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5 Things I’ve Learned About Book Blogging

So I’ve been at this for nearly 15 months now, and I’m still enjoying it as much as the day I started.

If you didn’t know (and why would you?)  this is my third attempt at a blog. The first was a rambling personal blog that I didn’t promote and really didn’t care to. The second one was a golf blog that I updated 1-2 times a week and, at least for awhile, felt like I got into a flow of niche blogging.

But I’ve never enjoyed blogging like I do now. I don’t think you can write posts 5 days a week unless you enjoy doing it. If you’re not having fun, you’ll burn out and begin dreading sitting down at the computer. Believe me, I know.

But even though the blog is just part of this project–the other, of course, is reading 101 books–I feel the blog is almost more fun, just barely, than reading the books.

And along the way, I’ve learned a lot about blogging–and, more specifically, book blogging. This isn’t life-changing stuff you’ve never heard. But experience really is the greatest teacher, and this experience has taught me a lot.

1) Don’t take yourself too seriously. Something about reading makes us want to poke our noses in the air and talk like we are an English butler in the 19th century. But then we just come off as pretentious jerks. And nobody likes pretentious jerks.

Unless you’re writing a blog geared toward college professors and academia, then loosen up your shirt collar and have fun. If you can throw in a fart joke while you’re talking about William Faulkner, well, you have found the key to successful book blogging, my friend.

2) Be honest. There’s a great temptation when you write about books to act like you know everything: Yes, yes, of course I knew that the pimples on Hal Incandenza’s forehead represented the staggering growth of mankind during the Baby Boomer generation. I absolutely knew that. No, I didn’t.

And, just to be clear, I totally made that up. The point is: Sometimes I feel like I need to know every symbol, metaphor, theme and plot device before I talk about these books. I don’t. I learn as I go. And, many times, I probably never pick certain things up. But this isn’t a blog about literary critiques. I have no plans to make it one because I would suck at that.

3) Be consistent. I can’t stress this enough. When I first started this blog, I thought there was no way I could come up with more than 1-2 posts a week. Outside of simple reviews, what could I possibly talk about?

But it’s amazing how I just found stuff to write about once I began writing every day: books turned into movies, the writing styles of authors, cool facts about these books, passages that impacted me, and so on. As long as I keep reading, the blog material is always there. And we all know that the more you post, the more traffic you can expect over time.

4) Be willing to adapt. Not long after my first Freshly Pressed feature, I sat down with my friend and blogging pro Jon Acuff. We chatted about the blog and brainstormed some content ideas. At the time, I thought I should make each post somehow related to the list of books.

But he pointed out, by doing that, I would be working within a narrow framework of posts. So, from there, I decided to branch out from just talking about the list and also focus on reading and books in general. When I could tie those posts back to a book on the list, that would be even better. So that’s what I’ve done. The moral of the story–adapt. Stick to a theme, but be willing to maneuver within that theme as your blog evolves.

"Your blog killed me!" says Picasso. (Source: oddsock/Flickr)

5) Know your audience. A few weeks ago, a new commenter on the blog said 101 Books was “the death of art and meaning.” Now that’s a lot to put on a little old book blog, isn’t it? If I could single-handedly kill art and meaning with a book blog, imagine what other powers I might have!

Anyway, he went on to say that my reviews were unoriginal, lacking in insight, and passionless. Sure, his comments bothered me at first, but then I realized he just simply reaffirmed the purpose of this blog. 101 Books isn’t about boring, academic reviews for professors with doctorates in literature studies. I have no interest in that, and I figured out early on that neither do you.

So I approach the blog as just a normal guy who loves reading, who wants to read a crapload of books, and who wants to let you guys know whether these  books are worth your time. You guys seem to feel the same way, so it’s a good fit. If you’re looking for haughty, academic reviews, you’ve come to the wrong place.

That’s all I got for now. But I’m sure you have other ideas.

If you’re a book blogger, or just a blogger in general, what is one piece of advice you would pass on?

(Photo: Michael Graf/Flickr)

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54 Comments Post a comment
  1. I would highly recommend honesty and also reading and reviewing books you are genuinely interested in.

    I started out strong while blogging about books, but in between I got tempted by free books that publishers were offering me. The end result: I didn’t really enjoy most of these books, my reviews were lifeless, and I sort of stopped enjoying reading.

