Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Book Blogger FAQ

****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!


Keri Mikulski said...

Great advice, Lenore!

Ana S. said...

What an excellent idea. I really can't think of anything to add. You've got it all covered :)

Alea said...

LOL @ the word verification. I also hate the new embedded comment box, you wouldn't believe how many times I've closed a window only to find out my comment didn't go through!

I think that's a great idea to hold a contest with a Daniel designed banner as the prize!

Steph said...

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.

Bless you.

I'm pointing new bloggers here when they email me :D

Tasha said...

Thank You for the great tips!

Shalonda said...

That is such good advice. I wish someone would have posted that when I was just getting started. However, I am still a newbie, so it is still useful to me!

Thanks, Lenore!

Mari said...

Great advice!
Thanks a bunch. :)

Luanne said...

What a thorough, thoughtful post Lenore!
( I hate word verification too!)

Liviania said...

I think that would be a great contest!

I hate hate hate word verification. I'm glad someone else does too.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Definitely good advice. Blogging is fun and it's great to get to know people, but you really do have to love it or it's just not exciting for you or the people who are reading your blog.

And I do like the idea of a contest for a new header. I wish I knew how to do that. :(


Lorin said...

Great post!

"Should I have Word Verification in my comment form?

yes, ma'am. I will turn it off immediately. =)

And I will totally enter if you have a header contest. I love yours-- total header envy.

Ana S. said...

Because both you and Becky brought this up today, I'm going to try turning words verification off again :P

Doret said...

Don't blog with venom. If you didn't like a book but still want to post about it take a day to think about what you're going to say.
If you're writing an opposing view, be ready stand by what you say, and remember the no venom thing. You can disagree and still be polite

Serena said...

great advice for bloggers just starting out. I wish I had access to this advice when I started.

Serena said...

i added your post to my hubbub around the blogosphere feature

Amy said...

LOL!!!! I was thinking of starting a series like this, because I have the same problem. Instead I'm marking this and linking to it in my round-up this week.

Adele said...

Word verification gone.

Now I feel guilty for pestering you with questions. Thank you for being so darned helpful. Great post!

Staci said...

This was a great post and I really took to heart a lot of the suggestions you made here. Now I must go immediately and turn off that word verification thingy!!

Steph Su said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent post. 5 virtual props for you, Lenore!

Ali said...

I love the contest idea! And I so agree about word verification.

LisaMay said...

So very awesome Lenore! Thankyou so much :)

I think that a banner winning competiton would be a great idea, especially since it doesn't require a US or Canadian mailing address!!!

I also have a question, what do you think a publisher/author would consider 'decent traffic'?

...I'm just going to go turn off my word verification now haha

Unknown said...

That was great. What a fantastic idea!

Thao said...

I love you Lenore : D You helped me so much with my blog. Now everyone who wants to start a blog will know what to do.

Btw I tagged you here: http://serenehours.blogspot.com/2009/01/bookshelf-meme.html
and here:http://serenehours.blogspot.com/2009/01/happy-tag.html

Ladytink_534 said...

It is awful nice of you to do this! Lol, I hate word verification too. Sounds like a neat contest!

susan said...

Hi Lenore,

Saw your comment at Steph's blog. Any chance of getting you to submit to our contest and linking it on your blog?

Black History Month Writers' Contest

drey said...

Lenore ~ Thanks so much for the advice/FAQ! And I removed word verification from my blogs. =)

susan said...

Ah, not new to online communities or even blogging. New to lit blogs. Odd given how much I read. Well, a woman can only do so much. Anyhoo, enjoyed your post. Taking notes. Thanks.

Yan said...

*cough cough* Guilty! After reading the "hate word verifications!" I've decided at remove it from my blog...~

Laina said...

It's pretty easy to make a three column layout. I've done like four now.

And now I'm considering getting rid of my word verification... lol.

Laina said...

I just used this... http://tips-for-new-bloggers.blogspot.com/2007/02/three-columns-blogger-template.html and the directions there are really simple, and then you can just move your stuff around like normal.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Glad this was helpful to you all.

And THANK YOU to those who turned off word verification. I felt so free commenting on your blogs today.

Laina - Thanks, that's exactly the one I tried to follow but for some reason it wouldn't work for me. Maybe I'll try again one of these days.

Alea said...

The absolute worst is when the word verification image doesn't even appear (and it's that random no image square) so you can't comment for like a whole day until it starts showing again!

Anonymous said...

Interesting... Just how many people bug you with questions? I just jumped right in (to blogging) and never gave a thought to any of this. Well, maybe I did at first wonder about ARCs but decided I didn't want the pressure... You obviously are doing a tremendous service here. All power to the newbies - hope you have fun with it. :)

Anonymous said...

LisaMay brings about a very good question! What is acceptable blog traffic?

Steph said...

God, I love you, woman :P

Linda said...

