My second instalment of Blogger’s Dozen, in which I turn the tables on bloggers and ask questions of them, features Linda Hill of Linda’s Book Bag.
I'm a blogger over at Linda's Book Bag. I used to be an English teacher and local authority adviser before I went over to the dark side as an independent educational consultant and OfSTED inspector, but I loved that as my work took me all over the country and to Jersey, Paris and New York to work. I live with Steve, my husband of 34 years, in the Lincolnshire Fens where it can feel like being in a Tupperware box at times with the vast grey skies.
I adore cats and used to have four at one time, including a diabetic one we had to inject with insulin twice a day, but have none now as we go away so much. I'm mad about Bryan Ferry, having met him twice and been to 21 of his concerts and you won't find me more than a few feet away from chocolate, fudge or toffee and preferably all three. When I'm not blogging or reading I'll be planning a holiday!
Linda’s Q&A Responses
Tell me a little about yourself.
Hi Tony. Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog. I'm a middle-aged blogger who decided life was too short to work so I gave up educational consultancy and inspection to do my own thing with my husband. I love reading, obviously, but am also passionate about travel, having been all over the world from Australia and Antarctica to Zanzibar and Zambia. Next up are Uganda, India and Indonesia. I also love gardening and have an allotment, and I love chocolate (and fudge and toffee and..., well anything sweet really) and Bryan Ferry!
How do you find time to both read and review books as well as keep a blogsite running?
That's what comes of being 'self-retired' as I can do what I like, but actually, it is almost a full time job. I blog most days except when we're on holiday and even then I often schedule tweets and posts. Recently I found I'd blogged 1000 times in just over 2 years!
What is your favourite genre?
It's usually that of the book I just read and enjoyed. I suppose literary fiction would be the encompassing term, but I love a psychological thriller, women's fiction, crime, chick-lit - pretty much anything except horror and some dystopian or science fiction. I'm not especially keen on being scared witless and I do enjoy a novel that can make me cry.
Have you ever had anyone criticise you for criticising their work?
No, but I always try to be constructive and I think years of teaching and inspecting, observing lessons and giving feedback to students and teachers means I'm used to giving less positive messages in a way that is acceptable. However, I did have a very unpleasant comment from someone who didn't like the author I featured recently, telling me I was a liar to say the book was good and that I was treating my blog readers like idiots and trying to deceive people because I had praised what I thought was an excellent read from someone they personally don't like. That wasn't pleasant and I didn't allow the comment to go live.
Do you believe you can influence how a book is perceived by the public?
I hope so. One of the reasons I blog is to give a voice to those authors who don't have the juggernaut publishing houses behind them with big marketing budgets. I can't read all the books I'm offered but I frequently feature self published authors, and authors from smaller independent publishers, to try to give them some publicity. I love it when I hear that someone bought a book as a result of my review and they enjoyed it too.
Does it make you feel good when an author thanks you for your review, or is it just part of the job?
I love it, as it makes it worthwhile. Many are real stars when it comes to showing their appreciation of your time in reading and reviewing their books but you'd be surprised sometimes how few authors do thank bloggers for reviews. Similarly, I've often had quite brusque requests for reviews and guest slots that say things like 'I want to be on your blog. What do I do?' or 'Here's where you can buy my book. When can I expect your review?' They don't always even bother to use my name!
How many hours a week do you devote to your blog?
Ha! Far too many. I usually spend about three to five hours a day blogging in total, sharing for other bloggers, preparing posts, scheduling tweets, adding to Facebook groups, putting reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and so on and that's before I've read a word.
Why and when did you start your blog?
When I was working as an educational consultant I used to review KS3 books for Hodder with a view to them being used as class readers (I used to write resources and non-fiction English teaching books for them too). I then saw Love Reading needed reader panel members and applied to do that. Once I'd started reviewing what I'd read I got hooked. I belong to a reading group and they said I ought to blog too and so in February 2015 I made a start. It's been a bit like Topsy since then.
Has your approach to blogging changed since you started, and if so, how?
It's definitely changed. I feature a far wider author range than just the big publishing houses and I have more guest posts so that I can at least feature a book even if I don't have time to read it whereas at the beginning I only really blogged reviews. I now have to turn down almost all the requests I get for review rather than accept most of them as I did at the beginning as I'll never read all the books I'm offered or sent.
Any advice to fellow bloggers?
Learn the N word very early on and say no when you know in your heart of hearts you won't have time to read the book and don't worry if you feel you can't do everything (I don't actually take my own advice here!) Always be positive and even if you don't like a book, try to find an element you can say something good about as well as mentioning those aspects that didn't appeal quite as much, because an author has probably put their heart and soul into the writing.
Any advice to authors?
Be very visible on social media. Understand it takes considerable time for bloggers to set up posts and get materials to them well in advance - and preferably don't send 40 pages of a protected PDF file for an extract! Realise that we get literally scores of requests every day. If you're featuring on a blog, it's helpful to provide a short bio, author photo, book cover, blurb and buy and social media links, as they make life so much easier for we bloggers doing a time consuming unpaid job.
Finally, which other bloggers do you admire, and why?
There are too many to mention and I know I'd forget someone I love here. I think what I would say is I don't admire bloggers who demand money for reviews, who don't share for other bloggers and who write nasty, personal attacks on authors if they don't like a book. No author sets out to write a bad book and if it doesn't suit one reader, another might love it.
Thanks so much Tony.
Linda’s Web Presence
Twitter: @LindaHill50Hill https://twitter.com/Lindahill50Hill