In just under a month it will be my first blogoversary (hooray!), and whilst a year of blogging hardly makes me an expert, I feel like I’ve learnt a few things that could help out anyone who is thinking about taking the plunge and starting a book blog (or has already plunged and feels a little lost!).
So here are a few tips I would give to those people who are where I was a year ago, and about to embark on a journey into the wonderful (yet totally confusing and crazy) world of book blogging:
- Choose your platform wisely.
Before starting my blog, I endlessly researched the pros and cons of various platforms, and to be honest, ended up even more confused than before. Should I pick a free platform like Blogger or WordPress.com (and if so which one?)? Or should I just invest, and pay for my own domain and hosting? If you are interested in using a hosting site though, then you might want to check out a web hosting provider like hostiserver.
In the end, after dithering endlessly over whether or not I had the technical skills to do it, I went for self-hosted WordPress, and I’m still to this day happy with that decision.
The main reason I plumped for self-hosting was that I felt that having my own domain made my blog feel more professional, and as an aspiring writer I could potentially use my blog in the future as a sample of my writing. I also liked that it meant my site was considerably more customisable (you can use plugins etc., and do so much more with the design and theme) and that I was the owner of my own work. Yes, you have to pay for hosting, but for me it felt worth it (plus the amount I paid was tiny…I went for the cheapest deal I could, and have had no problems with the service), and you can always put on your CV that you can set up, design and run a self-hosted WordPress website!
Really your choice all depends on what you want from blogging. Are you just trying it out? Or only plan to post when you feel like it? Well then a free platform like Blogger or WordPress.com is probably the best choice. If you are looking more to commit to it, or are looking to use it for any kind of career purposes, then it’s probably worth paying that little bit for your own domain.
- Pick a name you love.
Picking a name was actually the hardest part of starting a blog for me, even harder than all the technical stuff in fact. Although it is possible to change your blog name at a later date, people do come to know your blog under one name, and you risk confusing readers by changing it. Therefore choosing a name is kind of a commitment!
I went with one of my favourite literary quotes as my blog name, but it could literally be anything, just as long as you love it, and you know you’ll continue to love it. I sometimes worry that ‘Boats Against The Current’ is actually a little too long, and people who haven’t read The Great Gatsby tend to get confused and think my blog is about boats, but thankfully I still like the name nearly a year on!
- Keep your design clean and simple.
It’s tempting when you start blogging to get so over excited about designing your own website that you use about a gazillion colours in the design and have a sidebar full to the brim of flashing gadgets and badges for this that and the other. Well, my advice (and feel free to ignore it!) is to keep it simple, especially at first. No one likes to be overloaded with too many colours and fonts when they check out a blog, and seen as it can take a while to get a feel for your own blog and its overall ‘personality’, it’s probably best to start simple and let the design evolve with the blog. My own blog for example has already had about three different designs, but it is only with this last one that I feel like I have finally captured the feel of my blog.
- Be prepared.
Something I did before starting my blog (after reading about it in various other blogging tips posts!) which I felt was useful was have a few posts written and ready to go before I even set up the website. At first it can take longer to write blog posts simply because you aren’t accustomed to doing it (unless you’ve previously had a blog), so it takes a lot of pressure off having to hurry and write posts for the first few weeks if you already have some pre-prepared.
- Get on social media…but not all the social media.
You can write the most wonderful content in the world, but no one will ever know it’s there unless you tell them that it is…enter social media! Signing up for social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc. are vital for directing people to your blog and promoting your content, not to mention discovering other people’s blogs and chatting with your new blogger friends!
However, one thing I would say, is don’t overcommit social media-wise. I know when I first started blogging I got overexcited and signed up for pretty much everything and then found myself spread too thin across too many platforms, and therefore was gaining little traffic or interaction from any one site. Therefore I would say pick two or three to concentrate on (and my own personal favourites are Twitter and Google+), and see how you get on with those.
- Only promote when you have something to promote (if that makes sense?).
Pretty much as soon as I posted my first review (Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, in case you were wondering!) I was all over my shiny new social media accounts spreading the word. Seen as I didn’t exactly have an abundance of followers (and had no idea how to use social media), it wasn’t like many people were following my links, but those who were probably read my review and then clicked to see what else was on my blog…and found nothing.
Now, I don’t know about other people’s blog reading tendencies, but I tend to check out a few posts when I find a new blog to see if the blogger consistently write things I’ll like before I follow, so to see no other posts would be kind of off-putting for me. Therefore I’d recommend (and again, feel free to ignore me!) having a few posts up before you promote, so that visitors can really get a feel for your blog, and will hopefully follow, as opposed to simply clicking off it and forgetting all about it.
- Don’t be disheartened by abysmal stats.
For the first few months, blogging felt a lot like talking to myself. I’d spend ages perfecting my posts, press that publish button and wait…and nothing happened. A few hits a day, no comments, and that was about it. It was disappointing to say the least, but you just have to realize that every blog starts out that way. Yes, some people’s pick up faster than others, but it takes most blogs several months to get up any decent traffic or followers, so don’t be disheartened!
- Make friends!
One of the best things about blogging is getting to meet loads of like-minded people, and so making friends is one of the best, yet daunting, aspects of starting a blog. The blogging world can feel a little ‘clique-y’ especially when you are new and looking at it from the outside, but in actual fact most bloggers are very friendly and more than happy to welcome newcomers to the community. After all, every one was a newbie once!
The best way I have found to introduce myself to other bloggers is through commenting on other blogs (and by this I mean, leaving thoughtful, relevant comments, not just ‘Great post! Check out my blog.’). This can be scary at first, but every blogger loves getting comments, and by participating in the discussion you are getting involved in the community, and building a rapport with other bloggers.
You could also try taking part in Twitter chats, memes, blog hops and challenges etc., which are all great ways to connect with other bloggers.
- Have fun!
Blogging takes a huge amount of time and effort, so why bother if it isn’t fun? Try it out and see whether it’s for you, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!
So have these tips been helpful? And do any other bloggers have any tips for new/potential bloggers?