Creating a Discussion Post Strategy (Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge)

Fall 2017 Mini Bloggiesta


In short, Bloggiesta is a blogging marathon revolving around ticking off those items on your to-do list and improving your blog while in the good company of other awesome bloggers doing the same thing. Our awesome mascot Pedro (Plan. Edit. Develop. Review. Organize) is ready to break out the nachos, enchiladas, drinks, mariachi music and whack a pinata or two! It’s nothing short of an awesome fiesta!

This fall’s mini Bloggiesta is officially Sept. 21-24, and I’m hosting a mini-challenge this time! Read on to challenge yourself to create a discussion post strategy.


Creating a Discussion Post Strategy

Introduction

Discussion posts are becoming increasingly popular on blogs, with both readers and bloggers.  Are you making the most out of this interest?  If you want to start writing discussion posts, or just start featuring more of them, complete this mini challenge to get your discussion post strategy going!

Creating Your Discussion Post Strategy

1. Plan How Often You Want to Post Discussions

The first step of your discussion post strategy is determining how often you want to feature discussion posts on your blog. This will determine how many ideas you’re going to need and how quickly you need to write them. It’s also helpful to know this so you can plan ahead for any type of research you’ll need to do in order to write the posts.

Do you want to do discussions once a month? Every other week? Once a week? Come up with your frequency goal and also decide which days you are going to post. For example, do you want to post a discussion every Wednesday? Write this information down on the calendar/planner where you keep your blog schedule. (Or start a blogging calendar if you don’t already have one!)

2. Consider What You Like to See in Discussion Posts

Before you think about what types of discussion you want to write, it is helpful to determine what types of discussions you like reading. Types of discussions may include:

  • Discussions about personal experiences
  • Discussions about your blogging topic (ex. discussions about books or reading)
  • Discussions about blogging itself

You should also think about format:

  • Do you like long-form discussions?
  • Use of headers and subheaders?
  • Lists?

Here are some thoughts I have on how you can make a discussion post memorable.

3. Brainstorm Ideas

Next you need to begin to decide what it is you’re going to discuss. This is a simple brainstorming stage, so don’t get too stressed out. Jot down any ideas that come to you, and don’t worry too much about whether they’re “good” ideas. You just want thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry too much about organization or neatness either; just let the ideas flow.

I wrote a list a while ago featuring 30 discussion post prompts for book bloggers that can get you started. If you’re not a book blogger, you can try adapting some of the prompts for your own niche. (For example, instead of writing about a favorite book from your childhood, maybe you can write about a favorite family recipe if you are a book blogger, or a favorite childhood vacation if you are a travel blogger.)

I also wrote a post about fostering creativity and brainstorming in general, which you may find helpful as you start making your list of potential discussion topics.

4. Make a Concrete Discussion Schedule

Once you have some ideas for potential discussion posts, pick 3-5 of them that you think you definitely want to write and put them into your blogging calendar. Think about what order you want them in. Consider:

  • Do you want to separate ideas that are kind of similar by a couple weeks?
  • Do you want to do a discussion series and purposely place certain topics close to each other on the schedule?
  • Is there a specific event you want to time the discussion for? (Ex. a discussion about banned books around Banned Books Week)

*Note that being aware of events can also help you brainstorm posts. Maybe you want to write about libraries during library week, or about Shakespeare around his birthday, or about something Halloween-themed in October.

5. Draft One of the Posts

Since this is just a mini challenge for Bloggiesta, you don’t need to start writing the discussion posts right now. But you get virtual bonus points for drafting one and getting it scheduled on your blog!

6. Plan for Photos and Graphics

If you don’t yet feature many discussion posts on your blog, think about what graphics you want to include.  Do you want to make just one graphic that says something like “Discussion” that you can use on all future posts to save time?  Or do you want to create a specific graphic for each one?  Will you ever need specialized graphics like infographics, flow charts, etc.?  Are you going to take your own photography or use free resources online? Make notes of any graphic needs for each post from step 4.

