My first book blog was made in December 2015. Until now, I can still remember how clueless I initially was. I spent my first week reading and reviewing books en masse — and get this — not interacting with other book bloggers. I did know that book blogging was ✨ A Thing ✨ and a significant number of other people were doing it. However, I did not imagine that making friends through blogging was possible. (Clearly, even back then, my functional brain cells were far and few in between. ?)
Having zero knowledge about blogger-to-blogger engagement was only the tip of the embarrassingly huge iceberg of things I was clueless about. But somehow, I managed to stick around for nearly five years and build a legitimate, mid-size platform.
It goes without saying that I’ve learned so much since my first week as a book blogger. Although I’m no longer a “traditional” book blogger in the sense that I now write about other content as well, I’ve never really left the book blogging community. (I still yell about book blogger rights on Twitter almost weekly.)
Plus, I owe the majority of my platform’s growth and evolution to this chaotic little corner on the Internet. In fact, the book blogging community remains to be my favorite online sphere for making new bookish friends, finding shiny book recommendations, and exchanging opinions. ??
But! There is a ‘but’.
As much as I adore book blogging and the online community built around it, there are definitely aspects of book blogging that completely blindsided me. Moreover, book blogging is not as straightforward as simply talking about your favorite books on an online platform, as some people may assume (and yep, I was once one of them).
As a young woman of color from a third-world country, my rose-tinted glasses were forcibly taken away from me at the onset of my book blogging journey. I really wish that I had been better prepared for the darker, grittier realities of having a bookish platform. With that said, here are some things that I wish I had known before I started my book blog.
- Really think about the name of your blogging platform.
- Your reading and your blogging are separate entities.
- You can make money out of book blogging, but it’s extremely complicated.
- Online bookish or book-based platforms are NOT equal.
- Authors and publishers aren’t the only people who will try to exploit you.
- Some people will only value what (they think) you represent.
- Book blogging is a game of privilege, not numbers or statistics.
1. Really think about the name of your blogging platform. (Seriously.)
Let’s kick this post off with something fairly lighthearted, okay? I wish I had known to put more thought into my blog’s name and identity. But in case you don’t know (or in case you haven’t been following me since my early blogging days), I used to blog as that bookshelf bitch. It was a blogging identity that stayed with me for three whole years. That’s more than half of my entire book blogging ‘career’, so to speak! Although I’m not exactly ashamed or regretful, being known as ‘that bookshelf bitch’ did come with unforeseen drawbacks.
– List of Cons –
- Receiving serious, professional emails that start with “dear that bookshelf bitch”
- People assuming that I’m snarky, hotheaded, intimidating, and other similar adjectives
- Having a negative first impression on some authors and publicists
- Feeling embarrassed whenever someone I personally know in real life would… bring up my blog name (and even worse, ask me why I chose it)
- Not being able to include or mention my blog in my resume
When I first started blogging, I wanted to make sure that I had a memorable name for my platform. However, little did I know that some names can be too memorable — and sometimes in a bad way.
In all seriousness, it’s really important to give your platform a name that you’re proud of and happy to be associated with! A name that gives you a boost of confidence and empowers you to keep making content. Moreover, your blog’s name is key in establishing your brand and in building an online reputation for yourself. Try to be strategic about it!
And just because I live for shout-outs…
– Favorite Blog Names –
2. Your reading and your blogging are separate entities.
What do I mean about that? For book bloggers, reading and blogging are undeniably intertwined — that much is obvious. However, you don’t have to blog about every single book that you read. At first glance, this may seem really obvious as well, but funnily enough, it’s actually not. Especially when it comes to the dreaded ‘problematic faves.’ ?
Now, listen. When you choose to put your opinions out there for public consumption, you aren’t just opening yourself up to criticism — you are also taking on the responsibility of becoming someone of influence. While you can argue that you don’t have enough followers to be considered as an ‘influencer’, you are (at the very least!) an opinion leader to the people subscribed to your content.
Although opinion leadership is derived from the outdated two-step flow of communication model (which was first proposed in the 1940s), it can still offer some insight into social influence, even within online spaces. Opinion leaders are active media users and consumers who contextualize media content. They pass along their interpretations to the people within their social networks, thereby shaping these people’s opinions to some considerable extent.
Applying opinion leadership to the context of book blogging:
Book bloggers actively consume books and have their respective online social networks with varying sizes. When they share their opinions on their platforms, their followers and subscribers receive the bloggers’ interpretations, which become a factor in their own opinion-making. Therefore, book bloggers are opinion leaders in the online book community. (Note: This is only a surface-level application of the theory. Discussing any deeper would derail the main point of this post.)
In conclusion, your status as a person of influence is not determined by the size of your following. What makes you influential is that you have a following. Which is already a privilege that millions of people don’t have. Especially those without access to the Internet and technology.
Moreover, as a person with a platform, you should think twice — thrice even — about the content you’re making and the ideals you’re promoting. This is where your problematic favorites come in.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- If your favorite book is problematic, why are you still actively promoting it on your platform? Why is it still in your book lists and recommendations? Why are you hosting read-alongs and readathons for this book, fully knowing that they would help increase readership?
