How to start a Book Blog, Review Books, and succeed at blogging
After doing some research on blogging and finding relatively few resources that were specifically about how to start a book blog, I decided to put together this guide for those thinking about diving into the book blogging community. (Especially since some of the top results on Google are things like “How to Start a Book Blog in 6 Easy Steps” that cover only the very basics and seem to be articles written by paid bloggers for clicks, not by people who have ever actually started or run a book blog!) I started Pages Unbound in 2011 with very little idea of what I was doing, so I hope other new bloggers feel they don’t have to do the same!
The Basics of Starting Your Book Blog
1. Choose a Blog Name
Once you’ve established yourself under a certain blog name, changing it can be hard, so you’ll want to put some thought into this. Choose a name that reflects what your blog will be about, and also do some research to check whether it’s an original name or whether there are other variations. (For instance, someone started a blog called “The Page Unbound” several years after we founded “Pages Unbound.” This could be confusing to both of our audiences.)
2, Choose a Blogging Platform
First, decide whether you want to go paid or free for your blogging platform. Free is a good place to start if you’re not sure about how long you’re going to keep blogging or you’re just on a budget. The two most popular free platforms are WordPress.com and Blogger. While I personally recommend WordPress.com for ease of use (and ease of converting to paid WordPress.org later), you should research both platforms and decide which will be most useful to you.
If you know you’re going to be serious about blogging, it could be good to go paid from the start. At least pay for a domain name. That way you won’t lose any followers if you change blogging platforms from, say, Blogger to WordPress.org and end up changing your URL.
3. Choose a Theme
Think about two things: the tone of your blog and user readability. Pick (or pay for) a design that represents the spirit of your blog: playful, serious, focused on mysteries, obsessed with fantasy, etc. However, make sure it’s easy to navigate and that your text will be easy to read. (For example, avoid light fonts on dark backgrounds. Also check if you can change the font size if the default is too small.)
Also, I discuss this more in the intermediate tips on using graphics, but do keep in mind that you should adhere to copyright laws and should use images for your blog theme that you have paid for the right to use, that are your own images, or that are explicitly free for use online.
4. Write an About Page
Readers consistently say they like to know about the blogger behind the blog. While you don’t have to get too personal if you don’t want to, you should still say something about yourself and the general purpose of your blog. Allow your readers to get to know you and what they can expect you to be writing on your book blog. If you’re comfortable with it, consider adding a photograph for an even more personal touch.
5. Create a Review Policy
As a book blogger, even a newbie one, you’re likely to get requests from authors and publicists to review books or feature other content on your blog, such as author guest posts or interviews. Instead of waiting for people to email you and then panicking, decide up front whether this is something you are interested in and then list your guidelines on your Review Policy page.
Some things to include in your review policy:
- What posts you will consider. (Only reviews? Only author interviews?)
- What genres you are interested in and what genres you don’t want to review.
- Whether you will post negative reviews or whether you will post only three star reviews or higher.
- Whether you will post the review somewhere other than your blog (Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.)
- How quickly you expect to read and review book requests.
- What formats you will accept. (Only print books, Kindle books, PDFs?)
- The email address people can contact you at. (I recommend creating a blog-specific one, instead of using your personal email.)
6. Write Some Posts–And Schedule Some Ahead
Obviously, your blog is going to need content. You can start out with a simple introduction post telling people who you are and why you’ve joined the book blogosphere. (You can read my tips on writing your very first book blog post here.) From there, your content is likely to include book reviews, discussions of books, book tags, etc. Write some of these posts in advance.
Decide how often you want to post on your blog (three times a week? once a week?) and consider writing out at least three weeks’ worth of posts before your blog goes live. This will save you a lot of stress trying trying to post consistently and keep you from scrambling to create content. New bloggers often report blogger burnout when they fail to schedule posts before they launch.
7. Choose Whether You Will Have a Rating System
Many, but not all, book bloggers use a rating system on their book reviews to give their audience a quick indication of how much they enjoyed the book they are reviewing. There are pros to including ratings (for instance, other people seem to like them) and cons (for instance, sometimes people seem to skip the review and just check the rating). Krysta and I didn’t use ratings on our blog for several years. And it was fine. However, you probably want to be consistent with using or not using them from the start, and you’ll also want think about what graphic you’ll use for the rating. In fact, many people don’t use stars at all, but some other image that goes with their theme like tea cups, cats, muffins, etc.