7. Create a Promotion Plan

Don’t let all your hard work go to waste!  Write some notes on how you’re going to promote your discussions once you write and schedule them. For example:

  • What social media will you promote on?  How often?
  • Will you have a graphic to use on social media?
  • Is there a “discussion post link-up” hosted anywhere in your blogging niche you can participate in?
  • Do you belong to any Goodreads groups, Facebook groups, or other forums you can share the links?
  • Do you want to do a post informing your readers that you will be doing more discussion posts and telling them what days to check your blog for them?

Briana

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The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Way to Bea
Series: None
Source: ARC
Publication Date: Sept . 19, 2017

Summary

After her best friend decides to find a new group of girls to hang out with, Bea starts to lose her spirit.  She used to be enjoy being loud and colorful and alive.  But now everyone seems to think she’s weird.  Feeling invisible, she begins to write poems in lemon juice and hide them in an old wall.  Then someone begins to write back.  Is this a new beginning for Bea?

Review

In The Way to Bea, Kat Yeh introduces readers to an exuberant heroine who has started to lose some of her shine.  Now starting seventh grade, Bea is feeling awfully alone now that her best friend has decided she isn’t cool enough to hang around.  Acutely sensitive to the idea that others find her weird, Bea begins to shut down and to spend even more time with her poetry–except now she isn’t so sure she wants to share it.  The Way to Bea is the story of one girl’s journey to accepting herself.

This is a classic middle-grade novel about finding friendship and being true to yourself.  It is filled with delightful characters from the sweet fedora-wearing editor of the school paper to the boy obsessed with mazes to the girl who dreams of starting a band.  Bea may be missing her old set of friends, but she has a new group ready to embrace her if only she would give them the chance.  It’s difficult not to want to cheer Bea along the entire away.

Of course, there is a fun subplot about Bea’s attempt to break into a private estate so her new friend Will can walk its famous labyrinth before the owner tears it down.  Some sleuthing goes on and some escapades.  But, really, the action centers around Bea, the people who want to know her, her love of art and poetry, and her journey to delighting once more in the things that make life beautiful.  It’s the type of book that makes you want to be friends with its characters.

4 stars

Can We Have College-Aged Characters in YA Books? (Discussion)

Discussion Post

I’ve recently seen a few conversations happening around social media on the possibility of featuring college-aged characters in young adult books. While some readers are excited about the idea, others are not.  The two main objections I’ve seen are: 1) that’s what new adult is for and 2) we don’t want older characters stealing YA from teens.  Personally, I do see room in YA in college-aged characters, at least in the first-year/sophomore age range, and I actually think these would be of interest to teen readers, not a threat.

College-Aged Characters Don’t Really Fit in New Adult

Ok, technically, college-aged characters do belong in new adult books.  Characters around their early twenties who are just branching out into adulthood is the actually the defining idea of a new adult book category.  However, the reality is that new adult just hasn’t taken off as a concept in the publishing world the way some readers have hoped.  I don’t have official statistics here, but I have seen a number of literary agents tweeting that there is very little demand from editors to publish new adult books, and they’re not seeking to acquire clients or novels in the genre.

New adult has really struggled to break out of its stereotype of being comprised primarily of erotica, and it also hasn’t taken off as a category in stores.  (For example, I can’t walk into Barnes & Noble and check out the New Adult section because there isn’t one.)  Readers who are interested in college-aged characters in books that aren’t focused on romance/sex simply aren’t going to be able to find them in anything labelled “new adult.”

Featuring College-Aged Characters Doesn’t Have to “Steal” YA from High Schoolers

To address further concerns, I think it only practical that featuring some slightly older characters in YA books (say 18-20 years old) doesn’t have to shift the focus from younger teens.  I’ve had the experience in writing several discussion posts of commenters seeming to believe that when I say something like “Hey, why isn’t menstruation mentioned more in YA novels” I’m really saying something like “Menstruation should be in every single YA novel ever, and it should be a primary focus of the book.” I’m not.  I promise.  I’m simply suggesting that maybe the topic could be mentioned in a few more books than it is now.  The same applies here.

