How Book Reviews Could Boost Your Blog Traffic

Book reviews have become increasingly unpopular in book blogging during the last two  years or so as bloggers have noticed they often attract less traffic than other types of posts.  This trend has resulted in some bloggers cutting back on the reviews they write while others lament the loss of a type of post they still enjoy reading.  It is notable that in these discussions I have never seen any blogger provide exact numbers or any type of detailed evidence to support their statements.  However, I assume that the statement, “Book reviews attract less traffic” often means something like, “Book reviews attract less traffic the day they are posted.”  This fact alone may be not enough reason to scrap book reviews altogether.

Book blogs seem unique among blogs in that their primary audience is other book bloggers.  While food and lifestyle blogs seem to find more followers from Internet searches, book bloggers work hard to find and comment on other book blogs to grow their audience.  This means that their followers, the ones most likely to click on a post the same day it is published, are a niche audience who will often click most on posts about how to improve their own blog.  Or they may prefer tags, memes, and other other posts they can skim quickly so they can comment quickly and go on blog hopping.  Reviews are mainly of interest to those who have already read or heard of the book, so the number of followers who click on them the same day is often lower.  However, the types of posts most likely to attract clicks from fellow book bloggers are not necessarily the types of posts that will rank high in search engines.

Book reviews can provide your blog with a steady stream of traffic from outside sources, preventing the need to publish a high-interest post every single day in the hopes of attracting transient clicks from other bloggers.  The initial popularity of a review may not even matter when you begin to think of attracting traffic over the long term.  For example, Briana’s review of Nerve, published on the blog on Sept. 10, 2012, initially received only 13 views by the end of the year.  Stats were a bit stagnant after that with nine people viewing it in 2013 and three people in 2014.  But the numbers climbed to 53 and then 1,791 for 2014 and 2016.  In 2017, the post had 726 views.  In this case, no one read the initial review because Nerve was not a big title in the book blogosphere.  However, when Nerve became a movie in 2016, Briana’s review was there waiting for search hits--because apparently very few others had reviewed it.

As increasingly more bloggers choose not to review books in the pursuit of stats, reviewing books may ironically become a very effective way to gain views from search engines.  While it is true that not all of these views may result in comments (the searchers not having WordPress or Blogger accounts), simply knowing that others are still reading their content can be very cheering for bloggers.  It is disheartening to write a blog post that lasts one day–it makes writing seem disposable and can tempt bloggers to write trendy content with little lasting value. So if you still love writing book reviews, rest assured.  There are people out there who are still reading them.  And they may be only a search away.

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What Is Your Vision of a Library?

How Do You Imagine Libraries?

Introduction

Krysta and I write a lot about libraries on the blog, and Krysta specifically makes a point of mentioning all the resources that libraries can offer in addition to actual books—movies, video games, online resources, computer access, classes, baking pans or even bikes. (Disclaimer: We discuss primarily US libraries since both of us live in the US, and of course resources vary from library to library within the US.)  Most of our readers seem to be aware that today’s public libraries are often more about being general community spaces than being specifically/only about books, but I wonder sometimes if our internal vision/imagination about libraries doesn’t match that reality.

Libraries: Fantasy vs. Reality

I read a lot of fantasy, and libraries in fantasy books tend to be vast halls of obscure knowledge where the very learned hang out, study arcane topics, and routinely discover knowledge that has been overlooked or forgotten for decades or even centuries. Basically, people (in fantasy books, at least) seem to have the idea that a library is a place that preserves knowledge and where people can go to learn anything.

We think of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings going to the records room of Minas Tirith and finding a scroll about the One Ring that even the lore masters of the city had been unaware of. Or Lazlo in Strange the Dreamer putting together his research on half-forgotten topics as he roams the halls of the world’s biggest library. Or Jasnah from The Stormlight Archives combing through half-forgotten texts and publishing her shocking findings.

