Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Behind the Scenes At Becky's Book Reviews

Behind the Scenes At Becky's Book Reviews
A Day in the Life of a Book-Obsessed Blogger
Is There A Method To My Madness?

Today's post is going to be a bit unusual. Blame MotherReader. She is asking bloggers to write posts that would fall under the category of "advice" or "tips." I'm hoping that readers will be able to *learn* something from this post. At the very least, maybe how *not* to do something. Want to skip straight to the tips? They're at the very bottom.

I started this blog in August of 2006. I had had loads of experience reading kids and YA books, and moderate experience writing reviews of kids and YA books. [My background for those silly enough to be curious is English Literature and Library Science. I spent almost ten years of my life in school earning three degrees: BA in English (and History), MA in English, and MLS in Library Science of course.] I have never once lacked an opinion on anything I've read. I've always loved talking about books. In fact, most people would say I have a hard time stopping once I've got started. But I had no experience whatsoever with blogging. I didn't really have a clue what to do with it once I created it.

How much of my blogging is spontaneous? How much is planned or calculated? Do I know what I'm doing? Or am I taking it day by day?

When I started the blog my goal was simple. All I wanted to accomplish was to post 7 times a week. At the time, I knew that my audience was in the 0 to 4 range. I figured that maybe just maybe a few of my friends would read it a few times a week. I didn't even expect them to check it every day. My blog was for me and me alone. Okay, I admit, I hoped...I wished...that someone would find my blog. That someone--a stranger--would find my blog and like it. Someone who wasn't obligated to think I'm a genius. That all my opinions are right on target. My blog didn't really have a structure. It was completely spontaneous. I reviewed what I wanted when I wanted.

I really credit MotherReader's article, Be A B-List Blogger, in The Edge of the Forest for my transformation. I really took her advice to heart. And I started changing the way I blogged. Three or four things added together really clicked for me and made a big difference. Memes. Links. Blogrolls. Carnivals. Poetry Friday. Reading Challenges. Comments. JacketFlap. Edge of the Forest. And that's just to name a few things that have changed...Okay, that's WAY more than four things. But math has never been my strong point, ask anyone. The biggest difference between now and then is the sense of community. My blog isn't for me, myself, and I anymore. I am writing for someone. I have an audience in mind. I hope to interact with that audience. I see myself as being part of a community or two. (Chiefly the kidlitosphere AND the challenge-addict community.)

When I started this post, I had a long list of tips. I did, I really did. Then I thought to myself. Well, none of this is original. I learned it from watching others, imitating others. I'd read blogs, blogs, and more blogs. I'd see what others were doing. I read probably fifty or more blogs a day. (If my blog is enjoyable, it's because I've learned from the best.) I saw several blogs had review policies, for example, so I thought...hmmm, that would be a good idea. Maybe imitate isn't quite the right word. Inspire would be more like it. My goal was always to keep it very personal. Very subjective. (So then I went back to read MotherReader's article and discovered my tips were completely unoriginal, and less concise.)

So if I were to have any advice, it would be to spend time getting inspired by other bloggers. Learn from your favorites. Learn from those you deem to be the "best." Always keep learning. Don't be afraid to change through the months and years. Don't be afraid to rewrite your mission statements and review policies. As human's we're always changing, growing, transforming, becoming, renewing...let your blog flow naturally. Let it reflect who you are today.

What can you learn about me if my blog is my reflecton? Well, it would be obvious that I'm obsessed. Passionate. I have strong opinions. I embrace the obsessiveness. I do. There's nothing wrong with being consumed with a passion for books, for reading. Nothing wrong with letting that love drive you and energize you. My hope is that my enthusiasm, my obsession, will rub off on my readers. I don't care necessarily if readers are inspired to read the books that I recommend...I just want them to read something, anything. I just want people to get as excited about books. It doesn't matter to me which books, which authors, which genres.

I think the most important thing is to be yourself. To let your blog be a natural extension of your personality.

My goals fifteen months later...

I still have the commitment to post 7 times a week. However, in reality, 7 times a week is rarely enough for me. Each month sees an increase in my posts. Whether this is good or bad I can't say. But I'm hoping for quality and quantity.

In addition, I am adding structure to my blog...curbing my spontaneity a bit. Mondays are for interviews for as long as I can continue to find willing authors. Wednesdays for for Traveling the World. I am super-excited about my Travel The World features. I don't know why I *love* international literature. But it fascinates me. It just does. So I share that on Wednesdays. The feature started in August. I haven't heard much feedback from readers, but I'm enjoying it just the same. And Fridays, well, I'm joining the group in Poetry Fridays.

But the reviews are still completely spontaneous. I don't plan out which books I'll be reading in advance. I have boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and more boxes of books. Each box is cataloged in list format (title, author) so I do know what I have on hand. I am planning to transform into someone more organized for the new year. (We'll see how that goes.) My simple list is about to be turned into a thorough excel document. But I'm only doing this with 2008 releases. That way, I can handle it little by little. I'm excited to be trying something new. Trying to keep track of what date I receive a book, the contact information connected with the book--you know those tiny slips of papers that ALWAYS ALWAYS get lost at my house, and other essential information. So we'll see if I'm more efficient next year as the organized-me gets going.

