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.
You’ve been busily publishing reviews and the occasional book tag or list, but now you’re starting to wonder whether your blog could be more. Maybe you’ve even got some ideas for new projects and partnerships. However, as your readership and reading pile grows, you’re finding that it’s a struggle to produce regular content, let alone try anything new.
So for the final post in this series, I thought I’d focus on the strategic side of blogging and talk about ways to streamline your backend processes to give you more time to concentrate on developing the big picture. I’m also going to share some tips for sourcing advance reader copies of books and working with publishers, as this was one of the big steps forward I was unsure about in my early days of blogging.
Stay in control
Blogging is such a fragmented process. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different elements you need to keep track of: researching what to read, reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, reading books for review, reviewing, responding to comments on your reviews, working on other kinds of posts, posting on social media, engaging with other readers on social media, keeping up with your email correspondence, etc., etc., etc.
Bouncing from one platform to the next is dizzying and inefficient. It feels like this:
Better to keep everything in one spot. For this, I use my email. I have a dedicated Gmail account set up for Lectito, and this is my blogging command centre. I subscribe to all the blogs I follow via email and have tweaked my blog and social media settings so that I get an email notification whenever a reader reacts to one of my posts. If this were my personal email, I’d find all the notifications super annoying, but for Lectito it’s ideal. My inbox becomes a ‘to do’ list and each email a task.
I then use Google Calendar and Tasks to manage my blogging schedule and lists of books to read and review—otherwise I’d lose track! Because I schedule most of my social media posts, I also use my calendar to record when those posts are going live. It takes a little extra time but allows me to see what I’ve got planned at a glance and to space my social posts evenly. When I first set up my calendar, it also helped me realise how little I was using social media. It felt like I was constantly tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, etc. but once I started recording my posts, I saw that I wasn’t half as active as I thought and was able to up my game.
I’m sure there are waaaay swankier ways of organising your blogging admin. but even setting up these relatively simple systems has saved me buckets of time and helped me manage my blog more efficiently.
I also realise that I covered some of this material in the first post in this series, but I feel it’s worth reiterating. I didn’t set up any of these systems when I first started blogging because it seemed silly to put a whole lot of effort into what I saw as unnecessary admin. In hindsight, Lectito would have grown much faster, and it would have been much easier to manage that growth if I’d had these systems in place from day one.
Now, with the organisational side of things under control, I can afford to be more strategic about how I allocate my time. I check my email whenever I have a couple of spare minutes, and try to keep on top of the immediate tasks, such as replying to emails, comments and tweets, but then I set aside a few hours each a week to clear my inbox. I generally do this on Sunday evening as it’s such a good feeling to start the new week fresh. I also try to plan out the time I need to set aside for reading, blog writing and social media each week. Otherwise, Lectito would suck up every spare second of my time—because there’s always something that needs doing, right?
So that I’m not constantly ‘plugged in’, I also do most of my social media in blocks ahead of time. I’ll often take a bunch of Instagram shots when the light is good, then post them over the coming days. Similarly, the day I publish a new blog post, I’ll use the Facebook scheduling function and Tweetdeck to schedule a few posts sharing the link. (Because Twitter moves so fast and it’s easy to miss tweets, it helps to share links more than once. For best results share you link at different times on different days—it’s also less spammy this way.) I take the same approach when sharing links to other bloggers’ posts, especially because I tend to read a whole bunch of posts at once and don’t want to pump out ten tweets in a minute and then have nothing for the rest of the day. It also means that when I’m ‘on’ social media, I can focus on engaging with other people’s posts.
Having both blog and social posts scheduled ahead of time is not only great for your site, it’s also good for your sanity. Obviously, you can (and should) still post ‘in the moment’ too, but you remove the need to be constantly on your phone/tablet/laptop, which, let’s face it, is utterly exhausting.
Make a game plan
Once you’ve streamlined your blogging and you’re not madly clicking from one platform to the next you can use the time you’ve saved to look ahead. As well as planning what to post each week, I set aside a couple of hours each month to take stock and plan for the month ahead. This is the time when I’ll look over my reading list as well as publisher catalogues and NetGalley and put in review copy requests for the coming months. I’ll also look at my blog and social media stats. I’ve written before about why obsessing over your stats (especially your traffic) can be harmful to your blog, but they can also provide useful information about your readership and your blog’s general health. I use my stats to determine four key things:
- What should I keep doing that’s working well?
