Welcome to Armchair BEA, and my take on blog branding

For those of us unable to attend Book Expo America this week, and the Book Bloggers Convention that follows it, all is not entirely lost. A brave band of bloggers has set up Armchair BEA, and for the next few days, those of us taking part will be creating a alternate experience online.

Here's the official schedule:

  • Tues. May 25th - BEA Related Posts

  • Wed. May 26th - Blogger Interviews

  • Thurs. May 27th - BEA Related Posts & Giveaways on Participating Sites

  • Friday May 28th - BBC Roundtables
For the BEA related posts, we were encouraged to discuss some of the topics to be addressed in real life. I chose "blog branding," because that's something I decided to focus on a year and a half ago. I'm defining "branding" as creating a unique blog with a distinctive feel to it, so that when the name of your blog comes up in conversation, people will know who you are, and nod wisely.

If you're just starting out in blogging, I'd suggest not fretting to much about branding. It's not until you've been doing this for a while, I think, that you know what sort of books you most enjoy talking about, and are able to relax into your own unique style (unless you are a remarkable person with Clear Goals from the get go).

But at some point, you might want to concentrate on making your blog distinct. Before the fateful day when I decided to brand myself, "Charlotte's Library" was a scattered collection of children's and YA books--whatever struck my fancy, without much rhyme or reason. There was a heavy concentration of sci fi/fantasy, because of me having taken part in the Cybils, but it wasn't something I was doing on Purpose. And my stats were not stellar--around 3000 a month, and only about 100 people following me on various readers.

So I decided to specialize, to make Charlotte's Library a unique place. I decided I wanted to be a reliable, well known blog where people automatically went to find fantasy and science fiction for younger readers, and I took three steps to move in that direction.

Step 1. I established a Target Audience. I wanted to be a Resource for three different (but overlapping) audiences--people like me who like reading sff for kids, people considering adding books in that genre to library collections, and parents looking for recommendations. I dunno if having a target audience materially effects the words I type, but it gives me people to write to, and I make an effort to say things they might find useful.

Step 2. I created a distinctive look. I (finally) put up header art (with a nebula orange space snail to serve, in my own mind at least, as a mascot), and tweaked the settings. I can't think of any blogs that look much like mine. Part of this was putting a tag line in my header art, so that it was clear immediately what my blog was about: "fantasy and science fiction books for children and teenagers."

Step 3. I blogged about the books I though would best serve my target audience. I put a lot of effort into making helpful posts about new releases of sff for kids and teenagers, and, more recently, started rounding up middle grade sff posts from around the blogs. I had been frustrated by how hard it was to reliably find such posts--reviews of mg sff tend to be very scattered. Every reviewer I found who every reviewed such a book got added to my google reader (more or less--I am not a systematic person), and my round-ups have reached a rather nice bulk.

So I now am Branded. I think my blog has become synonymous with sff fiction for younger readers (I review both middle grade and YA books, but not, in general, the darker, older books). And my readership has grown by leaps and bounds. I still have lots of progress to make--I'd like to do more thematic posts and create more thematic lists; I'd like more people to know about me, and I'd love more comments (thank you, dear hardcore band of commenters. You know who you are). But I feel much more certain of my own identity in the blogging world, and I find that is a great motivator.

That was my own path. Specialization was a large part of that for me, but it doesn't have to be for everyone--a joyous eclecticism can also make a blog a unique place (off the top of my head, Colleen at Chasing Ray, Melissa of Book Nut, and Becky of Becky's Book Reviews come to mind). And when I think of the blogs that stand out in my own mind, it's not the crisp categories of style and book selection that set them apart. It's the fuzzy, intuitive-ly realized, consistent feeling that each one gives me that makes each one clear to me (logical, rational thinking not being how my mind works). And those distinct feelings come, of course, from the distinct voices of bloggers just being themselves, which I can kind of hear in my mind, even if I've never met them in person.


  1. Ah, branding. I've resisted the whole specializing thing, mostly because I really like reading all sorts of books (and writing about them, as well), which makes me still -- even after nearly 6 years -- all over the map. (As an aside: do you still read other books, and just not blog about them?) I should probably stop resisting...

  2. Hi Melissa!
    I just stuck you in the post, as one of the eclectic ones who still has a distinct flavor....If everyone specialized, it would get boring!

