Random Musings: Writing, reviews and sharing on social media

All writers derive pleasure from their work being read, appreciated and shared. Once published – whether on line or as hard copy – work goes out into the world where it is at the mercy of readers. Responses can be difficult to predict.

As a blogger I can check my stats to see how many people read, like and share my posts. With book reviews this is a long game. Search engines send traffic to my site long after a book’s publication.

I have noticed that some book bloggers complain if their work receives no feedback, especially if neither author nor publisher acknowledges or shares on social media. Whilst I readily admit to the warm, fuzzy feeling such a response generates, I do not consider it either a requirement or a given. When met by on line silence, despite tagging if the post is positive, I do sometimes wonder if my review has not been well received. Have my words not been read as intended? Has the post not been noticed amidst the noise of other activity? Was there better quality content to share on that day?

This got me thinking about why I share other’s writing.

Mostly it is because I happen to spot the piece on my feed, have time to read it and then want to share. This process can be more luck than judgement but the ‘want to share’ aspect is, perhaps, more reasoned.

A pithy or witty review can be a joy to read, whether positive or negative. I have shared reviews of books because I am impressed by the reviewer’s skill.

Certain reviews are better written than others (content, structure, grammar, punctuation). I have chosen not to share Guardian reviews of books I have enjoyed because the review is bland, lacking insight, or contains spoilers – a basic error.

I tend to avoid reviews written for blog tours as so much content created for one title can quickly become repetitive. I prefer social media where content is varied. I may wish to draw attention to the book at another time – a reminder that it still exists.

Everyone is entitled to run their social media accounts as they choose. Nobody is required to share any content – and that includes authors, publishers and publicists.

Reviews say as much about the reviewer as the book and most reviewers acquire a particular style over time. I sometimes share other’s review of a book I have read because the reaction is so different to mine.

Sometimes I spot a review for a book I loved and will share simply to draw attention to the fact that another reader loved it too.

Reading for pleasure does not require the literary deconstruction taught at educational establishments. Being informative in a review may be more broadly useful than admiration from the literati.

At events authors often comment that readers bring to the fore elements of their book that even the author hadn’t been aware of. If a reader doesn’t ‘get’ a book it may simply mean that an element important to the author didn’t resonate with that particular reader. This need not be regarded as a fault of either party.

Following on from this, I am conflicted when authors complain about bad reviews – not the plainly ridiculous such as:

“1*  Didn’t receive my copy, may not have ordered it”

I understand the hurt felt when something that has taken a great deal of time and effort to create is dismissed with what appears lack of basic understanding. Even so, no book is going to be liked by everyone and a review remains a personal opinion.

I should point out that I am always grateful when my posts are liked and shared. There are individuals who I regard fondly as they are particularly supportive of the book blogging community.

I suspect all writers experience moments of doubt when they wonder if the time they devote to creating their words is worthwhile. If writers, and that includes book bloggers, wrote for the plaudits many would not persist.

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My Link Age Southwark Writing Competition Judges Interview

   

     
   

Earlier this year I was approached by Becky Danks, who I met through my involvement in the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, asking if I would be willing to join a panel of judges for a writing competition she was organising. I was happy to offer my services. The judges include a number of people I know through Twitter, and also Paul Ewen (aka Francis Plug) who I met at the Greenwich Book Festival. Each judge was asked to provide an interview – these make for interesting reading. Below I reproduce my offering.

The writing competition is open to all UK and Ireland residents, both adults and children. Entries may take the form of either a short story or poem, based on the theme of friendship and/or generations. The deadline is 11.59PM on 31st August 2018. Further details may be found here.

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Meet Jackie Law, judge of the short stories (children’s) category

JACKIE LAW is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. Belfast-born Jackie is a prolific book blogger reviewing books, interviewing authors and writing about literary events for her personal blog, Never Imitate. She has contributed to numerous online ‘zines and is a regular reviewer at Bookmunch. Jackie was recently a judge for the prestigious Republic of Consciousness Prize which recognizes innovative indie publishers and their writers. She now lives in rural Wiltshire with her husband and small flock of back garden hens.

Check out Jackie’s website. Twitter: @followthehens

 

How did you get into book reviewing?

I set up my blog as a space to write during a time in my life when I was struggling. Writing is an effective therapy and it helped me to order my thoughts. The initial posts were eclectic in content.

