On Being a Better Blogger & Reader

Posted August 31, 2020 by Amber in Blogging, Reading / 6 Comments

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A couple weeks ago, Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink shared a post on how she wants to be a better blogger.  It’s a fantastic, honest, vulnerable post and I very much recommend popping over to her page and reading it.

It also got me thinking.

There’s a lot of things I want to do with my blog and content and with my life to be a better person.  While this is a pretty wide spectrum, there are a few things I know I can zero in on immediately and try to fix… but also?  I don’t think I’ve ever hosted a post like this, where not only do I internally decide I want to make changes, but externally announce it so my readers and the community can hold me accountable.

So. *deep breath* Here it goes.

I Want To Be More Accessibility-Friendly

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a few months now, and inexcusably, it keeps getting pushed to the back of my mind.  I’ve seen the accessibility icons on Howling Libraries and Reader Voracious, and wondered how they got those there and what I would need to do.  Seeing Nicole share the same sentiment when I read her post kicked it into gear for me – I need to stop making excuses and make my site more accessible.

I’ve Installed Userway

After a little digging, I discovered the plugin I’ve admired from Destiny and Kal’s blogs is called Accessibility By Userway.  Thank you so much to Kal for this information, which she shared in a post about going self-hosted.  Accessibility By Userway is a free plugin for WordPress blogs, and it’s something I should have installed years ago.  It’s here now, though, and was so easy to set up and get going.  This is a small but very important step to making my site more friendly to folx, especially because I write long posts that are not always easy to read.

I Will Be Adding Alt Tags to My Images

Unlike Userway, this one will take a bit more time.  In the history of my blog, I’ve never used alt tags.  There’s no excuse for this – alt tags are very simple and easy to add to images, and they make a world of difference.  Rushing to upload things and create content is not an excuse for my laziness, and now it needs to be remedied.

I’ve started adding alt tags to images I upload (as of 8/23, when I’m writing this post), but I have 4,500 media items in my library, so cleaning up my own mess will take a long time.  It will be worth it, though.

I Am Capitalizing Words in Hashtags

This is less blogging-based and more bookstagram-based, but it’s still important.  There’s a lot of things that bookstagrammers do that’s just awful for page readers, including using weird symbols/fonts for aesthetic captions and inserting symbols or spaces between letters in a word. Fortunately, I’ve not done those things on my account, but I tend to fall to lazily using all lowercase letters in my hashtags.  Author Emily X. R. Pan (The Astonishing Color of After) popped up in an InstaStory a couple months ago reminding people to capitalize words in hashtags for page readers… and I’ve been trying to remember to do that ever since.

Doing this means I have to type out every single hashtag (you can’t choose from suggested items) but I think it’s worthwhile.

Be Accountable for What I’m Reading

I’m proud to say that this is something I’ve been working on for a couple years, but I think there’s still room for improvement in this area.  I know there’s room for improvement.  Because of the way the system works, it’s very easy to only reach for white authors, or to read a book without knowing who the author is or how I’m contributing to a broken system by reading what I read and buying what I buy and where I buy it from.  There’s a few things I’ve started doing here to hold myself accountable.

Read More Diversely

Easily 75% of my owned books are by white authors.  It wasn’t something I’d really gone in and tallied before June, but it’s something that seems so blatantly obvious now.  25% diversity was far better than I was several years ago, but it’s not enough and I need to get that number to at least 50/50.  Which, by the way, is still not a good, diverse representation of peoples.

There are a few ways I’m trying to combat this, but one of the biggest ones is just to keep my eyes open!  I’ve started following hashtags on Instagram like #blackbooks and #latinxbooks to help expose myself to authors I might not find organically due to the way these books are marketed.  I’m also watching your posts, actively seeking other books by diverse authors I’ve enjoyed previously (Roshani Chokshi has effortlessly climbed the ladder to authors-I-will-read-anything-by), and marking diverse reads on NetGalley to my TBR.  Which brings me to….

Leaving #OwnVoice ARCs to #OwnVoice Reviewers

This one makes me sad, because in the past #OwnVoices has been such a buzzword for me when it comes to ARCs.  And I’m good with ARCs – the only time I’ve ever been late is when I received the ARC past the publication date (*side eyes Marilla of Green Gables*).  But I have to be honest with myself.  These books – especially those that deal in themes of race and sexuality – are not for me.  They need to be in the hands of the reviewers they were written for, and what’s more, we need to accept and respect those reviewers opinions of the success of the storytelling.

With that, I’m no longer requesting #OwnVoices ARCs, but I’m excitedly adding those books to my TBR instead.  Or, if I’m really excited, I’ll pre-order it.  Especially because I’ve found that those books fizzle out of hype after publication, so they really need some love a few months later.  I received Love, Hate, & Other Filters and Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, as NetGalley ARCs, and neither of them got much press.  They’re all really great books, y’all!  Read them.

Being Aware of Problematic Authors

My conscience broke on this one a couple months ago, and I added a Problematic Authors page to my blog.  While this page was largely intended for my own use, I’m trying to add information and resources to it to show outside perspectives of the issues at hand.

I’ve seen a variety of responses to problematic authors online for the last several years, and I think each reader needs to make their own choice.  I choose to donate the value of a new hardcover of the book I’m reading to a charitable foundation working for the marginalized group or wronged peoples.  I also mark my reviews as having been written by a problematic author, and share where I donated as well as my receipt.