    I do read other books--I find non-fiction for grownups sometimes hits the spot beautifully, and sometimes it's work related, and of course I read lots of picture books! And I like the whole British girl family/boarding school genre. And other stuff. But I'm just not as moved to blog about them. (What I don't read and can't imagine reading is much contemporary adult fiction, with a few exceptions, like Fannie Flagg...)

  3. Basically, when you write posts in a similar fashion, you begin to develop your own brand, even if you don't specialize. I always try to use the same format for my book reviews so that when readers visit they know what to expect. Posting on one topic on specific days helps as well. For example, I always participate in WW on Wednesdays. You should mention your tagline...that is an important part in branding your blog. Great post!

  4. Yeah, format choices and consistence of style are part of the "voice" of the blog that help make it distinctive!

    (and I went back and mentioned my tagline--thanks!)

  5. Charlotte- now I wish I could've seen your blog pre branding. A before and after look

    I do love the after, especially the round up of MG fantasy reviews. As a bookseller, its very helpful

  6. Very interesting to read about your thoughts on blog branding. When I decided to join the blogosphere, I also felt there was a need to specialize with so many blogs out there now. I tried like you to have a "look" and name that would go with my theme. We'll see how the strategy works since I am only about one week into this new world! I've decided for all the other things I read---which are not historical fiction for kids, which is what I'm reviewing on my blog--I'd go ahead and post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.com, so I don't sabotage my inner reviewer....
    Thanks for Armchair BEA--I'm in Southern California, and am very jealous of my one librarian-friend buddy who's in New York as we speak. Maybe when I actually have a paying job I'll be able to save up and go to BEA!

  7. Thanks Doret!

    And yes, Fourth Musketeer, even after just one week you have a very clear brand in my mind! (and I'm enjoying your blog very much)

  8. I think finding a "voice" in blogging is so important. If you look at all the major blogs, they have branding in common. That's what keeps people coming back for more.

    Great post!

  9. I struggle a bit with branding because I am such an eclectic reader, but like others have mentioned, I try to stick to the same tone.

    The blogging world has served to make me even more eclectic. It is a sickness:)

  10. Thanks for your suggestions! I have not yet given much thought to branding, but the idea is there at the back of my head. I'm glad to see some of your tips, so I will keep them in mind when I decide to take the next step.

  11. *blush* Many thanks. Maybe in this era of "branding" my eclecticism is a brand of its own? (And thanks for answering my book question; I was curious.. :-)

  12. Thanks Emily! I totally agree, Emily and Gwen, that finding I like the voice/tone of a blog is what keeps me coming back to it!

    Of course, I can't think of any way to tell anyone how to have their own voice, except for silly things like consistent use of obscure punctuation. I know that I myself have to take at least three ..... out of every post!

    So Aths, as you keep blogging, you will probably finding you are branding yourself without even realizing it (see Melissa's comment below yours!)

    You're welcome, Melissa!

  13. What a great post! Your suggestions are specific and, best of all, attainable. And thanks for spotlighting sci-fi. You're right; the genre doesn't always get its due attention.

  14. This is such a great post! I don't know if I've established a brand. I started blogging because I wanted to remember what I thought of certain books and I wanted to recommend the books that I enjoyed so now when someone asks for a recommendation, I just give a link to my blog. But I guess since I read mostly fantasy and YA, my posts revolve around that and that's where I specialize.

  15. I also wrote about branding for my first post. For my blog I've allowed myself and my brand flexibility as I'm not ready to specialize in a genre or niche.

  16. Very good post! Branding is a very interesting topic to me! I've been around for a while and only recently begun branding with consistent images across the social media. Unfortunately, I'm still not a huge fan of my design and I would like this all to converge into one. Lots to think about!

  17. Interesting post. I read many different type of books, but not enough of any particular genre to make that an distinct "brand" for my blog. There are bloggers that say they read a variety, but I can see that they gravitate towards certain genres anyway. Maybe I do too but don't realize it :-) !

  18. This was great! I am not much of specializer, since I love to read anything I want (though, most of what I read is YA or MG). This was really interesting, it left me with lots to think about.

  19. Very interesting to see how you've developed your niche. I've heard others lament the lack of MG sff coverage on the blogosphere, so I'm glad you've got that so thoroughly covered!

    -Parker P.


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