Chat · Reflection

Two years of blogging – reflections

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Happy blog day to me.

Two years ago I came home from a book event and typed up my thoughts. It seemed as good a moment as any to start that blog. It feels like minutes since I hit ‘publish’ on my first post and watched my stats until I saw activity which didn’t actually come from my Mum. 

Two years is a strange mark in blogging. In one way I have learned so much, but I also have so much still to learn. Last year I was determined to make the move to self-hosting, but now I am glad I waited. Free WordPress may not be glamorous but it has given me space to test out content from different niches and work on different skills before making the jump. 

So what have I been up to in my second year of blogging? 

Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to attend several bookish events, listen to established authors and meet other bloggers. I am already booked in for the NYA Literary Festival this March and can’t wait to see you all again. Twitter chats are brilliant, but there is nothing like meeting in person. 

I was particularly motivated by Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh Book Festival, who spoke about using her own strengths to plot stories and sticking out rejection to reach success. 

It was also a pleasure to meet Robin Stevens in December. The Murder Most Unladylike series is one of my favourite middle-grade mystery series, and Robin Stevens gave some brilliant advice about creating believable characters.

Over the past twelve months, I have written a novel manuscript. I had attempted this before and it had ended in ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ (did I steal that? It is the perfect description of those early projects. The ones which had some good stuff in them. The odd scene or character or brilliant bit of dialogue. A couple even had a soul, but they just didn’t hold together as a story. Calling them nothing belies the effort which went into them, but calling them novel manuscripts would be like calling Frankenstein’s monster human.) 

This year I finished a 40,000-word middle-grade mystery. With the average number of manuscripts ahead of publication stated as four, I am looking ahead to my next plots, but it is encouraging to finally have something in the drawer . I know blogging played a big part in getting me to this stage. Networking with writers at all stages of their career has been invaluable, and I have friends who have cheered me on through every scrap of writing over the past two years. Thanks to you all. 

If you are thinking about starting a book blog, do it.  Take time to find out what sort of book-blogger you are. There are promoters and there are people who want to build a network of bookish friends and there are people looking to develop their reading as part of a professional goal (eg teachers looking to improve the way they use texts in the classroom). Some bloggers are social-bunnies while others are introverts. Some bloggers want to create dazzling content while others slip it into a very hectic timetable. Everyone’s approach is valid and that variety makes the blogosphere a more interesting place. 

In my first two years, I have tried content from different niches. I have tried sticking to schedule and I have tried going with the flow. I almost expanded to include literary fiction, then dropped that in favour of picture books and illustrated non-fiction. I have dabbled with lifestyle content as a way of expanding my audience. There can be immense pressure when everything is quantified in likes and stats. My advice? Enjoy playing.

What do I want to take forward over the coming year? 

If I want to keep anything from my first two years, it is my commitment to be kind. Social media can be exhausting, and nothing depresses me more than when new bloggers join in a chat or an event and get totally overlooked. If I keep anything from my earliest years of blogging, I want to remember to be the person who says ‘hi’. The person who likes a post even though the photograph is wonky. Remember always that there are real people behind those posts. 

Reviewing picture books and younger middle-grade has not only helped me to find books which I love promoting, it has also helped me to find whole different networks. The people who talk about these formats on Twitter are some of the most dedicated and insightful readers I have had the pleasure of engaging with. From librarians and teachers to parents and content-creators and aspiring authors and illustrators, their approaches to these texts may be different but they share a dedication and interest. 

Reviewing picture books has also shown me how much I love considering theme and ways of using books to promote empathy. Maybe that is partly to do with the climate we are currently living in, but I don’t think there has ever been a better time for reading deeper. Look out for more in the coming year. 

I would also love to do more collaborations with lifestyle bloggers. Doing these really pushes me out of my ‘comfort’ niches and makes for a more rounded and interesting blog. 

Finally, I want to hear from you all. Share your thoughts, post your blog links and tell me what you are loving. My readers are the reason I keep typing. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported BookMurmuration over the past two years. Here’s to the next two. 

