First off, I just want to thank everyone who nominated and voted for Love Yo Shelf in the best new blog category for Marie and May’s Book Blogger Awards!! Orianna and I are completely and absolutely overwhelmed by the love and support we’ve gotten since starting our baby blog in October, and we’ve loved having the chance to get to know other members of the community. I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we first started, and it’s honestly been a steep learning curve, which brings me to this post!
When we launched Love Yo Shelf in 2019, I felt like I was a little late to the game and in way over my head. I spent a couple months prior to publishing my first Love Yo Shelf post observing and learning, but for a self-proclaimed bookworm, I did very little reading. As much as I tried to prepare myself by polishing the Love Yo Shelf site and stockpiling reviews, I couldn’t prepare for what I simply didn’t know. I found a few posts with tips for new bloggers, and I’m sure there are plenty more out there, but the ones I read tended to be a little more generic and strictly about running a blog, with little mention about having a social media presence or the specific obstacles and issues that bloggers of color face.
It wasn’t until I actually started talking to other bloggers of color that my own hesitantly negative feelings about some of the things I was seeing around Twitter were affirmed and validated. I do think that book blogs are more accessible and thus more equitable than other bookish platforms in terms of who can start a blog and succeed. However, it’s an entirely different ball game for bloggers of color and white bloggers, with layers of privilege factoring in as well. There are a lot of facets to being a blogger of color that I’m unequipped to discuss because of my own privilege, but for the time being, here are some bits of advice for new bloggers of color that I discovered through trial and error.
1. Find your people.
Usually, this means finding people who share common interests (aka books) with you and who you naturally click with. But for new bloggers, especially new bloggers of color, my advice is to find friends who look out for you and genuinely have your best interests in mind. This can be anything, from sending opportunities your way (shoutout to Tiffany for always keeping me up to date on the latest publishing internship openings), to letting you know about their past experiences within the community. More than anything, though, remember to let these relationships grow organically, and the right people will make their way to you over time.
People with the best of intentions can still cause harm, so it’s important to work with blog tour companies who protect their hosts, like Caffeine Book Tours, be selective when it comes to joining street teams or accepting ARC offers, and educate yourself on issues you’re less aware about before coming to someone’s defense on Twitter.
There is still so much I don’t know about the book community, simply because I didn’t join until last year. As a new blogger eager to immerse myself in the blogosphere, I definitely dove headfirst into whatever opportunity I came across and engaged with people who’ve exhibited problematic behavior in the past. It took me a while to slow down and not commit myself to a million different blog tours or street teams, and I’m fortunate enough that now I only sign up for opportunities administered by people I trust.
2. Get to know publishers.
This seems fairly obvious if you’re starting a book blog, but it extends beyond simply being familiar with the Big 5 and their many imprints. For international bloggers and bloggers of color, getting in touch with publishers directly can be the only option if they actually want to receive an ARC. Although Netgalley has recently added an own-voices category you can browse, they have an abysmal track record of rejecting bloggers of color for books that they are own-voices readers for, even those who have sizable platforms – and for international bloggers, it’s even worse. (To learn more about the barriers international bloggers face, check out this series of guest posts on The Quiet Pond featuring bloggers from around the world.)
Publishing is very much a numbers game, but it is one laced with privilege, too. Stats aren’t everything and they aren’t a guarantee, especially if you’re an internationally based blogger, so your success in requesting an ARC can be largely dependent on the publisher you’re reaching out to and how dedicated they actually are to getting books to own-voices readers. Include your stats and contact information in your email, and provide some recent examples of the content you post to your preferred platform. The majority of your email should be professional, but it won’t hurt to include a short paragraph containing your personal reasons for wanting to read the book, so that the publisher can see what the ARC means to you. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to network with people in publishing, especially if authors are able to compile lists of ARC recipients for their publishers.
Based on my own personal experience reaching out and some publishers who have provided physical ARCs for blog tours I’ve participated in, which have included international tour hosts, some of the more responsive publishers are Orbit, Wednesday Books, and Page Street Publishing. If you’re unsure about where to start when it comes to requesting ARCs, I recommend checking out this post, which provides a helpful template that includes all of the relevant information publishers look for when approving requests.
3. It’s okay to say no.
In fact, you could probably afford to say no a little more often. Something that I personally struggled with in the beginning (and still struggle with, if I’m being completely honest) was establishing boundaries. This point in particular probably has more to do with who I am as an individual, but I also think that marginalized creators are conditioned to be grateful for any opportunity that comes their way when they’re getting their sea legs in white-dominated spaces, and can be hesitant about rejecting offers lest they appear ungrateful or get a reputation for being “difficult to work with.”
When you know that you’re unwelcome in a space that will ignore you or push you to the side in favor of others, it’s almost painful to push back against an ingrained sense of I’m a guest here, my stay is temporary, and therefore I have to be polite and well-behaved. You have as much of a claim to this space as anyone else, and that comes with the right to accept or decline offers as you see fit. No one is entitled to your labor, whether they are a publisher, an author, or a reader.