    It helped me to understand that saying no to publishers is okay, and that just because I don’t read the latest published books doesn’t mean that my blog has no value to readers.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • I would agree. At this point, I’m obviously not reviewing new books, but I can see how that would be a temptation and cause you to burn out if you’re reviewing everything a publisher sends you.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  2. Thanks for the wisdom. We all learned to write book reports in grade school and theme-based essays and theses as we got older. What you do in your blog is harder than that. You have a consistent style and voice that produces fun-to-read and engaging blogs on books. I’m still working on loosening up my writing and finding my blogging voice. I find that it’s much easier (but less interesting) to write a plot summary than to create a review of my take on it.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • Thanks Teresa. I’m with you on the plot thing. It’s easier to just write about the plot, but most people just want a quick sense of the plot and are more interested in the other stuff.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  3. Best advice is what you’ve said in number one. Be yourself, be honest. Great post!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  4. “So I approach the blog as just a normal guy who loves reading, who wants to read a crapload of books, and who wants to let you guys know whether these books are worth your time.”

    You hit the nail on the head with this post. (see…I’m not even averse to cliche)
    I have what I consider a book review blog but what really amounts to a recommendation blog, six months old. I also throw in a bit of book news when I find it, some interesting thing about my life when it happens or a recipe when I get desperate for content. I never suggest that there is literary criticism only opinion. I’d like more comments and discussion but hopefully that will come with time. Those who read it are those who value what the content has to say or reading the same kind of books that I read.. I pay no attention to Negative Nellies. They can go elsewhere and get what they need.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • Absolutely!

      And funny you should bring up cliches–posting about that on Monday.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  5. You’re right about your audience, as far as this girl is concerned. If I wanted in-depth literary information, I could find that elsewhere. I’m just a normal girl reading books because I want to. What I want is a review by a normal person to give me an idea of whether it’s worth my time or not. So far, I’ve picked up some really great books that I might not have ever read otherwise. And I’ve also put down a few (The Corrections) because I just didn’t feel like I would change my mind about it, based on your review. In short – keep doing what you’re doing!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  6. Couldn’t agree more about ‘not getting everything.’ I debated with myself when writing my review of ‘The Sun Also Rises’ on whether or not I should tell people I didn’t realize the protaganist was impotent. I felt honesty was the best approach.

    As for commenters, I had one person say it was “sad’ that I was reading books from a list, and not what I ‘wanted’ to read. I guess in a way, I’ve also killed art!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  7. I really enjoyed this! Especially that last one about know your audience because you’re right – if this was a stuffy academic blog I wouldn’t be here. Not because I don’t enjoy pulling on my stuffy academic pants every now and then, but because books are fun, books are friends, and coming to your blog is like running into a stranger at Starbucks, striking up a conversion, and realizing that you know a lot of the same people.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  8. First I’ll say that I really like reading your blog because you are a normal person. I didn’t major in English, I don’t know anything about literary devices or whatever, and I read for fun. I don’t feel stupid when I read your blog, I just feel inspired to find new books to read.

    I’m not a super successful blogger (yet… bwaahahaha) but I absolutely agree with the honesty part. I’ve had friends tell me to get drunk and just write and see what happens. I’m not quite there yet. But no one wants to read fake. We want to see who people are.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  9. Very good advice. I haven’t been on this site very long, but I really enjoy your blog. I love books which is how I found you to start with, but your style and charm is what keeps me coming back. And now that I’ve fueled your ego a little – go enjoy the weekend.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • Thanks for the compliments.

      Glad you are enjoying the blog and hope you’ll stick around.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  10. Be your true self as a blogger as well as honest. I have discovered in the last month or so that your readers look forward to consistency, so important to know your readers and what they like and do not like.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  11. I think for me the challenge in finding my voice was that I wanted to remain professional, but at the same time not censor myself if I wanted to say that a specific author is a racist dick (H. P. Lovecraft, I mean you!). I’ve done my best to find a middle ground that allows me to do both. I do also sometimes add in some discussion of themes, as I’ve noticed based on search terms that there’s a niche of readers who find my blog while looking for help with their Russian lit classes.

