Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts: 5 Things I Have Learnt as a Blogger

Looking back, I released recently that I have been blogging and writing book reviews for near on ten years. A part of me feels a little disappointed that I have not attained more success and popularity, but another part of me recognizes that I am not the most perfect or consistent blogger and that it can be tough as a South African blogger to attain the sort of stats American and UK bloggers enjoy.

And that's ok. I am here doing my thing and will definitely take what I have learnt the past decade and try more consciously to apply it.

I also didn't start blogging because I was concerned about popularity. It was an outlet for my bookish passions and it serves that purpose well, no matter how many people read my posts.

If you are looking to start a blog or make yours better, here are some of the key things that stand out for me that I have learnt:

An earlier header while I was still figuring out brand identity.

1. Review What You Like

I admit that I fell into the trap of chasing popular titles so that I could have reviews that I perceived as "current" and what people were interested in buying right then. It seemed to be the best way to get page views and growing my audience.

What I didn't realize at the time was that a review of a popular title gets lost in a whole sea of similar reviews being posted at around the same time. If someone is searching for reviews of, say The Hate U Give, a book that has been on the NYT Bestseller list for over a year now, they will find hundreds of them.

Also taking this approach not only makes reading a chore ( I don't know about you, but I am not that keen to read some of these new, hyped books), it is also bloody hard to think of anything unique to say about the book that other bloggers have not covered already.

I can use all the rant reviews for Zenith as an example. They all say pretty much the exact same things about the book and few Booktubers actually have something new to bring to the discussion. But, it's cool to hate so the views rake up anyway.

This year, I am going to be focusing on books that I want to read, not books I feel like I have to read. I will be able to write more reviews and will hopefully also introduce new books to readers they might not have considered reading before. I also want to keep things positive because I need that kind of energy and the Internet doesn't need more mean, petty people.

2. Numbers Don't Matter

I used to get really bummed out that my stats were not that great compared to other bloggers. I felt like I was incompetent and not doing the right thing. It was so easy to let posts that were "poor performers" get me down, that I forgot the whole purpose of the blog.

If you are blogging for popularity, it affects your approach to the posts you write. Also, just because something is popular today doesn't mean it will be popular tomorrow. I mean, look at fidget spinners.

We live in a fast paced world where it is easy to lose your relevance. People have such short attention spans, jumping from one viral thing to the next like bees to flowers. And everything, particularly blog content is so subjective. It's impossible to stay on trend and still write authentically.

Rather than writing content that I assume will appeal to readers, I am just going to write what I feel like writing about. And if it only resonates with one other soul out there, then that's ok.

Write for yourself first. If you can do this, you will be surprised at the results and what posts readers will enjoy.

Blogging became a great networking tool for me. This was the first ever bloggers' event I attended at Skoobs.

3. Be Yourself

I see so many people in the book community trying to emulate those who are perceived as more successful than them. It is so obvious, it make me cringe. The sad part is, I used to do this too. The fact is, bloggers and influencers who gain success and large amount of followers do so because readers and viewers like who they are as people and have trust in what they say.

It takes time to develop your own voice and every writer is influenced by other writers. But, the more you write, the easier it will be to develop your own style. I find if I read my post a few times before hitting the Publish button, I pick up parts that don't sound like something I would actually say if I was in a conversation with someone. I strive to keep my blog in my own voice and it can be quite humbling to realize how often I subconsciously copy someone else.

Being yourself also creates a level of authenticity that will help readers trust in what you have to say. This is why I am so wary of big influencers these days who do paid promotions. Like, are they really that excited about that book or is it just because they are getting paid to talk about it?

Paid promotions are tempting and often how bloggers and vloggers turn this thing into a career. But I will not go that route with this blog. Getting review copies is one thing, but being paid to promote those books completely wipe away the honesty factor.

Also, don't be afraid to use your blog as a networking tool. I have met so many awesome people through blogging and events. 

4. Domains Make a Difference

For the longest time, I thought I could make it work with just my address. I also thought it was a lot more costly than it actually is to maintain a personalized domain. 

Not having a proper URL unfortunately hurts a lot of bloggers because it shows a level of complacency when it comes to setting the blog and brand identity up properly. Your URL is the first thing potential visitors see and it looks really unprofessional if they have not set up a personalized domain. 

Since moving to, there has been a marked increase in traffic and hits from search engines. It was the best move I could have made not just for the blog, but in my overall online brand. There is the added benefit of having an e-mail address that reflects your blog instead of  using a gmail or other generic account.

Set this up sooner rather than later. There are plenty of hosting companies to select from and lots of tutorials that will enable your to link your Blogger / Wordpress site to the domain.

5. Don't Give Up

Many blogs get started up with the best of intentions and then, because life or the realization that it can be hard work comes up like this massive stumbling block, bloggers stop posting.

Like loom bands, there are so many abandoned and neglected blogs out there, cluttering the universe. Don't do this to your blog. You breathed life into it and to just abandoned it is not fair to both the blog and yourself.

There were many times when I had to deal with work and life issues and felt like kicking this whole thing to the curb. I am glad I didn't and stuck with it. Like I said, I started this whole thing for a reason and it still remains a huge passion project for me. The blog is my way of reconnecting with my love of word and reading and it feels so good when someone comments or shares my posts.