Exceptions to the image of a scholar going to a large library (often THE library in the fantasy) world generally include fantasy school books where there is a school library (such as Harry Potter or Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books). I can’t think of an example of a fantasy book off-hand that features a general interest library that the public frequents. In general, fantasy imagines libraries as spaces where the learned go to do PhD level research on specialized topics, often in half-forgotten languages. In these books, libraries house the entire knowledge and history of the world, and anything can be found by someone who looks hard enough.

In reality, that often isn’t a good reflection of what libraries offer.

A More Accurate Image of a Public Library

The stated mission of my current public library is to provide “high interest” materials to the community. So you can go to find The Hunger Games or Hillary Clinton’s book or something about Neptune or a book on the latest fad diet.  But if you want a book on an extremely specialized or obscure topic, it likely isn’t there. And forget old books. Public libraries tend to have limited room. If a book hasn’t been checked out by a patron in a few years, that indicates “lack of interest,” and it gets weeded (maybe recycled, maybe donated, maybe sold off at the library book sale—it depends).

University/academic libraries are much more likely to have obscure books and old ones that are no longer readily available, and you should be able to find just about anything you want in the Library of Congress (barring actual original manuscripts from, say, Ancient Greece)—but most people haven’t been in an academic library since graduating college (You can often pay for a library membership at universities, though, if you are interested).  So I find it a bit funny that our shared imagination of what a library is often is based on the type of library that few of us even visit.  (And note that our image of a library focuses heavily on nonfiction!)

Conclusion

Libraries have different missions, and I’m not saying that one is more valuable than another here. However, I want to know: When you hear the word “library,” what do you envision? A huge old hall holding miles of half-forgotten knowledge? Or do you actually think of something that more closely resembles your own local library?

Briana

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Related Posts:

How Rereading Can Boost Your Blog

Increase Discussion Posts

For some bloggers, rereading may seem like a waste of time because they have already reviewed a book and do not wish to do so again.  However, rereads are an opportunity to go beyond the book review.  Consider what parts of the story captured your interest, troubled you, or confused you.  Then write about those moments!

Discussion posts are actually a great way to continue to talk about the books we love because reviews are only so long.  In focusing on main considerations such as the pacing of the novel or the growth of the protagonist, we may not have time to discuss other areas of interest–doing so would take the review off track or make it too lengthy for anyone to read!  One way to get around this dilemma is take each area of interest and make it into a separate discussion post.  This allows you to keep on trend with the expectation of having discussion posts on a book blog and gives you an easy source of inspiration from which to draw from when writing them.

Improve the Quality of Discussion Posts

Personally, I never catch everything going on in a book on the first read–and I expect hardly anyone else does, either.  During the first read, I am often caught up on the plot and the characters, as well as in my emotions about both.  I’m reading for pleasure, for entertainment, to find out what happened!  When I am finished, I do, of course, have thoughts about what happened, but I need to go back for a closer look to solidify those thoughts.

Because rereading allows time to delve into the details of a book, it produces more interesting and  more informed discussion posts.  Rereading gives the ability to point to specific textual moments and to quote from the book, both of which provide evidence to make any argument made strong.  It also ensures that we are not missing anything important.  It is awkward to make an argument about a book that only takes into account, say, the final third of the book, and ignores everything leading up to that part–because we forgot!  In short, the person who has reread a work typically has an advantage over someone who has not.

Post More without Reading More

Bloggers generally seem overworked and stressed about it.  There is so much to do while blogging!  A typical book blogger might read, review, write discussion posts, do some web design or formatting, take photos for the blog/Instagram, and keep up with social media accounts.  Not to mention organizing any link-ups, round-ups, book tours, giveaways, etc.  So how do you keep on generating content when it’s so hard to find time to read with everything else going on?  Once you have reread a book, you have a more solid grasp on it and thus can, as stated above, generate multiple discussion posts from it.  Post more without reading more!

How does rereading improve your blog?

I Like Children’s Books with Morals–and So Do You

Sometimes when we discuss books, readers will say that they do not enjoy older texts because they “moralize.”  Certainly the tone or manner of moralizing can affect how readers perceive the messages being imparted.  For instance, The Lord of the Rings might be said to promote the message that friendship, mercy, and self-sacrifice are positive forces for good in the world.  But accusations of moralizing are not typically leveled at J. R. R. Tolkien’s most famous work.  In contrast, readers might object to Pollyanna because of its overt message that hardship should be confronted with optimism.  (“Pollyanna” has even entered the dictionary as a typically derogatory term describing overly optimistic people.)

