****Last updated on Feb 10, 2012****
Have you recently started a book review blog? Are you thinking of starting one? Then this New Book Blogger FAQ is for you. Included is advice gleaned from over three years of my own book blogging, plus many links to more fab advice from other book bloggers and professionals.
Let’s start with the question asked most often to get it out of the way:
Where can I get ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies)?
My answer is to link to my recently updated post on the topic, Where to get free books and ARCs. This post covers websites designed to get books out to early reviewers, ARC programs run by publishers, places to find contests where you can enter to win books, and possibilities to get free books by joining blog tours. By reading this post, you can see that there are actually a lot of good opportunities for beginning bloggers to snag ARCs. There are also opportunities to get eGalleys if you have an eReader.
But to be a good book blogger you by no means have to review ARCs or accept review copies. If you want to blog about new books, buy them or look for them at book swapping sites like bookmooch. You don't even have to blog about new books (though it helps if the books are at least still in print). Blog about the books you already own or the ones you borrow from the library (if you are lucky to have one in your area with a decent selection).
IMPORTANT: Only accept or request books that you intend to actually review! I cannot stress enough that book blogging is NOT about getting free books.
For more information and advice about how to deal with ARCs, please read The Story Siren's article Advance Reader Copies: What You Need to Know.
And now on to the rest of the questions I've been asked at one time or another.
What kind of content should I have on my book blog?First you should decide on a focus for your blog, and this is often determined by the types of books you read. If you mainly read Young Adult literature, then make your focus YA. If you have eclectic taste, a general book blog is of course fine too. On a book blog, your main content is most likely going to be book reviews. A lot of bloggers supplement their reviews with book news, author interviews, and a wide variety of other features. Take a look around at other book blogs for inspiration, but be careful not to outright "steal" content and ideas. If you like a feature another blogger is doing, it is most polite to ask if you can do it too. And a link back to them is always greatly appreciated.
See also the article 20 types of blog posts at Problogger for ways to add variety to your posting.
What blogging service/template/design should I use?
The Story Siren has a great post on the nuts and bolts of getting started right here.
What should I include in my book reviews?There is no standard format that everyone must follow – book reviews are as varied as the bloggers who write them. My main advice is to be honest in your assessment of a book, don’t feel compelled to gloss over a bad book to spare an author’s feelings but don’t trash an author either. Usually when I don't like a book, it's not because it is a vile piece of trash that should have never been published, but because it just has some aspect that doesn't appeal to me as a reader. But that doesn't mean that aspect won't appeal to other readers. For example, I am usually going to find high fantasy tropes (invented creatures, quests, etc.) boring because it's just not my thing. But I know that many readers LOVE that stuff, and I write my review accordingly.
My post titles are always in the format Book Review: Title of Book by Name of Author so they can be found more easily by search engines.
In addition to giving your opinion you could also include a short summary, a picture of the cover, a short quote or two from the book for flavor (unless you have an ARC which states not to quote the book without checking against finished copy), publisher information, publication date, buying information, links to the author’s website or some other book related information. Try to think about what your audience might want to know.
Another great thing that some bloggers do is to link to other blog reviews. This is especially helpful if you've written a negative review and you want to balance it with other bloggers' more positive opinions. Plus, it's very likely that the bloggers you link to will become aware of your link (via Technorati blog reactions or Google Alerts) and become aware of your blog.
What are weekly memes and should I do them too?You’ve seen Mailbox Mondays, Top Ten Tuesdays, Waiting on Wednesday, Booking through Thursday, Friday Fill-Ins, Saturday Review of Books and The Sunday Salon (and many, many more) on a lot of blogs and you haven’t got a clue what they are and how they started. Well, someone had a brilliant idea to host such a meme inviting bloggers to join in. If you want to participate, the usual MO is to write your post on the appointed day and leave a link to it at the host's site. That way you can check out what other people had to say. It's a great way to add interesting content to your site and to get others to drop by your blog. Don’t do them all - a lot of readers are turned off by blogs that only publish memes - but pick a couple that seem interesting and fun to you and stick with them for a while.
How can I get people to visit my blog and keep coming back?The best way to get subscribers and followers (on blogger) and to get people to add you to their favorites or blogrolls is to write engaging content and to update regularly. Also, make it easy for people to subscribe or "follow" by adding the appropriate widgets to your template. But how will people find your blog in the first place? That may take a bit of work. I suggest regularly leaving intelligent comments at the blogs you read, becoming a public follower of blogs you like, and joining a weekly meme. There are tons of other ways to generate traffic: host contests on your blog, join a book challenge (there are many), contribute to a forum at a book site and include your URL, tweet at twitter, etc.
The Story Siren has some great tips on this subject here.
Farmlane Books also wrote an article about how to join the book blog community with some very helpful advice.
Find out more about blogrolls and their usefulness at Blogging 101.
Alyce at At Home With Books gives some tips on hosting a successful blog giveaway.
How do I get authors or publishers to contribute books to my contests?Until you start generating decent traffic, you’re probably going to have to donate your own books to your contests (and don’t forget to factor in the cost of postage). Authors and publishers are generally excited about opportunities to promote their books on blogs through contests, but they’re usually looking to maximize exposure so they are going to want to know about your audience. In order to have something to tell them when they ask, sign up for Sitemeter and/or Google analytics so you can track your number of visitors.
What do publishers/authors consider 'decent traffic'?
