Book Blogging Basics, Part 2: Nailing your content

With Lectito celebrating its first birthday this month, I’m paying it forward and sharing some of the tips and advice, as well as the mistakes I’ve made and answers to the questions I wish I’d known to ask in my first year of book blogging. Over the past few weeks, I’ve also been chatting with fellow book bloggers to find out what advice they have to share as well as the things they’re still trying to figure out.

Last week I kicked things off with tips for building a solid base, and in coming weeks I’ll be talking about getting social, and innovating and expanding. Don’t want to miss a post? Sign up and get ’em delivered straight to your inbox.

Today, however, is all about content.

This might sound a little crazy, but with all the non-writing parts of blogging (scheduling, admin, social media, networking, catching up on what other bloggers are doing and, you know, reading) it’s easy to forget that you also need to post something now and then.

Finding your voice

Your blog is your little corner of the world where you get to have your say. Embrace it! As with starting anything new, it can be tempting to try and emulate what others with more experience are doing. But whatever they’ve got going on? That’s their thing, and they’ve worked hard to make it their thing. You need to find your thing. This takes time and experimentation. So instead of putting pressure on yourself to deliver the most amazing reviews of all time ever from day dot, use your early blogging months to play with style and form, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback when trying something new.

I came at Lectito from a background in academia and magazines and had done my share of professional reviewing. I cringe to think of it now, but in the beginning, I viewed Lectito as a one-woman literary journal and had fixed ideas about how a review should look. I still stand by my thoughts on what makes a good review, but my tone was all wrong. For a start, I had vague plans to eventually bring on other reviewers, and wrote a lot in collective first person (We here at Lectito…). There was no we. Just me. So awkward. And I spent ages labouring over really dry reviews that had sub-zero personality and didn’t encourage discussion. It took me a good long while to twig to the fact that a blog should offer something personal. When I’m reading other blogs, I love learning about the people behind those blogs and their personal reading experiences. For example, I loved hearing about how Melanie at Grab the Lapels found that reading Louise O’Neil’s Only Ever Yours took her back to her teenage years reading Sweet Valley High, or how Lucy at The Unlikely Bookworm raced against the clock to complete the BBC Big Read before her 30th birthday, or how Sarah at I Would Rather Read found reading and watching The Revenant as a history buff who already knew a tonne about Hugh Glass.

Now I aim for a more chatty, casual style along with a good dollop of analysis in every review. But I’m still tweaking and honing that voice, and I’ve recognised that this will be an ongoing process.

Offer something of value

Okay, I know I just said your blog should be personal. But not too personal. Because here’s the thing, your blog also has to serve your readers. And, let’s face it, no one’s coming to your book blog to read about that weird fungus you found while clipping your toenails. When it comes to book reviews, readers also don’t care whether you loved or hated a book, because that doesn’t help them decide if they’re going to enjoy it. By all means, share your thoughts and feelings, but support them with analysis and examples. If you’ve just found your new favourite character, tell your readers what you love about them. If you didn’t finish a book, explain why.

Each post should offer something of value to your reader. Before hitting ‘Publish’ think: what does my reader get out of this? If you’re posting about your latest book haul or reaching a milestone with your followers, the answer is probably: not much. Why the heck would your readers care how many ARCs publishers sent you this month or how many other people are reading your blog? It comes across as bragging and sends the message that you’re more about fame and free books than talking about reading.

Instead, make your blog a place where readers know they can find useful information: insightful reviews, author interviews, introductions to other book bloggers, recaps of bookish events and projects, discussions about book awards, book clubs, reading challenges, advice about blogging—whatever it is that you’re passionate about, and you think your readers might benefit from.

Also, one thing your stats page is good for is letting you know what kinds of posts your readers most enjoy. Here are Lectito’s top three:

What this tells me is that my readers connect with posts that offer advice and help them connect with other book lovers. So I try to provide this kind of content in addition to my regular reviews.

You can also add extra value to your posts by including useful links. For example, if you mention another book in a review, link to its Goodreads page so readers can find out more and maybe add it to their reading list. Or reference relevant articles that tie in with your review. I’m still not super great at this, but here’s an example of a review where I managed to get a few in.

Quality over quantity, always

The blogosphere is very immediate. That big ol’ Publish button is right there just begging to be clicked. And surfing around, it seems like all your blogging friends are effortlessly pumping out post after post. I promise you it’s an illusion. We are all working super hard behind the scenes, so please, please, please resist the temptation to churn out rushed and clunky posts in a bid to keep up.

Creating valuable, high-quality content takes time. Lots and lots of time. Most reviewers I know spend hours, if not days drafting their reviews. Sure, you could just copy and paste the book’s blurb and add a sentence or two about whether or not you liked the book, but, honestly, that doesn’t tell your reader anything they can’t figure out from a quick glance at the title’s Goodreads page. If you want readers to keep visiting your blog, you need to offer something more than a blurb and star rating. That something is analysis, and it takes time.

For my reviews, I usually wait a few days after I finish reading to gather my thoughts. This helps me make connections and recognise themes that I missed while I was reading and gives me a deeper understanding of the story. Then I start by making notes about the various elements of the story (plot, character, narrative voice, style, etc.) and what I thought worked or didn’t work and why. I then look for quotes and examples to support my points and build my review from there. This approach helps me think about what the author was trying to achieve and whether or not they were successful and (hopefully) avoid the wishy-washy ‘This book is great, and I loved it so you should read it!’ style of review that doesn’t offer the reader enough information to figure out if the book is also for them.

