Why I Started Book Blogging

I discovered this post on the abooknation today. It reminded me of starting my own book blog, although my reasons were slightly different.

Like this blogger, I have always been an avid reader, but it was really only when my first book was published that I began to understand the true value of a review for an author.

It’s really the only feedback you get from readers.

A negative review can crush your soul until you think about the fact that you haven’t liked every single book you’ve picked up, either. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

A thoughtful review helps you improve your writing and motivates you to keep going. And if someone praises your work, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling because you know you’ve connected with a reader’s soul.

The fact that such a small proportion of readers leave reviews does not really surprise me, because I had never done so before, either.

Once I recognised the need for reviews of Indie books, I saw that this was an opportunity for me to use my love of reading to help other Indie authors by leaving an honest, constructive review.

Thus, Book Squirrel was born.

After developing my confidence with book reviews, Book Squirrel’s blog extended to include author spotlights and interviews, book events and, recently, a range of integrated Indie book promotion services.

I love blogging about books and supporting other Indie authors. I enjoy giving back to the Indie author community and showing others how positive and proactive Indying is done.

Book Squirrel brings me, and others, joy.
And that is the best reason ever to keep going.

abooknation

I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever mentioned why I got into book blogging but if I did I don’t think I made a blog post about it so… HUR WE GOO:

I’ve always loved reading but I feel like I went through phases where I went on a bit of a (very) long slump until I read a book that hooked me back into reading! I’m someone with the shitest memory, even now when someone asks me for book recommendations I have to skim through my posts to jig my memory of what books I’ve read. So around 4/5 years ago when I got back into reading, I had no idea that book blogging was a thing, I thought why would anyone want to hear my rambling thoughts about a book I’ve read??????

Whenever I finished a book I would write up a review and literally just leave it…

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A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Much Ado About Nothing by Alfred Elmore, 1848. Image: Public Domain.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ was written in 1598-99.  It is one of Shakespeare’s comedy plays, which means that the main characters enjoy a happy ending.  

In that sense, the word ‘comedy’ has changed over time, because now it’s understood to mean a text that is designed to make the audience laugh. There is plenty of humour in this play, though, as it was written purely to entertain and amuse the Elizabethan audiences. 

While it’s all about the entertainment, the play does explore some key ideas in ways that are designed to make the audience consider or contemplate those concepts for themselves. 

The play revolves around the challenges encountered by several couples who are in love but face various challenges in their personal lives that threaten their happiness and wellbeing. The ways in which different people respond to those conflicts and complications are well worth thinking about, because relationships are always challenged by problems of one kind or another. As Shakespeare observed in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, “the course of true love never did run smooth”, an epithet which is demonstrated with profound clarity in ‘Much Ado’.  

Questions of commitment, trust, belonging, family dysfunction, hatred and revenge all emerge in this play, seamlessly woven into and underpinning the plot and the responses of the characters. 
It is those timeless ideas that enable audience five hundred years later to still appreciate and relate to Shakespeare’s plays even though the language and many elements of our society have evolved since then. Shakespeare really was a master of exploring and portraying human nature at its best and its worst.

In contrast to those more serious ideas, one of the things I enjoy most about this play is the wit and banter between Beatrice and Benedick. They’re crazy about each other, but spend most of their time insulting and taunting each other because neither one knows that other is crazy about the other. In that way, theirs is an unconventional romance because there’s no formality, no swooning, and no overly sentimental conversations. They’re far more likely to be saucy or sarcastic than sickly sweet. 

Dogberry is hilarious in his frequent mangling of the language and the way he continually bungles his job as the constable despite his pretentiousness and high opinion of himself. He is entirely inept and ridiculous, providing some welcome comic relief during the more emotionally intense phase of the play. 

I also enjoy the way in which Shakespeare uses the characters and events of this play to make fun of the stereotypical romances that occurred in many popular plays and stories of the time, adding another level of wit and engagement to this play. I do love a bit of snarky, subversive humour, especially when it comes to the tropes of the genre of romance. 

As with all good Shakespeare plays, there are a couple of characters we can enjoy hating on. Don John, in a perpetual bad mood, seems determined to make everyone else suffer, just because things haven’t always gone his way. His selfish dudgeon may be as annoying to the audience as it is to the rest of the characters, but his blatant disregard for Hero makes him despicable. 

I also harbour significant dislike for Claudio and Leonato because they never even stop to consider that Hero might be innocent of the accusations levelled against her. For two men who love her – albeit in different capacities –  they have a mighty strange way of showing it. They don’t give her any credit for honesty or integrity: instead, they both default to outright condemnation.  The fact that Claudio delivers his judgement with such vengeance puts him right into my “love to hate” group with Don John. 

