OR CAN YOU?!
Last week I suggested that we, the book blogging community, take a closer look at what we do, and, importantly, how we do it. It seems to have struck a chord: Many bloggers commented, and, if usage is any indicator, many more are interested. We’re something of a nascent hive mind, so it only makes sense for us to pool our resources and openly discuss this thing we take very much for granted.
I want to reiterate that I don’t think I know better than anyone else. Having a background in information science and writing for a few websites, though, I’ve heard things, and they’ll inform my discussions here. My hope is that readers will use my posts as a foil: If you agree with something, expand on it; if you disagree, explain why. As Tenacious D would say, “That’s f*****’ teamwork.” (Also: Topic suggestions are welcome. You can recommend a topic in the comments. Please label it as such. Blatantly. Like, “TOPIC SUGGESTION!!!”)
Note: For a related (but distinct) take on book blogging and book reviewer issues, check out Ria’s column “The Reviewer’s Dilemma” at Bibliotropic.
Without further ado, the topics I mentioned last week: Post frequency and length.
But First, There’s the Question of Motive, AKA “Intent”
Presumably we are identifying ourselves as book bloggers because we want to talk (or write, or otherwise express ourselves) in regards to books. We’re bibliophiles, and book lovers are by nature chatty creatures, given over to an enthusiasm for our subject that sometimes bleeds into evangelism. (Case in point: My post dedicated to other posts about Annihilation.) Ultimately, we’re here for the books, and for the companionship to be found with fellow book lovers.
You might say we’re a fellowship.
But make no mistake: Not everyone is attributing to us such purity of motive. “Be careful how you present yourself,” some “knowledgeable” voices warn, “lest publishers and authors perceive your blog as a hobby.” (I have read things to this effect; they used the term “hobby.”) But, but, but…book blogging is a hobby. Perhaps there are “professional” book bloggers out there, making a living off of the typitty-typitty. Technically speaking, accepting money in exchange for your work, however informal it might seem, would qualify you as a “professional.” I suspect, though, that most of us aren’t being compensated, with the possible exception of ARCs, and that’s not really compensation. It’s an element of symbiosis: Publishers give us review copies, we give them reviews (read: Publicity).
For most of us then, book blogging really is a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to have hobbies. A hobby is not, as the cult of productivity will tell you, a waste of time; nor is it merely a means of acquiring skills that could be parlayed into a different career path. A hobby is a practice that enhances one’s quality of life, which is, like, a real thing, at least for those of us who enjoy a minimum amount of security and a basic livelihood.
What these commentators are really getting at is: Do you want to manage your blog as if it’s a hobby? Will you be more or less formal? What’s your intent? If your goal is to storm the book blogging world, cutting a swath through the reputations and egos of fragile authors, that’s fine. It’s totally legitimate. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it. But you have to act accordingly, because becoming the blitzkrieg of book blogging will require you to cultivate a readership. And, with that in mind, you will have to consider the frequency with which you blog, and the length of your posts.
“Consistency is all I ask! Give us this day day our daily mask.” (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.)
I don’t post on a daily basis. For one reason or another, beyond book reviews, I don’t feel like I have much to say. Perhaps I’m not “creative” enough to conceive of even a minimum of content. You might say that I behave as a hobbyist would: I’m casual. And my usage statistics show it. When I began blogging, nearly a year ago now, I would sometimes go weeks without updating my site. I’d average a few visitors (single digits) every week. Behold: I’ve become more vocal lately, and I’ve acquired higher usage and more “followers.” The rule is simple: If your intent is to have a presence, measured here via the metrics of usage and followers, you must post every day. It really is important enough for me to say it again: If you want to grow your audience, you must post every day.
There’s a very simple logic to this. There are a gajillion people vomiting their thoughts onto the Internet. The good thing is, you’re one of them. You’re right there with everyone else, sharing your thoughts on Nana Smith’s chin hair and cats, they’re really, really cute, and, like, oh my God, you just read this book by Author X that everyone else has just got to read, like, you can’t even. And so on.
The bad thing is: We all have ADD. If you’re not saying something, we’re going to look at that shiny thing over there. Ohhh, shiny. Succotash! What?
It’s like that. If you want to have a presence, you must be present. Don’t ask for our attention, demand it. But do it in a way that’s not off-putting, or we’ll never forgive you.
In addition to advocating a daily post, the self-appointed experts (of whom I am one, apparently, if I do say so myself *sarcastically preens*) will opine at length about…er, length. This is the rule: You must post 1000 words per day. The folks who favor this rule indicate that 1000 words per day is the minimum necessary to not only gain a reader’s attention, but also to convince the reader that you’re saying something of quality, of value to him or her.
I should note that I don’t agree with this particular rule, and I’d be interested to hear other bloggers’ opinions. Personally, I prefer not to read “long” items on a screen, with the exception of an e-reader. If something is longer than 800 words, I tend to skim at some point. Which brings us to the corollary: You can achieve 1000 words any way you want, i.e., through three posts of 400 words each, but you have to hit 1000. It’s true that multiple posts are likely to bring me, as a user, back to a website. Consider Boing Boing: I usually visit twice per day. But I’m not sure length matters. Maybe it’s my ADD, but I’m as likely to follow that link to a video of a baby panda snoring as I am some hoo-ha’s 2500 word treatise on everything that’s wrong with Spider Woman’s butt. I know, I have skewed priorities.
First, you’ll see I fooled you into reading my 1000+ word post, ultimately enhancing my usage stats. KIDDING! That’s not my goal; I just had more to say on the topic than I realized. But it could serve as a useful case study, no?
The takeaway, I think, is this: Metrics aren’t everything. The number of hits you receive, the number of followers you can claim, are only important insofar as they matter to you. There’s nothing wrong with caring about those numbers. You don’t need to feel guilty, or like you’re some sort of sellout. No, you’re someone who’s doing something he or she cares about. Good for you.
If you do care about those numbers, you’re going to have to act accordingly. You need to post every day. And you’ll have to experiment with the length of your posts. Several shorter posts per day? One long one? Experiment, look at the data, and approach it again.
And, if you’re sitting by yourself, with a cat on your lap and a cup of tea in your hand, and your feet perched on a swaying tower of paperbacks, and you’re having a conversation with the only two other book bloggers you’ve befriended after seven years, that’s okay, too. It sounds like you’ve got a kick-ass hobby. You should protect it with all you hold dear. Seriously, if someone messes with you, let them know that you will cut a bitch. Metaphorically. ‘Cause hobbyists are for real.
Book blogger OUT.