8. Read Other Book Blogs
If you’re not really reading other book blogs, now is a good time to start. While there’s always room for creativity in the blogosphere, there are also conventions. Find out what other bloggers are doing and what readers might be expecting from your blog. If you want to break the mold and do something wildly different, that’s great, and now you’ll be doing it as an informed decision.
The Details of Starting Your Book Blog
Once you have the foundations of your book blog, it’s time to start thinking about the details: making the user experience good for your readers and getting visitors to come to your blog.
1. Cultivate a Great Sidebar
Don’t overwhelm visitors with too much information in your sidebar. Think about what information will be useful to them, and put the most important things towards the top.
Consider including in the sidebar:
- a brief bio (save the long version for your About page)
- a search bar for your blog
- a way to subscribe to your blog (email or WordPress feed)
- links to your social media pages
- a blog button if you have one
- a list of your most recent posts
- a list of popular posts
- information about any special events you have going on
Consider omitting from the sidebar:
- the tag cloud (No one really uses this to navigate.)
- a calendar (I can see your recent posts.)
- recent Tweets (I can just follow you on Twitter.)
- too much information about favorite books or other fun facts
You can also choose not to have a sidebar at all. Some bloggers feel that sidebars clutter their space and prefer to include information like how to follow them on social media elsewhere.
2. Think about Graphics for Your Blog
Most blogging experts recommend having at least one image per blog post. Planning this out can take some time. First, you want to be sure you’re staying on the right side of copyright laws and not using images illegally. Secondly, you’ll want to think about branding your images and keeping the look consistent across posts. (Consider making graphics similar sizes, fonts, and colors.)
To get started, you might want some basic graphics so you don’t have to make an entirely new one for every single post (unless that’s something you love to do). So, you might make an image for use on all discussion posts, an image for use on all Top Ten Tuesday posts, etc.
If you have time to invest into making many graphics or you’re invested in using images for traffic growth, make a unique image for each blog post. To be really unique, you can use your own bookish photography. Otherwise, find royalty-free images and optimize them for sharing. This means putting the post title on the image and putting your blog name or URL, as well. If you’re going to be sharing a lot on Pinterest, expects recommend portrait-style graphics (long vertical images).
3. Choose What Social Media to Join
Few book bloggers only run blogs. Joining social media will help you both meet other bloggers and readers and help you promote your content. If you’re a social media fiend, feel free to join everything: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Riffle, etc. However, remember that the most valuable social media is the one you enjoy enough to actually use. If you’re going to start slowly or have limited time to devote to other outlets beyond your blog, I recommend Goodreads (of course) and Twitter as the places where the book community is often most active. (You can also read my posts on using Goodreads to drive traffic to your blog and using Goodreads to write better reviews.)
Note that there is also a large book community on Instagram (Bookstagram), but this site generally is not going to be a traffic driver back to your book blog. Join if you’re truly interested in taking book photography and interacting with other readers on the site itself, not because you think it will be a good way to promote your blog. And, if you are interested in joining, don’t worry about not owning “enough” or “beautiful” books. It’s perfectly fine to take creative photos of your ereader featuring book covers or photos of library books.
For my tips on Bookstagram, check out:
- Reflections on Five Weeks of Bookstgram
- Do You Use Library Books for Bookstagram?
- How to Rock Bookstagram on a Budget
Josephine at Word Revel also has an excellent Bookstagram 101 series.
After you’ve joined, make sure your social media is clearly linked to in your blog sidebar, so people can find and follow you. Then add your blog URL to your social media profiles. If you’re on WordPress, you can also set up your blog so it will auto-share new posts on Facebook and Twitter. (There are also options for sharing other sites, such as LinkedIn, but most book bloggers won’t be using these.)
4. Start a Review Archive Page
One of the first things I do when I visit a new book blog is check out their review archives. I want to know what kinds of books the blog features, and whether I agree with the bloggers opinions on books we’ve both read. Make it easy for visitor to access your content by starting a page for your review archive, which you can choose to alphabetize either by author or by title of the book. You can also make archive pages for any other posts you routinely write and want to group by category.
