In December 2022, a photo of a Target bookshelf labeled “Young Adult Books” went viral because not a single book on the shelf was actually YA; indeed, the section was primarily steamy and explicit adult romance. This, of course, caused some consternation. Personally, I don’t think it was a weird conspiracy of store employees trying to get teens to read these books, as some people were arguing. I think the most plausible explanation I saw was that an employee was rearranging the shelves, put all the books that were meant to go there up, and simply forgot to change the sign. (Probably to something like “BookTok Books”?)
However, I think the wrong signage is a mistake that deserves to be fixed because there are people who are not familiar with the book industry who rely on such signage and shelving to choose books to buy. Yes, teens can read adult books, but the fact remains that some people might be specifically intending to buy an adult book and some might be specifically looking for a young adult book, and it should be obvious to them from the way the books are labeled and categorized in a store which one they are getting.
I raised this idea on Twitter, and I was met with some disagreement; more than one person told me that the onus is on the buyer to “do their research” before buying a book, and it’s completely their own fault if they buy a book for a twelve-year-old child that is actually BDSM erotica. But I don’t think that someone shopping in a physical store should need to either 1) spend 30 minutes researching popular YA books online to buy before they show up (something someone actually suggested) or 2) pull out their phone in the middle of the store to Google all the titles they see. If nothing else, this diminishes the convenience of a physical store; if I spent a significant amount of time researching before driving to the store, I might as well buy the book online! It’s also advice that pushes readers away from physical bookstores (yes, Target is not a bookstore) because it takes away the idea of serendipity and discovering books by browsing.
And I think one of the most important reasons that books should be correctly categorized in stores is because people who do not read themselves may buy them. I think the idea that some people don’t read at all, or that some people read but aren’t obsessively following the book industry and new releases, seem foreign to those of us who are Very Online in the book community. But it’s true! I think back to my grandmother, who knows I like to read, and when I was a child I would frequently receive books from her for my birthday or holidays. The selections were strange. One year in high school, I got a middle grade book I felt was too young for me. When I was twelve, I got The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I haven’t figured that one yet, except maybe my grandmother thought it was a kid’s book because there was a kid on the cover?
The point is that my grandmother is exactly the type of person who might have known, “Oh, my granddaughter says she likes reading young adult books,” walked into this Target with the incorrectly shelved books, and bought me a book that was entirely inappropriate for me. (I don’t care if you think steamy romances are appropriate for teenagers; I would not have wanted to read one in high school and would have been upset. And if my mother had found out about it, SHE would have been upset with my grandmother and started an entire family feud.) Similarly, parents who don’t read much themselves might take their kid (who may be a teen or even a tween) to a store and let them loose in the young adult section and tell them to pick something out, assuming that since the books are for teens they will be “age appropriate.” They are not going to pull out their phone and Google the book to make sure it’s not really accidentally erotica for adults because why would they expect that to happen? They might have no conception it’s a thing that could happen, and reasonable people don’t walk into a store assuming the employees are incompetent and that they must double-check every decision the employees have made.
Clearly differentiating young adult books from adult books (and doing the same for other age categories) is helpful to consumers in a variety of circumstances, but it is most helpful for those who aren’t intimately familiar with the book market as a whole but would still like to buy books. The Target bookshelf seems obviously like an accident, but it’s one that could have led to a very poor purchase for a buyer!
Barbara Pym is a master at capturing the subtle mayhem that takes place in the apparent quiet of the English countryside. Fifty-something sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede live a comfortable, settled existence. Belinda, the quieter of the pair, has for years been secretly in love with the town’s pompous (and married) archdeacon, whose odd sermons leave members of his flock in muddled confusion. Harriet, meanwhile, a bubbly extrovert, fends off proposal after proposal of marriage. The arrival of Mr. Mold and Bishop Grote disturb the peace of the village and leave the sisters wondering if they’ll ever return to the order of their daily routines. Some Tame Gazelle, first published in Britain nearly 50 years ago, was the first of Pym’s nine novels.
Some Tame Gazelle is one of those lovely classics that don’t seem to be “about” anything in particular, yet are so interesting and insightful when it comes to the lives of the characters and the place they live in, that one falls headfirst into the story.
