How To Start a Book Blog #1: Setting up the blog

Posted January 27, 2015 in series / 2 Comments

Hello everyone! So over the past year or so, I’ve been getting a few questions on how to start a book blog, and people asking me to look at theirs and give feedback. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, especially since as of writing this I’ve only been blogging about 1.5 years, but I feel like I do know a lot and I hope it helps people. So I’ve decided to start a series on my blog devoted to starting a book blog, and I have 4 posts total planned for now.

Let’s get started!

So how do we begin?

Step 1: Setting Up the Blog

Here’s the most important step, the first one. And it takes a LONG TIME, so this post is going to be the longest.

 I’m ready to start! So…what platform do I use?

This is the biggest question. Most people are either Blogger or WordPress. Within the WordPress category there is normal and self-hosted. I personally am WordPress self-hosted, which is the most customizable option but also the most expensive. The other two are free. I would recommend Blogger for beginners and WordPress self-hosted for people who really know what they’re doing. I wouldn’t recommend normal WordPress at all because I’ve heard it’s pretty bad. What I did was switch from Blogger to WordPress after about…a year, maybe? So I had plenty of time to see which was better, which means that while a lot of my blogging/coding tips apply to WordPress, quite a few of them apply to Blogger too. Some things that are automatic in WordPress (dropdown menus) have to be coded separately for Blogger, and I have a tutorial on that.

Note: In WordPress, the items on the sidebar are called widgets, and in Blogger, they are gadgets. I will use the term ‘widget,’ so I hope you remember what I’m talking about (:

Here are some posts to use for reference.

  All right! I’ve got my platform! Now what?

Well, we can’t have a blog without a name, can we? Now, this is a HUGE part of your blogging journey. It is incredibly important. Your name is your brand. It’s you. When people hear or see this name, they will think of you and your blog. So you want to make it:

  •  catchy– make it easy to say, fun to hear
  •  unique– don’t use one that is already taken or close to one that is!
  •  appropriate– should relate to what your blog is about- use keywords like ‘books’, ‘reviews’, ‘reading’
  •  the right length– it shouldn’t be too short (in which case it may be too common) or too long (like mine) because that makes it harder to remember
  •  it should flow– use words that sound nice together. I tried this with mine- the A and the S sounds. But it’s still too long.

Learn from my mistakes!

My blog name is far too long and doesn’t flow. But I’ve invested a lot of time in creating this brand, so it would be far too late to change it now. Plus I’ve bought the domain, and I’ve paid for several designs based off this current name. So that’s it for me. Choose wisely!

Reference posts:

  • Ashley from NoseGraze has so many that I’m just linking to search results. See them here.

 I’ve finally settled on a name. What’s next?

Now that you’ve got your name, there are a few name-related steps you can take. If you want to buy a domain, there are several options out there, so I’d suggest a Google search. I bought my domain, awesomebookassessment.com, from Yahoo! Small Business. They charge me $34.95 per year, which seems like a lot, but it’s a reasonable amount. Hostgator also has some good prices.

 So when do we get to the fun stuff?

Haha, the business-type stuff like finding a platform and a domain can be boring, but they are important. Anyway, once you’ve done that, you can start thinking about the design of your blog. Before you start tweaking settings, I would suggest getting a good design together. This would mean, for a start:

  •  a blog button (this is like your book blogging profile picture)
  •  a blog header (what you see at the top of the page)
  •  a background (optional, but can add a lot to the design)

When thinking about design, color scheme is a big factor. Obviously you want to choose a good one that doesn’t hurt the eyes. For the main color, it would be a good idea to pick one that is readable against a white background- like for mine, I chose dark green. Dark shades of any color are generally a good option, but you can always just go with black.

Once you have ideas in mind, you can either start designing yourself (if you are competent with such things- I, for one, am incredibly useless) or hire someone to do it for you. A lot of people will do it for free, but I feel like it’s generally a better option to go with professionals (plus they tend to give better service). I ended up going with Ashley from NoseGraze, whom I’ve been referencing throughout this post (she is amazing at everything blogging/coding). It cost a lot, but I got several amazing designs, including 8 headers that I can change out depending on the season or holiday. She designed my headers, my blog button, and my background. The rest of the design aspects on my blog, such as the fonts and widget colors and basically the colors of everything else, I chose myself because of the theme I have.

If you chose Blogger as your platform, I’m pretty sure there are still a lot of customization options, but I don’t think there are quite as many as WordPress, especially self-hosted. Therefore most of my tips will apply to WordPress.

If you have WordPress, you’ll have to do a lot of searching around before you find a theme you like. For self-hosted, I would definitely recommend what I have, which is Ashley’s Tweak Me v. 2 theme. It’s the most customizable theme out there- you can change almost anything you can think of. The only downside is that it’s expensive- $69 if you didn’t have the first version (which I did). And it doesn’t have everything the first version did- but it certainly has tons more added features.

Reference posts:

  • For design/coding tips, check out my Blogosphere Travels posts. A lot of them apply to Blogger as well.
  • Similarly, check out Ashley’s Coding tips if you know a little about coding. I didn’t know very much to begin with, but I learned.
  • If you’re using Blogger, Small Review has a number of great coding tutorials on her blog. These helped me immensely back when I had Blogger.

 Now my blog is starting to look good! But- there’s nothing on it!!

Here’s where we want to start setting up the framework of the blog before we think about posting. We want to complete our design with some menus and sidebars.

Menus and sidebars and buttons- oh my!