At this time I was also writing short stories – flash and micro fiction. Following some honest feedback from readers online I came to understand that these were not very good. I have always admired creative writers and my own attempts brought into focus their skills.

I wanted, needed to keep writing but decided I could provide more value to readers by supporting books already written. By writing reviews and building my social media presence I aim to increase the visibility of books, especially those that don’t have big publicity drives behind them. I decided to keep posting on my original blog as its ethos fitted my reading preferences. Although some of my reviews now appear on other sites, my blog remains my space. I value the autonomy this allows.

 

Describe your ideal literary-related day

I am privileged in having a degree of freedom to structure my days as I wish so many of them could be described as ideal. I like to rise early, make myself a cup of tea and check my social media accounts and the mainstream media for book related content. I share anything I think may interest my followers, including my own scheduled posts. If I have a review to write I will start on that – typically this requires two to three hours work. Then I read.

Late morning, I will try to leave the house for a walk or a swim. Both of these activities offer thinking time, essential in structuring my reviews. On my return I go back on social media and also check my admin – there are always emails to answer – before settling again to read or write.

My family return home late afternoon expecting to be fed so I give them my attention. Early evening I typically go on Twitter to catch up with what is happening in the outside world. I don’t have broadcast television but may watch an episode or two of a DVD series. I particularly enjoy adaptations of books, although I dislike it when the plot is changed. I go to bed early. I rarely read in bed.

 

What do you look for in a good story?

It must be engaging and flow so that I’m engrossed and not thinking about the writing but rather the world created. It must be believable – not necessarily possible or real but consistent. All characters should earn their place, be necessary for the plot, and have depth. Interactions should build on this and not just advance the reader’s knowledge of the protagonist. As a reader, I wish to be trusted to picture, interpret and understand. I don’t need long descriptions of clothes, food or, most especially, sex. Less is more. Most plots can be advanced without knowing every detail.

I look for originality in both plot and structure, for characters to be complex and genders written with equal care, as people not objects. I tend to avoid genre fiction as I find it too formulaic.

I want to feel emotionally invested while reading. I don’t need to like the characters but I want to care about what happens to them.

 

What reading/creative projects are you working on at the moment?

I have a huge pile of books to read, a mix of new releases and titles that I have agreed to review but haven’t managed to open yet. I feel terribly guilty when I agree to take a book and then it lingers unread. However, I won’t rush any book. An author has put effort in and deserves careful consideration.

I have a number of literary events lined up over the summer – festival panels, author talks and tours. I like to write these up in detail as readers have told me they enjoy the insights provided.

Last year I was on the judging panel for both the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. I thoroughly enjoyed the new experiences these offered. I am delighted to have been invited to judge this short story competition.

 

Who would you invite to a literary dinner party, alive or dead?

I would invite lesser known book reviewers, booksellers, perhaps a librarian – prolific and eclectic readers rather than authors. These people love books but have no axe to grind about other’s opinions.

There are groups on Goodreads – such as The Mookse and the Gripes – where cogent discussions of books, especially those listed for prizes, occur. I would like to sit quietly at the table and listen to that sort of conversation live.

Shadow panels for the big book prizes are often more interesting to follow than the official decision makers as participants are not afraid to express their opinions. I discovered when I was a judge that it is important to abide by the group decision even when individuals differ vociferously on the choice of contents of long and short lists.

I should point out though that I am a terrible cook so tend to avoid dinner parties!

Meet the writer behind my book reading hen avatar

This interview was conducted by and first published on Bookblast.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Belfast during The Troubles. My parents grew up in working class families and were determined to ‘better themselves’. When my older brother was eight they bought a newly built, three bed semi-detached house and moved from the central area of the city to what was then its outskirts. They still live there today.
My sister and I were born after this move. My brother left home when I was six so I never really got to know him – he now lives in Australia. My sister and I both passed the 11+ exam and attended an all girl state run grammar school before going up to the local university. We continued to live with my parents, although I did move into student digs for around six months after yet another row about my behaviour – aged twenty I was staying out beyond my curfew and drinking alcohol. I suspect we all wish I could have afforded to stay away, but my part time job wouldn’t cover the rent longer term.
Belfast felt parochial, cut off from what we referred to as the mainland due to the violence. We were expected to attend church and conform to a code of conduct that demanded we put on a front to the world of chastity and sobriety. It always felt that what I was seen to be mattered more to my parents than what I was or aspired to.
Despite this I look back on a largely happy childhood. Certainly at the time I felt loved. My determination to leave Belfast and to be myself stems from the frustration of being guilt tripped into conforming to a wide range of strictures I didn’t agree with.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
My father is a great reader. His hobby when I was growing up was chess and he would regularly order hardbacks, despite my mother’s disapproval of the expenditure, about the grand masters and their games. He also had a large collection of Penguin classics and modern classics that I longed to read. When I eventually left home he allowed me to take some of them with me.
I was bought many children’s books – Ladybirds, Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Forester, Conan Doyle, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I discovered Tolkien when I was a teenager and then (aargh!) Jeffery Archer, James Clavell and a few of the classic writers not studied at school. I made a brief foray into romantic fiction, a genre I now avoid.
I used the local library and, when old enough to catch the bus into the city, scoured the charity shops for anything that looked interesting. I have always been an avid if not discerning reader.