Readers who are asking that college students be featured in YA novels are not demanding that every YA novel be about a college student–just that some are.  In fact, there are already some older protagonists in YA.  Where She Went by Gayle Forman, for instance, features two protagonists who have graduated from high school.  One is college studying music.  One is going the less traditional route of trying to launch a music career.  Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series also features an older protagonist (though readers have questioned the YA status based on the amount of explicit sex scenes; I haven’t personally seen anyone object to Feyre’s age as the issue with categorization).

Sprinkling a few novels with slightly older protagonists isn’t going to amount to a wild take-over of the YA category.  These types of characters are already popping up occasionally, and barely anyone has noticed.

In Fact, High Schoolers May Want to Read about College-Aged Characters

There’s a belief among some publishing professionals that “children like reading about characters who are slightly older than they are.”  Typically these people are talking about the middle grade or lower YA character and suggesting that, say, ten-year-olds like reading about twelve-year-olds and eighth graders like reading about ninth and tenth graders.  It’s a belief that some readers, at least some of the time, like looking slightly ahead and imagining what life could be like for them in a couple of years.  There’s no reason the same can’t apply to older teens.

I could easily believe that, for instance, eleventh and twelfth grade readers could be interested in reading about characters in their first or even second year of college (or characters who are around 19 but not attending college).  Similarly, I can believe that there are plenty of YA readers in college who would love to read about these types of characters.  After all, once doesn’t graduate high school, or turn twenty, and wipe off one’s hands and say, “Well, I guess I’m not officially a high schooler/teen anymore.  I’m done reading YA!”  There has certainly been concern in the YA community about keeping the book category focused on actual young adults, but my impression has been that people are concerned that older adults are being catered to, not that anyone seriously begrudges a college first-year for being a YA fan.  I think there could be a real market in the older teen audience for books about college-characters, not that this is something that thirty-year-olds are demanding.

What do you think? Is there room for a few more college-aged characters in young adult books?

Briana

Screen Schooled by Joe Clement and Matt Miles (ARC Review)

Screen Schooled

Information

Goodreads: Screen Schooled
Series: None
Source: Shelf Awareness giveaway
Publication Date: October 1, 2017

Official Summary

As two veteran teachers who have taught thousands of students, Joe Clement and Matt Miles have seen firsthand how damaging technology overuse and misuse has been to our students. Rather than becoming better problem solvers, kids look to Google to answer their questions for them. Rather than deepening students’ intellectual curiosity, educational technology is too often cumbersome and distracting, causing needless frustration and greatly extending homework time. Rather than becoming the great equalizer, electronic devices are widening the achievement gap. On a mission to educate and empower parents, Clement and Miles provide many real-world examples and cite multiple studies showing how technology use has created a wide range of cognitive and social deficits in our young people. They lift the veil on what’s really going on at school: teachers who are powerless to curb cell phone distractions; zoned-out kids who act helpless and are unfocused, unprepared, and antisocial; administrators who are too-easily swayed by the pro-tech “science” sponsored by corporate technology purveyors. They provide action steps parents can take to demand change and make a compelling case for simpler, smarter, more effective forms of teaching and learning.

Review

Screen Schooled takes an honest look at how technology is used at schools (and for schoolwork at home) and takes the controversial view that more tech is not better, that “technology overuse is making our kids dumber.”

Although there are references to a number of scientific studies, these references are often brief and unmarked by any sort of superscript number directing the reader to find out more (all bibliographic information is gathered in the back of the book, not well-labelled).  This means that the book comes across as largely anecdotal—which makes for engaging reading, but is not necessarily the most convincing approach.