I know if I were ever to write a book, it would need to be one strongly centered around a plot; there would be a quest or something particular the characters were doing that would tie the book together. I love books like Anne of Green Gables that are difficult to summarize because they’re not about one major plot point; they’re just about the characters’ lives. I think these books must be among the hardest to write and to write well because they rely so much on the author’s being able to write compelling characterization and make insightful remarks about human nature. Barbara Pym, like some of the great authors before her, excels at this.
The back of my copy of Some Tame Gazelle says the book is about “unrequited love,” which I think is as specific as one can get– but, of course, that’s a theme more than a plot point. Pym explores that theme with sensitivity and clarity, however, offering readers a range of characters who do (or not) experience romantic love: one woman who has quietly loved her friend (now married to another woman) for decades, a man who keeps asking another woman to marry him and being confused, a woman dreaming about men she hasn’t seen for years only to find they’ve changed. The beauty of the novel is that I have practically nothing in common with these people (the main characters are two unmarried women in their mid-fifties), but I see life through their eyes and understand.
And there are small moments, the quiet moments of life that Pym excels at noting and celebrating, that truly make the characters “relatable.” In one scene, for instance, one of the protagonists is thinking contentedly about how she has chose the correct shoes for an occasion, only for her sister to off-handedly remark she had always found that style of shoes a bit frumpy. The protagonist then goes off to her event, uncomfortably aware now that she is wearing dowdy shoes. I’m probably a bit young to feel “dowdy,” but I think many of us can relate a bit to suddenly becoming conscious of being unfashionable or not wearing the right thing, yet stuck wearing it anyway, sure in the back of our minds that everyone must be noticing. These seemingly insignificant scenes — such as a character wearing uncool shoes — are where Pym skillfully gets into and portrays the human mind.
Finally, I enjoyed the absurd amount of literary quotations and allusions in the book. There’s a particular respect for Middle English texts, which is so unusual that I couldn’t help but love it, as I, too, enjoy medieval texts. Characters even admire other characters for their knowledge of Middle English literature. Wild. Now, I am fairly certain that some of the literary quotations (which are from a variety of literary eras) are there a bit to poke fun at the characters (some, for instance, quote texts constantly but haven’t read much since college and seem to be a bit too much invested in reliving their glory days as undergrads rather than living in the present), but I still found it impressive how many were worked into the novel, and I appreciated them simply because I appreciate classics.
This is only the second Barbara Pym novel I’ve read, after Excellent Women, but I think she’s becoming a new favorite author of mine.
Book bloggers have debated the pros and cons of being paid for their work for years, with most of the bloggers opposed arguing that people cannot trust a review that was paid. Bloggers who advocate for publishers paying for them respond that many professional reviewers get paid for their time–and no one doubts those reviews–and that all the hard work bloggers put into their content and their sites deserves monetary compensation. While I appreciate the desire to be paid for one’s skills, I personally prefer not to be paid by publishers for book blogging–and it’s not because of the reviews.
When I first began book blogging nearly ten years ago, I understood from the start that this was a hobby I was choosing to put my time and effort into, and that I would not be paid for it. And that was great! Book blogging as a hobby means that I have complete control over my time and my content. That’s exactly the way I want it.
If I turned my hobby into a job, that means I would have to start treating it like a job. I would have to invest even more time (and probably money) into it, to make the blog look professional. I would have to work towards deadlines that publishers gave me. I would have to create content that publishers want, instead of content I am interested in. Finally, even if publishers did not demand I create a set list of content, I would have to change my content anyway, in order to generate more page views so I could remain competitive with other bloggers.
One aspect of getting paid that I do not ever see anyone mention, is that one usually has to spend money to make money. The influencers on YouTube and Instagram whom book bloggers envy most likely own professional cameras and may even hire professional photographers. To compete, book bloggers would probably have to start doing the same, paying for professional website design, professional graphics, professional cameras, and, of course, self hosting. Even bloggers who try to do all this on their own might have to invest money in a course, or, at least their time. And time is money, right? Now, obviously, plenty of bloggers already do this sort of thing–that’s why they want to get paid in return. But bloggers who are currently happy doing their hobby practically for free–like me–may think twice before investing in a venture that might not actually provide any compensation in return.