Books that changed your life?
The Famous Five made me long for adventure. Laura Ingalls Wilder had me believing I was capable at a younger age than my parents would allow. Damage by Josephine Hart has a line that still resonates – ‘Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.’ I worked hard to get away from Belfast and eventually I did. I survived the years that others tried to mould me to fit their ideals, but the scars inflicted continue to ache in a way my younger self hadn’t anticipated.

What made you decide to start a book blog? How long have you been blogging?
I started my blog in early 2013 as a space to write through some personal issues I was facing at the time. It morphed into a book blog about eighteen months later. I had no idea that book blogs existed until I started to post reviews. It has grown from there to a point where it is what I do.

What’s the name of your blog? How did you choose it?
From the start I called my blog Never Imitate, from a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson – ‘Insist on yourself; never imitate’. I added the strap line ‘Trying to avoid society’s pigeonholes’. These seemed to fit my aims in life, to be myself rather than someone else’s idea of what I should be.
I have a sister blog where I occasionally write flash fiction which I call Dreams and Demons. My dreams and demons are the inspiration for much of my creative writing (spoiler alert, it isn’t very good). That blog’s strap line is ‘Can you hear the silence?’ from Bring Me the Horizon’s song Can You Feel My Heart. Another line in that song is ‘I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim’. All of these ideas speak to me and act as a reminder that impactful writing doesn’t always come from what may be well regarded by the self styled arbiters of these things.

What is your selection process when choosing a book to review?
I like to support the small independent presses so tend to prioritise their publications. Having said that there are certain authors published by the larger presses whose books I will seek out. I have a review policy on my blog which I hope helps publishers understand the books I am likely to enjoy. My TBR pile is vast.
Sometimes I simply feel like reading a particular book. I decided to stop taking part in blog tours at the end of last year as I wanted to regain the freedom to choose the order in which I read the books I am privileged to be sent.

What are your main criteria for evaluating a good book?
It has to be well written. The structure, language and flow should be seamless. When reading I shouldn’t be noticing any of this but rather be caught up in the story. The pace needs to keep the reader engaged but not overburden with unrelenting crises. Suggestion is better than explanation. Readers do not need to be spoon-fed.
I look for good character development. Not a lot needs to happen if those involved are presented in an interesting way. If a character is introduced I expect there to be a reason, and for them to be fully formed.
I am always disappointed when my reading is snagged by clunky or clumsy prose. Plot threads need to earn their place. A good editor can usually sort this.
After that I need to enjoy the reading experience. This is highly subjective so I will always try to explain in my reviews if I couldn’t engage.

What motivates you to keep blogging about books?
I want to tell other readers about good books that may fly beneath their radar. So much quality writing is published by the small presses yet they rarely make it to the best seller lists. If my reviews tempt just a few readers to buy or borrow a title then that can make a difference, not just to the reader but to the author and publisher.

What one piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you first started book blogging?
Be more discerning about the books you ask for. It takes time to read a book and write a review so try to select only titles likely to be enjoyed. Book bloggers are not under contract. Their reviews are an act of goodwill. Although I try to read every book I am sent this is not always possible and that’s okay.

Is it possible to earn a living from blogging?
I believe some people do this, but rarely through book blogging. I have been offered payment for particular services and have chosen not to get involved. My blog is my space and I want to run it in a way that suits me. I guard my autonomy fiercely. I hope this adds credibility to my reviews.