Definitely do a contest with a Daniel banner as the prize! That would be ONE LUCKY WINNER!

Anonymous said...

Great post Lenore! I'm going to link this over at the Blogging Tips group at Book Blogs Ning.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. It's an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to blog about books.

Chrisbookarama said...

Great post for beginners. My advice? Just do it! Don't be scared. We were all newbies once too. You learn a lot as you go and experience is the best teacher.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Lisa May and Anon - I updated the post with an answer to your question.

Beth F said...

Great post!! Solid advice. I'll be marking this post and sending others here.

H said...

Thanks for this, it's really useful. I always feel a bit rude emailing people with my own blog questions

Anonymous said...

Great post. I wish I'd seen one like this when I was starting my blog.

Tracy(bookroomreviews) said...

Excellent post and advice. I will link it too.

Ashley said...

Thanks for the help, Lenore!

Book Butterfly (Kim) said...

Hi Lenore, I just set up my own blog recently and I can't tell you enough how helpful this post was. And I also loved your link to the Story Siren too which also helped me. Thank you so much for all the great tips and advice. :)

soundistheword3 said...

I finally got around to reading this entire post, and just wanted to say thanks for the advice (and honesty!).


Alexia561 said...

Great advice! Thank you so much for sharing!


thanks so much for the advice! I'll use it!

I'm just starting so I'm not evening THINKING about contacting publishers for books...

But I did contact a debut author and asked for an interview, and she said YES! I'm giving away a copy of the book in honor of the interview...on my dime...but I'm just so excited about the book I want everyone to read it!

I'm having a BIG debut weekend full of sweet prizes and surprises! Stop on by!

Alison's Bookmarks said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

I recently launched my book blog, and I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed at the moment. You have no idea how much you've helped me! I have made some mistakes already, so I wish I had read your article sooner! But, we learn and move on, right?

Thanks so much!

Unknown said...

I appreciate every word of this, Lenore! I am so glad that you stopped by my new blog and kindly directed me to this very informative post! I've learned a lot!


Carolyn (Book Chick City) said...

Hi - This post is so great. As a new book blogger myself this is just invaluable. Thanks for sharing :)

MissSusie said...

Thanks for this Lenore!I joined Library Thing and already won two books I'm so excited to read.Thanks for the tips!

Flip The Page! Book Reviews said...

I was wondering...when you send an ARC request to an author or publisict, do they always reply to you before they sound out the book? Or maybe some too busy to reply but send it anyway?

Lenore Appelhans said...

Hi Flip the Page!

In my experience, most publicists will respond to you to let you know if they are sending a book. But sometimes, if you've included your address, they'll just add you to a list without writing you back, and then you'll get the book(s) in the mail.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Wow, what an awesome guide. I am definitely going to follow your advice and get rid of captcha since it really annoys me :-)

Laina said...

I was just linking this to a new blogger and I thought... Lenore, if you want a three column layout, you can send me your html and I can make it three columns for you easy as pie. You won't lose any gadgets, either. :)

Well, if you want me to, my email is Laina1312@gmail.com

Mary Ann - Reading, Writing, and Recipes said...

Thanks for all the good tips.

Sam and Boo Book Reviews said...

What a fantastic resource. Thank you.

Fiction Spark said...

Thank you so much for posting these helpful tips. I'm a new blogger and I'm looking reading tips for newbies like me. And thank you for gathering those links of other blogging tips and posting them here.

Natalie said...

I know this is an old post, but thank you so much for it! It's got loads of great advice about things I've been wondering about and has helped me loads! Thanks!

James said...

Really glad I came across this post. Tons of useful information and lots of great links. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am contemplating diving in to the world of YA book blogging, and I have not only been wondering how do I start, but how do I make an impact in such a heavily saturated market? It would have taken me forever to find the answers to all the questions your article posed, so thank you for putting this out there and adding all those terrific links as well:)

H. Roddenberry

Andrea said...

Thank you, tremendously! Book blogging has been something that I've been curious about for awhile, and the process of actually getting to the point where I can request ARCs and books has left me baffled. I really appreciate your straight-forward answers.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Here Here to the end of word verification!

Fictional Candy said...

Great post, very helpful! I've turned off my word verification now, thanks!! :)

Liz @ Fictional Candy

Roberta R. said...

Again, very detailed and informative. Thank you for providing advice and links!

Stormy said...

Thank you for this post! I know it's three years old now, but it's still helpful, as I'm getting into the book blogging world. I have a feeling I'm going to really enjoy it, but right now it's a bit overwhelming. I think it's great that your tips are pretty specific enough to be helpful, but general enough that I'm still finding them valuable 3 years later.

GeekMarloz said...

Thanks so much for your post!

Audrey said...

Thanks for the helpful post. Almost four years old now and I still feel like it is relevant and so generous to allow others to benefit from your experience.