However, I think the purpose of the book is important here.  Having spent a few years teaching, I actually agree with much of what the authors are saying about technology frequently being more of a burden/distraction for students than a help and the authors’ pleas that technology should be used where it actually accomplishes something that a simpler approach cannot.  Because I already agree with many of their points and have lived anecdotes similar to the ones they present, I want more data and a rigorous scientific approach. But the book is not really geared towards readers like me. It’s aimed at parents—particularly the type of parents who believe, in part because they have been told over and over again, that technology is good for their children, that it makes them smarter, that today’s youth think in profoundly digital ways that older generations just cannot understand.

For example:  One of the stories in the book is about a student who spends the majority of his school day reading an e-book on an e-reader, listening to a second book through headphones, while sitting in class listening to the teacher’s lesson.  When the teacher runs into this student’s parents at Back to School Night and tentatively brings up that the student is perpetually plugged in, the parents are not concerned.  Rather, they are impressed.  They gush about how brilliant their son is, that it’s so amazing that he can read two books at once and pay attention in class.  He’s a technological genius, a marvelous multitasker!  They are so proud!  Now, the reality is that the student is not doing any of these three things well.  He doesn’t know what’s happening in either of the two books he’s supposedly reading, and he certainly has no idea what’s going on in his classes.  His grades begin to reflect this.  But he—and his parents—are so convinced that he is good at doing all these three things at once that it is difficult for them to make the connection between his staring at a screen during class, with headphones in, and his less-than-impressive transcript.

These are the parents/readers the authors want to reach, the people who need such anecdotes to serve as a wake-up call that their son or daughter may be missing out on school, learning, or meaningful social interaction because they are always looking at a screen.  The book addresses a wide variety of problems (again, with the data to back it up, though it can get lost in the storytelling), ranging from Internet addition to social anxiety to depression to the inability to focus to students’ refusal to learn anything if it isn’t hidden in an “edutainment” game.

Of course, some problems with students are not new—they’re just showing up in a new form because of technology.  In one section the authors bemoan that supposed digital natives are not actually that good with technology.  (Studies show that young people spend about nine hours per day online—specifically doing things that are not their homework or studying—and that most of this time is spent in passive entertainment like checking social media or watching videos or playing games.  The reality is that most digital natives are not sitting around learning how to code or engaging in content creation like running their own website or Youtube channel.)  The result?  The authors have students who, after five minutes of attempted “research” on the Internet come up and tell them things like “There’s no information about the Crusades/the abortion debate/Martin Luther King, Jr. online, so I can’t do this research paper. I’ll be over there playing Candy Crush.”  I’ve had students tell me similar things, so I believe these anecdotes.  But are these lack of research skills (and tenacity) caused by technology?  Probably not.

I wasn’t teaching thirty years ago, but I can still imagine a student going to the public library, taking a three minute walk around, and coming back to their teacher saying, “There are no books that have been written on the American Civil War.  I can’t do the research paper you assigned.”  If the point is that tools like Google and academic databases are making students stupider, I would have to disagree.  But if the point is that, whatever the tools we use to research, schools still need to teach students actual research skills (and that it might take more than three minutes to get an answer), the authors are onto something.  We can’t just say, “Well, students are digital natives.  They know how to find information,” and let them run loose without any actual instruction or guidance.

Screen Schooled is not a perfect book, but it’s an interesting one, and I think it’s jump-starting an important conversation schools, parents, and even students need to be having about how we use technology and how much we use technology.  (And I do appreciate that the authors recognize that this isn’t a “young whippersnappers are always glued to their phones” problem; adults often model tech-obsessed behavior their children copy.)  The idea is to use technology thoughtfully because it’s actually accomplishing something you cannot achieve without pulling out your phone or iPad.  This book is a great resource for teachers, school boards, and parents to begin thinking about tough questions or problems they may be having that they might not have immediately connected to technology.