What book genres are your favourites, and your least favourites?
preti taneja bookblast diaryI particularly enjoy literary and experimental fiction. Prose can be as stunning as poetry if well written. I often seek out shorter books that pack a punch, that say more between the lines. There are of course some amazing longer books, such as Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young.
I avoid romances as they annoy me. Characters do not need to be beautiful to be interesting. Sex does not need to be described in detail. Happy endings are rare – life is more complex and messy than that. Books may offer an escape but I look for at least an element of relatability.

How many books do you read each week?
Generally around three although this depends on the type of book. Non-fiction tends to take me longer. I read less over the summer months as family life makes more demands on my time.

What’s your most popular blog post?
A fun little post about teddy bears! I wrote this before I started book blogging and it is still viewed on most days. My most popular book review is for How To Play The Piano by James Rhodes. I followed his instructions and taught myself to play in order to write it. For fiction it is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone followed by The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. This was an interesting question to answer as I don’t normally check such stats.

What do bloggers bring to the book publishing ecology which press reviewers do not?
Press reviewers are courted by publishers as the exposure they offer is valued. To an extent this is also now happening to some of the bigger book bloggers. Most bloggers, however, are writing without the rewards of limited edition snazzy proofs, promotional days out or invites to exclusive parties. Their reviews may be shared on social media but not with the excitement a publisher displays when a book they are promoting appears in the mainstream media. I think this makes bloggers less partisan, less prone to being swayed to favour a book because they have got to know those who produced it. This distance is of value to an ordinary reader who simply wants to find their next good read.
I am aware that my particular interest in the small presses has led to me meeting many of those involved in creating their books. They don’t court me – they have no marketing budget for that – but they know who I am.
Fewer people are reading the mainstream media so bloggers impact is increasing as their reviews appear in Google searches. Some are easily as well written as those in the press.

If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I am content with where I am and consider myself fortunate to feel this way. I wonder if others’ desire to exist in a different time is a mis-remembered nostalgia, something that has fed into our current political problems. I am grateful for modern medicine, for greater tolerance of difference and equality for women. There is still a way to go, but England now is so much easier for me to live in than the Belfast where I grew up.

Your favourite prose authors?
Margaret Atwood. Also John Boyne, Hilary Mantel, Sebastian Faulks, Joanne Harris, Marcus Sedgwick. There are plenty of other authors whose individual books I could select, but those listed have written titles I have consistently enjoyed.

Your favourite feature films?
Ishiguro’s The Remains of the DayPeter’s Friends, the Wallace and Gromit films, Paddington.

pinkfloyd dark side of the moon bookblast diaryFive favourite bands?
I don’t listen to much music, usually preferring silence. Bands I select for background at family events would include some early Muse or Athlete, the Maccabees, Stereophonics. For myself I would occasionally play Pink Floyd, especially on vinyl, or Chopin’s piano concertos.

Your chief characteristic?
Awkwardness. I still cringe at the thought of things I said or did at social events years ago, which I doubt anyone else even remembers. I have to force myself to go out into company from time to time.
Beyond that you would have to ask someone who has met me. We see ourselves from the inside out so it can be hard to judge.
My daughter says that my chief characteristic is organisation and that I am a planner who likes everything to follow a routine and know what’s happening in advance. This can result in an element of awkwardness at social events.

Your bedside reading?
I don’t read in bed. I rarely read in the evening. I am a fairly early riser and like to write first thing in the morning before settling down with a book.

Your motto?
Insist on yourself; never imitate.

Random Musings: Book love and negative reviews

It has been a while since I posted a random opinion piece. This one percolated following a number of discussion threads on social media last week about book bloggers who post negative reviews. Some of the threads became quite heated and even personal at times. Umbrage was taken and participants were blamed for not behaving in a way others desired. It was all very unfortunate – at one stage a publisher became involved. My experience of book bloggers is of a supportive community. As numbers have grown I wonder if it has factionalised. Individual’s views will inevitably differ but infighting and its corollary, taking sides, is never good PR. We are, after all, trying to draw attention to the books, not to ourselves. At least that is where I am coming from.

I post a review for every book I read so, unavoidably, some will detail negative aspects. Whatever my thoughts I try to maintain balance. Few books are perfect and some flaws grate more than others. I will always try to explain why. The purpose of my writing is to inform readers. Even a book that I adore will not appeal to everyone.

