A Beginner’s Guide to Buddy Reading

A little girl reading with her dog

One of my favourite things about being a bookstagrammer is being able to read books with other bibliophiles all around the world – a practice known as buddy reading (also called readalongs). When I started out I had no idea that these existed, but as soon as I found out I was straight in there and during my 18 months on the platform, I estimate that I’ve taken part in around 15 of these.  I’ve written this blog post to give a little background on the process and also to share some thoughts from fellow book lovers following a series of polls I ran on Instagram.

So what exactly is a buddy read?

It’s where you agree to read a book at the same time as an online friend so you can discuss it together – either during the process or after you’ve finished.  A bit like a book club without the ongoing commitment or geographical restrictions.

OK sounds interesting, but are there any other benefits?

Well firstly you get to pretty much choose which book you want to read.  And then there’s the bonus of all the potential global perspectives on the text.  If that’s not enough, you might meet new bibliophiles too. In the poll (1), 43% of people said they’d met new friends after joining a buddy read. Oh – and it’s quite addictive – 24% (2) of participants said they’d participated in over 5 shared reads in the last year.

I’m sold, how do I get involved in a readalong?

If you post about books on Instagram then there’s a fair chance that you’ll see users mention readalongs from time to time.  If you spot a book that you want to read then either DM them or add a note in the comments.  Most bookstagrammers will be happy for you to join in.  Alternatively, why not organise your own buddy read by inviting people to participate?

How many readers will there be?

Personally I prefer smaller groups as they’re easier to coordinate and 76% of responders agreed that 1-5 members is about right (24% didn’t mind) (3)

What happens in a buddy read?

Usually the coordinator will set up a private group in Instagram so you can agree guidelines.  Everyone needs a chance to get hold of the book and some will want to order it from the library so it might take a few weeks to get started.

Every shared reading experience I’ve had has been different.  In response to the poll (4), 62% of readers liked structured readalongs and 38% preferred unstructured so if you’re new to buddy reading then I recommend trying out a few groups first to see what works best for you.  Here are some aspects to consider:

  • End Date – this needs to account for all reading speeds and other commitments.
  • Review points – do you catch-up each week or at the end?
  • Questions – do you circulate a set of prompts beforehand or go freestyle?
  • Round-Up – do you want to finalise everything via text or will you one step further and host a live chat?

What kinds of questions can I expect?

If you love books then you’ll have lots to discuss. Here are a few ideas:

  • Which character did you like most/least and why?
  • Did the ending satisfy?
  • What was your favourite line in the book?
  • Were there any re-occurring themes? What do you think these signified?
  • What were the strongest/weakest elements of the book?

What if things don’t go to plan?

They most likely won’t! Sometimes life gets in the way so flexibility is key.  Try to commit but if you’re unable to or someone else is delayed then just keep on talking.  Above all, the experience needs to be fun and if a readalong doesn’t work out, there will be plenty more to choose from.

Are there other kinds of buddy reading groups?

Buddy reading is popular on Goodreads too. If you want to find out more then check out this post by the moon who listens.

Poll ran on Instagram 18/09/18: Samples sizes (1) 125 (2) 114 (3) 154 (4) 111

 

 

 

When You’re Not in the Gang – Dealing with Feelings of Online Exclusion

shadow woman reading a bookThere’s a lot of buzz about community in the online world, but what about when you’re not part of the set? Whether we admit it or not, virtual groups aren’t that different from those we find in real-life society  – the hierarchies and interactions are very similar which undoubtedly means that some users will feel left out.

I’m very lucky to be part of several supportive networks, but there have been times in the past when I’ve felt the sting of rejection – whether that be through having an unanswered comment, or through not being followed back.

So how do you cope with not being accepted into an online circle?

First and foremost, remember that these people don’t really know you. They don’t know that you typed that lengthy comment just after you’d had a rubbish day at work/school. They don’t know that you put your elderly neighbour’s bins out every week or that you have a difficult family life.  They only see one side of you and in many cases, just your curated digital persona – not the living, warm, complicated human. When I feel overlooked, I always take a moment to step back and appreciate my real-world self with all its intricacies.  I consider the physical connections in my life – family, friends, pets, colleagues. The online sphere has value , but it’s not everything.