Finally, I can’t help but love a play that can get so much mileage out of a line like “hey, nonny nonny!” 

One In A Million.

Believe it or not, I’m one in a million. 

A million authors writing to entertain others.
A million poets bleeding their souls onto the page.
A million people trying to help others.
A million people who are actually loyal. 
A million teachers going the extra mile for their kids. 
A million people caring for someone they love. 

It might be easy to get lost in the crowd. 
It’s easy to feel insignificant.
One tree among a million in the forest, so to speak. 
But I know I am one in a million. 

We all write and grieve and serve and give of ourselves differently. 
Each of us is unique. 
Each of us is a distinct blend of personality, talent and substance. 

Not a single one of us is worthless. 

I may not stand out among the million. 
I may never strike it rich or become famous.
I may never be someone else’s ideal. 
I cannot be perfect.

The truth is, I don’t have to.None of us do.

What matters is the contrast with some of the other people on this planet: the hateful, the cruel, the greedy, the selfish, the power-hungry, the narcissists. 
What matters is that I stand against the things they accept. 
What matters is that I am true to who I am, to my priorities, my values, my faith. 

What matters is integrity. 
That’s what stands out in this world. 

That, more than anything else, makes me one in a million. 

A Mutual Kidnapping.

Today, my best friend and I have kidnapped each other. 
We’re going to spend the whole day doing whatever we want to do. 

Our phones are on silent. 
We haven’t told anyone what time we’ll be home. 
We haven’t even decided where we’ll go. 
We’re winging that part.

We might visit somewhere new. 
We might go on an adventure. 

But we did both bring a book, just in case. 

Cafe Comedy

I may need to learn to turn the volume down a little when being a comic genius in public places. 

We were sitting at a cafe deciding what to have when I commented on one of the options: “I’m not sure I needed to know that their chicken was marinated by a jerk.”

A lady at the next table laughed out loud, turned around and said, “I had the same thought, but wasn’t brave enough to say it.”

The waiter showed up while I was writing this post, and I shared my observations. He laughed and said, “Actually, the chef IS a jerk!” 

I nodded safely. “Many of them are,” I said. 

“Too true!” he said. “But that’s all just between you and me, right?” 

“Of course!” I smiled… and then kept on writing. 

Not Wrong.

My friends and I were standing in front of a portrait of Oliver Cromwell at the Tudors to Windsors portrait exhibition at the art gallery in Bendigo. .   

As I often do, I added my own commentary. In a posh English accent and lower vocal register, I quipped, “Look at me being all godly and humble and unroyal and stuff before I go and kill a bunch of people and destroy all the monasteries… you know, on God’s behalf.”

A well-dressed elderly gentleman had come to stand beside me. When I finished speaking, he added in a crisp, upper class accent: “Bastard.”
He was not wrong. 

A Big Thing For An Indie.

Yesterday afternoon I took some friends to one of my favourite bookstores — which I lovingly refer to as book rescue shelters — in Bendigo. 

While looking through the Historical Fiction section, I was delighted to find two books from the ‘Plantagenet Embers’ series by Samantha Wilcoxson that I really enjoy. 

What made that such a cool thing for me is that Samantha is an Indie author from Michigan with whom I have interacted on social media. I have read several of her books on Kindle, and they are really well written. 

As Indies, most of our sales are on Kindle, Kobo or other ebook stores. We don’t get big, fancy distribution via a global publishing company. so it’s great to see that Samantha’s papaerbacks have made it to Australia! That’s really exciting! And now I own two of them, because I knew right away I couldn’t leave them there. 

These are excellent books that I am proud to have in my collection.
And now that I have books 2 and 3, I may have to see if I can buy a signed copy of book 1 direct from the author. That would be an awesome addition to my bookshelf! 

How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health

Lucy Mitchell’s experiences, as she describes in the article reblogged here, are not uncommon. Many writers, artists and musicians use their creativity to help process and deal with their mental health issues.

I share this author’s experience of gaining motivation, encouragement and purpose from writing and self-publishing my works.

Withdrawing my first book from its publisher and taking control of my publishing journey as an Indie author was incredibly empowering. Producing not just good writing but excellent books has been as source of both pleasure and pride for me, but it has also been fabulous therapy. 

Every poem I write, whether it’s about mental health or a medieval princess saving herself and taking control of her destiny is evidence of my strength and resilience, even at those times when I am not feeling particularly strong or resilient. 