I don’t have a problem with those who choose to post only positive reviews – their blog, their decision. What I object to is any attempt to force others to follow suit. The start point for last week’s discussion was the increasingly ubiquitous blog tour. As these are used as marketing tools – the organiser, although not the participants, is paid by the author or publisher – I can understand why there is pressure, even when not explicitly stated, to create positive posts. Most book bloggers will not have had a chance to read the book being promoted when participation is agreed. Suitable alternative content is not always readily available. Once again I felt relief at my decision to withdrew myself from blog tours at the end of last year.

Most of the books I now read are sent to me by publishers. Book post delights me and I am grateful for every parcel I receive. It can take some time to get to a title so when I post my review I will tag the publisher on social media. I do this that they may be aware that a book they have sent has been reviewed as requested. What they do with my words is up to them.

I only tag the author if the gist of my review is positive – few are entirely so because perfection is rare. If I have enjoyed a book I hope that knowing this will please its creator.

No reader, and book bloggers are first and foremost readers, wishes to spend time reading a book that leaves them dissatisfied. This is why I have a review policy – to try to limit books sent to me to those I will be happy to endorse. I derive pleasure from working with publishers to spread the book love but I am not in their employ. I neither ask for nor receive payment. My reviews and recommendations are willingly and freely provided.

Once I have reviewed a book I like to check out other readers’ opinions on a variety of sites. Whether or not we agree I will share many of these on my own social media timelines (although only rarely if part of a blog tour due to repetition – my choice). I enjoy reading reviews that are well written and reasoned; I want to know why the reader thought as they did. I will also share author interviews or related articles. Having read a book I maintain an interest and do my small part to increase visibility of the title.

The book blogging community has grown and its power is being recognised and harnessed. On this site, my site, I am more than happy to participate but I will not be shackled. I hope that the camaraderie amongst bloggers, and friendly relationships with publishers, can be maintained even if we do choose to run our blogs in different ways. Books are my passion, but I will not love them all.

Looking back and looking forward

My little family and I have raised our glasses to the old year and welcomed in the new. There was discussion about how worrying the world has become with extremism on the rise and compassionate leaders apparently in short supply. There was concern expressed over upcoming exams. There was also much to share and look forward to. I recognise how fortunate I am in the people I know from my small corner of rural Wiltshire and among my wider online friends, from whom I have received much encouragement and generosity in the past twelve months. I go forward into 2018 aiming to share this kindness and support.

I reviewed 187 books last year, putting myself under pressure at times to meet deadlines. To enable proper appreciation of a book, which is the least the author deserves, I believe it should be read for pleasure; despite the quality of prescribed texts I did not enjoy the books I was required to read at school. My desire to read in a positive frame of mind was one of the reasons that led me to withdraw from participation in blog tours at the end of last year, a decision that affected the number of titles I received from certain publishers. Despite this, it is not a decision I regret.

Also last year I created a review policy page for my blog although it still needs some work to achieve its aim. I find it a challenge to succinctly describe the books I wish to read, or not read – I have enjoyed so many titles that would not fit within the parameters I have attempted to set down. I may also remove my email address from this policy page as, despite what I have stated, I have been approached by self-publishing authors and feel uncomfortable declining their creations. I have no doubt that many of their books could be worth reading but without the filter of a publishing house that does not charge its authors to put out their work I am reluctant to add them to my vast TBR pile. My refusal to read ebooks (remember what I said about reading for pleasure?) results in the authors incurring a cost sending me their book and I feel guilt if I do not manage to read in a timely manner. So many books, so little time.

I have much to look forward to in the coming year. As well as reading new books to come and unread books from my pile, I will be revisiting the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist in preparation for the judges meeting. Prior to this gathering I plan to post interviews with several of the authors and publishers whose work is being considered along with guest posts and other content. I am very excited about this prize and am delighted to be involved.

A highlight of 2017 was my participation in the Guardian newspaper’s Not the Booker Prize process which culminated in me being invited to join the judging panel. Reading for the RofC prize and the Not the Booker prize introduced me to many books that I would not otherwise have discovered and included some true gems.

Another endeavour that I have derived satisfaction from in 2017 has been contributing to Bookmunch. This site focuses on the sorts of books I particularly enjoy and I am delighted to be on the team. If you are unfamiliar with their work, do check it out.

I ended the year on my blog with a series of reviews for books to be published in the months to come. Of these I particularly recommend The Stone Tide by Gareth E. Rees, Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary, On The Bright Side by Hendrik Groen (translated by Hester Velmans) and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. There are, of course, many more new books to be read and I look forward to sharing my thoughts.