Understand that it’s not personal.  The people who haven’t responded to you might have restrictions on their time, which means they can only connect with a certain number of people.   As an account holder, I’d love to be able to include everyone, but I already struggle at keeping up with posts of the people I follow.  Social media is just one facet of my life so I have to manage it carefully otherwise it could easily encroach into family and work time.

Appreciate the online friends you do have. Nurture them, do something fun together – maybe set up a hashtag challenge or arrange a buddy read.  Stop chasing what could be and be thankful for what already exists.

Take a moment to reflect on your own communities – could you be more welcoming to new members? Have you taken the time out to help others or build new connections? Whether we realise it or not, we’re all tribal to a certain extent – it’s up to us whether we break our own algorithms.

And if all the above still doesn’t work then seriously consider taking a break from social media for a few weeks.  Indulge your interests, reward yourself in other ways – maybe organise a trip away or take a course. Make time to develop yourself and if you decide to return, you’ll have a new perspective on everything. As with any situation, if being in a certain place isn’t making you happy then you can leave, and with social media it’s even easier.  All you need to do is switch off your phone and walk away.

 

 

7 Instagram Tips for Authors

Reader jumping out of a bookAs a keen Instagrammer, I come across author accounts all the time. Some are brilliant, but it’s become increasingly clear that many writers aren’t sure how to max out their pages. As a marketing tool, Instagram involves more effort than Twitter or Facebook but if done well, then it can reap many more rewards because there’s a passionate community of readers (known as bookstagrammers) on this particular platform.  In this post I’ve stuck to 7 basics which should help writers to boost their Instagram accounts.

1. Only Connect

If I could give one recommendation then this would be it.  Explore Instagram and find readers who enjoy reading the type of books you write and read.  Search for your book and/or genre hashtags and like people’s posts. If someone has given you a rave review then comment and seriously consider following them.  You can choose to follow hashtags so I would recommend following your own title (if you’re published) to make sure that you acknowledge positive posts about your book.

How to follow an Instagram hashtag

2. Be A Reader

I’m guessing that you write books because you love reading.  Post about your current and favourite reads as well as the ones which have influenced your writing.  For many people it’s much easier to identify with a reader than a writer.

3. Maximise Your Hashtags

Big hashtags such as #bookstagram and #currentlyreading are good for finding readers but not so great for finding followers because your post is likely to get lost. When you type a hashtag you should see how many times it’s been used. Go for 5 figures and below. Don’t use #follow4follow or any of the spammy hashtags – this will only attract the bots.

4. Share Crisp, Bright Photos

This really needs a post of its own. As a general rule, shoot in natural light where possible or if not, use an app like Snapseed to increase exposure (not saturation). Bookmark photos that you like on Instagram and try to emulate them (credit if it’s an obvious match).

5. Be Consistent

The biggest growing accounts post every day, but very few people have time to do this and to be honest, no one wants to be flooded with tons of material. As a general rule, I would say aim to post quality content at least twice a week with a max of one a day (if you love taking photos).

6. Grow Organically

If you’re a writer then you also have a brand to nurture. Don’t chase likes or numbers, but rather focus on building a quality following that’s made up of people who relate to your content. Similarly, try to follow accounts that interest you.  There’s a lot of emphasis placed on having fewer follows than followers but as long as you maintain an equal balance this is fine.  It’s about connection not game-play which leads me onto a note about the follow/unfollow strategy.

For those of you who aren’t aware of follow/unfollow tactics – it’s where Instagrammers follow lots of accounts (usually small ones) so you’ll follow back and then they unfollow you a few days after in the hope you don’t notice. Please don’t do this! Many account holders are wise to these tactics and it can undermine your authenticity.  Better to build slowly and with integrity – this way you’ll gain many more true fans.

7. Link Up Your Accounts

Make sure that you link your Instagram with your other accounts or at least promote it on your other social media pages.  You can then share content across all platforms which will cut down the time you spend on managing your digital presence.

