really loves what you do–also bearing in mind that many might try to imitate, but nobody can replicate.
Save the drama for your mama. Or your llama, if she won’t eat the ham. I often post about controversial subjects here, but I try my best not to directly go after people or make it personal to me (anymore). I’ll comment on people, yeah, but I won’t spout off about how so-and-so is a waste of space or this or that author should just go die in a fire. Drama is the most tiring, you guys. I have a double-edged bitch tongue when I choose to use it, but more and more, I don’t want to go full-throttle bitch on someone. Not because they don’t
deserve it bring it on themselves act badly, just because I don’t want to deal with it.
Having a sense of humor is all kinds of win. When I do get into the occasional scuffle, or make a mistake, or am just having a down period where I don’t feel like being involved with the world–much less writing, dear lord–being able to diffuse it with humor makes everyone happy again. Also, use kittens.
When your content starts to get stale, shake it up. I stopped doing the reading rages regularly not too long ago. They’ll still show up, but doing one every week was starting to bring me down because I was 1) running out of things to write about, 2) spending a lot of time being negative and a little bitchy because, ranting, and 3) not being very funny anymore, which is what was good about those posts in the first place. Putting those posts aside for awhile has been liberating for my creativity.
Try to be positive, for yourself and those around you. There was a time period where it seemed like all of my friends were going through the worst suck in the history of suck, for various reasons. I love all of my friends, but we were, honestly, bringing each other down, I think. I wish I had been more encouraging instead of adding to the gloom. I wish I would have spent more time trying to make them smile. That translates to blogging, too–I’d like to spend more time trying to make people laugh than being negative and bringing them down, or getting embroiled in DRAMZ.
You can write a critical review and still be okay with both author and publisher. Some people are terribly afraid of writing critical reviews, especially after all of the STGRB stuff. (If you don’t know what that is, you’re better off.) All it takes is writing reviews fairly and thoughtfully, which is why you’ll see far more snark in my non-review posts that in my review posts. I don’t consider it fair in this venue, where we review current small press lit, to snark all over an author’s book when they’re just trying to create something. That helps me maintain positive relationships even when I can’t give their book four or five stars. (Their behavior, however, I will snark the hell out of if the behavior merits a good snarking. GAH I AM USING THE WORD SNARK TOO MUCH SOMEONE STOP ME)
When people ask what you do, and you tell them you’re a blogger (and otherwise unemployed), you get looks of pity from people who have real jobs. “Oh,” they say. “Well, that’s.. that’s great!” I’m learning to deal with it. Sort of.
You’re going to be a little aghast when you find out your memaw has read your blog. Maybe you won’t be aghast, but I sure was. My grandfather was a pastor, and my whole family on that side is Southern Baptist. Yeah. You’ve read this blog, so, I know you can connect the dots. I found this out over Thanksgiving; my mom said, rather diplomatically, “Well, some of the language is a little salty.” My mom is cool.
Week-long blog events are too damn long. Nobody has said anything to me complaining about blog events, but like I said, I keep half an eye on my stats. They start flagging after a few days. I promise I’m going to space out timing better for future events.
People aren’t as into book reviews as non-review posts. I mean, people read the reviews, but not as much as the non-review posts. It baffled me in the beginning, but I’m cool with that now (say sorry, publisher friends–please do know that it’s not just my blog that experiences this phenomenon). I don’t like cranking out review after review; I like to let books marinate a bit before I write about them, plus, when we do post a review, it stands out more if we don’t post a whole bunch in a row. I try to bring books to the table that I am really excited about more often than not.
I’m working on ways to make that format a little friendlier, so stay tuned, book fans. If you have any suggestions as to what would make you more likely to tune into a book review, or a format that would help you navigate them better, drop them in the comments pretty-please. I want to know what makes you feel all tingly when you visit a review blog.
There’s no money in blogging. I already knew that going in, but you know, you always hope that there might be some money there. Not because I’m greedy, but because I’m broke and because I do work pretty hard. Adding a bunch of commercial stuff to this blog has always, always felt wrong to me, though. Indie author ads are one thing, and things that I’ve designed are one thing; they help keep my hosting and domain expenses paid (and sponsor some giveaways) and that’s nice. I’ve been offered spots in some click-through programs, though, and nu-uh, I don’t like it. That puts the onus of my blog’s profitability on my readers, not to mention, I can’t control the content or quality of the ads if I’m not choosing them. I don’t find that practice inherently wrong, but to me, it’s unacceptable for this space.
Also, fuck people who sell reviews. Fuck ’em right in the nose.
I write way more words than I probably should. This post is already about four times the length that is “recommended” by people who know about such things. I’m naturally loquacious. (That’s a fancy word that means I like to run my mouth–but you guys already knew that.)
Tell me, you guys–what about you? Do you have a book blog, and has it given you any insight? Or do you think I’m full of baloney? (And why the hell do we say “baloney” instead of “bologna”? And why does American bologna suck so hard? I even hated it when I was a kid.) Also, does anybody have a good cure for hiccups? I has them. Leave it all in the comments below!