Thoughts for a beginning biblio-blogger

A brilliant young librarian of my acquaintance is considering taking up biblioblogging (by which I mean blogging about books, not necessarily blogging about The Book, which is how many of my Bible Scholar friends use that term), which would be a swell thing. She did not ask for advice, but that is not going to keep me from dispensing it (free, and worth every penny).

I suggest this more for the convenience of linking than for the minuscule kickback you're eligible for if anyone buys from a link through your site -- I've earned a whopping 4 cents in three years of having an account, since even I forget to click through my own link onto Amazon's site when making purchases. The nifty little Amazon Associate banner on the top of your Amazon page makes it super easy to stick a link and cover shot of whatever book you want to discuss in your posts, and rumor has it that Blogger's rolling out integration options that I don't understand yet.

Turn On Comment Moderation

When you're just starting out blogging, it can be a little scary to open yourself up for comments, particularly if you really just want to camp out in your own little corner of the internet, but are fully aware that anyone and everyone could read your blog and have an opinion about it. But if you turn off comments altogether, you miss out on a lot of the fun of blogging. Comment moderation is a kind of middle ground -- you get e-mails about each comment that comes through, and you can decide on a case-by-case basis whether you want to let them be published or not. Once you get used to the normal flow of comment traffic, you may decide you're comfortable opening up the comment stream a little more. (You can always go back and delete comments you don't like, at any time, for any reason. It's your blog, so don't feel bad about practicing all the censorship you want.)

Unless you blog about something particularly controversial and get picked up by people who have Google Alerts set for all their pet issues, or actively cultivate commenters by going around and commenting on other blogger's sites, your comment traffic is liable to stay quite light. My experience has been that the overwhelming majority of my comments have been from people I know personally, very few comments have been critical, and none have been nasty (knock wood). So don't be shy about inviting conversation with your readers through the comment section.

Organize Your Book List on a Third-Party Site

I'm kind of overwhelmed with the variety of book-centric sites out there, and haven't figured out how to make the best use of them, so please don't take my practice as a model to follow, but as a starting point to consider your options. If your blog is going to concentrate principally on books, it's nice to have a sidebar summarizing your reading -- current, recent, and/or anticipated. You can code this yourself fairly easily, or you can use a widget provided by a third-party site, which may be easier to keep up to date.

I love LibraryThing, which I use to keep track of the books I actually own. (I own enough books that it has been a huge help more than once to be able to look up on my computer whether I own a particular book before scouring my library to find it.) I use GoodReads to keep track of the books I read and want to read, which is a list that only incidentally overlaps with the books I own. I'm not wild about the GoodReads interface, though, so I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with it or find something new. Either of these (and many more, I'm sure) could be easily linked to a blog for a richer display of book information.

Just Post It

I find the book review to be a particularly challenging form of writing -- if I have nothing critical to say, I feel like it's not worth saying anything, but if I do have something critical to say, I fear that I'm being mean, or that I'm being unfair, e.g. criticizing the book for not being the book I want it to be, rather than accepting it as the book it is. I feel like a review should give proportional treatment to the major subjects of the book, but it shouldn't get bogged down rehashing the book's contents, but it should provide enough of a summary to be meaningful to someone who hasn't read the book ... So often, I finish reading a book, think that I have something to say about the book, but then I so overthink the task of responding to the book that I never get it finished or posted.

Months later, though, I find that I appreciate having a record of what I thought about a book immediately after reading it -- and I generally find my old reviews to be more useful and balanced than I feared they were when I wrote them. As for the books that I don't get around to writing about, I always assume that I will remember what I thought about them, but of course I don't. So just for my own sake, if not for anyone else's, I'm trying to be more disciplined about actually writing a response to books as I finish them -- at least the books that are worthy of such a response.

If you have similar hesitations to mine, it might help to tell yourself that your response is a "response," or "thoughts," rather than a "review." Give yourself permission to post your reaction to a book, even if it isn't as comprehensive as you might wish.

Get Free Books!

If you blog about books, you can find opportunities to get copies of books from publishers or authors in exchange for posting a review. Two programs that I am aware of are LibraryThing Early Reviewers (no books currently on offer, but they generally post a batch every month) and ChristianAudio Reviewers. I know there are others if you look for them. Some programs give preference to reviewers with an established track record of reviews (and perhaps a demonstrable readership); others more or less cast books into the blogosphere and hope to generate enough buzz to make it worthwhile.

If you score any free books to review, be sure to note that when you post the review -- the FTC is kind of twitchy about such disclosures. It's also a good idea to disclose your Amazon Affiliate Account, and any other such arrangements in which you could conceivably reap some benefit from what you say on your blog.

Have Fun!

Because there's really no point in doing this if it's not fun.


Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Oh, man, I should totally link through YOUR site when we buy from Amazon! I keep thinking, I should find someone to click through, because I think Amazon frowns on clicking through your own links, but I can never figure out someone worthy. All right, you are that worthy. Now I just have to remember...

And oh, my, you have to do the Blogger integration. Saved my life, honestly. (No, not really that honestly, now that I think of it.) It is SO much more convenient — just puts a nice little Amazon box next to the post box and you can link right from there. Sooo easy. Here: Click Get Started from this link. It will take you 2 minutes to set up. Just know what your Amazon Associates ID is (username-20 or whatever).

I go back and forth with Good Reads. Sometimes I feel stymied by how public it is. Like, do I want all my friends to know I'm reading that? You probably have no such pressures, considering the quality of the books you read. :) I will have to check out Library Thing.

As for "Just post it" — yes! I can tie myself in knots debating exactly what to write in a book review, wondering if it's repetitious, worrying I can cover the whole thing in one go, etc. – and then I end up writing nothing. And then I can't remember all those helpful details about why I did or didn't like the book. Better to just get it over with!

As for free books, you can also contact authors and publishers directly and offer to write a review for a copy. Depends on the author, of course, but I find the less pretentious sorts are only too happy to get review copies out there for a link back and something they can cite in their testimonials section. I think I could be swimming in free books if I only had the time to read and review them all! And you don't have to be a big blogger or anything, just willing (again, depending on the author/publisher, but in general). I've also been told is a place to find book reviews under Pitches, but I haven't signed up yet so am not sure what sort of books are on offer or how it all works.

Good thing I read my comments over before posting, because my first sentence originally said, "I should totally lick" instead of "link." What impression would that give you!

Interesting Stuff

Books! Books! Books!

  • Bookfinder
  • BestBookBuys
  • Bookcrossing
  • Book Sale Finder
  • Library Thing
  • Good Reads
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