    Honesty is also a big one, especially if you accept a book from publishers. Readers need to know that you aren’t just there to provide free marketing. 😛

    Like

    November 18, 2011
  12. I love your blog and love your insights. I’m in the rambly personal blog arena. Sometimes I get more focused than others. Your blog inspires me more than you’d think! I’m always impressed with your creative content and your tiebacks especially.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • I’m definitely not saying all personal blogs are rambling, but mine was.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  13. First–love your reviews and have been meaning to ask where/how you came up with the format. Can I say it sucks when people who don’t have positive or valuable things to say some how slip through the cracks and comment? (If not feel free to delete). I think you’re right about being willing to adapt–I recently took a break because I was having an indentity crisis and the time spent away was exactly what I need to figure out what I was doing wrong (and right). It was interesting to learn that you’ve blogged before. As alway, Robert, great post!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • The format has just evolved. You can read about how I came up with the idea in my first post. From there, it’s just been a bit of learning on the fly and seeing what works. As a general rule, I always try to have 2-3 posts a week about the current book I’m reading, and let the other books be about books or writing in general. I try and save posts that I think will be “stronger” for Fridays since they’ll be staying up all weekend.

      It’s interesting how the further I’ve gone with this, the easier it’s been to come up with content. I think my brain just adjusts and starts filtering everything through the blog lens.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  14. homec #

    The reason I am hooked on your blog is for the reasons you listed. I love that the books being reviewed are not exactly beach reads but your reviews of them make them seem more accessible. While a book may seem daunting at first, knowing you read it and are not an “acedemic” so to speak, makes it seem doable. But your reviews are not dumbed down either, they are just fresh and honest. If it book was hard to get through, you say so and it’s ok. Also, your love of books and reading comes through.
    Just finished Never Let Me Go and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts! I absolutely loved it. I’m undecided now if I want to read Remains of the Day or another book off the list.

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • I think I’ll have a good review. Don’t know how it ends yet, but getting close! And thanks for the compliments.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
    • Read Remains of the Day! You’ll love that one too.

      Like

      November 21, 2011
  15. I think you’ve done really well for only 15 months and have obviously found something which has engaged with a lot of people. It’s great that you have a theme and purpose for the blog, but can be flexible too. Reviewing books for a blog has made me give more time to consider the books I read – before I would just put one down and move on to the next. But by the same token I’ve started to look at what other people think of the books I read & sometimes wonder if they really were reading the same one as me. Ah the rich tapestry of life!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • I’m with you. Sometimes I wonder if people say they like certain books simply because everyone else likes them, or that they’re “supposed” to like them.

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  16. While we should never be a slave for too long to reading things we don’t enjoy, the value in your blog and your task is taking on books you would never have otherwise read. Your posts about Never Let me Go attest to this. Much as books like Margaret haven’t done it for you, maybe you gain something by reading the odd book you’re not ecstatic about, too.

    The only piece of advice I have is to respect yourself and the potential diversity of your readers, which you’ve managed to do very well for the size of your audience!

    Like

    November 18, 2011
    • It’s definitely difficult sometimes when I read a book that I really don’t like, because I know there are people who read the blog that will like it. So I try to be honest without being offensive to people who like the book. In the end, it’s all opinion anyway so might as well have fun with it!

      Like

      November 18, 2011
  17. Siuon #

    I love your reviews which are very direct and concise and come with no jargon . Unlike reviews written by scholars which sometimes are too authoritative, your reviews provoke thoughts and discussions.

    By the way, I am definitely on your side if you play 100 greatest video games of all time after the 101-books project.

    Like

    November 19, 2011
    • Haha. The video game thing is doubtful, mostly a joke. I would have to buy all kinds of consoles and games…much more expensive than books. But it sure does sound fun.

      Like

      November 19, 2011
  18. Rula Mazigi #

    Yes, yours seems to be a genuine love of reading and writing. It’s the only true way to engage the Law of Attraction which you are doing (without doing) so well. The proof is in the pudding.

    Like

    November 19, 2011
  19. Your blog is one of the most enjoyable out off all those that I read on a daily basis. Because of the way your blog is “structured,” you will get far more people interested in reading than ol’ Mr. Boring McStuffypants will. Keep on keepin’ on!

    Like

    November 19, 2011
    • Thanks Heather. Always appreciate you reading the blog. Love your blog too!