- If you are advocating for diversity in books, how come 8 out of 10 of your reviews are for books written by cis, abled, white authors? Also, when do you review diverse books? Do you only write reviews for your ARCs that should’ve gone to own-voices reviewers?
- If you’re currently reading and enjoying a book that’s been called out for being harmful to marginalized communities, must you publicly broadcast your enjoyment? What for? Are you incapable of being problematic quietly?
Now, if none of these questions apply to you, then that’s fantastic! ? Unfortunately, if not ironically, many opinion leaders within the online book community don’t seem to grasp that social influence is a legitimate currency. Free publicity and exposure do have value and do make an impact.
Making room in your platform for an offensive or harmful book that you personally enjoyed — no matter how many disclaimers and half-hearted “I acknowledge that this book has problematic content” statements you throw in — ultimately still helps the author and supports the book. Subsequently, on that note, allow me to gently remind you that: you don’t have to blog about every single book that you read and/or enjoy! Therefore, if you’re going to be problematic, the absolute least you can do is be quiet about it.
Of course, there are other situations that call for your reading and your blogging to remain separate. But that’s a discussion for a different day.
3. You can make money out of book blogging, but it’s extremely complicated (and usually not worth the headache).
The idea of monetizing book blogs and their content has always been a long-contested and sore topic among bookish creators. I believe that this is a much-needed conversation that requires nuances beyond 280 characters. However, whether bloggers should be financially compensated for book reviews is neither here nor there. At least, for the scope of this post, that is. Instead, I want to focus on the question: Can you make money out of book blogging?
The short answer is yes, but only a few bloggers do and even fewer do it successfully. I won’t delve into the nooks and crannies. Maybe I’ll reserve that information for blogging resources that I’ll share on a future post or on Patreon. But as a rule of thumb, you can earn from book blogging either directly or indirectly.
4. Online bookish or book-based platforms are not equal.
I once came across a tweet that claimed that there isn’t a difference between book-based platforms (i.e. book blogs, bookstagram, booktube channels). Back then, I genuinely wanted to guffaw in boy, you clearly know nothing. ? Listen. The platform you have does make a world of difference. And this is me speaking both from personal experience and from an academic standpoint as a Communication Research graduate.
If the chosen medium for your content is truly irrelevant, then we wouldn’t have a competitive global industry revolving around media planning and communication strategy. In fact, many recent studies confirm an increasing dependency on social media platforms. Hence, this is partially why independent platforms like blogs are taking a hit.
The platform that you have affects how you are treated as an influencer, the opportunities that you are eligible for, and how your work measures up against influencers on other platforms. It also determines the privileges that you are afforded. For instance, the capability to easily monetize content, endorsement deals, and even, priority for ARCs. Arguably, in the food chain of book-based platforms, book blogs are at the lowest rung.
5. Authors and publishers aren’t the only people who will try to exploit you.
Across the years, I’ve seen many discussions on the exploitation of book bloggers. Particularly how many authors and publishers bank on bloggers’ love for reading to get free labor. As a result, this free labor usually comes in the form of unpaid promotional efforts, free publicity, early reviews, and arguably the biggest scam of all, bulk cover/excerpt reveals. (In the future, I’ll find the energy to patiently explain why cover/excerpt reveals are the worst, I promise.)
I think that it’s definitely important to bring attention to the many ways that this industry casually exploits its bloggers. However, the terrible reality is that exploitation is not exclusively from authors and publishers! And I don’t think enough people are talking about it. Moreover, while I commend Marie for recently weighing in on fake engagement, I don’t think enough people realize that fake engagement can, in fact, be a form of exploitation, too.
How are book bloggers exploited by other people?
By definition, exploitation means getting taken advantage of. Additionally, it means people are using you and your work to obtain benefits for themselves — and in most cases, you get nothing in return. In conclusion, exploitation can come in many forms. And unfortunately, some of these forms are quietly thriving in the community. Shady book tour companies, predatory ‘engagement’ groups, and other problematic initiatives exist right under our nose.
Even more unfortunate, these groups are more likely to target bloggers who are more vulnerable — those within marginalized communities (particularly BIPOC), those with very small followings, and those who are just starting out their book blogging journeys. This is because these bloggers generally face more barriers to ARCs, opportunities, and platform growth. Unlike already established and immensely privileged bloggers, they’re more likely to accept any form of ‘boost’ that they can get.
I wish that someone had warned me of this when I was a relatively new, naive book blogger. I, too, fell for these tricks back then. Looking back, I want to hit myself in the face for being too trusting and too eager. But I digress.
Now that I have almost five years of blogging experience under my belt, I want to do my part in cautioning vulnerable book bloggers. Below are key questions you should ask yourself before choosing to support a project, group, or initiative.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What benefits are you getting out of it? Are these benefits fleeting or long-term?
- Who gains more out of this, you or them? More importantly, how big is that gap?
- How honest and transparent are they being about their operations? Are they the type to address mistakes publicly or to quietly delete their tracks?