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Chat · Reflection

Four Things I’ve Learned This September

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Fresh fruit and nature – September 2018

August ranks as the third most disappointing month of the year after February and January respectively. Which used to seem strange, given how much I love September. Then I figured it out.

September is supposed to be autumnal.

Nobody expects sunshine and beaches and ice-lollies. If I have to get a raincoat out in September, I’ll go with the flow. In August, that’s a disappointing summer. These days I’ve learned to embrace the cycle of nature a little more but I still notice the darkness creeping in every August.

My month has been about editing. Editing a 42,000 word (give or take) manuscript. It’s a strange old time – a triumph because I am putting in so much hard work and learning heaps about chapter and scene. In reality, many authors write three or four manuscripts before they are published (I’ve heard everything between 2 and 9). This perspective is important – too many people think novel-writing is a one-shot game – but it is also daunting. I will have to face the blank page many times over if I want to make this a reality.

What have you been up to this month? Is August your favourite time of year? Chat to me in the comments below and I promise to reply. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this August.

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Old proofs are THERE to cut up

One of the highlights of book-blogging is getting to read books ahead of publication. Sometimes this happens in the form of a digital file. Sometimes a finished copy is sent weeks ahead of publication. Sometimes bloggers are set proof-copies.

A proof is essentially an unfinished copy of the text. That’s not to say the story isn’t finished, but details are allowed to change between the proof and the final version. Selling proof copies is blogger-sin No1 (Don’t. Just don’t.)

What do you do with a proof copy you don’t want to keep? Throwing away or burning them goes against everything I have ever been taught about respecting people’s hard work.

This month I found a solution – use them for craft.

Hang on a second – I won’t burn them but I’ll cut them up?

Craft is about creation over destruction. I think this act of creation means I’m treating the used proof with respect. The publishers don’t want those texts in circulation so using them for craft seems like a great answer. I’m partway through a Christmas decoration and can’t wait to share pictures online.

 

Collaborations = creativity.

This month I wrote a post in collaboration with the wonderful HelloBexa.

As much as I love my blog, there are times when I worry it gets a bit same-old. Those are the times to reach out to other people.  When I suggested the collaboration, I wanted something which would suit both our blogs. By looking at Bexa’s niches, I brought something new to my blog.

The Scrapbook Memory Jar may be one of my favourite blog posts this year. I would love to collaborate with other bloggers, especially bloggers outside the bookish-sphere.

 

Heritage open days are my new hobby

Late in August, I was asked by a member of my poetry group to help with the heritage open day at the local church. I was happy to help … but little did I know how much I would LOVE it.

Seriously. Next year I am signing up for every single slot.

What’s so great about leading people up and down a church tower?

Firstly, I met people from all over. A group of cyclists from Amsterdam on their way to the Irish Sea. People from the local area who I’ve never met before. People from other parts of the country with interesting jobs and life-experience. As an aspiring author, the best thing I can do is get out and *listen*. Heritage open day offered people to listen to in abundance.

Secondly, I learned so much history. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable about the local area as well as the church and one of our visitors talked about local sites of interest from different time-periods.

Dare you to sign up for something different. Netflix is fun but talking to people is better.

 

Fruit tastes better when it is fresh from the trees

I learn this every autumn and relearn it with every mouthful. There’s no denying it. Food is supposed to be fresh.

We picked apples and plums from the trees on the village green and were sent apples and pears by different neighbours. Now everybody has taken their first crop there are buckets of apples all around the village looking for good homes.

As well as eating some fresh, we freeze lots of apples to keep a stock for apple-pie.

 

What have you learned this September? Do you love autumn? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Reflection

One Year Blogging – Reflections

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Happy blog-day to me! This time last year I came home from an author event and started a book blog. What did I expect then? Maybe to connect with 20 or 30 people. To find adults with a theoretical/writing-based interest in children’s literature. In the intervening year my blog has gained 240 followers, and I have an extra 1500 on Twitter.

Thank you to every single follower. You are the reason I write this stuff. I love your feedback and opinions. I love talking to you about books, and hearing whether my review caught your interest. 

 I have made friends, even finally met a couple, and a couple of my quotes have appeared in the front of books I admire. Not bad for my little bloggie.