The fact that I can write about my own mental health in a way that others relate to and find powerful is both liberating and encouraging. 
And every time I kill someone fictionally, it saves me bail money and keeps me out of jail because I haven’t actually laid hands on anyone. That’s a system that has worked extremely well for me so far, so I will stick with it. 

Every book I have published is testimony to my survival. This is, perhaps, most true of A Poet’s Curse, which was written indirect response to evil behaviour and nasty people. Publishing that little volume, to which I like to refer as my “dark little book of hateful poetry” really felt like I was taking my life back from those who tried to destroy me, and I celebrated it as such. 

At this point of my writing and publishing career, I can say that I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved. That in itself is positive and motivating, and encourages me to keep going. There are still a lot of ideas bubbling away, and there’s life in the old girl yet. 

And where there’s life, there’s hope. 

All of this is proof of how far I have come from those very dark times that almost destroyed me, and of my determination to never go back. 

I hope you appreciate and enjoy the insights from Lucy Mitchell as much as I did.

Reblog: How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health by Lucy Mitchell via the I Write. I Read. I Review blog.

What I Love… And What Frustrates Me… About Blogging On WordPress

There are many features of WordPress that I love. In terms of social media platforms, though, the advantages are clear.

It’s more meaningful than Facebook.
The content on WordPress – and I assume on other blogging platforms – is as varied and interesting as you’ll ever find. Books, history, poetry, literature, Indie authors, self publishing, photography, travel, food, music… you name it, there are multiple blogs right there waiting to be discovered and read.  There is no end to the talent in this place. 

There’s no clickbait, drivel or game requests.
Enough said.

You can engage exactly as one does on Facebook.
You can like a post, you can leave a comment. You can even like as many posts as you want to, and WordPress won’t stop you from doing so. How’s that for a positive, helpful algorithm?

Sharing posts is easy.
What’s on WordPress doesn’t have to stay on WordPress.
With one click, you can share posts on WordPress using the reblog function, or directly onto any of the other social media platforms.

Going ad-free with a custom domain is cheap and easy. 
It doesn’t cost much to have your own domain name that adds to your personal branding, and eliminate all advertising from your blog altogether. It works out even cheaper if you pay for two or three years instead of one, and as a business expense, you can claim it as a tax deduction. This can be done from the WordPress menu, so you don’t even have to Google how to do it. 

Sorry, though – wordynerdbird.com and mrbooksquirrel.blog are already taken. Have fun thinking up something cooler! 

There is no instant messenger, nor is there an inbox. 
There are benefits to not being quite so available all the time. 
I know. It’s a shocking thought, but I’m brave enough to say it. 

Many bloggers do have links to their other social media accounts on their blog, so you can still send a personal message or have a conversation there if you wish to. 

There’s no drama. 
Well… there might be on some political blogs, or perhaps some celebrity ones, I suppose. I don’t follow or read those, so I wouldn’t know.

Generally, though, you follow and read what you want to, and the rest sail blissfully past without even making a blip on your radar. 

Block style formatting. 
I found using the new “blocks” editor intimidating for about half a day, and have absolutely loved it ever since. It makes designing a great-looking post super easy. If you don’t like where an image or some other content is, you can move it around without fuss. Need a sub-heading? No problem. Formatting a list? Easy as. You can even save a particular block as a reusable one, so you can add it to subsequent posts with one click. This is great for themes and otherwise related posts. 

The Reader page on WordPress is brilliant
It lists all the posts from the blogs you follow, so that you can scroll through and see what’s on offer. It means that people who follow your blog will actually be able to see when you make a new post, and click through to read it with ease. 
If you want to find something new, you can search for a topic or click on the “Discover” tab.

There are, however, just a couple of things that frustrate me.

As I commented yesterday, I wish it were easier to get people to engage and respond. Perhaps they don’t perceive the value of that like they do on other social media platforms. Perhaps it’s a different type of audience. I just don’t know what the answer is there. 

The WordPress app. 
While the website uses “blocks” for content, the app is a dinosaur. Editing a post using the app is a nightmare because of the different formatting – you have to convert it from blocks to “classic” and it all just ends up looking wrong. 

It’s disappointing, because an outfit as big and professional as WordPress should be able to furnish their users with an app that is easy to use and which fully complements the website editor. 

Consequently, I do all my posting via the website, even on my iPad or phone. It’s far easier and the results are better. 

The Verdict:
WordPress wins, hands down. With just a little more audience interaction, it would be darn near perfect. 