Menus– I think only one menu is really necessary, and that’s the one at the top. The most common places for menus are above and below the header. Most are below it. The pages on this menu vary from blog to blog, but several are common among most blogs, and a few I think are necessary for a successful blog.

Strongly recommended menu pages:

  •  About Me: describe yourself! We want to know who is behind the blog!
  •  Review Policy: If you’re into reviewing ARCs, and most bloggers are, describe your guidelines for reviewing books. What kinds you like, whether you review self-published work, what the author can expect from you (in your review), how the author/publisher can contact you. More on this in the last segment of this series. Also on this page you can include your rating system– whether you use stars, or whatever.
  •  Review Index/Archive: Somewhere on your blog you should have an index of all your reviews. If you’re like me, you have several. The UBB plugin (more on that below) makes it automatic, which is fantastic, but a lot of bloggers have to edit theirs manually and it’s a pain, but it is pretty important to keep yours up-to-date. The most common sorting is alphabetically by title.

Optional but also recommended:

  •  Features: If you participate in features on your blog (or host your own) such as Top Ten Tuesday, Waiting on Wednesday, discussions, etc., then it would be nice to have a page organizing all of those. I have mine as an index, but it’s not necessary to sort them like that. It’s just easier because it’s automatic with the UBB plugin.
  •  Challenges: The same goes for challenges- whether you host them or just participate. It’s great to have a list of the ones you’re participating in and your progress, if only for your sake. Organization is good.

Sidebars- Here’s where you have to be careful. A lot of people (myself included) tend to go crazy and junk up their sidebars with all kinds of unnecessary things. It’s best to stick with the bare minimum.

Now, I realize mine is kind of cluttered- when you first look at it- but in my opinion, everything there has a purpose. Very few things are extraneous. The Recent Post widget may be extra, but seeing as I’ve been having problems with getting a collapsing archive widget to work, it’s the next best thing. A few of my challenge widgets may be extra, I’ll admit. And I have numerous social media links and signups for newsletters and email and a survey. But the main idea is to not have the sidebars longer than the actual content area (the post) and I think I’ve achieved that. It helps to have two sidebars, one on each side. I don’t like the whole 2-on-1-side design. Eh. It’s up to you what your preference is. Most people just have one, usually on the right.

Blogger has a few of these widgets (or gadgets, rather) but some would have to be coded. WordPress also has a few, and a lot of them come with certain themes or the UBB plugin.

Recommended sidebar widgets:

  •  Search bar: This is insanely useful. Please do include one.
  •  Post Archive: Also fantastic. Preferably collapsing, which is automatic in Blogger but difficult to get in WordPress. I used a couple but both stopped working.
  •  Blog button/link: Have a picture of your blog button up there, and it’s also nice to include some text that we can use to link to it. Small Review has a tutorial on that.
  •  Social Media links: It’s okay if you haven’t set up your blog on any social media sites yet. We can work on this more in segment 3 of this series when we start thinking about followers. Right now, you don’t have any content, so who would want to follow? But later on, it would be a great idea to add any links (preferably in button form) to those sites in the sidebar (near the top so people see them right away).

Fun features:

  •  ‘Recent Reviews’ or ‘Upcoming Reviews’: These are automatic for me with the UBB plugin, but I have seen a lot of bloggers do things like this manually. It just takes a while. Same idea with a ‘Currently Reading’ widget.
  •  Popular Posts: This is a great way to showcase some of your best posts- or at least, best according to your readers.
  •  Challenge buttons: Show us what challenges you’re participating in! 
  •  Blogroll: Put some of your favorite blogs here! Which blogs do you think I should check out? Small Review also has a tutorial on making a scrolling image widget, aimed for Blogger users.

Posts for reference:

  • I have a pretty comprehensive post here about elements I like to see on blogs. It’s basically the information I said here, but with a little more detail.

 It’s all starting to come together! So when can I start posting?

Hold on there! We’re ALMOST there. There’s just one more amazing thing I’d like to mention, and that’s…*drumroll please*…

The Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin!

Courtesy of the amazing Ashley of NoseGraze. This plugin is life. This plugin is the secret to many book bloggers’ success (I’m pretty sure). It automates so many things that it frees up a bunch of time to do other fun things- like reading, and writing great blog posts. EVERY BOOK BLOGGER SHOULD HAVE THIS. (unfortunately, though, it only works with self-hosted WordPress)

I never really discussed this in any of my posts (which is a surprise), but I’ve mentioned it quite a few times. Most of my widgets and indexes are possible (and automatically updated) due to the plugin. But I really can’t do it justice trying to describe it here (that’s probably why I don’t have any posts on it).

CHECK IT OUT.

Of course, it costs money. For a single blog, it is $35, which isn’t too bad, considering this plugin will SAVE YOUR LIFE. I’d say go for it.

 That sounds amazing! But…what’s a plugin?

A plugin is a little extra feature that you can add to any WordPress blog that does something for you. It’s not like a widget, necessarily, although several plugins are essentially widgets. Instead of improving things on your actual blog itself, they generally tend to improve the ways you can edit your blog.

Posts for reference:

  • I have a nice little list of my top 17 WordPress plugins here.

 All right! Everything is set up and looks good! So…what do I post?

This concludes the first part of my How to Start a Book Blog series, but stay tuned for the next post where I give some ideas on different types of posts (most commonly found on book blogs).

Let’s talk!

Did any of these tips help you?

If you’ve just started book blogging, leave a link below so I (and my readers) can check it out & follow!

Questions? Comments? Leave a comment below!

For you seasoned bloggers out there- did I miss anything important regarding setting up a blog? Is there anything you would have liked to know when you started?

Next in series: Types of Posts

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