Edit, edit, edit

So now you have your review. You put a lot of thought and hard work into it. You don’t want to brag, but it’s kind of amazing. As in magazine-editors-are-going-to-call-and-offer-you-a-job uh-mazing. So you should just hit Publish, right? Wrong. Step away and come back again in a few hours. Now read it again. Yeah, I know: typos. Sentence fragments. A whole paragraph that reads like utter nonsense. In fact, the whole thing is a bit of a mess. Don’t stress. It’s a fact universally acknowledged that first drafts suck.

But hey, that’s what second drafts are for. Another universal truth is that writers don’t make good editors of their own work. I can read a sentence twenty times and find nothing wrong with it, only to have a friend point out a glaring typo. Which is why I use Grammarly. I still need to edit my work, but Grammarly helps catch those pesky typos and spelling errors and points out when I’m repeating words, using passive voice and ending my sentences with prepositions. Even if I choose not to accept its advice, it at least gets me thinking about how I construct my sentences and catches the glaring errors. If you’re serious about blogging. I’d highly, highly recommend Grammarly. As I write this, it’s telling me I have nine critical issues and forty-six advanced issues to look at in this draft. Yikes!

Be consistent

Okay, so you’re ready to craft some beautiful content, but what are you going to write about? This is going to sound like I’m stating the obvious, but if you’ve set up your site as a book blog, readers will expect you to blog about books. Not daily check-ins and happy snaps from your summer road trip, not your new exercise regime that you’re *totally* going to stick to and not three a.m. ramblings about how the world is going down the gurgler. Obviously, it’s your blog, and you can write whatever you please, but if you want your readers to stick around you need to stay on point. I’ve lost count of the number of bloggers I’ve unfollowed because their book posts have gradually given way to personal journal entries with nary a book in sight. Just this week I was surprised to find one of my favourite book bloggers share a lengthy post about her weight loss journey. It was an informative post. She included lots of nutritional information and detailed descriptions of her various workouts as well as an in-depth discussion about what worked and what didn’t. But she’d never posted about that sort of thing before, and I was left thinking: where are the books? You promised books. I came for books.

So, while it’s important to offer informative, engaging content, it’s equally important that the information is relevant and valuable to your readership.

Post regularly

As well as being consistent with what you post, aim to be consistent with when you post. Last week I wrote about working out how much time you have for blogging each week and using that to figure out how often you plan to post. From a reader’s perspective, averaging more than three posts a week will start to feel overwhelming pretty quickly, but if I hear from you less than once a month, I’m almost guaranteed to forget you. Personally, I reckon 1 – 2 meaty posts each week is the sweet spot if you can manage it.

I say ‘if’ because life loves to mess with our routines. Work gets crazy. You or someone in your family gets sick. Random drama and chaos ensue. If the universe conspires to give you extra time to blog, resist the urge to publish everything right away and use the opportunity to get a few posts in the bank for later. As someone who’s currently playing catch up after surviving The Long-Persisting Head Cold of Doom, believe me when I say that there will be plenty of times when you need them.

You also need to think about when you post, because some days and times are more popular than others. Sadly, there’s no magic formula for this. It depends on who your readers are, where the bulk of them are based and what time they’re likely to be online. Honestly, I wouldn’t stress too much about it. A blog post isn’t a tweet that disappears almost before you publish it. It’s not going anywhere. Many posts I wrote months ago still attract new readers daily. BUT it certainly can’t hurt to figure out that posting sweet spot.

Use your first few months of blogging to experiment. Try posting at different times on different days. If you blog with WordPress, you can find out your most popular day and time under Insights in your Stats:

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Lectito’s current time to shine.

For Lectito, I’ve found that early mornings Monday – Wednesday and Fridays are best for posting. For some reason, Thursday is a complete dead zone, and same goes for weekends.

Knowing when readers are most likely to visit your site can be a big help in creating your posting schedule. For example, now that I’ve figured out that the bulk of my readers swing by early in the week, I generally post Mondays and Tuesdays, with an extra post on Wednesday or Friday if I have the time and something to write about. However, your most popular posting times will likely fluctuate, so keep an eye on your stats and be flexible.

Recap

To build a loyal and engaged readership, you need to give readers a reason to keep coming back to your blog. That reason is informative, high-quality content. To create such a marvel:

  • Play around and develop your unique style.
  • When you sit down to write, ask yourself: what does my reader get out of this post?
  • Take the time to craft meaty, engaging content rather than churning out puff pieces.
  • Eidt edit carefully.
  • Stay on topic. If your niche is Scandinavian crime reviews, don’t befuddle your readers with the details of your recent juice cleanse.
  • Use your stats to figure out the best times to post, create a posting schedule and give your readers regular content.

Most importantly, be enthusiastic about what you’re writing and have fun with it. If you’re not psyched about a post, give it a miss or set it aside until you’re in the mood to work on it. If you’re just going through the motions, it’ll be evident in your writing and scare away readers. Sometimes that means posting a review later than you (and maybe the publisher and/or author) would like, but it’s better for everyone if you offer a considered review a little late rather than a prompt but slap-dash job.

If you found something helpful in here, stay tuned! Next week I’ll be talking about getting social, building your readership and connecting with the book blogging community. It’s going to be a big one. In the meantime, catch up on last week’s post: Building a solid base.

Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up nine critical issues and eighteen advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!