So for a solid, basic Instagram account – you should be aiming for connection, consistency and clarity.  It takes time to develop something meaningful, but if you do it with heart then your audience will be more likely to listen when you have something important to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Read

We’re still at the beginning of our experiment to produce an avid reader as Martha is only five, but she’s already showing an interest in books and reads for enjoyment.  With book-obsessed parents, she’s definitely had a head start, but just like other kids, she’s not always in the mood for reading.  Here are some techniques that have worked for us:

Create a Reading Habit

This only has to be for 10 minutes a day, but create a set time and place where your child can read to you.  We make space for this as soon as we get home from school and sit in the same chair each time.  Afterwards Martha has a snack and a play, but she knows that this has to read her pages first.  It’s much harder to get her to sit down later on as she’s either too tired or distracted. We make this time fun and cosy so it’s not a chore.

Break it Up

When Martha is struggling with a school book, we don’t force her to read it all in one go. Instead we focus on getting her to sound out the words slowly encouraging her for effort then call it a day after a few pages.  It’s better for both of us to finish the activity on a positive note rather than turn reading into a frustrating experience.

Encourage Your Reader

Rather than tell her that she’s got a word wrong, we ask her to try again or sound it out.  This one is pretty hard to do because we know the words so well ourselves, but if we always say ‘no’, or ‘that’s wrong’, we’ve noticed that it makes her wary about reading.  We aim to keep it neutral or positive and motivate her to problem solve on her own. This doesn’t mean praising indiscriminately, just choosing how we point out errors.

Let Them Take Control

Children love to be in charge.  We ask Martha to explain the story to us and point out details. She gets satisfaction from being in the driving seat.

Set An Example

It’s tough to find time to read books when we have busy lives, but if you can show your child that you enjoy reading then they’re much more likely to have a go themselves.  If you don’t have time to pick up a book yourself, then factor in 10 minutes to read to them before bedtime – that way you’ll both be able to enjoy the story together.  Martha knows we love books and so she loves them too.

So for us it’s mainly about keeping it routine, bitesized and fun. Have you tried any of the above or have any other tips for encouraging children to read ? We’d love to try them out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Featured on the Instagram Weekend Hashtag Project (#WHP)

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**Hooray! Four months after this post was first published, I was featured again for #WHPdailylife **

Last week, the wonderful and hugely exciting happened – my photo of a book tree was featured on Instagram after I entered the #whp🌲 challenge.  Since then, nearly 600K people have seen my hallway (and Martha) which is mind-boggling!  My personal account has also received a boost. I’ve gained over 2000 followers since the photo was posted and have had lovely comments from all over the world. I am so grateful for each and every one especially after taking such a creative leap this year.

But the real reason I’ve written this post is to shed some light on the challenge itself so that others can join in and have a chance of being featured too.

The Weekend Hashtag Project (#WHP) is announced by Instagram on Fridays (late GMT) so first of all, you need to follow their main account.  Each week, they set a new prompt with an accompanying photo or video as an example of what they’re looking for.  The rules do change for time to time so keep checking, but here are the guidelines from last week:

PROJECT RULES: Please add the #WHPoddlysatisfying hashtag only to photos and videos shared over this weekend and only submit your own visuals to the project. If you include music in your video submissions, please only use music to which you own the rights. Any tagged photo or video shared over the weekend is eligible to be featured next week.

You then have the weekend to post material which matches the theme.  After this time, Instagram then selects up to 6 entries to be featured. If you’re new to the WHP, I recommend looking back over past features to get a feel for the successful content. Creative shots often get picked, but so do other styles – and captions count too.  Account size doesn’t make a difference – I had just over 2500 followers when I was chosen so tiny by Instagram standards.

I think my biggest piece of advice for the WHP is to have fun with it. Use it to view the world in a fresh way. Anything goes so be playful and free – find your voice. This was my 9th attempt so it’s worth persisting.

As always, if you have any questions about the challenge, get in contact with me via the comments or the contact page.