It's hard to give any fixed numbers, because honestly, it varies. A POD (self published author) may be happy for any exposure at all while some publishers set their own minimum requirements. Most are going to click on your URL and take a quick look around. Are your reviews well-written? Do you update regularly? Do your posts attract comments? Do you have followers? Publicists also notice when they start seeing your blog linked to from a lot of other bloggers so make friends and do link exchanges.
Peachtree Publishers tell bloggers exactly what they are looking for.
How do I contact authors?
Authors with a web presence usually have some sort of contact form or e-mail address on their website or blog. Authors without a web presence or really famous authors can usually only be contacted through their publicist at the publisher. Interacting with authors is one of my favorite perks of book blogging. I am always amazed when I ask questions and they answer them!
But the general rule here is - think LONG and HARD before contacting an author and asking for an ARC. Here is a post from YA author Saundra Mitchell explaining why. Basically, you will almost always have better chances of getting an ARC by contacting the publicity department at the publishing house. And YA author Alexandra Bracken has some thoughts on that too.
What sorts of questions (and how many) should I ask authors when I interview them?How about not the same questions everyone asks? Before interviewing an author, do your research. First google their previous interviews. Questions they've already answered are not questions you want to ask, but maybe their answers will give you inspiration for further questions of your own. Secondly, research their readily available online content - blogs, websites, twitter, etc to get to know them better and find questions that are personalized to them. A good interview takes a lot of time and every question should count. I limit my questions to 5 so that neither the author or my readership has to invest a ton of time into the interview. And of course, I ask questions I really want to know the answers to, so that even if no one else ever reads it, at least I will have enjoyed the experience.
YA Author Justine Larbalestier has some pointers on interviewing too.
More tips on interviewing with concrete examples.
How do I contact publishers?The usual method when you are starting out is to visit the different publishing house websites and look for their contact addresses. These will usually have 'publicity' in the address somewhere. For example, look at this link: http://www.bloomsburyusa.com/AboutUS/default.asp
When you scroll down you’ll see the e-mail address for publicity queries for adult titles and for children's titles.
Writer Linda Formichelli also put together this amazing Review Copy Helper where you can find a ton of contact addresses for publisher publicity departments.
It may be tempting to ask established bloggers for their publicist contacts, but please don’t. In many cases we’ve been asked to keep these confidential, and as much as we’d love to pass them on, we just can’t.
See also this useful article at Problogger.
What should I say in my e-mail when I request a book from a publisher or author? In my e-mails, I introduce myself and my blog, tell them what book(s) I’d like to review (from their current or upcoming season), a little bit about my audience (with supporting stats) and why they should want to promote their books on my blog. I also include my mailing address when contacting publicists since some prefer to simply send out books and not have to write back. Some publicists also want you to include ISBN numbers.
For more information about what publicists are looking for in a blog, read this interview I did with Courtney, a publicist with Penguin. For information on how many titles you should request and publicist expectations, check out this interview with Jillian, a former publicist with Penguin (and the most awesome publicist ever), at Steph's (Reviewer X) blog.
Ok, so I received some books for review. When is the best time to review them?
If you receive a pre-publication book from an author, ask them if they have a preference regarding the time frame of your review and agree on something that works for your scheldule too. If the book is already out, then ASAP is probably the best answer.
If you get books from a publisher or publicist, the answer varies. Fortunately, the wonderful Steph (Reviewer X) put together this handy post that lists the preferences of various publishing houses.
It's also polite to send an e-mail to the source of your review book with a link to your review. It might even get you on a preferred reviewer list, garnering you more books for review.
What should I do with my review copies when I am done with them?
If you have finished copies, think about donating them to libraries (Steph Su has a great primer on book donations). ARCs are a much trickier topic. Liz B explains why you should not sell or donate ARCs to libraries here. Think about passing them on to other bloggers as gifts or in contests.
Should I have Word Verification in my comment form?
NO! It's annoying and it discourages people from leaving comments. I don't have it and I've only gotten two spam messages in (nearly) 2 years of blogging. Please get rid of it. If you do get a bit of spam, just delete it. Easy. (OK, so no one really asked this, but I wanted to address it because it is a pet peeve of mine). If you are targeted by a spammer, consider setting comment moderation for posts older than 7 days or so.
Can you help me with some technical stuff on my blog?
Sorry, I can't even help myself! I've been wanting to change to three columns forever and even found a site that walked me through it step by step and I still couldn't manage.
You have a cool header. Can your husband design one for me?
Thanks! My published children's book illustrator husband Daniel designed it. Right now he is quite busy, but we may have another header contest in the future. Readingjunky won the last one and she loves her header too.
What are some other blogging tips I can check out?
Adele put together a great guide to YA blogging for newbies.
There is a whole ning group with tons of tips here: http://bookblogs.ning.com/group/bloggingtips
12 tips for new bloggers from Semicolon
Some things to avoid in Stomping on Yeti's 10 Things I Hate About You(r Blog)
Remember, the book blogging community is all about building relationships and that takes time and a lot of effort. But if you love reading and sharing that love of reading with others, it can be a very rewarding experience. Just don't expect blogging to be a fast and easy way to get free books. It's not.
If you have any questions I haven't addressed here, feel free to write me at lenoreva at hotmail dot com or leave a comment. I'd also love to hear YOUR advice for new book bloggers, so write away!