books, REVIEWS, Tips, Tricks and Tutorials

How The Forty Rules of Love taught me a lot about reviewing books.

This might become a post on how to review books, hang on tight!

A couple of years ago I started reviewing books on Instagram. I never did a full fledged detailed review. Mostly bite sized reviews that fit an Instagram caption which didn’t really have a set format.

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My primary goal was to review books without giving anything away. No spoilers, no reveals. Just purely what I felt about the pace, characters, plot and feel of the book. Enough to make the readers decide for themselves if they’d like to pick a book. This still has not changed.

Over time, I graduated to a simpler format for my reviews. I start with my thoughts on the book, writing, plot etc. and end with listing things I liked and things I didn’t really like. This seems to work best for me, I’ve had comments on ‘negative’ book reviews where readers have been intrigued by the book, despite the negative review.

I have no authority over literature of any kind and that’s another thing I’m careful about while writing a review – to make sure I don’t sound authoritative about a book, a genre or a subject.

In case you’re interested, my reviews are here

img_2217A few reviews after my first, I read a book which I really disliked and wouldn’t recommend to anyone I knew unless they like to read books on the subject. This was The forty rules of love by Elif Shafak. I will not get into why I didn’t like it, let’s just say I was in a pickle on how to write the review without sounding hateful.

So I tried, and I think I did a decent job in pushing forward my thoughts on the book. This was when I did not have many followers, probably somewhere around 1000 and the response was really good. I think the comments section had 100+ comments which was unthinkable for me at that level.

Funny thing was, a lot of people said they liked my ‘honest’ review. I didn’t think much of it but over time I found that some bookstagrammers (especially bigger ones) stay away from posting negative reviews because they want their pages to only have positive content (I respect that) but later I also found that a lot of people get hate over writing negative reviews from readers who love that negatively reviewed book. This can be really problematic for reviewers and in my view it’s best to stay away if you can’t handle online hate (it can be tough, trolls online sometimes forget there is a real person behind an account and they keep knocking for months and stalk every single word you post, it’s a serious problem)

Recently one of my friends who is white was bullied into deleting a review of a book written by a POC. Since their following is quite high, they deleted it because of fear of backlash from people. Unfortunate, but this is life I guess.

Fortunately I have a very thick skin and I can take a hit or two (trust me, I get hate in all shapes and forms mainly because I say what I feel and seldom sugar coat things)

Anyways, over time, I started receiving books from publishers. I remember I had received and didn’t like the first book sent by a major publishing house. I made sure I reviewed the book like I would review any other book and gave it 2 stars on goodreads. I know it can be daunting to stay honest, especially when you’re dealing with publishers and generally would hope to be on their reviewers list. Trust me, your negative review on a book will not effect your relationship with the publisher (and if it does, stay true to yourself and write what you feel). I have spoken to publishers about this as well, and for them reviews matter, they don’t want reviewers to just give positive reviews because of a free book. (And again, if they do, you’re better off staying away from such publishers)

Over the next months I reviewed a lot of other books I didn’t like and I think one positive effect this has had is my reviews are expected to be honest and straight forward whether it’s a book I’ve picked myself or a book sent by a major publishing house.

Another thing that I do is I do not DNF books. I’ve realized if I do not like a book and review it, it makes for great conversation and enhances my learning of literature. There is a possibility I missed out on some things while reading it and it gives me a chance to grow.

So that’s it, some of my thoughts on reviewing books, maybe they will help you in developing your own reviewing style. If you have tips to share, please leave in the comments below. We could use insights from everyone 🙂

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Happy Reading!!

Faroukh

Tips, Tricks and Tutorials

Instagram tutorial: Why you need to take IGstories seriously.

I think it’s been more than a year since Instagram introduced IGstories and over time we’ve all started to use it, and sometimes even abuse it.

People who are active on Snapchat tend to abuse the feature the most. Let’s face it, most people are not interested in 20 stories from one person when they are following more than 300 people. At least I’m not interested. I’ve even muted a few accounts’ stories because it got very annoying to see 20 stories every day.

At first I was posting 10 or even 15 stories everyday without really giving thought to what I’m posting. Oh, I’m having coffee, my followers need to see it! Oh, I’m stuck in a traffic jam, let me post it! Oh look, a cat! Post Post Post!