 

 

 

 

Ten Things I’ve Learned in a Year of Instagram

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To say that Instagram has changed my life isn’t an overstatement.  Joining the community has given me courage to leave my traditional job and try to live in a way that’s a lot more satisfying. When I started posting @thebookfamilyrogerson back in April 2017, I had no idea what to expect and what came out of that initial leap was a lot more exciting and meaningful than I ever anticipated. Here are the top ten things that I’ve learned in a year of being an instagrammer:

  1. Instagram is the most positive social media application on the web. I also hang out at Twitter and Facebook and both have their merits, but neither can match Insta when it comes to supportiveness , creativity and fun.  I count my Instagram followers as real friends.
  2. Bookstagram means you can be part of an international book group and read the same book at the same time with friends all over the world! I know that this sounds obvious, but it blew my mind when I was comparing notes with pals in the US, New Zealand, the Philippines and the UK simultaneously.
  3. If you want to take the pressure off producing for the main gallery then post in the stories instead.  The content is only temporary so it doesn’t need to be perfect – plus you can play with GIFs and stickers.
  4. You get out what you put in. Very rarely can you simply post photographs and expect everyone to react.  Treat people as you would in real life, appreciate it when they reach out to you and reciprocate with goodwill.
  5. Snapseed is a great free tool for editing photographs. If you’re up to paying, then check out other apps like VSCO where you can store presets.
  6. Feel the fear and post it anyway.  Instagram is a great place to stretch your creativity. If you don’t like what you’ve produced, you can always archive it.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to others. This one is really hard sometimes, but everyone will have their own doubts. Better to focus on your own vision, values and aesthetic.
  8. Likewise, try to ignore the algorithm. I’ve had all sorts of mad theories about how to beat it since I’ve been posting but none of them work! One thing I would mention is that quality will get noticed in the long run though.  Share your best and the likes will come eventually.
  9. If you want to develop your account, there’s lots of free quality advice out there. I recommend following Me and Orla, Bookish Bronte, Allthatisshe and Herinternest for valuable tips.
  10. Don’t let Instagram rule your life.  It’s addictive so keep it contained. If you want a break , take as long as you need.  The people who enjoy your company will be still be there when you return.

What are your thoughts about Instagram? Do you love it, hate it or somewhere in between?

How I Choose My Holiday Reads

holiday reads

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently as we’re due to go on holiday to the Isles of Scilly soon and I want to make sure that my travel reads are as satisfying as possible.

It would be significantly easier if I was happy to rely solely on e-books , but the truth is I prefer physical copies – the turn of the page, the weight in the hand. In a perfect world, I’d be able to take a little library of my own – just like the photograph above that I made for my Instagram account, but as that’s not possible, here are some of the factors I’ve considered so far.

Number of Books

First and foremost, I’ve tried to realistically work out how much time I’ll have for reading, but I usually overestimate.  I’m not the kind of person who can lie on a beach for hours – I like exploring so if I’m honest, 3-4 books is probably the maximum that I’ll manage in a week and if I need more I can swap with family or find a local bookshop.

Book Length

Sometimes going away can be the ideal opportunity to finish a huge tome and if so, I’d aim to take one book only (unlikely in practice though!). I like to return home having finished mine so I’ve decided to go for a mixture of medium (300pp max) and short titles. Luggage weight is an obvious factor but I’m more likely to take out clothes than books.

Book Subject

I always try to take one book that’s connected to the area I’m visiting. After that it’s all about mood. Do I want a light, easy experience, or do I want to use the time to drill deep? Sometimes I like a mixture of the two – it totally depends. This year, I’m feeling upbeat so I want to sustain those positive emotions.

E-Readers and Audio Books

Most of the time I’ll take my Kindle as back-up, but I often don’t use it. As a family, we’re starting to get into audio books so will trial listening to one on the drive down the UK.  I’ll aim to share our feedback in future posts.

Final Selection

So taking all the above into account, my first choice is The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor.  I hardly ever read humorous non-fiction, but I’m up for a laugh and will give me an insight into island living.  Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson because I fancy channelling my inner pirate. For my third, its The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey as this will connect in nicely with a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens and my current manuscript.  For my final choice, I’m taking Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert for creative inspiration.

The round-up is fairly ambitious, but I’m feeling excited about it. I’ll let you know how I got on when I return.  In the meantime, I’d love to know which books you’re taking on your Easter holidays.