However, moral messages are not relegated to books of the past.  Indeed, moralizing remains alive and well in children’s stories.  It’s simply that many of our moral messages have changed.  While books of the past may have emphasized virtues like honesty, cheerfulness, humility, and a good work ethic, books today often focus on themes of confidence, individuality, and inclusion.  Perhaps some readers do not see these books as moralizing because they agree so whole-heartedly with these themes that they see them as self-evident and not as lessons to be inculcated.  However, a good many readers actively expect such messages–and are disappointed or offended by stories that do not include them.

We can see how strong our desire for moral stories is if we try to imagine narratives that do not adhere to our current standards of positive messaging.  What would happen, for example, if there were a children’s story that featured a nerdy girl with no friends.  However, instead of finding friends who value her as she is, she either has to change (maybe by pretending to be more into reality TV and less into comics) to have a social life or she simply ends the book still in middle school without friends (a hopeful end message suggesting high school might be different).  Would parents, educators, and librarians want to hand this book to children?  What about a book that featured a bully who does not come to empathize with others but continues to be mean without ever having a comeuppance?  What would the reviews for that book look like?  More likely than not, these books would not be published in the first place and, if they were, the reviews from adults would probably be negative.

Yes, it is true that sometimes books without positive messages get published or even become popular–but this not the normDiary of a Wimpy Kid, for instance, features an unlikable protagonist who continually lies and hurts his friend to get what he wants–and the series it spawned is a runaway success.  Perhaps it’s notable, however, that Jeff Kinney initially wrote the book for adults.  In a 2011 Guardian article he admits: “It really shocked and unsettled me to hear kids were buying the books. If I’d known I was writing for kids I might actually have spelt things out a bit more and that would probably have killed the appeal.”  While he goes on to suggest that children appreciate the lack of preaching in the Wimpy Kid books, his attitude is generally in line with what most adults–the ones who write, publish, and purchase the bulk of children’s books–think.  Children’s stories should reinforce positive messages.  You can find plenty of parent reviews online recoiling in shock from Kinney’s books to see just how unusual this series is for the children’s market.

You can randomly choose an assortment of children’s books and probably find a moral in most of them.  For example, picture book Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth and Priscillal Burris is about a young girl who is “too loud” for her family, but finds a place she can use her loudness to her advantage.  Dino Duckling by Alison Murray is about a family of ducks who accepts a dino as one of their own without question.  In the middle grade category, you can find books like Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, which shows the protagonist overcoming stage fright and her community coming together to show support for each other.  Or  you can find subtle messages in books like The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner, which shows how a “troubled” character is simply misunderstood because he is struggling with the effects of homelessness.  Positive messages, often shown through character arcs where the protagonist struggles with self-acceptance but then finds their place in the world, are simply the norm in children’s stories.

I’ll be the first to admit that I like positive messages in my children’s stories.  I like to see characters evolve and learn something.  I like to see stories where things wrap up on a positive note–where the bullied child is accepted, the mean child converted, the overlooked child praised.   These stories feels satisfying and conclusive.  However, like a good many people, I also rather expect children’s stories to be teaching children something.  For better or for worse, I assume that the stories children hear will affect their perception of themselves and their place in the world.  I want them to affected in such a way that they become kinder, more empathetic, more honest.  A children’s story that suggests that immorality is acceptable is a book I will never be able to enjoy fully.

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Children’s Books I Didn’t Enjoy Because I Didn’t Support the Message

Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

This is a picture book about two “friends.”  Triangle begins the book by playing a mean trick on Square.  Square retaliates by playing a mean prank in revenge (or so he says).  The end.  There is no message here except that it is funny to be mean to others and to use their fears against them.  A strange choice for a children’s book indeed!