Despite the fact that Love Yo Shelf is rather loudly a blog dedicated to uplifting traditionally underrepresented and marginalized identities, the majority of book review requests we receive are for books written by white authors. Nana and I are always appreciative of every single inquiry we receive and are grateful that people like our content enough to reach out to us, but our mission has never included prioritizing white authors over authors of color. This means that we’ve both sent our fair share of emails declining review requests for books, but when we first started blogging, we were so thrilled to be getting review requests that we agreed to read and review books that did not align with both Love Yo Shelf‘s mission and our own personal preferences/beliefs. I think people should definitely branch out of their comfort zones and read books that might not be in their usual taste, but we simply had to learn to say no to books we knew wouldn’t be a good fit for our platform or ourselves.
4. Cultivate your space carefully.
Similarly to finding the people you genuinely connect with in the community, it’s important to be selective about who you follow and who you let follow you. One of the best things I took away from my time on Tumblr was learning how to soft-block and actually doing it. Depending on the person and your history, the shortest of interactions can be extremely draining. It’s okay to not want to follow certain people or have them follow you. Of course, it’s important to keep an open mind and not judge people too quickly, but if your gut instinct is telling you that you’re uncomfortable with someone, listen to it.
It’s also worth considering your social media presence and how it represents you, including what degree of professionalism you want to uphold. This is especially important if you link your social media handles when reaching out to publishers or applying to jobs. Book blogs are great resume builders if you’re looking to go into publishing because they provide concrete examples of your work, such as writing samples via book reviews and use of Photoshop if you feature graphics in your posts. If Twitter is one of your primary platforms and is linked to your blog, I strongly suggest making a private Twitter that you can use to express your unfiltered thoughts, post about your personal life, and anything else you might not want potential employers or collaborators to see.
5. Be very thoughtful about your branding.
As a media student and seasoned blogger, Shealea @ Shut Up, Shealea provides some great insight into this particularly aspect of book blogging in her post, 7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Book Blogging. When Nana and I were brainstorming names for what eventually became Love Yo Shelf, we knew we wanted a name that was punny, but also one that ultimately represented us and what we wanted our blog to stand for. The initial name we landed on was Treat Yo Shelf, because we’re nothing if not enablers when it comes to each other’s spending habits, but a quick Google search squashed that idea (I’m pretty sure Treat Yo Shelf is the name of a book subscription box). It ended up working out perfectly in the end, because we decided on Love Yo Shelf, which fits us and the blog infinitely better.
Love Yo Shelf fits our needs perfectly because it can mean very different things. Some of our interpretations of our own blog name include:
✸ Love your literal bookshelves by curating books that, ahem, spark joy, if you will
✸ Love yourself by picking up books that you can identify with and that you feel contain positive, accurate representation
✸ Love your shelf and yourself by reading books that can help you process, heal, learn, and/or grow
(That last point sounds super self-helpy, but hopefully you get the idea.)
From your blog name to aesthetics to content, it’s important to think about what you want to be associated with, what you want to reflect, and what you’re okay with reflecting on you.
6. Know when to log off.
I really struggle with this in practice, but it’s so, so important to know when to log off and put some distance between yourself and whatever platforms you frequent. To say I get stressed out easily is an understatement, and my tendency to overthink in other areas of my life has unsurprisingly carried over into blogging. Even as I’m writing this post, I’m overthinking some of the things I’ve included – recognizing my own privilege is an ongoing progress – but this also has to do with the knowledge that as a blogger of color, my words can easily be misconstrued or interpreted as representing bloggers of color as a monolith. My concern about the latter isn’t unprecedented (just check out some of the comments on my post, So You Want to Be an Ally: But what are you really trying to accomplish?), but ultimately, this blog is supposed to be a space where Nana and I can express ourselves, so that’s what I’m going to continue to do.
People are going to disagree with you. Book Twitter can be very opinionated, and in the short year I’ve been around, I’ve noticed the same rotational patterns for hot takes and controversial opinions that plenty of other bloggers before me have pointed out. From what I’ve gathered, it’s basically turned into a Bingo board, and it’s pretty easy to get a blackout. Sometimes you have the energy to disagree with someone and subsequently explain why, and sometimes you don’t. When that happens, take care of yourself and take a step back.
Quite frankly, it’s exhausting to be a person of color in visible spaces, where people can feel like they are entitled to certain pieces of you and the lines we try to draw become blurry in translation. Unfortunately, other people will not draw boundaries for you – that is something you have to get comfortable doing yourself. Turn it into a habit by starting small; I had to relearn how to read for fun and not for the sake of reviewing, and it wasn’t until I devoured a book in one sitting that I realized how close I’d gotten to burning out. My advice is to close Twitter, close WordPress, and read to read when you find yourself needing a break from it all, and rediscover the love that started it all.
And if you’re a new blogger of color and you just need someone to talk to about navigating this space, feel free to reach out. ♡