- What am I doing that could be improved?
- What should I stop doing?
- What should I start doing?
From there I can determine where I’m going to focus my energy for the month ahead. It could be strengthening my relationships with other bloggers or boosting social media engagement. Maybe it’s something as simple as making a dent in my reading pile. Whatever the goal is, I then back it up with practical targets. For example, if I wanted to be more active on social media to attract more readers to my blog my targets might look like this:
- Publish one new Instagram post per day
- Publish three tweets for every blog post
- Publish a tweet for every other blogger’s post I enjoy
- Find 50 new Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow
- Set aside 1/2 hour each day to engage with other readers’ posts
That way, at the end of the month, I can look back and see what impact these actions had. Did more readers click through from these platforms? Were my followers more engaged? What kind of posts were they most likely to engage with?, etc. I can then use these results to figure out my strategy for the next month. And so on. And so on.
Of course, having a particular focus each month only works if you have an ultimate goal in mind. In the first post in this series, I wrote about the importance of having a clear mission statement. Keep going back to that. It also helps to have quarterly and yearly goals as well.
As a side note: I’ve heard a few bloggers say they’re just not sure what to post other than book reviews. I don’t know that I can offer much help in the ideas department. But I will say this: when you’re brainstorming what to try next, start by thinking: what am I trying to achieve with this new thing?
Sourcing advance reader copies (ARCs)
Changing tack, I want to use the second half of this post to talk about ARCs and working with publishers and authors. Before starting Lectito, I’d done a fair bit of reviewing for magazines and knew that publishers sent review copies to these publications. I didn’t know they also sent them to bloggers. The day I twigged to that was a good day. But how established does a blog need to be before you’re cool to start contacting publishers? I did a lot of Googling around this and got all kinds of answers: three months, six months, a year. Some bloggers reported having success right away while others were frustrated that publishers kept rejecting their requests. So I’m not convinced there are any hard and fast rules around this, nor do I believe that publishers grant ARCs based solely on how much traffic your site receives.
I started requesting ARCs almost right away. But instead of going directly to publishers, I signed up for a NetGalley account. For the uninitiated, NetGalley allows reviewers to browse forthcoming titles and request electronic ARCs from publishers. If a publisher approves your request, you can download the title from NetGalley, then upload a link to your review. Basically, NetGalley acts as an agent between you and the publisher. It has its up and downsides:
I signed up for NetGalley because I was initially too chicken to contact publishers directly. Now, I’m not convinced this was the smartest choice. I think NetGalley is a great service, and I still use it, especially when requesting overseas titles; however, I prefer to contact publishers directly when possible. It takes a little more effort, BUT it gives me the opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with that publisher. And that relationship is mutually beneficial. I’ve found that publishers I contact directly are more likely to send ARCs my way, and then, because we’ve been getting chummy over email, and they’ve gone to the trouble of posting me a book, I’m inclined to bump it up my reading pile. I’m also going to Instagram *the shit* out of it. Connecting with publishers is also the way to go if you want to do more than just review books, i.e. if you want to join blog tours, interview authors, run giveaways, etc. And if a publisher likes your reviewing style and knows you enjoy a certain kind of book, they may even invite you to review similar titles further down the track.
Is there some magic traffic threshold your blog needs to cross before publishers show you some love? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But if there is, it’s probably not as high as you think. Lectito didn’t have a huge readership when I started contacting publishers, as in less than 1,000 unique visitors per month, but publishers were mostly happy to send ARCs my way. That said, while my readership may have been small, I already had a good archive of reviews on my blog so that publishers could get a feel for my reviewing style and see that I was posting regularly.
Before I started Lectito, I worked at a cycling magazine where part of my job was sourcing review products. Based on that experience and what I’ve learned while working on Lectito, I’ve put together a checklist for approaching publishers and getting approved for ARCs:
- Visit their website and see if they have a process for ARC requests (some have a form on their site). Also, see if they offer a way for you to sign up to receive their catalogues. You’ll likely find both on their publicity or media page. if not, ask them about it when you get in touch.
- See if you can find a specific person to contact. Again, you’re best shot for this is the publicity or media page. If you’re not having any luck, try sending the publisher a direct message on Twitter asking who to contact.