- Do they frequently use ‘buzzwords’ to promote themselves? And are they using these words in the right context? (See Example 1)
- Are they practicing standard procedures? If you’re working with a company, compare their policies and practices with other similar companies. (See Example 2)
Example 1: When they use the #ownvoices label, are they really pertaining to own-voices bloggers?
Example 2: When you’re joining a book tour that does not give you an ARC, that isn’t standard practice.
6. Some people will only value what (they think) you represent.
As a woman of color, this was the most painful, most heartbreaking lesson that I’ve learned. When you are a person of color, people will tokenize you for your identity. Consciously or unconsciously. Intentionally or unintentionally. It will happen to you. Again and again. Until you are too tired or too numb to deal with it. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.
My early years of blogging showed ridiculously rapid growth. Firstly, 2016 Shealea somehow magically garnered 1,000 blog followers in 8 short months (#hustle). Next, this pacing stayed the same for 2017, despite it being an inconsistent posting year for me. By the end of 2017, I had more than 2,000 blog followers.
Here’s what’s weird, though: Despite my blog’s follower count, I was getting minimal engagement on my posts. Moreover, unlike my blog, my social media presence wasn’t growing at the same rate. And then there’s the fact that authors and publishers were not lining up to work with me. Overall, I was “successful” but it never really felt like it. Not truly.
Then everything drastically changed in 2018. Suddenly, my tweets were “trending” and going viral. People paid attention to my content and projects. Publishers replied to my emails. Authors actively interacted with me. All in all, everything skyrocketed. By the end of the year, I had more followers on social media than on my blog.
And what changed in 2018? In March, I discovered the literary gem that is The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. From that point onward, I then started reading more widely and diversely, and ultimately, I became more vocal about issues. Particularly, the issues faced by people of color. It definitely did not escape my notice that my voice was suddenly valuable because I was “raising awareness” and “educating” people.
I’ve talked more in-depth about this in one of my newsletters. But the crux of the matter is that the currency of being listened to is relevance, and for people of color, our relevance is always tied to our ability to act as mouthpieces for our cultures, our communities, and our collective identities. And while it’s great to be heard over the cacophony of voices on the Internet, it can also feel quite uncomfortable.
Personally, the constant awareness that my “worth” as an influencer is irrevocably intertwined with my perceived status as a ✨ good, woke, and vocal ✨ woman of color is a huge emotional and mental burden on me. But the absolute worst part of people valuing me for what I represent — or what they think I represent — is that many of them don’t even realize it. So it’s like? Can I really hold it against people if it’s so subconscious that they don’t even know it? I don’t know.
But circling back to my main point: this is the unfortunate reality for people of color. Even in a supposedly welcoming and inclusive community like the online book world, it’s never quite all rainbows and chocolate rain for us. ?
7. Book blogging is a game of privilege, not numbers or statistics.
My last and final point is tangentially related to my previous one (especially if you read my storytelling time box). Silly Shealea, in her early blogging years, genuinely believed that all she needed was to boost her statistics to finally gain recognition and opportunities. Silly, silly girl.
Okay, in all seriousness, numbers and statistics mean virtually nothing when you’re not based in some bigoted first-world country. (I’m looking at you, United States and United Kingdom.) Even more so if you aren’t as pale white as the god of thunder dipped in a milk bath. ?? In fact, here are the biggest truths about book blogging and the online book community in general:
- Marginalized book bloggers, especially BIPOC, are disproportionately disadvantaged compared to everyone else.
- The publishing industry, and arguably the online book community itself, is inherently Western and US-centric.
As a result, book blogging is very much rigged in favor of the more privileged. Like any much-needed discussion, there are a lot of nuances. I do argue that location and race/ethnicity play huge roles in people’s book blogging experience. However, it must still be noted that privilege comes in numerous forms. Command of the English language, class privileges, educational attainment, wealth and purchasing power, being able-bodied, proximity to whiteness, age, gender and sexuality, and access to resources — these are all undeniable factors as well.
I hate considering the idea that I’m “easy-to-digest” or ✨ white cracker friendly ✨ to Western audiences. But I cannot deny my privileges:
- I am extremely fluent in English.
- I had studied in
arguablythe best university in my country.
- I have enough resources to invest in a self-hosted domain, purchase a premium theme, pay for commissioned art, and everything else needed to improve the quality of my blog.
- I have access to software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
All of these things collectively give me a considerable edge over other Asian book bloggers, including fellow Filipinos. A lot of them don’t have what I have. Stil, at the same time, I’m still continuously tossed to the side in favor of more privileged white bloggers who are based in more developed countries.
Consequently, this is exactly why we need to have this conversation. Moreover, this is why we need to recognize these nuances. It is only by having these difficult conversations that we would be able to find where and how to improve. Additionally, it is only by discussing the systemic problems that we would be able to come up with sustainable solutions.
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I’d love to hear from you!
? What are some things that you wish you had known before you started blogging? Did any of them make my list? What would you like to add? ?
? Honestly, I had to cut out so many sections of this post to maintain readability. ? What particular points would you have liked me to discuss further? Do you want to read about them in my next blog post?
? Discussion time! In your opinion, what needs to be done for the book blogging community to improve?