Tidy by Emily Gravett

This picture book follows Pete the badger who would like everyone to clean up their messes in the forest, please!  But then he gets too tidy and razes all the trees and covers the land with concrete to ensure no leaves or anything will litter his space.  I’m confused.  When you read this to children are they supposed to get the message that being clean leads to deforestation?  When you ask them to clean their room, will they reply, “No, mom!  We mustn’t be too tidy!”  Maybe the message is about obsession, but that seems a little abstract for the younger crowd.

Diary of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Protagonist Greg says no one at school likes him because of the way he looks.  Probably no one likes him because he is selfish, greedy, and dishonest.  He has one “friend” whom he uses and abuses to get what he wants–until he can ditch said friend for someone “better.”  Why is this series so popular with children?  I have no idea.  I think I would have hated it as a child simply because I would not have liked or respected the main character.

Slider by Pete Hautman

The protagonist cheats in this story.  And the other characters justify it.  No, that’s not the message I want to teach children!

You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” the old adage goes.  However, as the first thing potential buyers see, covers are marketing tools.  It would be ridiculous to suggest that the marketing teams at publishing houses do not create covers in a bid to attempt certain customers.  And, indeed, simply looking at the cover of a book can often tell readers certain information about a book.

To start, let’s consider age range.  YA books currently tend to feature models while MG books are more likely to have painted covers.  If someone entered a bookstore that was not arranged by age, they could make a reasonable guess that these books are YA:

A few things might clue a consumer into the age range here.  For one thing, the models do not appear to be children but teens (or maybe older models passing as teens).  But the shopper could also use prior knowledge to make their deductions.  They might recall the trend of “pretty dress” covers in YA:

If someone spends enough time in a bookshop or library, it becomes easier to identify covers marketed towards the YA market.  Sometimes trends occur.  Sometimes the covers simply appear more modern or edgier.  Indeed, sometimes YA covers get makeovers so they look more modern or edgier.

Covers will often also indicate genre to potential buyers.  Even without the titles, many readers could guess that these covers belong to paranormal books:

And, of course, most people recognize a romance when they see one:

The cover of a romance might even suggest to readers how steamy it is.

Even YA books with symbols or objects tend to look different from MG books.  For instance, here are a few YA covers:

These covers tends to be darker than MG covers and less quirky.  Again, they appear edgier.  Here are a few MG covers for comparison:

The bright, illustrated covers instantly signal to consumers that these are MG books.  And MG covers with people often look rather similar:

There are also subgenres of MG covers. For instance, here are some covers that I think of as the “quirky story covers”:

And there are the covers that obviously belong to humorous MG books:

Sometimes, of course, a cover may be misleading.  I initially assumed that We Are Okay was a graphic novel and that The Shadow Cipher was YA.  I saw Wrath of the Storm at the library and had to search for its marketing designation online because I had thought that the series was being marketed as MG, but the cover looked like it could be YA.

However, a few covers that break the norm do not indicate to me that we can no longer use covers to determine some general information about books from their covers.  For instance, if someone saw a child walking down the street in a uniform, they could be: playing a student in a theatrical production, going to a costume party dressed as a student, or just wearing an outfit that looks remarkably like a school uniform.  But it would hardly be outrageous for an onlooker to deduce simply that the child is a student (maybe even a student from a private school, depending on whether the public schools in the area have uniforms).  In the same way, I do not think it is outrageous for someone to look at a cover and deduce age range or genre from it.

Personally, I judge books by their covers all the time.  I would not buy Perfect Chemistry or an Abbi Glines book because I do not like to read explicit scenes and I would assume that those books include them.  I would avoid Bloodlines because I do not enjoy paranormal romances.  However, I would buy The Problim Children because I love quirky MG books.  When browsing through a bookstore or the library, the cover of a book is the first thing that catches my eye, the only thing that will encourage me to take a moment to read the jacket flap.  Marketing departments know this.  And they are designing their covers to be judged.

