BY SERENA AGUSTO-COX
Editor's Note: A version of this appeared on our old site.
It’s hard to believe that my book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, is still going after eight years. It started with just one reader and individual poems I’d read in literary journals, like Poetry and AGNI, that I liked or made me view the world a little differently. I wanted to share these poems and my thoughts, and I really gave very little thought to how the blog would continue or how it would evolve. All I knew is that I wanted to talk about poetry, something I missed after college graduation.
One of the first poetry collections I reviewed was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. My review style then was a lot less formal than it is now, as I injected memories that came to the surface from some poems or even the mere title of the collection. In 2007, I reviewed about 16 books, many by James Patterson, two memoirs, several vampire novels, and just the one poetry book. I probably read more than I reviewed back then, but I also had not read for a long time after college, mostly because I had had enough after a double major and minor in college. I needed a break.
Since then, I’ve read many more books and reviewed nearly everyone I’ve read, reaching about 150 books in 2014–a total I’m nearing now. Many people start out writing blogs because they have a need to write and to share with others, and that’s the category in which I placed myself. I may have created a blog that others view as a source for recommendations, but I really just want to talk about good books with people who want to read.
Most book bloggers have created review policies, which delineate what they like to read and what kind of turnaround publicists, publishers, and authors can expect. Despite these policies, we are often pitched things we have said we do not read at all, ever. When most of us started, we began with the books we had access to: those we purchased, whether from Amazon or an independent bookstore (there are fewer of these every year); borrowed from the public library; received from friends and family; and eventually, were sent by authors, publicists, and publishers.
The process is overwhelming, especially if you’re a reader with eclectic reading sensibilities. I love books; I love reading them to see how they function and create an escape. Genre, target audience, and publisher generally matter little to me, unless the story or characters are thin.
To curate a blog that reflects either specific goals or tastes, you have to set limits based upon your own reading abilities and passions. Poetry is a major passion for me, so those books are usually hard for me to turn down. But you also have to be realistic. If you read only 150 books in a given year, you probably shouldn’t accept 300+ books for review, unless you plan on taking a review request hiatus until you get through them all. However, there are some blogs that accept books for consideration only, and that could mean that books sent to the blogger may not appear on the blog at all or just in a list of books received. Authors and publishers/publicists should remember that book blogs are as varied and different as they are.
Many people view success differently than I do. Do I compare my blog to others? Yes, and that’s even though I know that each of us has a different focus and a different level of commitment. Do I want my blog to become a source of income? Yes, I would, but I have my limits on how I want to achieve that goal. I’ve sold ad space, accepted donations for the hosting fees, and I’ve earned money from the affiliate links with Amazon, but that’s nowhere near enough to cover the labor of reading books and reviewing them, or even the hosting fees. Would I consider my blog successful? The answer is yes and no.
Some bloggers place an emphasis on page views and unique visitors, but I’ve never been a person who focuses too much on numbers. Savvy Verse & Wit might get about 1,500 visits per month and in a good month maybe 2,500. The bigger question for me is whether I’m getting the word out about great poetry and fiction. On occasion I’ll hear from readers who have bought books I’ve recommended, but if there are a lot of people buying based on my reviews, I don’t know about it. It was only recently that a writer I respect told me that her alma mater was floored that she knew me and had appeared on Savvy Verse & Wit several times. That made me smile.
Building an audience is often a tough task, but what I’ve found is that you stay true to your goals and the audience will follow. Savvy Verse & Wit has become the home of the Virtual Poetry Circle each week where I post a poem and readers and I discuss it, but it also is the hub of poetry for the National Poetry Month blog tour, in which other bloggers, poets, and authors participate with either guest posts on my blog or posts on their own websites. These events and discussions not only make my blog distinctive, but also bring people together and foster a greater understanding and passion for poetry.
In a way, I guess it pays to cultivate a blog from scratch, slowly and methodically, refining its focus and style. It’s the relationships I’ve built with authors, publishers, other book bloggers, and my readers that make my blog a success.
Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate who moved from small town Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals. An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing