Monday, June 06, 2011

How to Start a Book Blog (Part I)

Subtitled: Questions People Ask Carrie About Book Blogging and How She Would Answer Said Questions

Many a time I've been asked how it is that I am able to a.) read so much b.) blog so much and c.) how I handle particular issues relating to books and publishers.

I thought I would take a couple of posts to answer some of the more common questions and address some particular issues. I've divided up those questions into two separate posts so stay tuned tomorrow for Part II.

To be perfectly honest, I've rather shied away from answering these questions online, mostly because it is so easy to be misinterpreted when trying to explain the how's and why's of why any particular person writes a blog. Everyone has a different reason. Everyone has different habits and practices relating to how they write, when they write and what they write. This post is marked "personal" because my answers to the common questions are exactly that. These are my opinions and I blog in a manner that works entirely and specifically for me and for no one else. Got that? Ok, here we go.

Question No. 1: How Much Time Do You Spend Reading Each Day?

That varies. These days it varies a lot! Reading to Know has existed primarily during a time period when there were two children in our home and both took naps/had a quiet time from 2 to 4 p.m. every day. I always had a two hour time period in the afternoon to call my own. Frequently I would read. With the addition of our infant Bookworm3, my time is less my own and there's never any guarantee that she will follow her brothers' example and go to sleep at 2. Sometimes I read for 20 minutes a day and one day I even managed a whole hour. (!) Regardless, I do read every single day.

I should also admit that I have finally become a bathroom reader. I've never kept a book in that room before, but reading now sometimes consists of reading one chapter in the morning and one chapter in the evening as I am getting ready to start and end my day. It is what it is and it has to work for the moment.

Question No. 2: How Do You Find the Time to Read So Many Books?

Well. I've explained my time frame in question number one. I also read fairly quickly. I skim sometimes, perhaps more than I realize. Not enough to miss particulars but - say for example we're discussing the sewer system in Paris - I'll skim the descriptions. (My skimming tendencies make me want to skim Dickens in his entirety which is probably why I don't like him as an author.)

I also watch very little television, comparatively speaking. With the current exception of Castle or White Collar, I'm not obsessive about television shows. In fact, we do not have cable and therefore do not have tv. Almost everything we watch is on DVD and most of our favorite shows have been canceled long ago. (There's no rush to keep up with the latest episode of Dick Van Dyke, for example!) We can watch when we want and we usually will wind down the evening with a Fraiser or other 25 minute program. It doesn't really eat into our day.

I also am not a crafter. I do not sew or have little homey projects going on. I cook (almost) all of our meals, of course, but our meals are not all that terribly complicated. (Dinner maybe takes 30-45 minutes to put together on a complicated day?) I don't bake our own bread. (I've tried and failed a thousand times before. Jonathan kindly asked me to give up. So it's not like I'm homemaking everything under the sun!)

Question No. 3: How Do You Find the Time to Write Such Lengthy Posts?

I don't even know how to answer this one! =D It's incriminating! I like to talk!?!

I started writing this blog because I have a bad memory. Reading to Know was created for entirely personal reasons and it is still written for me personally. (Of course, I enjoy the blog readership and love the comments, discussion and dialogue that certain posts prompt!) But I still have a bad memory and I try to write enough details of a book down so that I can come back and read my own posts to see what I thought about the particulars of it. (Saves me from having to re-read the entire book if I've forgotten it!)

Now, blogging and the creation of a Reading to Know audience has certainly changed the way I write. As I've gotten to know some of you more personally, I know to add certain disclaimers about books. I know to give particular warnings on some subject matters that I know you might be sensitive to. You've asked enough questions and have questioned some of the things I've said in the past that I write in such a way as to hopefully answer your questions before you ask them - both for your sake and to resolve issues in my own mind. Having an audience is a good thing because it forces one to really question and evaluate the words that are coming out of one's mouth. Nothing we do is in secret anyway. The Lord can see everything we do and there is no secret thing which can be hidden from Him. But having people to remain accountable to is helpful. So - thank you for reading, for commenting and for questioning! You seriously keep me on my toes!

Question No. 4: Do You Get Paid for Writing About Books?

No. I do not get paid. Not a brass farthing. I do this solely for the love of reading and the love of books.

If you are thinking you'll start writing a blog to make money, I hope you aren't the type that gets hungry very often. You have to do it for love and love alone.

Now, the way I see it, I would spend all my spare cash on books. I do receive books for review that I did not have to pay for (but I did have to put the time, effort and energy into reading, thinking and writing about.) I didn't have to plunk down the cash for the book and since books are my vice, this works for me. But does it pay? No.

Question No. 5: Do You Advertise?


Question No. 6: What Advice Do You Have for a New Book Blogger?

Write for you. Write about what you care about and find your personality in your writing. Do not concern yourself with publishers, review copies, advertisers, followers, subscribers, Facebook or anything at all for awhile.

Periodically someone will leave me a comment saying, "I started following your blog so please follow mine." The chances of me actually following someone's blog because they ask me to is pretty slim to none.

I assume that if you are following Reading to Know in any capacity it's because you either know me and care about me, or you think that whatever it is I have to say is interesting. Or maybe you are just morbidly fascinated with my opinion. (Sometimes I follow people because I find them morbidly fascinating so I assume the reverse could be equally true!)

I will not ever follow or read a blog in which the author of the site is forever talking about how they wish people would leave more comments or follow them. The entire point and purpose of those types of bloggers seems to be in having an audience and I find it hard to be interested in their pursuit of numbers. I vastly prefer following a few quality blogs in which the writers are passionate about their subject matter and who express who they are through their writing.

Furthermore, you should know who I am if I follow your site and so I leave you lots of comments and let you know I'm reading. I care about you and your families and I'm interesting in your perspective (and frequently e-mail you on the sidelines for advice about life and subject matters you have written about!) I try out the recipes you post and I try to make real friends out of you.

Likewise, I really enjoy the people around here who comment consistently, letting me know who they are and who dialogue with me on a regular basis. This site is not about advertisers (I don't have any on purpose, nor do I ever plan on accepting any offers!) or free books (although they do come) but it is about thinking, reading, enjoying and processing LIFE. My life. Your life. It's about thinking through the Christian faith and making practical applications through the books we read and talk about. It is not about numbers.

And you should probably know that in real life I'm pretty much the same way: I prefer having just a few quality friendships as opposed to a quantity of acquaintances. If I call you "friend" I mean that. And you probably get real snail mail from me too.

Question No. 7: Why is Your Site Subtitled "Book Reviews from a Christian Worldview"?

Well, here's the long and short of it:

First and foremost - I am a Christian. I believe that everything I think, say and do should be examined in light of scripture. It follows that I think the books that we read, either for fun or for educational purposes, should be examined in light of scripture. I'm not saying I review books perfectly in that light, but that is my goal.

In 2010 I attended BEA and went to the Book Bloggers Convention following the event. They were talking about "branding" one's self to stand out in the bloggy crowd. Honestly, I had a hard time identifying. I wasn't at all sure how that was supposed to look for me. Then, at one point during the conference they had a speaker who stood up and spoke the most ridiculous nonsense I had ever heard relating to the publishing industry, book blogging and his personal worldview. His speech was dripping with false statements and it was all I could do to sit still and listen to him garble on. (I walked out eventually and called Jonathan and railed about the stupid things that this speaker said.) At this point I don't even remember the specifics of what the speaker was talking about, except I remember that my Christianity was at war with the words coming out of his mouth. I disagreed with his point of view entirely and I started thinking about how I didn't really know of any other book bloggers who very specifically "branded" themselves as a Christian book reviewer.

Now, that's not to say that there were not Christian book bloggers out there because there are a plethora of them and I follow their sites and enjoy them! But a lot of them blogs with family life mixed in with book reviews. I wanted to very intentionally start holding books up to scriptures - both for my own sake and for the sake of my children.

Then, quite simply, if my blog is indeed "branded" as such, you should know exactly what you are getting into and what to expect around here. (I guess I have a hard time even using the word "brand" in relation to a blog. I just am what I am and this is what it is.)

Question No. 8: Will you show us pictures and/or tell us the names of your little bookworms?

No, sorry. Unfortunately there are many a good reason these days why I don't think it's necessarily safe or wise to post very much information about our children online. Hence we refer to them only as Bookworm1, Bookworm2 and Bookworm3. I'll tell you their ages as it suits describing a book and I might occasionally post a photo wherein you can see them partially. But my trust in the general public is slim to none (that's what comes of having worked in a District Attorney's office, I guess!) and so we like to keep our children's identities private.

Question No. 9: What is the best way to network your book blog?

Well, personally I'm glad that my blog was not networked at all when I first started writing reviews. If you are just getting started - work on your writing first. I hate, loathe and despise my oldest posts and would happily delete them except they serve to remind me of the need to work on my writing skills (still.)

If and when you are ready to reveal your blog to the general public, participate in what other people are doing before you start anything new up on your own in terms of memes, etc. There are plenty of ways to join in the book blogging community, from Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books, to Amy's Read Aloud Thursdays posts, to the What's On Your Nightstand monthly carnival hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. There are a ton of established memes and reading challenges and I would say that you will make friends more easily by participating in things that already exist for such purposes.

Oh and here's a good rule of thumb: If you want people to leave comments on your blog, leave comments on theirs! (Pet peeve: those who clamor for comments and yet never leave them.) A blogger who wants friends must show themselves to be friendly. That sort of thing.

Question No. 10: How Do You Feel About Monitoring Comments?

I tend towards not monitoring them, although I will delete them if I find them offensive personally or to others, or distracting to the point of the post. If you are making use of the comment section simply to pick an argument or launch a personal attack of some sort, I will delete your remarks and have been known to click on the comment moderator to keep ill-bred comments off this site.