While the first story would get 4000 or even more views they would substantially decrease for the next stories ending up with maybe a 1000 on the final story posted that day.

This got me thinking (Yes, I think a lot about these things 😋) and I figured, I skip stories of people too! Especially when they have more than 5. I don’t have enough time to take each of them seriously so yeah, whatever, skip!

So what’s my solution?

1- Take every IGstory you post seriously. Realize that you are not the only person your followers are following. Quality over quantity.

2- Unless you have an important discussion on your post or a book review, do not do the ‘New post is up’ story. Doing it every time substantially decreases the value of your request.

3- Use your phone camera application to take pictures. The IG app camera is really bad and you can see the difference if you take a picture with both apps and compare them.

4- If possible, space your IGstories by a few hours. Every time you post an IGstory, it will show up near the start of your followers story timeline. So if you post back to back stories your story thumbnail will shoot up to the starting line just once. Ofcourse post together if the stories are related to each other (Like when you do unboxing videos and need 2-3 stories to show everything you got)

5- Use Hashtags and Location. These can get you more views if your story appears on them. Videos have a higher chance to be featured than photos.

6- Video montage. If you have an active and fun day ahead try mini Vlogging montages. On my trip to India earlier this year I made one 15 second video covering the full day every day. This is not something that I usually do but I figured if I can squeeze everything in one story without asking too much time of my followers they will return to watch the next one as well. You can make these on iMovie or similar apps on android. You will find these stories highlighted on my page. I’ve posted a video example below.

7- Shoutouts. Genuine shoutouts are really good. But if you go on a shoutout spree of 20 stories, it just seems like you’re trying to get brownie points and maybe a return shoutout from those you’ve shouted out. I personally don’t take these shoutouts seriously. All they do is annoy me.

8- Have fun with IG! Don’t take me too seriously. I’ve only shared what I feel works for me. And I’ve discussed a lot of this with other bookstagrammers including @sumaiyya.books and @africaanah who I trust a lot and have learnt from as well.

Exceptions- When traveling or attending an event you obviously might have a lot of stories to post. Try not to bombard with similar stories though, try to give a feel of the place without posting 5 stories of each location you visit. Unless it’s Agra and you’re at the Taj Mahal (Go crazy and post every angle of it you can find 😋)

I have another tutorial on how to start/improve your bookstagram which you can check here

I really enjoyed writing this post and really hope it helps you get a better idea about how to use IGstories to its full potential.

If it did, please consider subscribing to my blog here and if you’re on Instagram you can find me here

If you feel this will help your followers or friends, please consider sharing it with them as well 😊

Happy reading!

Faroukh

Tips, Tricks and Tutorials

Bookstagram for beginners!

Bookstagram – How, What, Why, When, Whatever…

It’s been 2 years since I started my Bookstagram @theguywiththebook which recently crossed 35k. I had no idea there is a thing called Bookstagram and it was just a space for me to keep track of the books I’ve read.

Recently I won the Bookstagrammer of the year award at the London Book Fair and so I decided this would be a great time to share what I’ve learnt over the past couple of years and hopefully this will help you start or better your account!

Well, that’s enough about me, let’s start!

Quick Introduction to Bookstagram.

It’s an online space on Instagram where people post pictures and videos of books and talk all things bookish.

How to setup your Bookstagram Profile:

Instagram Handle

First thing you need to decide on is an Instagram handle which reflects your bookish side. When I started Bookstagram my handle was @thebookpiper (Yes, I know :l) and I kept it because I used to prop my pictures with a book and a pipe I had picked up on a trip to Zambia (Stupid, I know). Later I changed it to @theguywiththebook. When I reached around 500 followers I realized that

A- My handle makes no sense and

B- Not many male book bloggers were around (So I thought it would be smart to let people know) and it helped. So, think about it and chose your Instagram handle smartly.

Profile picture

The next (or maybe even the first) thing that people will notice is your profile picture. Either create a logo for free (I made mine in 5 minutes on the app Canva) or use a regular picture of yourself or maybe a bookish photo. Whatever makes you happy. Just remember your profile picture is going to be a tiny little circle and sometimes pictures look like a mess in such a small frame.