So how do I decide what to read? What to review? Well, I'm a moody reader. I'll admit it. I might have a stack of ten books near my bed. (Not unusual.) From that stack, I usually pick one close to the top. I read a few lines, a few paragraphs. If I'm not hooked....down it goes. Up comes another. Repeat as needed until I've found the book of the night. The next day, the next week, that book that I found *uninspiring* before suddenly becomes incredibly entertaining. So with me, it's ALWAYS best to let the mood come naturally. Forcing a book on me, it just makes me cranky. And you don't want that.

Then there is the reviewing stage. I have a stack of books by my computer. Again, it could be as high as ten books. They're all sitting patiently though sometimes lopsidedly waiting to be reviewed. I pick up a book. I don't have a system. It's really as simple for me as "I think I want to review you today." That is unless it's a library book. Those get priority. A day or two before library day, I'll write as many as I can. Occasionally, if I'm feeling inspired...I might write up the whole stack all at once. But only release them one at a time. That way, I can be "sneaky" and save some for rainy days when I'm not feeling like coming up with something new. I find having a reserve of books can come in quite handy. (And I highly recommend it.)

What else happens behind the scenes? Well, my best friend has turned out to be a site called Reviewers Checklist. I really can't praise this one enough. It lets you know which books are coming out which month. Authors. Titles. Publishers. Release Dates. Mini-summaries. What's not to love???? I just love the convenience of this one. And my site wouldn't be the same without this one. I rely on it for information.

I consider all aspect of my blogging "job" to be fun. I love reading. I love writing. I love reading comments. I love keeping up with other things in the kidlitosphere. But the most exciting part of my day is waiting to see if any books come. I love, love, love getting book deliveries. Who doesn't???
The few things that are seemingly original tips:

*Have a "reserve" of posts that can go up on days when you're not feeling your best.
*Don't be afraid to write things up in advance. For example, I've got all of December's Travel the World features written and ready to go. (I've got two or three weeks worth of Interview Mondays.) The more you can do today to prepare for next week, the more time you'll have for yourself.
*Use Reviewers' Checklist if you want to know what is going on in the world of children's and YA literature.
*Don't be afraid to contact authors and publishers. Just be respectful and mindful that their time is valuable. Ask for what you want. But be polite. Be respectful.
*Setting goals and setting priorities is ESSENTIAL. You've got to have a vision for your blog. You've got to visualize what you want. You have to WORK to get there.
*Don't be afraid to be overwhelmed. Embrace the chaos. Embrace the obsession. Okay, maybe not everyone can follow this one. But if you're like me...well, this just comes naturally...and it works. Some people see a stack of books and panic. I don't. I see a stack of books and get excited.
*Keep it fun. Don't let blogging become a chore. I guess this is easier said than done. I know some people can't help experiencing burn out occasionally. And I do get burned out on some things in my life. But reading isn't one of them. I've always associated reading with pleasure, with fun, with good times. That hasn't stopped.


chrisa511 said...

What a fun post Becky :) I really enjoyed reading this. I'm so glad that I discovered your blog, and I would've never discovered it had it not been for a similar love of Orson Scott Card! So there's proof that books do great things ;)

I think you do an amazing job with your blog. It's definitely a full time job to keep up a blog the way you do. I could never do it! Mine's much more sporadic, though I wish I had more time to post more reviews. Blogging really is one of the greatest phenomenons of the past few years though. I love it! It's such a wonderful community.

Debi said...

Hi Becky. I just had to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Seriously fun reading! My favorite line:

"I have never once lacked an opinion on anything I've read."

Yep, you put a smile on my face for the day! And let me tell you, I love coming by to read all those opinions!

Anonymous said...

Becky, So happy I found your blog and can tell you are having a great time with it. I have a blog that I am using as a web site. I need to write on it more and you are inspiring me. Thanks.

Becky said...

Chris, I enjoy reading your blog too, of course, I've since learned we have much more in common than just Orson Scott Card. I think I found you through Carl's site. :) I agree with you about blogging. It is the community aspect that is just too much fun. I really love reading other people's blogs.

Debi: I'm glad my opinions make you smile :) I certainly love having an outlet for them. And this way I don't have to bore my family with them.

Deanna: Glad you're enjoying the blog. And if I can inspire anyone just a teeny tiny bit that makes me happy.

Erin said...

You amaze me, Becky!!

Saints and Spinners said...

This is good to read, Becky. There are days when I think, "What have I gotten myself into?" in terms of my interview series on children's performers. I've got to remember that this is all for fun, and since no one's paying me to run my own blog, I actually do have a say in when I post things.;)

By the way, my word verifer is "fadle."

Megan Germano said...

I am so impressed. This is a wonderful post! I am now a registered user of Reviewers Checklist! Thanks again.
Megan Germano
Read, Read, Read!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Becky, and I'm glad I stumbled upon it (quite hard to find among all the reviews and other stuff).

Thanks for this encouraging post and most importantly, the reminder of the love for reading! Will remember that each time I blog :)