If people are polite and respectful, I'm happy to let them post their opinions at whim and fancy! Just keep it clean, respectful and to the point of the post.

I am also frequently asked about my habits of engaging with people in the comment section. Sometimes I will and sometimes I won't. There are certain subject matters which I avoid discussing online. I may choose to talk about them with people in an e-mail or in person if I know them. Some comments are left merely to pick a fight though. I'll let that comment stay, but I won't engage with the person. It just depends.


If you are a seasoned blogger and have some additional suggestions or tips to leave, feel free to do so in the comment section. If you disagree with something I've said, feel free to say so (nicely, of course!)

In the meantime, tomorrow I will address some specific questions relating to publishers and the books I accept for review. Stay tuned (if you find this at all interesting!)


Alice@Supratentorial said...

Great advice!

Bluerose said...

I agree! Great advice! I hate to admit that I've been one of those people that sometimes worry too much about the numbers.
I've wondered about the answers to some of those questions, so it was great to see your answers. :)

Barbara H. said...

Great advice. A great deal of my reading is done in the bathroom. :-)

I've thought many times about putting my book-related posts into a separate blog, but I just hate when another blogger has two or more blogs, and no matter which you read, they're constantly wanting you to come read the other one(s), too. So for now I just have one general hodgepodge blog with a heavy emphasis on reading.

Susanne said...

Looking forward to more tomorrow! This was fun to read as it let us know you even more.

I don't mind people disagreeing with my thoughts on a book even though I take the Christian worldview also. Everyone has different reading taste and I like to know opinions but I won't let someone make disparaging personal comments to me or another commenter and then sign in as anonymous. That just is not fair so those are a definite delete in my world.

Annette W. said...

You know I appreciate this. You are the one I turn to for book blogging questions.

And I hope others read your posts and are motivated to improve their reviews as I have been. I also cringe at my early reviews. :) Though mine may not be as in-depth as yours...for various reasons...I know the quality has improved.

jmaestro said...

I certainly understand the desire to have a record of what you've read and what you thought of it. I've sometimes thought of keeping a log of books read by month with cryptic notes to myself, but then, that would cut into my reading time.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I enjoyed reading this, Carrie! It has been interesting to me how much I've come to value my blogging friendships that have been forged through comments and email. My blog has been a great blessing for me, and I hope for others, also. Thanks for the linky-love! :-)

Sherry said...

Thanks, Carrie, for this post. For me, it's good to see that someone else has much the same perspective on blogging that I do. I write my blog first of all for me, and to supplement my poor memory, then for others who might be interested in the same sorts of things I am interested in.

In spite of the difference in our ages, we surely are kindred spirits.

Stephanie Kay said...

I really appreciate your consistent world view and opinion on books. I also like that our opinions are similar, that way we you say a book isn't great I don't waste my time reading it. I totally understand reading in the bathroom!! For some reason my kids think if I sit down on the couch to read that's a signal for them to climb all over me. A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do! :)

Alison said...

Ha ha! I can relate to No. 1. I have books parked in the bathroom and my purse for when I run errands. It is amazing to me how much reading time you can get in by doing that.

*carrie* said...

I found all of this very interesting. Though I don't think I've directly asked you, I've often wondered how often you read and how you fit it in. That paragraph reminds me of a recent post of Monica's where she listed what she *doesn't* do.

I was glad for a peek at Bookworm 2 last week, and will be content with the names I've guessed for them. =)

Shonya said...

What an interesting post! I love your blog--please don't change a thing (except maybe only write one (or two at the most) glowing review per month b/c I am waaaaay behind on books I'd like to read! lol).

I blog very much for myself as well, I have to admit, and don't concern myself with my writing, although perhaps I should. . .hmmmm. I blog to help me remember things and frequently just to process my own thoughts because writing helps me think!

But I have to admit I really appreciate when people leave comments. If they don't want to read, that's fine, but if they DO read. . .well, talk back to me! :)

Looking forward to tomorrow's post!

Just Mom said...

That was fun to read! I too decided that I have to blog "for me" especially when it comes to accepting books from people in exchange for a review - I can see where that could get out of hand very easily and the little time I have to read is so precious!

Janet said...

I LOVE the Dick Van Dyke show! (Theme song going around in my head as I type this...)

Though my blog falls more into the eclectic category (much though I've tried at different times to make it a book blog proper), I really enjoy yours and I nodded all through this. Thanks for taking your time to share your thoughts!

Beckie B. said...

Wonderful post. I too am a "branded" Christian book blogger. The blog started as an outgrowth of a church library. Now it is mine entirely, but I still only focus on books and bookish things.

Keep up the good work. Love your blog.

Krista said...

So interesting to read your thoughts on why you blog! We all have our own reasons and ways we go about it. I'm trying to remember that I am unique and while I would "like" to make a little money off my blog it will never look like anyone else's. :)

Marc Azada said...

Awesome advice! Your tips about book blogging will definitely help me a lot since I'm quite new in this industry. Good Job!

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