People say blogging is dead. That is like saying writing is dead. Passion is dead. If this is something you want to to try, just do it. And don't worry about what you write or keeping on theme. It is your space so own it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mini Review: A Proposal For the Officer by Christy Jefferies (Mills & Boon)

Title: A Proposal For the Officer
Author: Christy Jeffries
Publisher: Mills & Boon True Love (March 2018)

She was used to flying solo…
But that was before Kaleb came on board! 
Temporarily grounded combat pilot Molly Markham didn’t come to Sugar Falls to get serious about a man she barely knows! But when Kaleb Chatterson becomes her unexpected hero, she agrees to date the billionaire software developer to keep their secret from getting out. Except the sexy brainiac—and her pretend boyfriend—is fast turning into the man of her dreams…
Another M&B review!

I really loved this one, and found it to be much stronger than Her Las Vegas Wedding in terms of plot and character. Getting the bind-up of these two is certainly worth it, though.

For those cynics who assume Mills & Boon is about fainting females who simply need a male to complete them, this story will completely bust that assumption.

Molly is a strong, independent lead, who in spite of challenges, stands her ground.

Kaleb is a good match for her, as he is just as stubborn.

I also loved how this book dealt with real issues, such as Molly's Type 1 Diabetes. I actually learnt a lot about this condition from reading this and was so happy that it was done in a realistic way.

Mills and Boon are clearly no longer about having perfect characters and I am loving the True Love range in particular.

There will be even more Mill and Boon Mini Reviews this month, so check back!

Don't forget to pick up the latest titles at your local CNA or subscribe to their bookclub if you are looking to get your fix. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Thoughts: On Second-hand Bookstores and My Top Spots

It's expensive to be an enthusiastic reader in South Africa. Buying books new is just simply not an option for a lot of folks as the price of a new mass market paperback now hovers around the R200 mark.

Also, if one reads 5-10 books in a month, this can tally up very quickly!

This point was made very clearly to me yesterday evening when I was browsing at my local Exclusive Books (Ok, I was really hoping for them to finally get stock of Children of Blood and Bone, with no luck...). A girl was clutching at a copy of The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington and asking her mother if she could get it. The mom turned the book over and, with a dismissive sneer, said, "I am not paying R170 for a book. We can go look at the second-hand book store and get four books for this price."

I felt bad for the kid. She clearly wanted the book and might not find reads she was as enthusiastic about owning at a second-hand store. What makes this even sadder for me is that The Red Ribbon is not some fluffy faire. It looks at the fictionalized lives of the seamstresses of Birken-Auschwitz and weaves in a message of friendship and hope. While this is not the focus of this post, I felt that, had the mother not been so dismissive and read the back of the book, she might have seen more than just the price and realized the true value of the book.

However, readers do need to buy new books as they are ultimately the suppliers for second-hand bookstores, so it can be a bit of a vicious circle.

Therefore, I do advocate supporting local bookstores and buying brand new books, however, I also love bargain-hunting and searching for hard-to-find older titles. There is definitely a place for both kinds of stores as long as books find their way to readers.

There are some really awesome second-hand stores in Johannesburg with really helpful staff and excellent selections. Here are my top 5 recommendations.

All these stores offer the option to trade books back for store credit.

1. Books Galore - Lonehill

One of my favorite spots, Books Galore in Lonehill Shopping Center has been around for many years and offers a great selection of genres, often getting in newer titles as well.

They have, in particular, a fantastic children's selection for all ages and will usually have stock of the more popular titles.

The staff are dedicated and friendly with an excellent knowledge of stock-on-hand.

Shop LL03
Lonehill Shopping Center
Lonehill Boulevard

Telephone: 011 465 5524

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 09:30-18:00
Saturday: 09:30-15:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 09:00-13:00

2. Books Galore - Edenvale / Greenstone

This branch is a new discovery for me, but I was impressed by the helpful and knowledgeable staff.

They have a well-organised store with a nice focus on Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

I particularly loved the recommendations shelves from the two managers, as it adds a personal touch to the store and experience.

The store can be challenging to find if you do not know the Greenstone area well. It is located in one of the smaller centers opposite Greenstone Mall. Just look for Builder's Express and you are in the right place.

Shop 2a
Greenstone Crescent
Stoneridge Drive
Modderfontein Hill
South Africa

Telephone: 011 452 2421

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 08:30-18:00
Friday: 08:30-19:00
Saturday: 08:00-17:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 08:30-16:00

3. Tales and Fables - Victory Park

Based in Victory Park, Takes and Fables has been around since 2006 in it's current form and has an amazing selection of Fantasy titles, including older series such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.

They also boast a large children's section and seem to be very well-supported in the community.

I have been there a few times and have always found something interesting, such as a complete set of The Liveship Traders, by Robin Hobb.

Shop 14A
Victory Park Shopping Centre
Cnr of Rustenburg and 2nd Ave
Victory Park

Telephone: 011 782 3660

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: 9am - 6pm
Sunday: 9am - 3pm

4. Bookdealers of Rivonia

If you are not a regular in the area, it would be hard to find Bookdealers of Rivonia's new store. Located opposite Rivonia Primary School, this specialist store is away from the hustle and bustle of shopping malls.

They have a great selection of history books, as well as collectible titles.

Their crime and contemporary sections are also well-stoked and reasonably priced. As an example, I found a decent copy of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo for R47!

If this is out of your way, there are other Bookdealers located in the following areas:

  • Melville
  • Birnam
  • Craighall Park
  • Greenside
40 Wessel Road

Telephone: 011 234 1250

Opening Hours:
Mon: 9am - 5pm
Tue-Fri: 9am - 6pm
Sat-Sun: 9am - 3pm

If you feel I left out some good spots, please comment below and let me know.

Happy bargain hunting!