For instance:

  • Does your child have “too much” homework?  Or is he/she spending “four hours” doing math homework that’s actually about 15 min. doing homework and 3 hrs. 45 min. checking social media or watching Netflix “in the background?”
  • Is your child multitasking?  Or actually distracted by texting or playing games while in class?
  • Is the online textbook accessible and cost-friendly?  Or does it glitch, take forever to log-in, and encourage students to wander off to other sites on the Internet?
  • Is your child connecting with friends on social media?  Or dangerously judging his/her self-worth by how many likes that latest selfie got?

Technology isn’t bad.  I don’t think that, and the authors of this book don’t think that.  But they do raise some very good questions more of us ought to be asking.

Briana

How to Reclaim Your Social Media and Your Sanity

Discussion PostFor many of us, social media may have started out as a fun way to talk about our interests, meet new people, and have conversations about the books and fandoms that we love.  However, it sometimes seems impossible not to also be lured in by the promise of more views, more interactions, and more likes.  A “like” on our posts means that people like us, right?  They think we’re funny or clever or interesting.  Those “likes” can make us feel like our worth as people or bloggers is tied up into our numbers.

Of course, this is not a healthy way to live and many of us have mourned the loss of the way we used to read, the excitement we used to feel when we held a new book in our hands.  Now we always have to be thinking about how fast to read to keep up with our schedule, what to say about it that will be interesting, how to photograph it so we look professional.  All this can be exhausting!  And the fun can go out of reading and blogging.

So how can we try to find some of our old enthusiasm for books and talking about books?  Below I offer some suggestions.

Think about your original goals for joining social media

When we joined Twitter or created a Facebook page for our blogs, we probably didn’t initially think that all our Tweets had to get so many reTweets for us to be successful.  We probably did not set goals for how many “likes” each post needed.  Instead, we probably hoped to chat about books with other book lovers and to drive some traffic to our blogs so we could keep the conversations going.  Try to adopt a new attitude towards social media.  If it’s doing what you  hoped–letting you connect with other bloggers and getting some people to click on your blog links–then does it really matter if you don’t have as many followers as someone else?

Think About Why You’re Posting Content

Some days I think of something that I think would make a great meme or a funny Tweet. I lament the fact that I don’t have anything to do with my ideas since I don’t really deal with our social media.  Then I stop myself.  Exactly why do I need to share this  joke in 140 characters or fewer with a bunch of people on the Internet?  Well, the answer is, I don’t.  Except that I want the Internet to see how clever and funny I am.  And, honestly, that’s not a good enough reason for me to put something online.  I don’t need the Internet to validate me.  If I put something online, I want it to be because I believe other people might find it interesting or helpful or enjoyable.  I want it to be because I am making connections with other people and sparking conversations.  I don’t want it to all be about me.

Limit Your Posts and Your Interactions When Necessary

When I take photos of my friends and I hanging out, I go old school.  I email them the photos.  Maybe if I am feeling extra generous, I’ll get some copies printed out for them (That’s still a thing, right?).  Why?  Because I can’t always think of a good reason everyone I am connected to on social media might want to see me having brunch or playing mini golf with people they’ve never met.  The experience didn’t include them and I sometimes realize that the only reason I want to post these pictures is so that I can reassure all my acquaintances that I’m cool and have friends and I do stuff besides read.

Limiting my social media posts, however, allows me to make deeper connections with people.  The friends I email with photos can email back with inside jokes or additions to the conversations we had.  That wouldn’t happen on Facebook.  They would just “like” my photos and maybe leave a “Good to see you!” comment if I’m lucky.  Plus, I know that getting a surprise email or packet of photos really makes someone’s day.  They feel special.  I reached out to them in particular, not the Internet at large.

When using social media for blogging, we can also assess whether what we’re sharing is really useful to our audiences or if it would be better suited to a DM or a blog post or a comment on a blog.  We can find ways to reach out to people, make them feel special, and and create deeper conversations.  Everyone wins when we create interactions that go beyond “likes.”