      Like

      November 19, 2011
  20. pdshah429 #

    You inspired me to start my own book blog! Reading your blog was comforting to know that an average person like me could bring something thoughtful to the table, and, if nothing else, I get to have a nice little compendium of the books that I’ve loved and hated through the years! Just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration and keep on keepin on!

    Like

    November 19, 2011
    • That’s awesome! Glad I’ve provided some inspiration, and keep at it.

      Thanks for reading the blog.

      Like

      November 19, 2011
  21. Great insight! I’ve been blogging for nearly a year and a half now, and at a year I had to step back and reevaluate. I had a classics feature, but my reviews are more young adult geared. So, as much as I love the classics, I had to move on.
    I will definitely keep these points in mind – they are very helpful to have on tab. 🙂

    I totally enjoy reading your blog – and my dad, who is NOT a book blog reader, always asks me if I’ve read your most recent posts. Keep up the good work! 😀

    Like

    November 21, 2011
    • That’s great. Thanks for the compliments from you and your dad!

      Like

      November 22, 2011
  22. Pi. #

    I really like to read your blog. Your reviews are clear and insightful and help me decide which book I would like to read next. Unfortunately, some books are quite difficult to find in my language (Portuguese) and I have to choose between reading them in English or wait for a new edition.

    My blog is quite recent and I’m still trying to find my away around it. In order to keep me on track I’m constantly asking myself if my blog is a blog that I would like to read. So if you ask me for an advice I would say: make sure you like your blog, that you would follow it, feel curious about the next posts and be interested in the old ones if the blog belonged to someone else.

    Like

    November 22, 2011
  23. Reblogged this on Revele aquí su rollo and commented:
    A post worth reading by bloggers of all levels.

    Like

    November 22, 2011
  24. Reblogged this on funengtime and commented:
    I started to make a blog because i had to, it was a part of my task, in creating my blog I learn something new that I don’t know before. until now I am still trying to explore how to make an eye catching, creative,educative and informative blog…

    Like

    November 26, 2011
  25. Dean #

    Was just cruising around the blog and read this today. Excellent advice. When I was writing for newspapers I had a deadline, but on my blog I do as I please. You have reminded me of the importance of consistency.

    Writing for a sports site helped me realize that not every article had to be spiritual or political or serious. So my advice is something you already do, and that is to write from the heart. I pity the heart that is always in deep thought about deep things, and even in my own reading I find that variation is more enjoyable. I think the word would be “balance”, and that is something I strive for in my life as well as in my writing.

    I also like the way you make room for the variables in those who read your words. We are all wired differently, and we have different perspectives that have been shaped by a lot of different things. Accepting that, and respecting those who differ, helps us grow as writers, and as people.

    Like

    February 3, 2012
    • Thanks Dean. I especially try and be conscious about that last point, trying to keep a balance between sharing my views on a book or subject without alienating those who have other views. Sometimes that requires a little editing….

      Like

      February 3, 2012
  26. Great list. Thanks for posting.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  27. Great insights. There’s a lot to learn when blogging about books…the need to know everything, the tone of writing (academic/colloquial), the audience…it’s a learning curve that never really ends. You’re right, the more you do it, the stronger your voice and focus becomes.

    Like

    June 8, 2012
  28. Rex #

    “Anyway, he went on to say that my reviews were unoriginal, lacking in insight, and passionless. ”

    I guess such uptight jackasses would do well if they first and foremost knew the real difference between a blog a peer-reviewed journal!

    Great blog and keep it up 🙂

    Like

    September 11, 2013
    • Preach it Rex! Thanks for the comment.

      Like

      September 11, 2013
  29. readitandweep #

    Brilliant advice.

    Like

    June 27, 2014
  30. good post.. I also learnt a lot from your nice writing,,, I am a amateur book review writer and I think your post will guide me through

    Like

    December 13, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The First 40: A Look Back | 101 Books
  2. Repost: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Book Blogging | 101 Books
  3. What Does My Process Look Like? | 101 Books
  4. 101 Books Mailbag #1 | 101 Books
  5. 5 Things Your Mom Didn’t Tell You About Book Blogging | 101 Books
  6. My Most Popular Posts, Broken Down By Category | 101 Books

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