Thursday, 12 October 2017

10 things I wish I'd known about children's book blogging when we started out 7 years ago - A ReadItTorial

The lounge, yesterday. Who needs to see the floor anyway..!

I am honestly genuinely surprised sometimes that we are still kickin' ass and taking class when it comes to reading children's books in 2017, 7 years after "Read It, Daddy" began life as an aide-memoire to help me keep track of all the books we were borrowing from the library at the time.

Coming from a background (read: "blaring on about") writing about videogames but finding the whole children's book community far more friendly and far less confrontational and 'up itself' than the games community, reviewing books seemed like a natural step to take.

...And the rest, as they say, is history. Here though are 10 things I really wish I'd known back in 2010 before we really kicked off this crazy and fantastic book blogging journey

1) You will need to kiss every spare square inch of bookshelf space in your house goodbye. Yes, I'm afraid collecting children's books can become something of an obsession, and despite our best efforts to have regular clearouts of books that Charlotte isn't interested in any more, we still find there are way too many "keepers" that we just can't bear to part with. Our own books, by comparison, are increasingly squeezed out to make room for gorgeous, gorgeous kids books instead (particularly non-fiction titles), to the point where both my wife and I have thrown our lot in with Kindles instead just to free up a smidge of space we'd normally occupy with our own paperbacks or hardbacks.

2) You will become increasingly paranoid that you're repeating yourself in reviews. Honestly though, there are only so many ways you can describe a story you've seen umpteen times before in new and exciting ways. Flicking back through old reviews is a dangerous thing to do though, because you'll probably have completely changed your opinion and reassessed a book by the time you return to it a few years later, and hate the very sight of the thing!

3) Introducing yourself as "I'm thingy from SuperAceBookBlog" makes you sound like a complete dork. Sorry, but it really does. Painfully aware of this, but it's still worth doing for those amazing times when people's faces light up and you realise they have actually read something you've written. This goes double if it's an author or an illustrator who you swoon over. See also: Meeting your heroes is a VERY good thing.

4) Family and friends, teachers and work colleagues will glaze over when you proudly talk about your blog. This still happens, even after 7 years of doing this - but as we've said previously, there are those amazing moments when you meet like-minded book folk who really "get" why you do what you do, and not only that, will positively engage with you in conversations about books that can go on for hours and hours. Basically though, if you don't want to get into a long conversation with us, never EVER start off by asking us about books we'd recommend :)

5) Once things kick off, you'll sadly find you start neglecting book shops and libraries. We love book shops, I mean REALLY love book shops and could kiss the genius who thought of putting coffee franchises in book stores. We particularly love our local independent book shops where we live (Mostly Books in Abingdon, you ROCK!)

Of course, the big problem comes when you switch to being a 'grown up' Kindle reader for your own books, and don't need to visit book stores for children's books you slowly start to neglect these wonderful places. Though we have now reached a point where we will schedule time to visit both libraries and book stores just to keep up with all the stuff we miss out on, from publishers who don't send us stuff. So I'd definitely tell my younger book blogging self to keep at it with both book stores and libraries, and support both because you really don't want to lose them for good!

6) You'll find yourself surreptitiously appraising book collections in public places (such as waiting rooms, schools and even at friends' houses!) Again this might just be us, but it's something we're definitely guilty of. It does lead to some cool scenarios where we get to donate books to worthy causes (particularly schools and reading agencies) but it's also not unknown for us to sneak brand new books into tired old collections in waiting rooms or doctor's surgeries when we spot 'em.

7) Your brain will become stuffed with whole bibliographies and catalogues of a particular favourite writer's works. Turning into a walking encyclopaedia of children's books is a good and bad thing though it's not something I expected to happen when we first set out. You start to see patterns in children's books and can usually reel off a whole collection of books that authors and artists have contributed to or worked on, even spotting artist's styles a mile off (which comes in handy when (ahem) they're not credited on a particular book or in a press release!)

8) Likewise, you'll start to develop a fairly short tolerance of similar themes and ideas cropping up again and again and again. There are times when we inwardly groan whenever we see a new version of a classic fairy tale, or a cutesy book about 'friendship' or 'being yourself' or some other squirm-worthy moral message wrapped up in the midst of a children's story. We've probably blogged for way too long on the subject of pirate books, for example - and sometimes I think I'll cry if I see another version of Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. Of course, that only means that it's doubly awesome when we see ace original twists and ideas using any of those, in fact those are some of the best reviews to write.

9) You'll become completely frustrated at some of the 'injustices' that go on daily in children's publishing. Everyone likes a good rant, and some of those rants are - to be fair - good points that deserve more debate. Most of our editorials cover fairly controversial subjects raging on in children's books and it's very easy to become embroiled in arguments (which, I should add, are far more good natured than arguments over videogames or movies) over subjects such as 'celebrity' books, the cost of actual books themselves, that utter tummy rubbish "Digital vs Print" argument and the huge imbalances in diversity, gender and pay right across the board in Publishing, just like in any other industry. If you're doing the blogging thing correctly, it's nigh on impossible to stay impartial to all of those things so wade in and don't be frightened to give your opinion, and definitely do not be afraid to shout someone down if they consider bloggers to be second-class journalists (oh if there's one thing that makes our blood boil it's that!)

10) You'll always remember your first back cover or press blurb quote. It's a magical moment when your humble blog ends up being quoted on the back of a well-loved and popular book. We've been pretty lucky in that respect, and it still gives us a huge thrill to see a quote show up in a catalogue or press blurb. As well as the books, that's actually quite a nice reward for the effort involved in maintaining a regular book blog, and shows that someone out there - at least - is reading your hard work!