Leave the Technology at Home

If you’re driving yourself crazy checking your stats and your latest updates, feeling like you need to be on top of everything, you might want to try just stopping.  It will allow you to enjoy other things in life more and you can return to your social media and your blogging feeling refreshed and having gained ideas, experiences, and insights that you might otherwise have missed.  But your writing will be richer for them.

When I am at not at home, I don’t take my devices with me.  I don’t surf the Internet at work or on break.  I leave my cell phone in a place where I can’t take it out to look at it.  And, honestly, it feels great.  I don’t have the disappointment of constantly realizing no one’s answered my messages.  I don’t waste my time mindlessly scrolling through feeds.  Instead, I feel powerful.  I have the ability to ignore my devices and I have great conversations and great interactions with people because I’m not distracted.  There are few things that feel worse than talking to someone who keeps texting someone else–like they’d rather be with that person instead of with you.

Do What You Enjoy

In the end, blogging is supposed to be a hobby we do because it makes us happy.  All the followers in the world aren’t going to make up for the fact that we feel miserable because we’re always trying to keep up with someone else or for the fact that we’re doing things because we think we “have to” and not because we want to.  If you like paranormal romances, read them.  If you want to update your feeds with the news that you read Christian fiction, do it.  If you realize you can’t keep posting several times a week or several times a day, stop.  You can’t know what anyone else’s life looks like.  They may  not be reading 300 books a year because they’re “better” than you.  It may just be that they don’t have kids or don’t have a job like you do.  Blogging isn’t a competition.  It’s a conversation.   One we’re all meant to enjoy.

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell, Illustrated by James Mountford

Information

Goodreads: The Crooked Sixpence
Series: The Uncommoners #1
Source: Library
Published: January 2017

Summary

When Ivy and Seb’s grandmother falls and is rushed to the hospital, the two return to their home only to find police armed with toilet brushes trying to arrest them.  The two go on the run and, in the process, stumble into the secret underground world of Lundinor where ordinary objects have quite uncommon uses.  But an old evil is reemerging and Ivy and Seb will have to uncover their family’s past in order to defeat it.

Review

I wanted to love The Crooked Sixpence because it sounds like just the type of quirky middle-grade adventure I would enjoy.  Eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb stumble into the secret city of Lundinor where people trade objects that have unusual uses.  Yo-yos can be used as weapons, lemon juicers as lights, and belts as levitation devices.  However, ultimately the book fell flat for me.

About the first 100 pages read like a series of info dumps, one after the other.  First, the teenage boy Ivy and Seb team up with must explain the world of Lundinor and the idea of uncommon objects.  Then Ivy conveniently walks past a store where a man is lecturing a group of children on some of the laws and traditions of Lundinor.  And so it goes.  And yet, even after 100 pages of this, I still felt a little disoriented and like I didn’t fully understand the rules of the world!

Furthermore, too much in the book relied on coincidence for me to be able to swallow the story.  Time and again Ivy and her brother simply stumble into the people and places that will further plot.  First, Ivy ends up on the doorstep of her grandmother’s old friend.  Then they foolishly reveal their circumstances to a stranger and find out she used to work for their great-grandfather and can provide pertinent information.  Then they conveniently find a place no one else could find for decades.  Then, through sheer stupidity, Seb destroys property only to reveal objects that are the answer to a question no living person can answer.  What are the odds for any of this, much less all of it?

Other problems made reading the book seem a bit of a chore.  The plot is fairly predictable.  Most will be able to identify one of the main villains upon their first appearance in the story.  And the characters never really seem to come alive or to form meaningful relationships with each other, so it’s difficult to feel invested in them or their friendships.  In the end, the part I enjoyed most were the illustrations, which are beautiful and quirky and make the book feel much more exciting than I thought it was.  The last 50 pages or so finally picked up and were full of action.  But I don’t know if 50 pages are enough to convince me to read the sequel.  I’d rather just look at Mountford’s art portfolio.

3 Stars