First things first: I know that this post is a little bit presumptuous of me. I am barely a blip on the internet’s radar, who am I to say what people should and shouldn’t put on their blogs? I am not an authority on the subject and you should write whatever the hell you want without caring about what I have to say
’cause baby you’re a firework. Still, I have noticed a few “trends” amongst young book bloggers that make me cringe and after reading one bad review too many, I thought it was time to dedicate a post to some basic do’s and don’ts of the field.
These tips are all on the actual writing on your blog, not the way it looks or the way you (don’t) sell yourself. My focus is on what matters most: the quality of your content.
(That said, a readable font and a lay-out that doesn’t give your readers a headache or seizures are worth looking into.)
1. Be specific.
Don’t just say you liked it or that the writing was bad, but explain to your readers why you have come to these conclusions. Give examples and quotes. Point out recurring annoyances and/or things the author does well. Don’t just stay on the surface, but make it come to life.
2. Go beyond the plot summary.
We’ve all got Wikipedia, that’s not why people read your blog. If your review is 80% plot summary, you’re doing it wrong.
3. Use the correct terminology when it comes to movements and/or time periods.
I know we’re not all literature students and some terms can lead to a lot of debate, but just make sure that you don’t slap the word “Victorian” on everything between the Renaissance and World War One. This can be confusing at first, but there is a learning curve, you’ll get there. Your readers will appreciate it when you do the research.
4. Be aware of what you read (and, more importantly, what you don’t).
Take a long critical look at your Goodreads page. Do you only stick to one genre? How many of these books were written by female authors? What about authors of colour? Queer characters? Do you only read books from your own country or in your own language? Do you read works from different time periods? Poetry? Short stories? Essays? There is nothing wrong with finding a niche and sticking to it, but be aware of what you leave out and why. On a somewhat related note:
5. Don’t throw the word “classic” around without knowing what it means and implies.
The word “classic” is very problematic, not only because it refers to a canon as defined by those in power (usually grumpy, middle-aged, white men) which thus excludes a lot of worthy authors and books for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual works, but also because it implies a kind of fixed judgment of quality: all classics are and will always be good, no argument. It can be very difficult to say that you think that a book is overrated when it has that Penguin stamp of timelessness on the cover. “Watch out, kids: this is one of the Big Ones. If you didn’t like it, it probably means you’re stupid.”
Which reminds me: when people ask you what your favourite literary genre is, please don’t say “classics.” That is not a genre. Don’t squeeze Beowulf and Slaughterhouse-Five under the same label, it’s entirely meaningless. That answer is just a roundabout way of patting yourself on the back for your good taste and intellect, and no one likes a snob. Speaking of snobbery…
6. The book isn’t always better than the movie.
I used to be guilty of this assumption myself (and for much longer than I like to admit), but they are two different media and one is not inherently superior to the other. If you like books better, that is a matter of personal taste, not fact. Yes, there are some truly horrendous movie adaptations out there, but I have also seen films turn mediocre source material into something new and exciting. Film and literature use different techniques and sometimes something that blows your mind in a book just doesn’t work on screen. Shake off those snap judgments, walk into the cinema with an open mind, and always ask the question: “does this work as a film?”
7. Embrace your guilty pleasures.
In fact, stop referring to them as guilty pleasures altogether. It’s okay to like something you know is silly, so you might as well own up to it. As Dara O’Briain said in This Is The Show:
Music snobbery is the worst kind of snobbery. It forces people who like something a bit mainstream, a bit of pop like Girls Aloud or Take That or ABBA to say “It’s my guilty pleasure!” I hate that phrase. It is an insult to top quality pop. It is also an insult to guilt. I may be an atheist now, but I did my time with the Catholic Church, I learned a lot about guilt and it needed a lot more than “Gimme Gimme Gimme A Man After Midnight” to merit the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’. You needed to actually have the man after midnight.
Same goes for all other art forms, including literature. Learn the difference between harmless fluff and what is actually bad.
8. “I didn’t like it because the main character isn’t me.”
This is something I’ve been discussing in the comments on this very website, but it bears repeating. It’s one thing if you’re a casual reader just looking for a fun diversion, but if you take reading and writing about literature more seriously, you are doing yourself a discredit by sticking to straightforward identification as your main focus. Yes, we all gravitate towards characters and authors we see ourselves in, but if you stay within that comfort zone, you’ll miss out on so many fantastic books that will challenge you and the way you see things. Different can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s also the only way you will learn and grow and broaden your horizons. What’s the point in just having your own thoughts confirmed all the time when you can see the world through someone else’s eyes?
Again, there are shades of grey here. You can root for a character without agreeing or even identifying with them, as long as they are well-written (see: Breaking Bad).
9. Admit it when you’re out of your depth and/or were wrong about something.
As a reader, you’re always learning and adjusting, so it’s perfectly alright to admit that you messed up somewhere along the way. It happens and it will keep happening for the rest of your life, it’s all part of the process. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on to the next mistake (because there will be one).
10. Respect other people’s opinions.
This should go without saying, but I’m putting it on the list anyway. After all, not agreeing is not the same thing as being wrong. There is a big difference between a civilised debate and an all-out flame war, so hear people out, keep an open mind, and know that you can always choose to lay down arms and agree to disagree.
Keep an open mind, go deep, and don’t be an asshole. Good advice for life in general, I’d say.
What about you? Do you have any tips for all the book bloggers and reviewers out there?
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