- Start your email with a simple subject line that includes the book’s title, e.g., ‘Jane Eyre review copy’.
- Address the recipient by name.
- Tell them what title(s) you’d like to review and why. (This is something you don’t have the opportunity to do in detail on NetGalley.) Is it by a favourite author? Have you enjoyed other books in the series or titles it’s been likened to? Did you read the blurb and think: ‘GET ON MY BOOKSHELF’? Publishers are obviously more inclined to send ARCs to reviewers who are likely to enjoy and recommend them.
- Introduce yourself and your blog: what kind of books you review, how often you post reviews, how long are your reviews, etc. Also include a link to your site and basic stats about your readership (most publishers want to know about your monthly traffic and where you publicise your reviews (Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) It’s a good idea to include links to these as well.
If they send an ARC your way:
- Huzzah! Success! Let the publisher know when the book arrives (and, ideally, when you’re planning to have your review written). It’s also nice to Instagram or tweet and tag the author and publisher:
- When you publish your review, send the publisher an email with the link and thank them for sending you a review copy. If you enjoyed the book, show a little moxie and ask them to keep you in mind for similar titles in the future.
- Further down the track, if you happen to recommend one of their titles in another post, such as, ‘Thrill me: Eight sinister reads’, touch base with the publishers and let them know you’ve included their title(s) on the list. That way, there’s a chance they’ll share your post, but more than that, it’s a good way to strengthen the relationship.
Unsolicited review requests
Requests work the other way too, and if you have a book blog, you will, at some point, have authors ask you to review their work. If you’re open to reviewing unsolicited titles (that is, titles you haven’t specifically asked for), I’d suggest setting out some clear guidelines for authors on your About page. Let them know what genres you review and whether or not you accept self-published titles. Also ask authors to take the time to look around your site to see if you’re the right kind of reviewer for their book. Many will cheerfully ignore you, but it might help keep the number of requests to a manageable level.
I should say up front that, as a general rule, I don’t accept unsolicited titles for review. I made this choice for a couple of reasons:
- As an author, I know that we’re a crazy breed, and while #notallauthors will SPEW HATE AT ME IN ALL CAPS if I’m late with a review or criticise their work, enough will that I’d prefer to keep the publisher as a buffer between us.
- There are so many books I already want to read, and I have so little time to read them; I have to draw the line somewhere.
- This is kind of sheepish, but a blanket rule allows me to politely decline an author’s request without admitting that I’d rather dunk my head in a bucket of acid than read their book.
If you do accept unsolicited ARCs (or solicited ones for that matter), remember that you are the editor in chief of your blog, and you decide what does and doesn’t get published. Obviously, it’s in your best interest to develop good relationships with publishers and authors, but don’t let them bully or pressure you into putting forward their views or allow them to make you feel bad for not loving a book. And if they are unreasonably pushy, consider whether you want to work with them in the future.
Keep it real
The last thing I want to say about ARCs is that when you receive a book from a publisher or author in exchange for a review, you are under no obligation to sing the book’s praises. We all have a moment of feeling a little spesh when someone sends a book our way, but our first responsibility is to our readers, and we owe it to them to offer genuine critiques. And honestly, if you only ever give glowing reviews, you’ll quickly lose your credibility; not every book can be a home run.
I understand that in some countries you’re legally required to disclose when you receive a book in exchange for a review, but even if that’s not the case where you live, it’s still good manners to let your readers know. I include a simple tag line at the end of my reviews:
Thank you to [name of publisher] for providing a copy of [book title] in exchange for an honest review.
If you want your blog to grow, you need to have systems in place to support that growth. Find ways to streamline the admin. side of blogging to give yourself more time to focus on the big picture. Be clear about the direction you’re heading and set achievable goals with measurable outcomes so you know whether what you’re doing is working.
Don’t be shy about reaching out to publishers—they’re not that scary (in fact, most are lovely). However, remember that you work with them, not for them, and you have final say over what you choose to post.
Finally, thank you so much to everyone who’s been following along with this series! I’ve had such fun putting these posts together (if nothing else, they’ve been a reminder to practise what I preach!). I hope you’ve found some useful titbits. Happy book blogging!
If you found this helpful, take a peek at the other posts in the series:
- Book Blogging Basics, Part 1: Building a solid base
- Book Blogging Basics, Part 2: Nailing your content
- Book Blogging Basics, Part 3: Getting social
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