Instagram Bio

Your bio is the next thing you need to add and what I like is to try and keep it simple (I’ve had messy bio’s before because I didn’t think about it much) but now it’s a clean little bio reflecting the fun side of me, followed by my current read which includes numbers showing how any books I’ve read and the number I want read by the end of the year. Next is ‘Saudi Arabia’ which is where I live. For me this clean and clear bio works but you can experiment with what you like. Just make sure it’s something which reflects your theme of books. Oh, you can add ‘Bookstagram’ to your name as well.

Starting!

You’ll want your page to look active right away so it’s a good idea to fill up your page with maybe a dozen posts so it looks active. Not many would be interested in a page with 3-6 posts. Next you’ll want people to know about your page and you’ll need to start interacting to attract traffic. This is going to take some time and you’ll have to work on it persistently. I will talk about interactions in a bit.

Content Creation

Irrespective of the type of books you read, Visual content creation is where you need to concentrate the most. Instagram is a visual platform and the most effective way to drive people to your page and make them want to press that blue button is to have visually appealing timeline. Captions come second and will form an important but not equally important part of your post for majority of people. The reason I say this is that on average for me the number of comments are about 50-100 and the number of likes go somewhere between 3k to 6k. Not everyone will be in the mood to have a chat on Instagram PLUS you are not the only one they are following. The average number of accounts 1 user follows on Instagram is 800.

Taking pictures

The main thing you need is a camera, not necessarily a DSLR. Your phone camera will work just fine. You could start your page with a single setup style and take multiple pictures with different books and setups and slowly graduate to different styles. Or you could start and learn on the way to find out what style(s) work best for you. It’s all hit and miss and depends on what you are good at over a period of time. I, personally enjoy taking pictures at the beach or at cafes but sometimes I’m in the mood for a flat lay. I don’t follow a single setup theme because my mind is just very random and I’ve tried but I can’t follow a single theme. I’m slowly trying to learn how to have a color theme my page if not a single style theme. These days I’m regularly using a bookish scarf as a background as I don’t have enough time right now and it actually looks really good!

Photography tips

1- All cameras will give their best shot in natural lighting. If you are taking pictures at home, take pictures as close to the window as possible.

2- Check online when the ‘Golden Hour’ is in your city. This is the time the sunlight is perfectly angled to give a soft lighting environment. If you can, then try to schedule your shoot during this time.

3- Focus on different parts of the image to see which point is giving you the best lit picture.

4- Take multiple pictures from different angles. You’ll be surprised to see how different the same setup looks from different angles. I’ve posted pictures of the same setup from different angles and each of them has a personality of its own.

5- If you need to take pictures at night (I almost never have), do not use direct lighting, use a thin cloth or shower curtain to soften and spread the light.

Engagement

First thing you might learn on IG is that every day is a new experience. One picture will get a 1000 likes and the next maybe 200. There is no guarantee. So what you need to do is try to control the things you can control. The one thing you can kind of control is to direct traffic to your account.

What I have done over the past is followed a bunch of people on whose posts I like and comment almost every single day. I do this every time I post a picture on my page. I follow around 30 people who post every single day. When they see that I comment almost daily, they naturally return the favor on my posts. Please note I try to be thoughtful in my comments and try to relate it to the caption or picture. Unless I’m really tired or out of ideas I might comment something generic like complimenting the picture posted.

These are connection I have grown and maintained over the past and were only built since I was regular on their pages and got noticed. There are some accounts which are way bigger than mine but they appear regularly on my page as well because I am regular on theirs. So try to give, to get.

United Bookstagram

Many of you might already know, I created a hashtag along with my sister @sumaiyya.books : #unitedbookstagram. This is to support smaller account who have just started on bookstagram. We try to like/comment on posts on the hashtag every single day. Use it, and be active on it. You’ll find some really great accounts who want to engage and grow with you.

I really hope this helps you if you are starting out. I honestly don’t know if any of this information is new to anyone, since these are almost basic tools/tips that I use daily which makes it seem like general knowledge!

If you liked this post, please subscribe to my blog here and do share this post and help your fellow bookstagrammers!

Happy Reading!

Faroukh

@theguywiththebook