I don’t dish out blog advice on a regular basis because I have barely started learning and it has been written before. Written better. Occasions like this seem a good time to reflect, and I do think there is value in these posts for people just starting out. When I searched for blog advice last year, the questions I was asking were newbie questions. The things everyone had forgotten about. I also found a lot of conflicting advice. 

Here are some learning-curves I hit. I can’t tell you the answer, because you will have to find your own right. I can tell you about the places where I have had to rethink or revise my approach.    birdNegative Reviews:

The blogging community seems split on what is more difficult, a positive or a negative review. Personally, I find negative reviews harder. The difficulty is:

  • how much to write
  • what purpose your review serves

Some people say you must post them to maintain integrity. Others say you shouldn’t spread your miserable opinions. No subject causes more conflict in the kidlit community. You need to find your own answer, but these tips might help:

  • never tweet an author or publisher into a negative review. Sounds simple, but it happens surprisingly often. I think this is because what you think of as a three-star or fairly enthusiastic review might come across as negative to someone invested in the book. Save author tweets for books you loved.
  • don’t fall back on the cliches. We all do it in our early reviews ‘if I had been this age’ ‘I would have done xyz’ and ‘I would have given it four stars BUT …’ are review cliches. 

 

Network beyond Twitter chats. Networking is about building connections with people. Twitter chats are a great place to start, but it wasn’t until I networked outside of scheduled chats that I made meaningful connections.

 

If you’re looking to build social platforms, you need to be flexible about the content you are willing to include.  If you’re blogging for fun and stats don’t matter to you, write what you like when you like. My blog falls somewhere between. Writing chatty content was a big step towards building my stats.

 

Find the hosting which works for you – I started on Blogger, but didn’t really get going until I moved to WordPress. Free WordPress (.com) is easy to edit, and brings people to your posts through WordPress reader. Now I’m looking at self-hosting options a little too often to pretend I’m not considering it. My storage on free WordPress might see me until the end of the year. After that, I will have to self-host or delete old media. I’m not sold on self-hosting. I would love to redesign my website and have more flexibility to code links in, but free WordPress is like the training pool. It is safe. It is easy. Unless I expand my blog into something other than a hobby, I am not certain I want to move.

 

Use more than one social platform – Twitter is my main social media platform. It is where I have most followers and it is the format I find most useful for connecting with people. Ask yourself where you would be if your main platform closed overnight. I don’t spend hours of time setting up pictures for Instagram, but I have started to build my network. Discord is great for blogger chats.

 

What have you learned in your time as a blogger? Share your reflections below. 🙂

 

Reflection

Book Swap – Amy at GoldenBooksGirl

When making our New Year’s Resolutions, Amy and I decided to swap book recommendations. The main purpose was to clear out TBR piles, and we gave each other lists of books which were sitting unread on our shelves. I started my blog last year, and it has been an adventure, but with proof copies to review I find I am less likely to chose a book published in previous years. This is not intentional, but a result of prioritising books I have committed to review. 

Thank you Amy for your recommendations! I look forward to reading. birdPrisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren- this is such a fun, wintry adventure and I thought it was nail biting in places. Valor is a great heroine and I hugely enjoyed the ensemble cast and unusual prison setting too. the  I think you might enjoy it from a writing standpoint as well as from what I’ve learnt from you about structuring stories this ticks quite a few boxes. 

The London Eye Mystery by Siobbhan Dowd- Before I read this,  I’ll admit I was very unsure of it. But I adore Ted Spark’s voice, it’s so amazing and unique and special,  and I think the mystery is pretty clever as well. If you enjoy it, you can then go onto the Guggenheim Mystery, which is coincidentally by the next author on this list too…

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens- I’m pretty sure you’ve already read MMU, which is perfect as the 2nd book is my favourite in the whole series so far! I definitely didn’t predict the murderer (though I know you probably will. You’re amazing at it!), I adore Daisy and Hazel’s friendship and the addition of Kitty and Beanie in this book, and the country house setting is so classic and fun. 

