Armchair BEA’s BBC Roundtable: Writing what you want to read, in your own voice

I honestly haven’t been eating my heart out over not being at BEA this week, but I do regret missing out on the very first Book Blogger Convention. Granted, I am going to BlogHer’10, which I committed to before the BBC was announced, but it won’t be the same – the content is broader and the crowd is different (not to mention a lot larger!). If there’s a BBC in 2011, I’m going to have to re-think my strategy.

Just about every session planned for the BBC sounds worthwhile, but I’m especially interested in the “Writing and Building Content” panel; I’ve been at this for over three years, I want to keep stretching and developing my writing muscles, and I want this to be an interesting place to visit. Along those lines, Jeanne of Necromancy Never Pays asked a pertinent question during my Blogiversary in March:

Here’s my blogiversary question: what would you like to see more bloggers doing, and why?

I’d really like to see bloggers express more of themselves on their blogs. Unless they stipulate that the only reason for their blog’s existence is to review books or products, it’s disappointing to me to see a post only when they’re reviewing something they’ve received just for that purpose – especially when the review doesn’t tell me much I couldn’t read on the book jacket or in the ad copy. It’s also disappointing to me to see content primarily driven by the Meme of the Day. I don’t necessarily mean that the blogger needs to share a lot of personal information; I know that quite a few book bloggers, in particular, choose to be more reserved with that, and that’s fine. But one of the most important reasons I’ll decide to follow a blog is the voice of its writer (emphasis added); if I don’t get a good feel that the writer has a voice of her or his own, I probably won’t hang around for long.

To me, that’s what content-building comes down to – developing a blog that sounds like you. It could come out in certain turns of phrase you particularly like to use. It might show in a unique recurring feature that you create, or in the way you tweak a meme into something more self-expressive. It may be apparent in the format you use for your reviews – or the fact that you don’t follow a format at all. It may reveal itself in the little bits of your life and personality that slip into posts that you don’t consider especially “personal,” or it may speak up in the life experiences you choose to post about every now and then.

I am primarily a book blogger, but not exclusively a book blogger. I don’t read fast enough to post reviews more often than once a week, and some weeks I can’t even pull that off. I’m also a fairly wordy reviewer, and I like to discuss the books I read in some detail, but I don’t always discuss the same details. Sometimes it’s the writing itself that will get most of my attention. Sometimes it’s one or two of the characters and my reaction to them. Sometimes it’s the theme or setting or some element of the plot. I try to mix the objective – this is what happens – and subjective – this is how it affected me – in my comments about the book, and I’ll try to explain why I responded to the book the way I did. I do rate books, but I give the rating at the end of each review; my goal is for the content of the review to be supported by the rating, and not the other way around.

I’ve been doing this long enough that most memes have just lost their appeal for me – and if I’m skipping others’ meme posts, I probably don’t need to be writing my own. I still like some of the Booking Through Thursday and Musing Monday prompts, but much of the time I feel like I’ve answered them before and have nothing new to say; and frankly, I don’t receive enough books to take part in the Mailbox memes. Besides, I just don’t have the time to blog-hop and read other responses any more, and that’s part of joining a meme, in my opinion.  I do think memes can be very good for newer bloggers, both as food for thought and posts and as a way to network with other blogs, but it is possible to over-rely on them – it’s also possible to outgrow them.

It is possible to keep a focus on bookish content even without frequent reviews and meme posts, though. Do you find yourself reading two or three books in a row that share some themes or story elements? Compare-and-contrast posts can be a lot of fun. You can do features on books you loved in your pre-blog days, or books you’re hoping to read soon, without linking them to an established meme on a specific day of the week. Posts about author events and book-related field trips are entertaining.

Write what you’d like to read. Granted, you may really like reading daily memes and review after review, but if you don’t get a sense of the person behind them, chances are your interest will wane before too long – I can tell you for certain that mine does, and that’s one reason I vary my content. You don’t have to share personal details if you’re uncomfortable with that, but any blog that’s not corporate in some respect is, by definition, “personal,” and it’s nice to get to know the person behind the writing. Your blog is your place to speak your own words, in your own voice.

J.C. Montgomery at The Biblio Blogazine has also discussed the blogger’s voice and ways to keep it healthy.

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