Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Blogger, Stay in Thy Place


Occasionally, like after an event like Book Expo America, a discussion of blogging for money and "professionalism" breaks out. These conversations have gotten fairly boring and repetitive over the years, but the general gist is that book bloggers don't charge money to publicize books. Some people think we should; some say we shouldn't. And the people who do give voice to making money from their blogs are quickly labeled sellouts.

This is a many-tentacled beast, to be sure, but here are a few reasons why insisting that bloggers remain martyrs to reading--suffering for the cause--is bullshit.

Publishers won't value bloggers until bloggers start insisting that they do have value. However, we have erected a culture of do-gooding and martyrdom, so we will never start charging. Are you seeing the catch-22? We've been The Man's doer of free things for too long. This paragraph makes authors, publicists, editors, and everyone down to the interns sound like assholes because they've "used" us, but that's not entirely true. They're just doing the smart thing from their end. Also, I know we're not really suffering in the name of books. We read because we love it, but we are also free advertising for publishers. Those are the facts. Don't lie to yourself and insist otherwise. 

Our community is at once too big and too small to attract sponsorship dollars. We're too "big" because there are too many blogs for any to rocket into the stratosphere with huge followings and gobs of monthly unique views thereby prompting continuous bookish sponsorships. We're also too small because reading is not beauty, or lifestyle, or fashion, or food. The audiences for those, in general, are far bigger. Most people are seeking content on topics that are, frankly, not books. And if we're being really really real, sponsorships are happening on BookTube because the audiences for video are bigger and easily verified as subscriber numbers are public unless creators change their settings.

There seems to be a complete and utter disbelief that people can provide honest opinions if money has changed hands. This is a prolific attitude across content creation niches, but it's a little more militant among the book people. Personally, I think it's silly. Receiving compensation does not automatically render one dishonest. I've known a few people in that category, but I wouldn't assume most book bloggers fall into it.  

The up side is that you can still do a lot with your blog professionally. Making some dough on the side from ads is always a good time (it's never much for anyone), you can funnel your content toward a great product (Ashley from NoseGraze is a great model for this), or you can roll your blogging and social media experience into new opportunities that will bring in some supplemental income.

For me personally, in 2011 then-5 years of blogging led to a job in social media which led to a job in PR. It's also helped me professionally in higher education as professors and administrators appreciate people who are doing professional and semi-professional things of their liking outside the classroom that may inform what's happening inside the classroom. Finally, writing leads to writing leads to writing. There's something to be said for letting it all hang out to the world when you want to let it hang out for income later on.

Maybe one day the opportunities open to our sister (and brother) creators on YouTube or other niches will be open to us, but you know what? We won't know until we recognize our value and stop being jerks when bloggers want to try. 




39 comments:

  1. I don't have a problem with book bloggers making money, obviously, I have ads. I was even part of the short lived Blogher Books program that *gasp* paid people. I never understood how everyone was okay with companies throwing money at Mommy Bloggers but the whisper of money crossing Book Bloggers' hands was a forbidden topic. You don't suddenly lose integrity if you get paid.

    Ads were a good way for awhile but I wonder if it still is. I hardly make anything. And The Toast is shutting down partly due to lack of ad revenue. YouTube seems to be hot right now.

    Of course, if, hypothetically, I could make money, could I keep my freedom? I read a recent article (can't remember where) about a popular lifestyle blogging couple who chose to quit. They were living their lives to create content for their blog to maintain an audience. It got to the point where they were rushing to renovate their house to blog about it. When they took a break, readers freaked out and demanded they finish those projects. That's an extreme example but I can barely stand the pressure of reviewing an ARC on a deadline! Part of the reason I don't do book tours anymore is that I'm not getting paid so why do I have to work like I am? I'd rather read what I want, whenever I want.

