Saturday 6 July 2019

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Bloggers Get Real: Aly of Of Wonderland

Bloggers Get Real Graphic

Bloggers Get Real: Aly of Of Wonderland

Welcome to Bloggers Get Real! Inspired by CW of The Quiet Pond's The Pond Gets Loud series, Bloggers Get Real is a YA book bloggers spotlight interview series with the aim of celebrating and supporting YA book bloggers and the work we do, while also discussing the realities of book blogging, the YA community, and the various controversies that have sprung up. I feel it's important to keep these conversations going - our voices matter, what we do matters, and we should be heard.

I'm so excited to be kicking off Bloggers Get Real with the very first interview, with Aly of Of Wonderland!

Aly of Of WonderlandCan you tell us a little about you and your blog?

Hi! I’m Aly, I blog at Of Wonderland and I’ve been in the blogging "business" for five years. I prefer fantasy and sci-fi, but I have a huge soft spot for thrillers and mysteries. Some of my favourite authors range from Tana French and Gillian Flynn to Sarah J Maas, Meagan Spooner and Jay Kristoff. I always grab for high fantasy and fairytale retellings without question -- my favourite kind of bookish delights.

What's unique to your blog?

Of Wonderland is different in many ways. One of the differences is we run a monthly bookclub called #OWBookClub that picks a different "theme" every month. That way, everyone can join! As long as you read a book that fits the theme, you’re good. The theme is also picked by readers and followers -- we put up a poll every month on Goodreads and the blog and share it on twitter. We’ve also linked up with NovelKnight this year to co-host Beat the Backlist, in which we try to read as many backlist novels as possible!

We often ask authors in our interviews what they’re writing process is. But what is your blogging process?

My blogging process differs from day to day. Sometimes, I can write a draft post on my phone if inspiration strikes suddenly. Other times, I stew over the same post for hours on end. It really depends on what mood I’m in. We create our own graphics, and I like to draft, edit, write, create the graphic and schedule all in one go. Usually, if I’m blogging, my boyfriend knows about it because I’m clutching a cup of coffee for dear life. My reading process is very much the same! You can usually find me on the couch with a good book, but other times I can’t concentrate and need to go outside.

What other ways are you involved in the YA community?

I used to run a bookstagram account, but lost inspiration. Then I moved, and it’s been chaos ever since. I am on Goodreads though, and I like to think I’m quite active there. I enjoy creating Twitter threads if a particular topic inspires me, but mostly I like to blog hop, retweet and share the love.

What does book blogging mean to you?

This is a toughie. Blogging is an escape for me; it’s a way to share my passion for something huge and wholly encompassing with hundreds of other people. I started blogging after I was in a pretty bad car accident, and I had isolated myself from the world. Interacting with other readers online and making lifelong friendships got me through some of my darkest days. Blogging is a lifeline, and I believe it is for a lot of other people, too.

Which of your blog posts are you most proud of?

I recently created a kind of "meme" in which I took Marie Kondo’s "Tidying Up" show on Netflix and applied it to my bookish woes. Since I don’t have many physical books with me at the moment, I "tidied up" my digital Goodreads shelves and TBR. It was so much fun, and a lot of people joined in!

What are your greatest book blogging achievements?

I don’t know about "achievements" since I’ve never really thought about it, but some cool milestones were when we interviewed our first authors (shoutout to Eliza Crewe and Louise Gornall!), took part in my first blog tour (Done Dirt Cheap) and now I’m getting a short story published in an anthology. That last one I consider a blogging achievement because the author who contacted me knows me through my reviews!

What do you love most about blogging/being part of the YA community?

Definitely interacting with other readers and helping young bloggers evolve. No matter what people say, getting involved in any sort of business online is hard to break into. I love boosting young voices (for a community concentrated around YA, young adults are definitely smothered by us older people) and discovering new books and authors through them.

What aspects of book blogging or being a blogger do you wish were different/better?

I really wish bloggers were recognised for the hard work they put in, and that getting paid wasn’t such a huge stigma. And that the war with ARCs could end already. Friends -- you shouldn’t measure yourself or your talent or your blog based on the number of ARCs you do or don’t get. You’re worth more than unpublished books.

Are there any aspects or elements to blogging that are more difficult for you, specifically?

I find it harder to interact with people these days than I used to. The conversation is always ever changing and moving that I find myself lost in a wave of topics I don’t feel like I can get involved in. As an international blogger (UK) I do find it hard to keep up with US news.

What do you wish people knew about running a book blog?

Running a book blog is hard. It’s not just sitting down and vomiting some words on paper and posting it. It’s coming up with relatable, fun topics to talk about; it’s proofreading and editing; it’s creating graphics. There’s so much that goes into blogging to keep yourself above water (like commenting, retweeting, marketing yourself as much as possible) that I think people honestly don’t realise what goes into it. I had to take a break in 2017 because I couldn’t handle the pressure I was under anymore. I burned myself out so hard and quickly that I almost deleted every bookish account I had. Blogging is hard, and for a lot of people it’s not just a hobby anymore. It’s a way of life.

Do you feel bloggers are supported/appreciated for the time and effort we put into blogging?