What I Have Learned From Blogging 150 Days In A Row

Blogging consistently for 150 days in a row is no mean feat. It takes time, effort, and brain power, and a bit of self-discipline really helps, too. I’m thinking very clever things of myself today, but that’s not the only positive outcome. 

When I first started blogging, I was a bit here and there with it all, which is perfectly fine. Over time, though, I noticed that the more consistent I was, the more consistently my posts were being read. When I managed a three or four day streak, I felt like I had really accomplished something constructive in terms of getting myself “out there” as a blogger,

At the beginning of this year, one of my resolutions was to blog more consistently. I can certainly put a check in that box!  Now that we’ve reached the middle of the year, I have spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned from doing so. 

Goals are highly motivating. When you’re on a long streak, it’s very easy to dismiss thoughts like “I’m too tired” or “not today” and get it done. 

Planning is essential. Sometimes, deciding what to write about is the hardest part. Planning helps to overcome this.  I have developed a list of themes, post ideas and issues to explore. That way, I’ve always got something to write about if there is nothing pressing or timely bobbing around in my head.  Participating in special “months” like Women in History and “National Poetry Month” has helped me to focus my posts during those specific times. This has helped me to attract different kinds of readers to my blog, which is generally quite eclectic in the topics I cover. 

I still want to improve the way I coordinate my planning. I’ve started to time my Shakespeare-related posts to coincide with #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter so that I have an audience to reach that is automatically curated for me by someone else’s design. That’s proven to be very handy, so I want to find more opportunities like that to fit with my interests and content. 

Reblogging is a great way to share sand add value to someone else’s content. I often share other people’s posts via Twitter, and do so very gladly. When I discovered how to reblog someone’s work, that was a revolutionary moment for me. It enabled me to share their work in a more meaningful way than just tweeting it – which is meaningful and helpful, but it doesn’t add any value to the content. 

Reblogging makes it possible to add comments or a reflection of my own on the topic. This is helpful to both them and myself: their content reaches another blogger’s audience, and my content is enriched by theirs. It is also a very good thing to be inspired by what someone else produces, and to let that fuel my own thoughts and words. 

It’s also fair to say that there are times when the tank has been dangerously empty, and those bloggers whose work I have shared have literally saved my day – both by inspiring my post, but by encouraging my mind and spirit when life has been hard. 

Varying the topics attracts different readers. There are blogs dedicated to just one topic. Some of those bloggers do it extremely well. I am probably never going to be one of those people. 

I like to discuss different things that interest me. By mixing it up, I’ve been able to find new readers who like history, or poetry, or horror, or Shakespeare, or who are Indie authors and interested in the issues that relate to our awesome little corner of the publishing universe. These audiences often cross over, so if someone isn’t interested in what I write one day, they probably will be on the next. 

Over the past 150 days, I have seen my readership grow, measurable by the increase in followers on my blog. I find this very exciting, as when I started out, I thought having ten followers was incredible. Actually, given that I had very little clue what I was doing, it probably was incredible!

Consistency increases visibility. I’ve noticed that I’m getting more post likes and engagements from people who weren’t following me previously. I can only assume that this is because my posts are gaining visibility via the WordPress reader as well as on Twitter and via my very amateur attempt at SEO. My rather thorough use of categories and tags might be helping, too.  Whatever the source of the magic, I’ve enjoyed some great feedback and questions from readers that have been both helpful and stimulating. 

Accuracy and accountability matter. When you say something on your blog, you need to be able to back it up. Thankfully, as a History teacher, this is something I’ve always known. So when a reader asked me recently, “What’s your source?” I was able to answer promptly and easily.  I really don’t want to start providing a bibliography for every post I write, but it does matter that I can verify my content when I am called on to do so. 

People want to know who you are, Even though a blog post focuses on a particular topic or idea, readers respond well when you show them something of who you are or what makes you tick. I do not suggest making it all personal or discussing all your private issues in detail, but if readers can see that you are genuine, they will respond to you in positive and encouraging ways 

I am better at blogging than I used to be.  Part of that is in the development of my skills by learning as I go, and part of it is confidence that can only ever come from experience. This has, in fact, been the most motivating lesson of all. If I keep going, I’ll get even better. I don’t know if the world is ready for that, but I am. 

There are, however, still things that remain a mystery to me: 

How do you actually get people to click “like” before they leave? 
How can I get more people to leave a comment or question? 

Those are questions that fall into “next level engagement”. I’ll write that into my goal-setting now.