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    1. I don't have a problem with it either. When I say "you do you"...you being the general you...I mean it. I don't make anything off of ads either...not much anyway. Websites like The Toast are definitely having to work hard to come up with new ways to monetize. I know Book Riot is not everyone's cuppa, but they have done a fantastic job selling ads against their various digital properties and still maintaining their own voice, independence, etc. But again, big glob of bloggers...more than any one person could do, and so in a sense this whole conversation is a moot point because the dollars just aren't available to individuals.

      I think there has to be some very serious boundaries in place to maintain freedom. I've watched YouTube channels grow up organically to big big and they seem to be able to? Maybe they have little angels and devils dueling in their heads but it's not noticeable.

      And obviously I'm not good with imposed pressures either. In no way do I see myself making a great living off my blog any day ever, but the stigma that demonizes bloggers for trying, or for potentially putting a structured organization in place to up the professionalism game, is antiquated and tired.

      My whole goal for myself right now is to ACTUALLY become the free range reader I've always wanted to be. More on that coming soon! Ha!

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  2. I don't know that the problem is so much that bloggers don't think anyone should get paid/take sponsorships (from what I've seen, most people think it's fine as long as bloggers are honest/disclose). I think it's that too many bloggers want to exist in this fuzzy space between being compensated and not, which leads to too much inconsistency.

    I don't know if that makes sense, but this is what I mean...For me (personally!), my blog was created in part as an outlet from work, so I just can't have it become work. If I'm tied down by what someone else wants me to do in that space, the blog will fold in a matter of months. Hell, I can't even commit to a blog tour date without feeling like I'm being pressured. So, it's a hobby and purely a hobby.

    But that also means I'm not OWED anything. It's a hobby! People aren't owed anything because they run or knit (hobbies that also take time and dedication!) and I'm not owed anything for my hobby. If publishers want to stop sending ARCs or say I can't go to BEA because I'm not part of the industry, I get it! There are plenty of books left for me to read.

    I think some bloggers feel they're owed something for their HOBBY simply because it takes time. That's not really how hobbies work. We need to decide what our blogs are and aren't. Is it an avenue for making money? Cool! But if it's not, we can't act like we deserve compensation just because we're using our time the way we choose.

    *hops off soapbox*

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    1. I think there's definitely still a stigma to earning, but one of the first lines to this post when it was in draft was something to the effect of "this a moot point because there are not many dollars available to us anyway."

      As for entitlement, that's a whole other tentacle. No, bloggers are definitely not entitled to ARCs or conferences or anything industry because we're in that liminal space that you mentioned where we hover between compensation and not. Professionalism and not. I would call on Sarah's comment in totally agreeing with, "But, we are providing a service to publishers and authors free of charge as a result of our hobbies (which makes it different from running, etc)." And if service is too much of a stretch, we're definitely fulfilling a need.

      When I was drafting this post, I was also thinking of YouTube, specifically beauty bloggers, who receive products in much the same way as we receive books. However, those companies are much choosier about who they send their stuff to (you can see it develop as a channel grows), and there's a very real possibility that those YouTubers will make a genuine living (or at least heavily supplement their income) with the followers that flow of big name products will garner. It changes things a bit.

      In short (not short anymore) and scattered, it's a complicated issue, and I'm glad you commented. I'm sure there's much more discussion to come.

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  3. I love this article! More power to book bloggers who make money from their blogs. I have ads and use affiliate links, but as we all know, income from those channels is very small. But, I'll take it anyway!

    I hear Shannon's point about her blog being a hobby and having the freedom to do what she wants with it. My blog is a hobby too at this point and, as of right now, I do enjoy the freedom of reading/posting what I want when I want. But, we are providing a service to publishers and authors free of charge as a result of our hobbies (which makes it different from running, etc).

    Ultimately, my dream is to somehow turn my blog into a career or use it as a jumping off point for a career in books. I just haven't figured out how to do that yet without being forced to do something that's not my passion, which is reading and recommending books (I'm not interested in becoming an author's assistant or doing anything on the tech side). Ashley from Nose Graze is a great example of someone who's smoothly made the transition.