This is a new page, so I know in the past I’ve read problematic authors and they are not marked there. And I’m sure at some point people will out themselves as racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, etc. after I’ve read their books.  It’s an evolving situation, but I’m holding myself accountable to fight back, especially if I’m indulging in their books.

Monitoring My Buying Choices

This one comes in two flavors:

  1. Buying a variety of books from a variety of authors.  No more hauls with only white authors!  Gah!
  2. Buying from … not … Amazon.

#1 is a bit easier and falls into line with being responsible about my reading choices.  #2, however, has been a growth process.  Amazon is such a big company, and the books are very affordable.  To the detriment of everyone else in the industry, might I add – many of Amazon’s books are actually sold at a loss.  Everything is less expensive.  My husband and I have been actively avoiding buying from Amazon since June, and we’re finally in a rhythm with it.  And yes, international booklovers, Book Depository is also owned by Amazon.

Book Buying Alternatives: Local bookshops, thrift shops, eBay, Thriftbooks.com, Bookshop.org, online indie bookshops who ship to you.  Obviously this list is very US-centric, and not everyone will be able to cut out the evil empire, but for myself, I am trying.

Monitoring My Use Of Language

This is something I’m doing in my real life as well here on my blog, and I think it’s a constant evolution. I would like to encourage and welcome anyone who catches me using hurtful language to call me out on it and I promise I will not be upset.  Inclusive, kind language is a thing that’s really important to me- I think words are so powerful and should be used responsibly.

Pronouns

I’m working to add my own pronouns to my platforms, and in addition, if I find myself talking to or about another person, I want to make sure I’m taking every step to get the correct pronouns.  If they aren’t listed on a blog, I should be checking other social media to be sure I’m referring to someone correctly.  I’m also working hard to use they/their if I’m not sure of someone’s pronouns.  Please call me out if I fail on this, or if I have failed to correct old content when an author or user updates their pronouns.

Names

I kick myself so hard when I fail on something like this, but I need to hold myself accountable here because I’ve failed a few times recently and it’s not acceptable.  I never want to mis-name or deadname anyone.  Please please please tell me when I am wrong. I typically double-check these things in writing, but I am fallible and I never want to misidentify anyone.

Using Inclusive Language

I’m working on altering my vocabulary to use more inclusive terms.  Things like “folx” instead of “folks”, for example.  This is something I’m working on in writing and in real live vocal speech – I’m very much a person who says “hey you guys” and I understand that gendering in that way can be harmful.  I already have “y’all” pretty firmly in my vocabulary and am working on transferring over to that or “folx” when referring to groups.  This is just one example, but I’m working on rewiring my brain to do better.

Also, on this point, it’s alarming how defensive people get IRL about language?!  Not the hurtful language – that makes sense – but removing gendering phrases and using inclusive nouns gets a lot of completely unnecessary pushback and it’s astounding.

Removing Hurtful Phrases and Terms from my Vocabulary

My husband and I are working on this together.  Growing up, a lot of casually-used language is known to be offensive today.  We were wired with this in our brains and it needs to be erased.  Reading a lot of fantasy, I’m working on removing the offensive term “gypsy” and finding better ways to describe nomadic people and making sure I am respectful the Romani.  On this point as well, saying things like “gypped” to mean “cheated” is totally unacceptable.

Additionally, there was a lot of ableist slang in the 90s.  It was pretty commonplace to call someone you thought was being stupid “retarded”.  Not. Okay.  We’ve removed this from our vocabulary, no excuses.  I’m also working on other common, ableist phrases like “fell on deaf ears” or “dumbstruck”.  These are so hurtful to certain communities.  There’s a whole slew of things like this I didn’t really think about until … I really started thinking about it.  If you catch me using ableist language, please correct me.  I do spend some time Googling around ableist language to try and make sure I’m referring to folx respectfully, but language evolves so quickly – if I am using something offensive, I want to know so I can fix my research and do better.

Obviously, it’s my and not your responsibility to monitor this, but I also do not want anyone to feel unsafe calling me out.  I really want to know and be better.

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This 2000+ word post only begins to cover the steps I am taking and want to take to be a better member of this community.  Even though I have a small following and don’t tend to make connections in the larger bookish world (people are scary) this blog is important to me and being a good fellow human is important to me.  I want to be the type of person others feel comfortable talking to and having discussions with, and this blog needs to emulate that as well as an extension of myself.

For the record, I know there are many other things I need to do to improve the overall quality of this blog… but I think, to start, I need to check myself and make sure that I am being a good member of the community and the human race… and here’s a start at being better.

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Do you ever reflect on ways you want to improve your online platforms?  What steps have you taken to be a stronger community member?  I know there’s so much more I need to do, so I’d love to emulate you!  Let me know how you’ve stepped up in the comments! <3

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6 responses to “On Being a Better Blogger & Reader

  1. This is a great set of commitments Amber, it’s given me a lot to think about and there are things that I hadn’t even considered. I will definitely try to implement as many of these into my own blog/life.

    • Amber

      Thank you Nicole, and thank you SO MUCH for the inspiration!!! <3 I admire you too, it was so incredible that you went out and put your own goals out in the world, I really wanted to emulate your honesty. <3

  2. This was a great post! I really want to make my blog more accessible for readers. I did not know about the all caps for hashtags–this is certainly something to keep in mind!

    • Amber

      Thank you Paige, I really appreciate that! Glad I was able to share the information about hashtags with you as well – I wasn’t aware of that one myself until this last summer <3