The Sunday Salon: So You Want to Start a Book Blog

To be fair, no one has actually asked me this—but then again, nobody asked me to review books either. (I learned long ago that you have to make your own fun in this world… so I do!) Much like any other project, you just need to be prepared and have the right tools. Other than that, you’re basically free to do what you want. So instead of presenting a step by step way of doing this, I’m just going to highlight some of the answers and tools that will make getting started a lot easier.

Questions

Figuring out what you want from your book blog and what you want your book blog to be upfront will make things a lot more painless down the line—but remember, you reserve the right to change your mind. Do you want to focus on a genre, allowing you to specialize, or do you want to read everything (like me)? Do you want to post reviews on a schedule, or do you want to post your thoughts as you finish the books? A good way to help you sort out what you want is to look at other book blogs—check out the blogs linked on several book blogs to get an idea of what’s out there and what you want. If you’re interested, you probably already have a vague idea of what you want.

  • What genre(s) do you want to focus on?
  • How structured do you want your reviews to be?
  • What do you want your review schedule to be like—structured in advance or done as you go?
  • How long do you want your reviews to be—and do you want to utilize form reviews?
  • How much time can you reasonably devote to a book blog?
  • Where will you get the majority of your books—will you buy them, rent them from the library, or even focus on public domain classics?
  • What memes do you want to participate in?
  • How much personal information do you want to put up (and, if it’s a little, what’s your awesome pseudonym)?

And remember—if what you ultimately want is a bit too much for you at the moment, start on a smaller scale and see if you can’t work up. There’s no need for this to be stressful; if it’s stressful, it’s not worth it.

Tools

Ah, the tools of the trade. I’m assuming a basic knowledge of HTML—enough to put your own links in, since naked links are a wee bit unprofessional—but if you don’t, I direct you here.

Firstly, obviously, you’ll need a blogging platform, whether or not you’ve paid for a domain name or not. The main two options are WordPress and Blogger, but there are other options, such as TypePad, Posterous, LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, and tumblr. (The last three are largely fandom spaces, and I personally hate tumblr’s lack of a proper comment system. It doesn’t encourage engagement.) I personally prefer WordPress (obviously); the layout is cleaner, it’s easier to make a good-looking blog without too much hassle or dishing out money, and I find it easier to schedule posts here. Research your options and find what works best for you and fits your needs best!

Notetaking System

Depending on how you write reviews, you might need one. This is different for everyone; some people don’t need to take notes as they go, while others just want to mark certain passages. Some, though it pains me to say it, even like writing in the book, the vandals. Personally, I keep a big notecard where I write notes and words I don’t know as I go; it also functions as a bookmark. I also have another big notecard with lots of Post-It Notes stuck to it, so I can mark passages I want to write down in my commonplace book.

RSS Feed Reader

Next comes your RSS Feed Reader, to keep up with your fellow book bloggers; dialogue, after all, is what differentiates book blogging from keeping a personal reading journal and makes it so much better. There are so many options for this that it can be a little confusing; your main options are online feed readers, such as Google Reader (which is easy for those with Google accounts), browser add-ons (like Brief), or desktop application readers (such as NetNewsWire for Mac or FeedDemon for PC). Again, search around for what you need—if you follow a lot of blogs, then a desktop application might be useful. I know it is for me.

Comment Tracker

While your blogging platform will keep you abreast of comments on your blog, you might want to follow comment conversations on other blogs—but what if they’re on different platforms or even the same platform that doesn’t offer that function? You can subscribe via e-mail, but you can also use a comment tracking service such as CoComment, co.mments, and the like. These keep you updated on comments in a thread, especially ones that are replies to your comment.

And while it’s not necessary, I find apps like ReadItLater and InstantPaper extremely useful for keeping tabs on posts and webpages I only need to see once more.

And last but not least, patience! It’s a virtue for a reason.

This week, I finished up Hard Times and picked up The Silmarillion—which has been interesting going, but it’s been much better than the time I attempted it in high school. I’m so glad to have a map of Arda on hand, however, although I’m trying not to get tripped up on names and places. I also finished The Days of the King today, which was almost aggressively inaccessible.

Tor/Forge is giving away a Mistborn prize pack of all four Mistborn books—including The Alloy of Law—until September 6th. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What other tools do you think a book blogger needs?

19 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: So You Want to Start a Book Blog

  1. Good, practical advice all around. I think it’s especially important to read other blogs, not for copying purposes but just to get a sense of different ways of going about things. Don’t assume the first blogs you find are the only ones doing it right and that you have do do things that way.
    And when you find blogs you like, comment on them. Leave real, substantive comments, not just “great review” or a link to your blog. Good comments let the more established bloggers know you have something worthwhile to say, and they’ll be more likely to visit your blog.

  2. Oooh, I’m going to have to check out those comment tracking links, since the one I was using went defunct long enough ago that I don’t even remember its name. In the interim I’ve just been starring posts in Google Reader and then occasionally going back to my starred posts to check for replies. Not the world’s most efficient system.

  3. I’ve tried taking notes but it never works for me. I always feel as though I’m interrupting my reading. The comment tracking I may have to try out though.

    I tried The Silmarillion several times and I never made it through which frustrates me because LOTR so much.

  4. Great advice! Twitter is a great tool for networking and promoting your blog- it’s essential for me these days! I think you have all the high points covered and I’m going to bookmark this post and send it to people who ask me how to start a blog!

  5. Pingback: Sunday Salon: Link Share | The Nerdy Reader

  6. Pingback: BBAW 2011: Blogging « The Literary Omnivore

  7. Very useful post… and one that makes me wish that I had a Mac! I also think I’m going to try out Comment Tracker, because sometimes I remember to go back to a blog to see if someone has responded, but usually I forget. Such good suggestions.

  8. You can also add comments to most Tumblrs, though no one has ever used mine. It’s frustrating sometimes, so that’s why I just use it to ramble about life and reblog pictures, ha.

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