    What I do think we need to do as a community is avoid ostracizing people who make it known they want to make money from their blogs. It may not be the right thing for some, but it is for others and that's totally fine! As Amy Poehler said, "good for you, not for me."

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    1. I definitely enjoy the freedom, and I doubt I could hack the level of professionalism that would bring in sponsorship dollars (MAYBE bring them in) because I do like the freedom. But I do not like feeling like a cog in the machine or like I'm sucking up to The Man. No thanks!

      I've always told my students, and my student workers and interns when I had them, that if you commit yourself to a pursuit, even if it's "for fun" or if they're purely a hobbyist, it's still valuable experience. I have no doubt you'll find a way to parlay all you've done into something that fulfills you and pays you!

      And the stigma is BETTER than it used to be, but it is certainly not gone. I've had people tell me, "I won't read anything book-related if money changed hands." Sooo, really? Nothing? Mmmk.

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    2. @ Sarah....

      SO MUCH YES! I understand Shannon's and other bloggers point about blogging being a hobby AND having freedom. Right now, books show up in the mail. If I don't enjoy them, want to read them, etc then I don't (the truly unsolicited ones) and I've gotten pretty friendly with several pubs who "know" my taste in books- so a lot of what comes in the mail is stuff I would be seeking out anyway.

      But we have to GOT to stop being so damn mean to each other when someone even begins to talk about wanting to make money. It's NOT for everyone and that's fine.
      Full disclosure and professionalism must happen if you are making the leap to making money ( or at least trying to!)

      @ Andi- excellent post!

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  4. Love this post, and all the comments so far! I started my blog as a class project, and when the class ended and I realized what it could be, I stayed with it because like Shannon said, it was a great way to escape work/life, etc., and have a place to write about something I love! But I'm also with Sarah, because ideally, I want a career in reading/writing, and sharing books. So far, having a blog has been instrumental in the freelance writing I've done so far, because that is also about books, and it helps to have a wealth of writing samples and a passion. I don't make money from my blog directly, but it has definitely helped by extension!

    Does it make me happy that publishers think it worth their time to send me books? YES. I don't think that part will get old for me, honestly, but that doesn't mean I read or write about every one, or feel "obligated" in some way to do so. Basically: If someone wants to monetize their blog, Great. DO IT! If they don't want to, great, DON'T!

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    1. Love the comments here, Amy! So thoughtful, as I knew they would be! I'm right there with you in the direct rewards category. It's never a bad thing to have a collection of your work on a thing so that thing can grow and morph and change.

      It makes me happy too when I get a book I really want, but I don't know how much I'd miss it now since I'm no longer really into owning a lot of books. FOMO would probably kick in at some point, but I don't know how long it would take. lol

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  5. I spend money on my blog and would love to figure out a way to at least break even. More power to anyone who figures out a way to turn this thing into a gig.

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    1. Right on! It does cost money to run these things!

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  6. Interesting thoughts! As a newer book blogger, so many of these conversations which are old hat to many, are new to me. And often things I don't even THINK about. I'm of the mind set (in most things in life), that people should do what's good for them, and leave everyone else alone to do the same. I don't care if people want to make money from their blog - awesome, go you! I'm definitely in the minority, in that I don't teach, work in the bookish industry, or do anything even remotely related to books or blogging for my job (I work in medicine as a nurse practitioner). Because of this, my blog is and will always be nothing more than a hobby... I have no dreams of it leading me anywhere other than that, and so maybe I approach it or think about it differently. I love that your blog for you and many others was able to help you in your "real" life as well, and it's cool times that something started for fun, can turn into so much more for many.

    Books will always likely have a smaller audience than other interests you've already mentioned - beauty, lifestyle, cooking, etc. Even the hottest and most popular BookTubers have NO WHERE NEAR the subscriber numbers of even some of the smaller Beauty Gurus. I tend to like the smaller community, as it's easier to make connections, which has really been the best part about blogging for me so far.

    Great topic, and I'll be sure to come back and read more of the comments as they trickle in.