5. Participate in the Book Blog Community
If you want people to read your blog, the single most useful thing you can do is read and comment on other people’s blogs. Write meaningful comments and connect with readers, and they’ll want to read your actual blog content. Alternatively, no one can visit your blog if they’re not aware it exists, so go out there and talk to other readers!
You can also join memes, read-alongs, reading challenges, Twitter chats, or other events that other bloggers are hosting. Big events include Bloggiesta (a few times a year) and Armchair BEA in May.
For more on how you can get traffic to your book blog, go here. You can also see the best blogging advice submitted by our readers.
Advanced Book Blogging
If you’re super serious about getting traffic to your blog or becoming known in the book community, start thinking about search engine optimization (SEO) for your blog and creating timely and unique content.
1. Complete These Quick SEO Tips
There’s a lot of information on the web about improving your SEO and getting traffic to your blog. The following tips are quick ideas to get you started:
- Include ALT tags for your images. (Use the media editor in WordPress to do this.)
- Compress images. Part of good SEO is making sure your site loads quickly. If you’re using lots of large image files on your posts, use a site like compressjpeg.com to make them smaller.
- Use heading tags. Your blog post title will be an H1 tag. In your post, use H2, H3, and maybe H4 to structure your post.
- Use keywords. Make sure you’re naturally including the words you think people would use to search for your post in the post itself. If you’re reviewing a book, for instance, you’ll probably want to mention the title and author name a couple times throughout the review, not just once.
- Use links. Send readers to other related posts on your blog to keep them engaged and reading.
- Update old content. Once you’re an established blogger, make sure your old content isn’t wasting away. If you’ve written an interesting discussion post or helpful guide, update it and re-share it on social media.
2. Get Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
Indie authors and publicists may begin contacting you about reviewing their books very early in your blogging career. However, if you’re interested in getting ARCs from major publishers, your blog will probably have to be at least six months old, and you’ll have to demonstrate to publishers you’ll bring the book visibility by sending them your stats for follower numbers and average page views. Updating your blog frequently and having comments on your posts can also be useful.
For physical ARCs: Check out some of these guides.
Some publishers have specific forms they ask bloggers to fill out to request ARCs, and the publishers do not wish to be contacted by email for ARC requests.
You can also enter Goodreads giveaways for ARCs for check the Shelf Awareness industry newsletter for ARCs.
3. Think about getting a Co-blogger
As the tasks “big” book bloggers are expected to perform increase, I’ve been predicting that bloggers seriously invested in growing or even monetizing their book blogs may want to co-blog. After all, bloggers are expected to
- consistently write unique content
- read books and other blogs
- comment on other blogs
- take photos
- make graphics
- run social media
- host events
- …and more.
If that’s not something you have the time to all by yourself, or you don’t have the skills or interest to do, you may want a co-blogger to help. If this idea appeals to you, find out what questions you should ask potential co-bloggers.
4. Host Your Own Blog Event
Once you’re fairly established, you can think about hosting your own bookish event. This can be anything from a read-along of a book you enjoy or a book you want to read but haven’t yet, to an event where you focus on a single author/genre/series/etc. and collect some guest posts from other bloggers.
It’s a good idea to look around and see how other people host events first. For instance, what times of discussion questions or activities might go with a read-along? How long should the event last? How many people can you expect to participate? Start planning and scheduling from there.
If you want guest posts, I recommend approaching some bloggers you think will be interested in the topic of the event and sending them an email specifically asking if they would like to contribute something. (Also include details like when you would want the draft, how long the post should be, whether you will be linking to their blog and social media, etc. so they can make an informed decision.) If your blog is still smallish, you may have trouble getting participants if you just send out a general call for guest posts. Approaching specific bloggers to guest post will help ensure you get content and your event succeeds.
Krysta and I asked other readers for guest posts when we first launched our (kind of annual) March Tolkien Reading Event. Now that we’ve been blogging for several years, the event is big enough that we get participants from putting out a general call for guest posts.
Other Posts You Might Be Interested In
- Blogging “Failures” at Pages Unbound
- Why Krysta Doesn’t Request ARCs
- Blogging “Rules” Krysta Ignores
- 2018 Book Blogger Stats Survey
What tips do you have for people looking to start book blogging?