Why the “Slow” Opening of The Lord of the Rings Is So Valuable

lotr paperbacks

Introduction

Several months ago I convinced my friend to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the first time. He had seen the movies, but this would be his first time tackling the book (after a failed attempt several years back where, he insisted, the names of the characters all jumbled together). After getting through the unexpected prologue about the ways of hobbits and pipe weed, he started on the main body of the text, which he consistently grumbled about until Frodo and company finally made it to Bree.  The opening of the book, in his opinion, was slow and episodic, and it was clear why the films had chosen to streamline it (by, for instance, cutting out Tom Bombadil, the barrow wights, and some other scenes).

From a purely pacing perspective, I can see this point.  Tom Bombadil is fascinating as a part of Middle Earth, an unexplained being who seems to have been there basically since creation and who has so little interest in the One Ring that wearing it does not even make him invisible. However, is he necessary for the general plot line of getting Frodo from Point A (the Shire) to Point B (Mount Doom)? Likewise, the scenes at Frodo’s “new house” in Crickhollow and at the Barrow-downs are interesting, but one could make a compelling argument that the story “really” begins at Bree, or even at Rivendell.

Why, then, does Tolkien dedicate eight chapters (168 pages in my mass market paperback edition) just to get the hobbits to Bree?  And a full 242 pages to get them to Rivendell? (This is all of Book I, or about one sixth of the whole story, since FotR, TTT, and RotK are each divided into two Books.)  Personally, I think these chapters are integral to the character development of the hobbits and in preparing them for the “real test” of getting Frodo from Rivendell to Mordor.

From Hobbiton to Rivendell

 

Though the road from the Shire to Rivendell is fraught with dangers, and Frodo comes incredibly close to death after being wounded by a Morgul-blade on Weathertop, in many way this is a “mini adventure” somewhat on par with the adventure Bilbo took getting to the Lonely Mountain.  It is not as dangerous as the road to come will be, and it gives the hobbits a nice end goal.  After all, at the start of the story, their only stated purpose is to get the Ring to Rivendell, where hopefully wiser, braver, stronger people will decide what to do with it.

When Gandalf tells Frodo at Rivendell that “the Ring is not at rest yet,” Frodo replies, “I suppose not. But so far my only thought has been to get here; and I hope I shan’t have to go any further. It is very pleasant just to rest. I have had a month of exile and adventures, and I find that has been as much as I want.”

Earlier in Bree, Aragorn suggests the hobbits have made it so far partially because they didn’t truly understand what dangers they faced: “Perhaps I know more about these pursuers [the Black Riders] than you do.  You fear them, but you do not fear them enough, yet.” That lack of fear may have made them less cautious than they could have been, but it may also have enabled them to leave their own front doors.  After Frodo learns from Gandalf just how close he’d come to being a wraith from his Morgul-knife wound, he shudders: “Thank goodness I did not realize the horrible danger!  I was mortally afraid, of course; but if I had known more, I should not have dared even to move.”

Journeying from the Shire to Bree and then from Bree to Rivendell gives the hobbits small doses of danger and adventure where they can imagine a safe haven at the end. It helps them see what lies outside the protected borders of the Shire and shows them they have the strength and courage to meet it.  It also shows them there is great good in the world, to challenge and temper what is evil.  Seeing heroes ranging from Farmer Maggot telling off Black Riders to Fatty Bolger staying to meet the Riders in Crickhollow to Bombadil mastering Old Man Willow, the barrow wights, and the Ring itself must give the hobbits hope they otherwise never would have had. Likewise, stumbling across Bilbo’s defeated stone trolls in the wilderness must remind the hobbits they are part of a history greater than themselves and that hobbits have braved adventure before.

Conclusion

If the hobbits had set off straight from Hobbiton to Mordor, the journey surely would have been far more challenging for them. They may not even have agreed to it.  At the start of the story, they see themselves as taking on some necessary task that is unavoidable; with Gandalf failing to meet Frodo to make for Bree, there is no one to take the Ring out of the Shire if they do not.  It is only after they make this initial journey, followed by a time of rest at Rivendell, that they can truly volunteer to take the Ring to its final destination, to Mordor.