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    1. It's been interested to see book blogging grow and change. In the beginning we were all excited to get ARCs because FLATTERY and exciting and free! But as it continued there was pressure, and an expectation of a certain level of professionalism, and now what to do about all the things. Or nothing. Maybe there's nothing to do about all the things.

      So true about the number of followers for popular BookTubers being so much smaller than other niches. That's why when I started this post I had a sentence in there about this whole discussion being fairly moot because the audience just isn't large enough for stand alone bloggers. Just isn't.

      Community and the act of writing will always be the best parts for me. I do love the opportunities I've received from doing this, though. For sure.

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    2. And pardon my typos. My fingers don't play well with my brain.

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  7. I completely agree with this! I've done nothing to get money from my blog. I may try to get an ad or two up in future or do something to break even with my annual blog costs, but I have no intention of making my blog feel like a business. As for others, I really don't care what they do with their blog. If someone can make money while doing what they love, more power to them. Isn't that the dream?

    There never seems to be shame in food/fitness/beauty/etc. bloggers who make money, but the moment a book blogger starts earning income we deem them a traitor. Why? Are they not putting in just as much work? Do they not deserve to be compensated? Sure, I don't want to go to a blog and feel like there's nothing natural in it because it's all ads and paid posts, but at the end of the day people choose whether or not to visit a blog. I'll end my ramble with a big fat "I don't care what everyone else does!" I'll support my blogging friends until they give me a reason not to, and making money for their time and energy is not one of those reasons.

    (Also, I adore you. You're amazing. Keep it up. <3 )

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    1. And that's what makes you AWESOME, when you say "you do you" you mean it! The habit of villainizing book bloggers who cash in on their writing, blogs, and opportunities is going away but it's a slow process. I have no idea why there's such a discrepancy between what's acceptable in other niches and not in ours. The myth of the virtuous reader, I suppose. And I agree with you totally...there's a balance to be maintained. I do want to feel like I'm experiencing someone's authentic voice even if they're being sponsored. Someone who nails this on the lifestyle side is Joules from Pocketful of Joules (http://www.pocketfulofjoules.com/).

      This rocks: "I'll support my blogging friends until they give me a reason not to, and making money for their time and energy is not one of those reasons." YES!

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  8. Thank you for this, and amen to not being a martyr. What I find nonsensical is, I've never heard professional critics accused of being bought and sold because they're paid to provide reviews and opinions. Is it different because they're not paid directly from a publisher? No. It's called being a professional. Anyone who has worked in journalism must know that pressure from advertisers exists there as well, and I don't doubt critics face pressure from publishers.

    I respect Shannon's position - if a blog is a hobby, that's great. I had a neighbor years ago who turned his photography hobby into a career, and it made him miserable. He wanted to enjoy photography without any pressure. I get it. That's not everyone, though, and it shouldn't have to be.

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    1. I should amend this - I actually have heard of "professional" critics being bought and sold. Come to think of it, it might have been me doing the accusing. Ha. My point was that we don't assume someone can't be a professional because they're being paid - quite the opposite!

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  9. While I don't make considerable money from my blog (I do occasionally do ads), blogging has certainly opened up doors that have allowed me to make money. Now, none of this is enough to sustain me full-time, but in previous years it did partially fund my trip to BEA.

    I agree with many who say I have no issue with those who receive (and demand) payment in return for something they post on their blog. Most importantly is the transparency, stating when a blog post or tweet or something similar is sponsored. On the reverse, however, when I see that every instance of communication is sponsored, I do tend to find that individual's posts/interactions disingenuous.

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  10. I'm not going to turn down money if it comes my way. I've accepted the occasional sponsored post, run ads, and have affiliate links with ZERO regret. The whole book bloggers as paragons of virtue argument tires me. Like, if people are willing to pay? You take that money. In my situation, though, considering myself a professional is a stretch. I have no aspirations to write professionally or break into publishing. I'm a purely a hobbyist with enough of an opportunistic streak to occasionally get paid. I'm not psychic though. Maybe someday my aspirations will change and I'll want or need to parlay my internet life into actual dough. Basically? I am terrible at making coherent arguments. I'm just going to sit here and cheer on the "you do you" camp and hope that the movement to cut bloggers out of book conferences doesn't take hold. Because I had a blast at BEA, dude.

