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Pickle Me This

September 16, 2010

9 Tips for the Book Blogger in your life

I’m going to feign me some authority now, because this October marks ten years since I started blogging, and also because CBC Books so kindly just included me in their list of “Book Blogs We Appreciate”. This on the occasion of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, because apparently it’s been 52 weeks since the last one, and I thought that since I appreciate book bloggers too, I might impart a little bit of what I’ve learned in my career as a world-famous, would-be pickler. Feel free to chime in and let me know any I got wrong, or any you think I missed.

1) Book bloggers are not unpaid substitutes for publicity people or literary critics (and see here for an interesting piece on book blogging as unpaid labour). We are readers, and this is the best thing about us (and see here for a talk I once gave on this very subject, and Virginia Woolf’s quote about the responsibilities of the common reader: “The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work”).

You do have a responsibility– take it seriously. But also, don’t take yourself too seriously.

2) In line with the first point, our obligation to the publishers that send us free books is to be the best and most honest readers we can be. This can be difficult– initially, I found making contacts with publishing people a bit overwhelming, and this was all happening as I was still finding my feet as a reader. I think some of my early reviews were too generous, though perhaps hindsight will always have that effect. But it took me a while to get confidence in my own opinions, to understand that while publicists are just as concerned as I am with fostering a strong literary culture, they’ve also got a product to sell. Our priorities are not always exactly the same, but that is okay. You’ve just got to know what your own are.

3) We have to buy books. Lots of books. Free books aside, if we don’t buy books, who will? Buy new books, and used books. Shop at Chapters if it’s the only show in your town, but if it isn’t, shop somewhere else. Buy books from small presses, buy poetry. Buy translations. I once read a quote by Annie Dillard regarding karma, and the obligation to buy new hardcovers if you ever hope to make money from the writing life yourself, and I think she’s right. If fostering a strong literary culture is what you’re after, buy lots of books (at full price!). If you are broke, then buy just one.

4) Accept free books with discrimination. It is expensive for publishers to ship books to us, so we’re doing not them a favour by receiving a book we have no intention of reading. Also, accept free books with discrimination because your time is valuable, and why read something that you’re not interested in? And because one person’s house can only hold so many books, and eventually, your postman will hate you.

5) Original content!! Don’t copy text from the publisher’s website– write about the book in your own words. Don’t merely recap literary gossip– what is your own particular take? And if you don’t have a take, the world won’t end because it’s lacking your two cents. You don’t have to write about what everybody else is writing about. What interests you? Write well, and write long (but not too long). And aim to be a better writer all the time.

6) Read an author or a book first before you agree to take part in promotions. Don’t be afraid to say no if the author or book is not your thing, or is not in keeping with your blog’s focus. We should aspire to mean everything we write on our blogs.

7) We should all blog like nobody is looking, if only because very often, nobody will be. We should write only to satisfy ourselves, so that the writing is inherently worth the trouble, and also because that kind of writing has a passion that shows.

8) Avoid taking the link bait! Very often, desperate newspapers will write terrible articles that insult us and ours in an effort to enrage us. They don’t actually mean what they’re saying– they just want hits from the links you post, but don’t lower yourself. Only link to awesome.

9) And along those lines, make your blog a portal rather than a virtual brick wall.

3 thoughts on “9 Tips for the Book Blogger in your life”

  1. I like that, ‘only link to awesome’. What a fabulous piece of advice to give!

  2. All great advice, I was agreeing to everything. I especially like blog like no one is looking because we all have days like that.

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