Absolutely not. Especially not by publishers, authors and publicists. We put so much time and effort into promoting books for free, sometimes at the expense of our own health and private lives, and sometimes we don’t get so much as a "thank you." A few years ago, I got into an argument with a publicist (unnamed) because they’d sent me an unsolicited ARC. It was a huge high fantasy novel, but at the time I’d just started working nights and was struggling with my schedule. I didn’t think much of it when I decided to not get to it right away. After about a week (I’d emailed them to let them know I wouldn’t be reading or reviewing the ARC any time soon and asked if they wanted me to return it or pass it on to another blogger) I started receiving incessant emails asking me if I had read it yet and what my thoughts were. I told them multiple times it wasn’t a high priority, that I was happy to return it or pass it on to another blogger and in the end, the publicist kindly informed me I was blacklisted.

It was a huge publishing house. They’d sent me an unsolicited ARC. And yet because I couldn’t commit to it and was honest, they blacklisted me. This is just one example of how unappreciative publishers and the like can be. I have tonnes of other stories. The fact that we put so much time and effort in and sometimes don’t even get a simple retweet in return really grinds my gears.

Publishers, publicists and authors. Whilst you’re getting paid to do what you love, we do not, and sometimes a reply to our emails or a retweet or even just a kind word when sending us unsolicited books can go a long way.

A lot of the time when I have spent a huge portion of my day blogging about a specific book because I was asked to, and then don’t even get a thank you, I feel defeated, used and, in some ways, harshly treated. Bloggers should get an acknowledgement for the work we do at the very least.

How do you feel about authors who react, and then act, badly regarding negative reviews?

They have no place reacting and acting badly towards or regarding negative reviews. Reviews are not for the authors, nor are they for the publisher (I have indeed had publishers leave rude messages for a negative review). Reviews are for the consumers getting ready to make a purchase and wanting some feedback on the product. Reviews are for the readers deciding whether to shelve the book or not. Reviews are for the public, not the puppeteers pulling strings behind the scenes.

If there is anything I vehemently despise in the book community is when authors screencap, subtweet and generally act awfully about a negative review of their book. Once the book is out in the world, it’s fair game: we’re allowed to read it and enjoy it as we please. Your books aren’t your children.

How can publishers, authors, readers help support bloggers more? When appreciation of and support for bloggers is sometimes lacking, what keeps you coming back?

Publishers, authors and readers should retweet, comment, boost voices, be part of the audience when bloggers do something for them. We don’t expect cash payments or goodie boxes or expensive gifts. A retweet and a comment can go a long way.

When appreciation and support is lacking, sometimes it’s myself that keeps me coming back. Knowing that five years ago, I didn’t have a platform and listening ears. Knowing that I didn’t have a voice back then. The hard work I’ve put in over the years is the reason I keep coming back. Why throw five years down the drain?

Also, my friends. My lovely, close friends that I would be lost without. Their fresh, active and open discussions always make me come back for more.

What are your thoughts regarding #OwnVoices?

#OwnVoices has really exploded over the last couple of years and I couldn’t be happier. Essentially books are now written by the people for the people. Slowly, communities are emerging, voices are getting louder and people are starting to listen.

I do feel like sometimes the #OwnVoices tag gets misused by authors who shouldn’t be writing a particular book. I feel like #OwnVoices, in those cases, is getting used to boost sales and reach a wider audience, which is just wrong in my opinion. If you’re not part of that community, you shouldn’t be writing about them for them. You should be boosting the authors that are part of that community and helping young voices find their platforms.

This goes for publishers, too, who don’t reach out to marginalised teens when an #OwnVoices book is coming out. I’m not saying every marginalised teen should get an ARC, but maybe do send the majority of the ARCs available to the people who have and are living those experiences? It makes sense, to me.

What are your thoughts in regards to how the YA community approaches problematic books, the response of publishers when a book is called out, and how those outside the community react to the YA community calling books out?

I feel like problematic books getting called out is ace and great and brilliant, but maybe don’t directly attack an author, their talent, their families. I’ve seen a lot of instances in which bloggers and readers have gone "real life" online and brought an author’s family, history and private life into discussion. I also am not a fan of POC authors getting dragged for not writing "their truth."

I’ve seen a lot of the latter. POC author writes a book with marginalisation rep, but because the author isn’t wholly of that culture, they get dragged for writing outside of their lane. I don’t like that. It’s not like any rep is good rep, but maybe that author is writing their truth, and we should wait to read the book. I say wait, because sometimes a book gets wrecked online seconds after being announced.

I don’t know. I don’t feel like I can say much on this particular topic because I’m white and straight and shouldn’t be speaking for POC when POC have said it louder and better than I ever could. Those are some of my thoughts, though.

What are your thoughts regarding the materialistic aspect to some elements of being a part of the YA community?

I feel like ARCs are way over-hyped. I mean, sure, it’s super cool that we get the opportunity to read something before release, but realistically, it doesn’t change our lives. The ARC entitlement has grown exponentially over the years, and it’s not something I’m comfortable with. I’d much rather the final copy than an ARC in which aspects might change (certain scenes or dialogue, for example).