Those who follow my Instagram may have noticed a decrease in bookish posts over the festive season. I have been enjoying some down time with my family, taking walks and recharging my batteries. This will continue through to next weekend when we have some time away planned. In the coming year it is my aim to find a better balance between my book blogging and other pursuits.

For me, book blogging is about more than just reading and writing reviews. I have literary events to look forward to, guest spots on various media arranged, and hope to meet many more authors, publishers, event organisers and bloggers as the year progresses. I am grateful to have found the bookish world to be a friendly and supportive place thus far. It is my fervent wish to make a positive contribution.

A huge thank you to the publishers who provide me with many of the books I review, and to the publicists who have kept me on their lists. Thank you also to all who have read, commented and shared my words. Although I may not say so directly each time, I always appreciate your support. I hope that you have found books that inspired, gave you pleasure, and facilitated a better understanding of different cultures and points of view. I wish you all much good reading, and a Happy New Year.

Random Musings: On why I am withdrawing from blog tours

Have you noticed that blog tours are becoming ever more ubiquitous? Of course I get why they are a thing. While the organiser will be paid, most book bloggers review for free. By tying them into a blog tour the publisher can rely on a book being promoted across social media at a time of their choosing. Review copies sent out do not get lost amidst the ever growing piles of books to be read by reviewers. From the publisher’s point of view harnessing book bloggers, who already have an audience interested in finding their next good read, makes perfect sense.

Recently however I have cut back on my commitment to tours. Much as I remain eager to work with publishers on promoting good books, I have encountered issues that have, at times, been stressful. In this post I share some of my experiences and attempt to explain my reasons for choosing to limit my involvement in blog tours, for the time being at least.

The initial contact from a publisher’s designated organiser is an invitation to take part. Due to busy schedules these invitations are typically sent out many weeks in advance, often before the book is available to read even as an ARC. Decisions must be made based on a brief synopsis designed to sell the book.

If I agree to participate I will sometimes request author content for my stop on the tour. I will email my interview questions or ideas for a guest post within a few days of accepting the invitation, to allow time for responses to be put together. Very occasionally I agree to host content that I will receive blind. This has only been an issue for me when what was provided turned out not to be original, making me feel I may as well have hosted a link to wherever it first appeared – this is not what I want on my blog.

A good blog tour organiser will ensure a copy of the book is sent out well in advance – several weeks before the tour starts. As I require a hard copy, problems with print runs can delay this. So long as I am kept updated I will always do my best to accommodate. I have never yet missed my stop on a blog tour but am obviously happier when not reading under pressure.

As books also get lost in the post, more often than seems reasonable but this is a thing, I will chase if I don’t receive my review copy, a situation that is frustrating for everyone involved. Were I not committed to a tour non-delivery of a promised book would be an irritation but not a concern.

As the tour date approaches I look to the organiser to email a digital copy (.jpg) of the book cover, author photo and blog tour flyer. Ideally the latter will include the hashtag they wish to use. It takes time and effort to prepare any blog post and this increases if covers and author pictures must be searched for on the web where image quality and usage can be problematic.

I generally have my blog posts prepared and scheduled at least a week in advance. Receipt of any author content is required to allow for this. If I am listed on a tour flyer and have nothing to post it reflects badly on my blog. I have had to chase for content many times but have only been entirely let down once.

I have numerous examples of reviews, interviews and guest posts on my blog and assume the organiser is happy with my format and writing style or they would not have invited me to participate. I will always post honestly – integrity matters to me. I wouldn’t have accepted the book had I not expected to enjoy reading it. Nevertheless, some books disappoint and I will not pretend otherwise.

While the blog tour is running I will try to share other participant’s posts. I never share a post I have not read and lose interest if there is too much repetition across the tour. How much I share also depends on the time I have available to seek out and read. For the long blog tours – some last for weeks – I will likely only manage to share a fraction of the stops.

There have been tours where my participating post, even when positive, has been ignored by author, publisher and organiser. My fellow book bloggers are always generous in sharing content but I expect some interest from those who benefit more directly.

Some have suggested that negative reviews have no place on a blog tour and bloggers should withdraw rather than post anything but praise. Late withdrawal strikes me as reneging on an agreement. Such action would also dilute the worth of the tour. Why would a reader click on multiple posts about a book that are known to have been filtered in this way?

