So, you’ve decided to start a book blog. How exciting!
Figuring out how to get started can feel overwhelming. No worries, bookworms! I promise it’s all a lot less complicated than you might think.
One of the first things you’ll want to think about is which platform(s) you want to use. Start with something free to use! You don’t want to pour a bunch of money into setting up a website only to realize three weeks later that you aren’t a fan of that particular platform or maybe don’t like blogging quite as much as you’d hoped. Obviously, I use WordPress, which has a free version, and you always have the option to upgrade later if you start to feel like you need more features, more space to host images, etc.
While you don’t need to limit yourself to one platform (and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to branch out as you get into the groove) don’t bite off more than you can chew early on. Different platforms are geared towards different kinds of content. If you’re just running a review blog and a Facebook page, this might be a simple matter of cross-posting your reviews to Facebook and sharing some other articles and memes there, which isn’t a huge additional time commitment. If you’re branching out to Instagram, on the other hand, you’re adding the additional task of photography. This can be anything from relatively candid shots with some light editing to complicated flat lays with floral arrangements and lots of props.
When I started my blog, I focused mainly on WordPress and Goodreads, slowly branching out to Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook as well. This… can feel like a lot. You probably don’t need to be posting to five separate websites. My advice would be to start with two and work on adding more only if you feel like your free time truly allows it. This is a hobby, right? It’s supposed to be fun. Different platforms give you access to a broader audience, but trying to do too much will just make your content as a whole suffer and make your miserable.
But how do you get all those free books?
This is what you’re really wondering, right? Again, it’s probably easier than you think. Starting out, you can mainly expect to get access to digital copies. Hard copies will come later, as you build a following and maintain a steady flow of content.
Step one with NetGalley is to set up your profile. NetGalley offers very little guidance here, but the contents of your profile are going to be super important. This is not going to be your “About Me” page. Try to keep it concise and relevant; I’m including a screengrab of Random House’s preferences, but individual publishers may have specific things they’re looking for in your profile. A good rule of thumb is to be sure to have your stats such as total followers and how much traffic your blog tends to get on a weekly basis.
You may also want to talk about what types of books you typically review, particularly if your blog is geared towards a specific genre. Finally, it’s a good idea to list an email address so that publishers can contact you with any questions. Some publishers will not approve you for titles if you don’t have contact information in your profile.
NetGalley indicates that you should maintain a feedback ratio (i.e., the percentage of books you’ve accessed through their site that you have then gone on to actually review) of at least 80%. How do you get an 80% feedback ratio before publishers have approved you for any books? Thankfully, NetGalley has a section of their catalog dedicated to books that don’t require approval from a publisher. When you click “Find Titles” from the homepage, it will take you to a page with a sidebar labeled “Browse,” which includes a “Read Now” option. These books give you some options to get started and show publishers that you will reliably review the books they send you. Once you’ve established yourself by reviewing a few books this way and have the recommended feedback ratio, you can start to think about requesting other books.
Note: be sure to review the publisher’s preferences in regards to when to post your reviews as well. These guidelines may be on their profile page on NetGalley or included in the emails confirming your approval for a particular title. Publishers don’t want reviews going up too early, creating hype around a book only to be forgotten by the time it’s actually available for purchase. A common requirement is that the review go up no more than 30 days prior to the publication date.
What about hard copies?
These are, understandably, going to be a little harder to get your hands on. Publishers are going to want to see a consistent record of audience engagement and reliable posting before they go to the expense of sending you a physical book. However, even as a newbie, there are ways to get physical advance reader copies, although it won’t be a sure thing. I regularly browse Goodreads giveaways to enter and have managed to snag a few great books this way. Publishers host their own giveaways frequently as well; subscribing to newsletters can be a good way to keep an eye out for these.
Once you’ve been blogging for around six months and have around 500 or more followers, this opens up more opportunities. (These are not hard-and-fast requirements, but a reflection of a greater likelihood of approval.)
To obtain hard copies of ARCs (advance reader copies) directly from the publisher, you will (mainly) be emailing them. A quick Google search for the name of the individual publisher and “publicity contact” will generally turn up results for the person you need to reach. I’ve found a couple that specifically request mailed requests, but the overwhelming majority (in my experience) have an email contact.
What should you say in your email? Think of this a lot like your NetGalley profile, with one major difference. Yes, you’ll want to include your stats such as total followers and where you post, etc., but you now have the advantage of being able to tailor the information to the specific book you’re requesting. Have you fallen in love with the author’s previous work? Is it a historical fiction novel set in your favorite time period? In short, why are you requesting this specific book? No, you don’t have to promise a positive review (and it would be bad form to do so) but giving the publisher some indication of why you think you’ll love the book can help them to know if you’re a good fit to review it.
Have your mailing address in the original email request. You don’t need to wait for approval to let them know where they can send the book; anything that requires less emails exchanged back and forth, thus making it easier for the publisher to send you the book, is a good thing! The publisher may or may not respond to your email, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the book won’t turn up. I recently gave up all hope of getting an advance copy of The Huntress, by Kate Quinn, only to have it show up on my porch unannounced.
Keep in mind: these people are busy. Do not overwhelm them with a wall of text. If they have 50 requests to review and you’ve written them a whole book about why you want to read theirs, they’ll probably move onto the next request. A few short paragraphs are more than adequate: introduce yourself, explain a little about your blog’s audience and where you post, and let them know why you’re requesting that specific book. Then, wrap it up!
When it comes to actually writing reviews…
You may have noticed that most of the advice thus far has been a bit… procedural. But how do you go about writing your actual review? I’m hesitant to offer a lot of advice in this regard, because I feel like this is where your personality should shine through. People’s styles vary wildly, and that’s a good thing. If a professional, somewhat formal writing style feels awkward for you, you don’t need to use it. While I’d caution against going too casual (if your blog is full of memes, it might put some publishers off and make them less likely to send you a book) your reviews should not read like a stuffy book report you’re submitting to a teacher. This should be about your feelings and why you loved or hated a book. Literary analysis is great (and you can absolutely include that in your review) but your readers are coming to your reviews with one major question: “Is this book worth reading?” Your review needs to answer it. If you loved it or hated it, tell them why. And for goodness sake, no spoilers without a spoiler warning!
Personally, I open with the purely informational aspects of it (author, title, release date, synopsis from the publishers. etc.) and then follow it up with my rating out of five stars, leading into my actual review. This is a pretty common way to format, but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works best for you, particularly early on in your blogging.
Finally, be social!
Reach out to other bloggers. Read other bloggers’ reviews, like, comment, and follow. Reply to comments on your own reviews. This is a huge part of how you’ll grow your following, but it’s also part of what makes the whole thing feel less like work.
Book bloggers are, by and large, one of the most positive groups of people I’ve encountered. Use your blog to find like-minded bookworms and make friends!
Thank you for reading! Fellow book bloggers: what’s the one piece of advice you would offer to newbies? Please share in the comments!