Briana

Re-Examining the Women of The Lord of the Rings

I will not argue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings contains a wealth of women.  Goldberry, Galadriel, Rosie Cotton, Ioreth, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Arwen, Eowyn, and Shelob make up a total of eight female characters who appear in the work.  (I do not count named characters such as Elbereth or Lúthien who function more as references than as characters.) However, I do contest the well-worn arguments that Tolkien’s women are not valuable or interesting or that they do not count as meaningful characters “because they are only there to help the men” on their way. 

These claims ignore the rich history Tolkien gives his women and implicitly suggest that women can only be considered strong or worth talking about if they take on certain (traditionally masculine) roles.  That is, these claims suggest that Eowyn is Tolkien’s only significant female character in LotR because she is the only woman who takes up a sword to fight in battle.  But this standard of “strength” is never applied to Tolkien’s male characters. Tolkien’s men get to run the spectrum, to be warriors or not, intelligent or not, brave or not, good or not.  But, for some reason, Tolkien’s women cannot do the same and still receive respect from critics.   The call for “strong female characters” in Tolkien is often actually a demand that women conform to a one-size-fits all model.  And this demand is damaging because it denies women the opportunity to be simply human.

Furthermore, the argument that Tolkien’s women “don’t do anything” is absurdly reductionist.  If we are to make the argument that Goldberry is not significant to the plot, then we must admit that Tom Bombadil is not, either.  He is merely a side adventure on the Hobbit’s journey to Rivendell.  If we want to argue that Galadriel is present merely to bestow gifts and help the Fellowship on their way, then we must also argue that Elrond exists merely to dispense advice and send the Fellowship off.  If we criticize Rosie Cotton for being a boring Hobbit who does not do anything, well, we can probably make the same criticism of half the Shire.  But Tolkien’s male characters do not tend to receive these same types of criticisms.

To be clear, I am not arguing that women of LotR typically receive the same type of characterization as the bulk of the men.  I do not pretend that Arwen receives any significant page time in the story proper or that Ioreth has any sort of character arc.  I understand that Rosie Cotton has about one line and that Shelob is a spider and not necessarily a proper female character.  I readily admit that Eowyn receives the most significant page time and has one of the most fleshed out arcs of the women (though Galadriel’s redemption and Lobelia’s umbrella shaking both merit mention).  I am simply arguing that these women deserve a second look.

If we cannot imagine any meaning for Tolkien’s women or any reasons for their presence in the story other than to support the men, the fault is with our literary analysis, not with the work.  Consider a few examples.  Arwen’s connection with Lúthien, her decision to give up immortality, and her separation from her father and brothers all are worth consideration.  What does it mean for a third Elf and Man couple to appear in the Third Age?  How can we reconsider Arwen in light of her sacrifice and her later realization that death is more bitter than she imagined?  And Galadriel!  Various versions of her story exist.  Sometimes she rebelled against the Valar.  Sometimes she wants to rule a land of her own.  Sometimes she takes up arms against her own kin.  All before the events of the LotR.  But her previous history gives even more meaning to her final rejection of the One Ring and the power it represents.

And what about Goldberry?  If people can write papers about Tom Bombadil, about whom we know essentially nothing, why not a paper on his wife?  Surely scholars can find something to say about the presence of a river spirit in Tolkien’s work, possible influences and inspirations, and the significance of her presence when Tolkien did not have to give Bombadil a wife at all.  Why should we overlook her when people are so fond of her husband?  Even Ioreth, who plays a tiny comical role as a gossip, might have something said of her, her function in keeping lore and healing alive in Gondor, and her characterization.  Scholars have written papers on less.

The Lord of the Rings does have women (and The Silmarillion many, many more), though critics tend to write as if half of them do not exist.  And those women are interesting, though critics apparently can see nothing to admire about any of them except for Eowyn (and sometimes Galadriel).  Let us not pretend that The Lord of the Rings is less than it is.  Rather, let us use our imaginations and apply the same type of inquiry and interest so many people have evidently deemed only the male characters worthy to receive.  Because, if we do not, we are only revealing our own attitudes towards gender and about which types of women matter–and which do not.