Whilst my enthusiasm for tours has been subdued recently the main reason I have cut back on participation is the limit it places on my flexibility to choose the books I read. By filling my schedule with agreed dates I commit myself to particular titles, most of which I have not yet received at the point of commitment.

For publishers reading this post it is worth remembering that, whether or not I am taking part in a tour for a book, if I am sent a review copy I will do my best to read it in a timely manner and then share whatever publicity it receives from multiple sources. Once I have posted my own review I will share other’s thoughts on the title, whatever they may be. I blog about books to make readers aware that they exist, to share the book love.

Do other bloggers enjoy taking part in blog tours? I love talking about books but, for now, desire greater freedom to read titles of my choosing, in an order that suits me. I am, after all, more likely to react positively to a book if it is the one I feel like reading at a given time.

Not a Million Dollar Blog

This post was written to share my experiences of blogging as part of the blog tour for Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s latest book, ‘The Million Dollar Blog’. I review the book here.

P1010079

The photo I attached to my first ever blog post.

When I started blogging I was writing posts for myself. This is probably just as well as few other people read them. As I learned to navigate my way around the blogosphere I came across others who produced similar content – thoughts on their lives, their children, their everyday experiences interacting with the world face to face. Some of these bloggers hoped to make money from their writing. Perhaps they harboured dreams of creating a million dollar blog. I had no such ambitions. That said, I did watch my stats with interest. Each new follower, each like or comment left beneath a post, gave me a warm, fuzzy glow. My words were being well received even if my readership remained small.

I started to post book reviews and realised that this was the niche I felt most comfortable in. With that realisation, my priorities changed. Now the numbers mattered more. If I was to ask publishers to send me books to review then I needed to attain a certain reach. I became more active on social media, mainly Twitter, and developed daily habits that enabled me to promote my work. I contacted a wide range of people within the book industry and noted those who were willing to offer support.

I am now at a stage where I could ask for more books than it would be possible to read. I can be choosey about the titles I accept which offers two main advantages:

  • I only ask for books I expect to enjoy, so reading remains a pleasure;
  • the reviews I write are likely to be positive which is ever so much better for me, author and publisher.

I refuse to accept ebooks, most self published works and certain genres. This is not due to snobbery. I firmly believe that every reader should be reading whatever type of book they enjoy. As my personal experience of reading these books has not been positive I avoid them. There is no pleasure in writing a negative review, even if it may be useful to other readers. I review every book I read and will always be honest in sharing my thoughts.

Much of my time on social media is now spent promoting books, although I retain a personal edge. Feeds that are little more than advertising are not interesting. I only follow those who appear real and are willing to interact.

I will share my views, and those of others, on books I have read. I am grateful to everyone who shares my posts and aim to reciprocate when they review books I have been sent. I value my place in the friendly, welcoming and generous community of book bloggers, but feel I can only offer backing for books I know personally.

As in any group of people, there is a hierarchy among book bloggers. The cool kids will be woo’d, especially by the big publishers. The mystical definition of cool is hard to define, but everyone knows who they are. Several of these people have gone on to find paid work as a result of the exposure provided by their blogs. Their trajectory is a pleasure to follow.

And I too have stepped outside the blogosphere. I have started attending more book events – readings, launches and, this year, my first literary festival. As well as being enjoyable in themselves, they give me additional material to write about, thereby keeping the content on my blog more varied and interesting.

I do need to remember though that just because an author has been lovely to me on Twitter it doesn’t mean they know who I am. That said, when I introduce myself to them at a book event and they recognise my name, I feel that I have arrived.

The Million Dollar Blog is a guide for those who wish to monetise their blog. I have no such aspirations. I write because I love books and have learned, through creating my own fiction – a useful exercise but not one I plan to pursue – how skilled the authors whose words enrich my life are. I want to support them, and those who publish their work. Blogging is how I choose to do this. By not asking for payment, other than a copy of their book, I feel able to retain my impartiality. My readers know that what I write is how I feel.

Of course, I still want my words to be read. There are many people publishing advice on line about how to attract readers; I wonder what their readership is.

New followers, days when my stats spike, these continue to give me those warm fuzzy feels. Perhaps if the slow but steady growth I enjoy stalled I would wonder why but I have no higher expectations. I suspect that book blogging is not the ideal route for those who aspire to create a million dollar blog. How lovely it would be if I were mistaken.

Do check out the other stops on this tour, detailed below.

blog-tour     milliondollarblog

‘The Million Dollar Blog’ will be published by Piatkus on 29th September 2016