Additionally, getting paid by publishers would mean that I would no longer have the creative freedom I now enjoy. Currently, my blog is an eclectic mix of reviews (middle grade, YA, adult, classics, and nonfiction), lists, and discussion posts. Publishers, however, might very well want to work with a blog that has more of a “brand” so readers know what to expect: lots of middle grade love, all the latest on YA fantasy, etc. They might also provide me with a set list of content they want published: a cover reveal, an author interview, and a review. The posts I used to write discussing classics or asking readers to show some library love? Probably they won’t fit into the new brand.
Another likely outcome of book bloggers getting paid is that book bloggers would begin to see each other as competition. Publishers have a limited marketing budget, and they would understandably want to spend it on the bloggers who could give them the most views and interactions in return. To achieve higher stats, bloggers would have to become even more secretive about what they do to succeed–perhaps choosing to no longer publish free tutorials for beginners, hiding their statistics, and sharing fewer roundups or link backs. Bloggers might also have to change their content to generate higher views, perhaps focusing more on listicles, for example, than reviews or discussions. That’s not really a road I want to go down since I started blogging to discuss books with people, not merely to generate stats.
Finally, I am just not convinced that all the additional time, effort, and money I would have to put into a paid blog would generate meaningful income in return. It seems unlikely that I would be making enough to quit my day job (and, even if I did, the terror of doing so would prevent me since I wouldn’t believe that blogging gave me real financial stability long-term). Doing all this work, and changing everything I love, just for extra “beer money” would not be worth it for me.
I acknowledge and I appreciate all the hard work we book bloggers do! I understand that we possess unique skills, such as writing, photography, coding, web design, and more. And I can understand that people want to be paid for using those skills. For me, however, blogging is most enjoyable as a hobby. And, for now, that’s the way I would like to keep it.
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!
How to start a book blog, review books, and have a successful book blog
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!
Table of Contents: 17 Steps to Start a Book Blog
Choose a blog name.
Choose a blogging platform.
Choose a theme.
Write an about page.
Write a review policy.
Write some posts–and schedule some posts in advance.
Decide whether you will rate books.
Read other books blogs.
Add widgets to your sidebar.
Make graphics for your blog.
Decide which social media platforms to promote your blog on.
Start a review archive page.
Participate in the book blogging community and comment on other blogs.
Work on SEO for your blog.
Apply to get ARCs to review.
Consider whether you want a co-blogger.
Host a blogging event.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This summer, Pages Unbound will be hosting a read-along of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. We’ll officially be reading the book over the course of a month, with discussion questions posted on Sundays (see schedule below), but feel free to read at your own pace. You can also join the read-along at any time, or participate in the discussion questions if you’ve read Anne before but aren’t officially re-reading it now.
Anne is out of copyright, so in addition to buying your own copy or borrowing one from the library, you should be able to find free e-book versions for your e-reader, as well as versions online from places like Project Gutenberg.
Sunday, June 26: Start reading!
Friday, July 1: Anne of Green Gables Book Tag
Sunday, July 3: Questions on chapters 1-10
Friday, July 8: Personality Quiz
Sunday, July 10: Questions on chapters 11-20
Friday, July 15: Activity Post (to be announced)
Saturday, July 16: Twitter Chat (5 pm EST)
Sunday, July 17: Questions on chapters 21-29
Sunday, July 24: Questions on chapters -30-38
Sunday, July 31: Wrap Up and Review Link-Up
The Twitter hashtag for the read-along will be #readAnneShirley. Use it post to your progress and reactions and to connect with other readers!
There will be a Twitter chat on July 16 at 5 pm. Anyone is welcome to participate! Questions will be posted by @pagesunbound.
If you are interested in participating, please sign up by clicking the green graphic below. (It might take a moment to load.) The link should open in a new window. Remember, you can sign up at any point during the read-along, as well, and feel free to invite your friends!
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