Speaking of entitlement, I feel like that word covers a huge part of this question. The idea that "hardcovers are better than paperbacks" or that bookstagrammers “aren’t real book bloggers” is such a farce. If a reader reads and loves books and talks about them in any way, shape or form, why shouldn’t they be considered a blogger? Or at least a supporter of books? I don’t understand the mentality where there’s only one way to do things, in a world where social media rules our lives. In a world like ours, there’s a multitude of right ways to do things. Being unsupportive and downright nasty about someone’s blogging choices is not one of them.

I took an 18 month break. I now only read whatever I want and blog about whatever I want. I feel more relaxed, less pressured and hugely stress-free now that I made that choice. I don’t blog or tweet about recent releases all the time because there are thousands of books that need to be read. I’ll get to them when I get to them.

And -- look, financially, we’re all in shambles. I, for one, can barely cover rent at the moment. I’m not going to not pay my bills in order to buy a book and pay someone else’s bills that week. If I can’t afford to buy a book, then I don’t. Book bloggers shouldn’t feel ashamed if they can’t afford to buy every single new book that comes out when it comes out. Sure, it feels amazing to support an author so early on, but all sales matter in the course of publishing. Teen readers especially can’t afford to buy books every day, and having incentives that force people to make choices (such as preordering now rather than buying it on sale) is hurtful and unnecessary. Memento, for example, is a novella written by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman set in the world of Illuminae Files. It was only available to those who ordered a specific edition of Aurora Rising through a specific shop. That book would’ve cost me £90. Imagine a teenager trying to explain to their parents that they need to order that book in order to get something else? It’s horrific and shouldn’t be happening. I know it’s not the authors fault (of course not), it’s the publisher’s greed that pushes people into uncomfortable situations.

I feel that publishers need to take a long, hard look at who their audience is, who their audience should be and what they should do about the situations they’re creating for teenagers.

What are your thoughts about bloggers monetising their blogs, and idea of book bloggers getting paid?

GO FOR IT. Why shouldn’t I get paid to do something I put countless of hours in? I’d love to monetise the blog one day, and already have a Ko-Fi for Of Wonderland. I feel great when someone donates because they’ve read something on the blog or enjoy what we do in general. Monetising blogs and getting paid shouldn’t be such a taboo subject. If YouTubers in the beauty community can get paid millions for trying on products, why shouldn’t we get paid for reading books?

Again, the idea that getting paid for blogging is shameful makes me so angry. I feel like this is down to the publishers, too. They’ve spent so much time using us for free, successful marketing that they make it feel taboo to be paid so we continue giving them free marketing. Can you imagine what would happen if every blogger started invoicing publishers for their work? The entire system of blogging for books would collapse. Publishers need to realise that sending me an ARC won’t pay my rent, and sending me a goodie bag won’t feed my family.

Bloggers need to realise that the amount of hours they put into their blogs, bookstagrams, BookTubes and more should be rewarded justly. If they want to get paid, go get paid. There’s nothing to be ashamed about here.

What advice/reassurances/advance FYIs would you give to anyone thinking about starting a book blog?

Do it for the right reasons. And the "right" reasons are whatever you consider right. Don’t do it because you feel like you have to, do it because it’s something you’re going to love doing it.

Teens, don’t burn yourselves out. Don’t go chasing the ARCs and the exclusivity of certain posts. Blog for love of blogging and reading. A burnout is difficult to recover from. Don’t do this to yourselves. Look after yourselves and most importantly, find your spot in book community. We’re all here to help you settle.

And finally, can you tell us about three of your favourite book bloggers, and why you love each of them?

Austine at NovelKnight
We’ve been friends for a couple of years, and I love her content, her bookstagram and most importantly her dedication to the book community. She’s designed a number of guides on bookstagram and requesting ARCs, but she also blogs about important book community discussions. I absolutely love discussing topics with her, because she has such a steady view on blogging.

Inge, my co-blogger at Of Wonderland

I met her through Goodreads five years ago, and she’s changed my life. Her battle with mental illness is inspirational, and I love how open she is about depression, anxiety and the impacts they have on her life. I’d be absolutely lost without her.

Asma Faizal at IceyBooks

I don’t think she blogs as such anymore, but her tweets, supportive nature and sweet personality really get me through the day. I always look forward to chatting with her about books and fandoms and video games!

Thank you, Aly, for such fantastic answers! I hated reading how badly Aly was treated by the publicist who sent her an unsolicited review copy! That's just so out of order! But I loved what Aly says about how publisher need to think about who their audience is and who it should be! And special editions of books with exclusive content really drives me mad. And Aly saying that she keeps herself coming back to book blogging, and her hard work - it's so inspiring!

Be sure to visit Aly's Blog, Of Wonderland, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads, maybe support Of Wonderland through Ko-Fi, and check out the murder mystery anthology Aly has contributed to, Death Among Us!

Check out the other interviews for Bloggers Get Real, and if you are a YA book blogger who would like to take part, do email me!

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1 comment:

  1. Such a great and thoughtful interview! Love you Aly 💛💛