DRUM ROLL, PLEASE.
Reading Matters is now 18.
Yea, I can’t believe it either. If this blog was a person, she’d be old enough to vote, drive a car, buy alcohol and get into nightclubs. Where did the time go?
I’ve been doing this malarkey for so long, usually on top of a busy day job (of which I have had many over the years), that I can’t really remember what I used to do in my spare time before it.
Blogging about books has been a much-cherished creative outlet. It’s taught me discipline, helped hone my online skills, improved my writing and editing, and made me a more critical reader. And it’s also introduced me to a supportive community of fellow bloggers, readers, writers and publishers I might not otherwise have met.
I recently had to explain a point of difference about my blog from the millions that now exist, and I summed it up as being “one of the world’s first blogs about books”.
When I started Reading Matters back in early 2004, blogging was a new form of media, the first step in the democratisation of publishing.
Everything about it was amateur. There was no such thing as an “influencer”. Social media didn’t exist. The release of the first iPhone was still three years away. The book industry didn’t know about blogging or hadn’t yet cottoned on to how they could use bloggers to help them spread the word about their wares.
It was a brilliant time of discovery and fun and it was relatively free from commercial agendas, external forces and self-promotion. We were all just figuring it out as we went along.
As a print journalist, I found it a practical way to teach myself new skills that might help me break into the digital world. But back then the print media hated new media, which it viewed as a threat — rightly as it turns out — but I was excited to have a foot in both camps.
Over the years people have occasionally asked me to share tips or expertise on book blogging and I’ve always shied away from it. I don’t see myself as an expert. I’m just a passionate reader who found an outlet for sharing that passion online. I don’t, for instance, have an Arts degree, have never studied English literature and am not well-read in the Classics. And everything I know about blogging (and reviewing books), I just learned along the way, mainly through trial and error.
But the beauty of blogging is that there are no “rules” — except the ones you set yourself.
I’ve always tried to espouse the same kinds of values here in the online world that I do in my real offline life: I do my own thing; I don’t follow fashions or fads; I try to be respectful of other people’s points of view even if I don’t agree with them; I am always aware that any work I review here has taken hours of hard graft by a real person so any criticism should be constructive and non-personal; I am transparent and don’t push agendas because integrity is important; I try to be kind and courteous but I call out bullshit when I see it; I like to encourage and help others and spread the love wherever possible; and I always aim to be fair and balanced.
A few key things I have learned, but which are probably obvious to others, include:
- it’s not quantity (of content) but the quality that counts;
- stats don’t make the world go round;
- having a set schedule isn’t important — you can take a year off if you like, in the grand scheme of things it’s not going to matter — and there’s no need to apologise for an online absence, you don’t owe anyone anything;
- there’s no need to post every day because some “expert” claims you will lose “traffic” if you don’t, just do it when you feel like it, it’s a hobby NOT a job;
- if you’re struggling to write a review take a rest, come back later or just quit, you don’t get points for being a masochist;
- you don’t need to review everything that is sent to you (provided you haven’t made any promises) — feeling guilty about this just eats up energy better devoted elsewhere and genuine publishers understand that real life gets in the way and they’ll just be happy if a certain percentage of books that they send out get reviewed, they’re not expecting a 100 per cent strike-rate;
- don’t get hung up about how many books are in the TBR or how much money you have spent on books — you could have a far worse habit, like scoring crack cocaine!
I’m sure there are loads more “lessons”, but this post has gone on way too long already. And if you are still reading, thanks for hanging in there.
Thanks, too, to everyone who has followed this blog (and the associated Facebook page), left a comment, sent me an email or a book, invited me to bookish things on the basis of what I do here, or told others about my reviews. It’s all appreciated — and makes the solitary process of tapping out words on a laptop, on the evening or weekend, that little bit more communal.
Finally, I love this quote by American academic
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.
You could say the same about book blogging, right?