Beetle Boy by M.G Leonard- I read this in a single setting back in 2016 (I was in a car, and didn’t have anything else to do, but I’m pretty sure I would still have got through it quite speedily eve if I wasn’t!). It feels like an instant classic, and it tells the story of Darkus as his father goes missing and he discovers an extraordinary group of beetles and he must protect them. I can guarantee you’ll fall in love with the beetles, even if you think the concept sounds peculiar on paper. I did, and now I adore these books. 

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen- even though Boy in the Tower would be my first pick (if you know me at all, you’ll be gasping in shock here I’m sure ) I know you can’t get hold of it, so instead I’m choosing this. It’s a beautiful magical realism tale about Leelu as she moves to England and her family implodes, and the magical objects and people she discovers who help her through the hard time. It made me cry more than once and it may be as dear to me as Boy in the Tower one day, I think. 

 

Have you read any of the books on Amy’s list? Which books would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat · Reflection

Six Months a Blogger. Thoughts and Thanks on Reaching 100 Followers

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Last week, I hit 100 followers on my blog. As well as saying a HUGE thank you to my first 100 followers, and a big WELCOME to everybody who has followed since, I wanted to reflect on my first months of blogging.

 

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Since I started blogging:

 

  • I read a wider range of kidlit. My comfort zone used to be MG fantasy. Since blogging I’ve especially gained an appreciation for contemporary settings.

 

  • Reading has become a sociable activity. I can’t wait to share my thoughts with my friends on social media, and in weekly book chats. I’m also on GoodReads, and I swear I’m up to date nearly more than half the time. 😉

 

  • My project management skills are developing. I finally invested in a mid-year diary, and have a system of green highlighting posts which are scheduled. It’s amazing how having a month’s plans on the page in front of you makes it more manageable.breakbirdMy goals:

 

It’s pointless to talk about goals in terms of stats. Either they will or they won’t. Generally, they’re moving upwards, which is good enough for me.I would like to widen the range of my blog to include early readers, picture books and children’s poetry. I would also like to widen reader participation. Think more guest posts, and some polls. (So, which of the above would YOU rather read about?)

 

Great moments:

  • Blogging is ¾ friendship, and the highlight of my YEAR has to be The Salem conversation. The Salem conversation began when I tried to convince Amy from GoldenBooks Girl that Salem the cat isn’t creepy. Cue an hour long discussion, with contributions from my favourite bloggers (including Sarah, Donna and Charlotte. Love you guys) about children’s television past and present. Past was unanimously better.

 

  • Change book tour. Not only is Change a fab book, it was a great opportunity, and such a pleasure to see YA poetry.

 

  • Every time an author has retweeted, ever. Especially if they say I totally got their book. Makes my day, and makes me proud of my degree.

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 My advice to anyone thinking of starting:

  •  Unless you’re a coding wizard, WordPress is easier than Blogger. I spent my first three months on Blogger, and found it a nightmare. It was simple to set up a basic webpage, but tweaking a small part of that page? The other advantage of WordPress is it links users together – if you are on WordPress, other WP users can follow you, and see your posts in their Reader.
  • Give time to the people who follow you, not the ones who don’t. It’s easy to get hung up on stats, but who would you rather talk to: the kid who thinks she’s queen of cool, or the people who like you for who you are? I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect with new people, but the ones who matter most are the ones who connect back.
  •  Don’t follow/unfollow/follow on social media. Might seem obvious, but if you were a technophobe in your previous life you might read about this ‘tactic’ for keeping your stats balanced at think it’s a good idea to cull followers. Well, balanced stats are one thing, but don’t unfollow people you like, or whose content you’ll want to read in future. (Cringe.)

breakbirdFinal message:

 Please be patient with newbies! I don’t need to ask most people, and I def. don’t want to rant.

 The things I have wanted to ask over the past 6 months have been the trivial and downright embarrassing (so, what do you mean, ‘schedule’?) stuff that most people have forgotten.  You think you’ve got something figured, then it turns out there is no hard and fast rule. 

As a new blogger, you haven’t figured what you want to write about, how often to write, how to manage that writing and how much you want to share about your life on social media. That’s all fine. Take it one post, one sentence at a time. Blogging’s an adventure, and I’m so pleased I started.