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    1. Also I always always always disclose if someone paid me. Because I'm on the up and up.

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  11. Well said, Andi, and I love reading all of these comments! I started reading book blogs because I was having so much trouble finding out about new books...not the books that Amazon or B&N wanted me to find out about, but the books that were really interesting to me and that I wanted to read. I felt like, back in the "good ol' days," it was much easier to to my own recon and it started feeling much tougher to find anything that wasn't commercial fiction or celebrity nonfiction. Anyway, book bloggers helped me out and I decided that I would start blogging about what I was reading, too. The fact that I could have access to some free books was just icing on the cake and it has always felt like a privilege to be able to interact with other book lovers. For me, it's just for fun; obviously, my new blog has taken a different turn and while I am still posting about books I'm also using it as an outlet to get some shit out of my head.

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  12. I'm loving your post and all the comments! I tend to fall into Shannon's camp; blogging is a hobby, and I want to keep it as free from restrictions as possible, especially as I ease back into it after a long break. I feel like if I were to be treated like a professional and be payed by publishers, I would feel the need to ACT like a professional in terms of my posting schedule/deadlines/etc. Whether that's fair or not is a different question; if I'm providing a service, should I get payed, regardless? I'm really not sure. But for now, I like the freedom of being beholden to no one. Of course, I'm totally thrilled for book bloggers who do find a way to make more money off their blogs than the measly sums earned from ads and affiliate links.

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    1. Yas! Let's be thrilled for people no matter how they wanna blog. That's the name of my game. Too bad a lot of people only mean it until the rubber hits the road...or some other quaint saying.

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  13. I know it's been said many many times. But thank you for saying it once again, Andi. AND LOUD AND CLEAR. Can we just all be respectful of each other, please.

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    1. My pleasure BEING LOUD AND CLEAR. lol

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  14. I pretty much hate any time that book bloggers are all lumped together in one group. We don't all review YA, use GIFs, employ snark, or steal ARCs. And we all want something different out of our blogs, including, sometimes, money. All of us (and the publishers and the media and our readers) need to remember that.

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    1. YES. We are a diverse community with diverse habits and goals and priorities and and and!

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  15. I honestly don't give a damn about whether or not I'm advertising for someone or making money or anything with my blog. I want to write about the things I love and connect with the people I love. If someone wants to give me books to read, hey cool, and if I don't like them, I simply won't read/review them. (This, notably, is probably why no one offers me free books - I won't guarantee blog presence for them.) I'm totally fine doing things the way I want, because I'm not a professional blogger, and have no intention to ever have my blog be professional in any way. Shrug.

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    1. And that's good. I know I'm preaching to the choir here because the folks commenting are not the judgy ones who will give others crap if they do decide to make their blogs something else.

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  16. Hell, I'd love to get paid for doing this blogging thing. Of course, that would mean that I'd have to be much more professional and much more regular with my posting and I don't wanna do that.

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  17. Wow, Allison and I were just talking about this the same day you wrote this. She saw this and asked me if I had seen it, but I have not had a chance to look at blogs until today. So we were totally on the same wavelength, how awesome is that?

    What I shared with Allison was that I was reading Show Your Work and it basically said that people who don't like change will always refer to those who make money off of their creative work sellouts. Apparently a sellout is anyone who dares to love what they do for a living. We would never say that about commissioned artwork or commissioned novels, and I've never heard anyone call a magazine or newspaper book reviewer a sellout or say they are getting paid to write that opinion, so I am not sure why it applies to the book blogging world. I am in the camp that as long as it is disclosed, who cares? Some of us like it just as a hobby, which is perfectly awesome. Some of us would like to get paid for all of the dozens of hours of work we put in each week to keep up a blog. That sounds logical to me, too. Why do we have to keep bullying each other about our choice? Great post, Andi.

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  18. I'm definitely on the side of bloggers making money where possible and I don't think this has to impact a bloggers' integrity. That said, I think that given my viewership and given the fact that I'd read anyway, getting free books but not getting paid feels like a fair deal to me. I don't know and can't quantify how many people actually go buy books because of my reviews. I'm not putting in much extra time and I get a lot of other things out of blogging that make that time worthwhile. I'd love to be able to make money from my blog and support people who do, but I'm alright with the status quo for now :)

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  19. what a great topic to bring up Andi! I love that some book blogs are able to bring in money and Ashley from Nose Graze has been a wonderful icon to emulate {as much as possible}. I'm also of the same thought as Shannon and several others that I like {right now} being a hobby blog. Posting when I want to, talking about what I want to and not being so focused on the numbers & all of the STUFF that comes with a money-making blog. That being said, I'm also taking a couple of workshops online about turning my blog into more of a professional platform. . .I know I know - I should make up my mind about what I want, right! I guess my main point is let's not be hating on each other {except in the case of bloggers behaving badly, then I think we should all call those bloggers out on their bad behavior}. Thanks for broaching the topic and opening up a dialogue amongst us!

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  20. I'm playing catchup this week on commenting to blogs and am captivated by this post and the comments. I also am one who falls in the "hobby" category, even though I use affiliate links and ads. There's very little revenue (if any) in those, but blogging is not my job, so it's all good. I started video reviewing recently but do not consider myself of any caliber near booktubing, even though it's books that I talk about. The videos were not to make money nor for anything other than to change things up a bit and share who I am in speech and face with others while talking about books.

    A few years ago, when I was posting every day sales, I was able to bring in an average of $700 a month from affiliate links, but those days shot to the curb quickly because I was spending more time creating those posts than I was spending in my REAL job. I do have a friend who brings in over $1,000 per month from affiliate links doing the above mentioned posting, which is all she ever posts. I don't fault her for that and happy for her because it is supplemental income that allows her a decent car to drive and support for her daughter. That's not to say I don't receive something. I'm paid in books whenever I receive a freebie in the mail from a publisher or am approved for an ARC but if those go away, my library has a ton of books for me. I almost gave up blogging a couple of years ago because it was becoming a job instead of a hobby, but I made it that way (not intentionally) and can't blame it on anyone or anything other than myself. I'm happier now than I've ever been in blogging because I threw out the notions of ever breaking even, making money, or anything else that turns my hobby into a job with deadlines and pressure. I'm happy just having a voice out there and talking books.

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  21. I'm with you, Kathy. My sidebar ads pay for my email subscribers. That's nice. I'd love to be able to break even on the other yearly fees. More power to anyone who can.

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  22. As a super newbie blogger, this is my first time being privy to conversations about professionalism surrounding blogging. As an outsider, I'd always assumed it was just a hobby for people, but since I've started, the effort involved has become more apparent to me on the daily. This post and the resultant conversation it has generated has given me a lot to consider. I'm still at the point where this is purely a hobby, and I didn't really think about the monetary portion of it. Personally for me, if it takes away from my reading time, then it's not for me, because I'm privileged enough to have a full-time job that's unrelated to books/blogging/social media and I'm only responsible for myself, so it's easy for me to say that I'm not in it for the money. So much to consider here, and so much knowledge from you and the people that have commented that have been doing this for so long. Thank you for creating a space for this!

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  23. Soooo incredibly late to this discussion as I'm catching up on blogs, but YOU ARE THE BEST! I pretty much agree with everything on here because like you said somewhere the majority of the people commenting here are all excellent people who are just doing their thing. I would love to find a way to make some money from mine and start with breaking even (I pay for my site). But with that $ I wouldn't want to give up my freedom and be dictated on what to read, how to write reviews, how the site should look, etc. Working for myself, with a flexible schedule doing something that I absolutely love would be amazing. I don't think my book blog would be the way but if I find out how to do it, I'll share the info with everyone! :)

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