Sarah Robinson-Hatch is a blogger, writer and fangirl and is currently studying a Bachelor of Professional Communications at RMIT. She’s the creator of a Melbourne YA book club called The YA Room and blogs at Written Word Worlds. When she’s not reading, Sarah can be found working on her next manuscript, bingeing TV shows and drinking too much coffee. You can find her on Twitter @SarahRHatch.
When I first started book blogging, I had no idea where it was going to take me. At the time, I was 14 and didn’t even know there was a community of people who discussed books online. I’d watched a few of YouTube videos where confident people with professional setups would make perfectly-timed jokes and speak eloquently about their recent reads, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t fit in with them. I was awkward, shy and terrified of criticism. So I turned to blogging: a place where I could write concise, well-considered reviews for the few people interested in reading them.
It was a few years before I became more immersed in the blogging community, a move made possible by engaging with other lovers of YA fiction through Twitter and Instagram—two platforms which are home to very strong Young Adult book communities. That was really the catalyst to everything that happened next. Prompted by my online presence, I started attending book launches and festivals and got to meet many other online bloggers and likeminded readers in a more casual manner. People had commented on my blog posts before, but this was different. All of a sudden, I found a group of Melbourne book lovers and made connections with other bloggers, Australia wide. I never really knew much about what was going on in the bookish scene in Melbourne but being online made attending these events much easier. It’s important to maintain a social media presence as a blogger, not only so you can find out about important events, but also to keep the conversations going long after the book launch has ended. Being present on social media was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I’ve made in becoming part of the book blogging community. Creating and maintaining a Twitter account is still one of the main tips I suggest for any blogger.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most important people in the Young Adult book scene in Melbourne: Felicity Vallence, Danielle Binks, Adele Walsh and more authors than I can list. I’ve had the chance to become friends with some YA book bloggers I’d only ever admired from afar. And perhaps most importantly, I met Alexandra Panzarino—a bookseller and YouTuber, with whom I’ve since created the largest YA book club in Melbourne. Since then, things have only become increasingly wilder… in the best way possible.
Alex and I decided to start a book club, The YA Room, since we did not see any real place for YA book fans to come together in Melbourne, and we wished to create a space where we could connect with readers ‘in real life’. We knew of book clubs in Adelaide and Sydney, but there was nothing like that for YA in Melbourne; seeing a gap, Alex and I decided to establish a new platform, instead of waiting for something to come along. It’s the same for anyone hoping to start a book blog or create a community on any platform—it’s important to choose your focus based on what you feel is missing and what you can add to the conversation. If you’re just trying to mimic other blogs and be untrue to yourself, readers will realise that. If you’re genuine and share your unique takes on topics, people will show interest in your content.
Right from our very first event in January 2017, we were overwhelmed by the amount of support we received from the Melbourne book community. So much so that author Alison Evans (whose debut YA novel Ida was our Book of the Month), agreed to come to our first ever Book Meet to be in conversation with us and 15 others. Following that, we’ve had the opportunity to interview Angie Thomas, the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give (via Skype), host book launches for authors such as Ellie Marney, Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman; work with the Clunes Booktown Festival as influencers and even host a YA Day where we were joined by 13 guest panellists and over 80 attendees—and all this in addition to our monthly meetings at Dymocks in Melbourne.
Running a book club is almost like a full-time job: there’s promoting, interacting with readers, organising events, making content and communicating with authors and publishers. And that’s all on top of running my own blog and finding time to write for my own enjoyment, as well as working two part-time jobs, interning at Writers Victoria and Melbourne Writers Festival and completing a Bachelor of Professional Communications. It’s a lot of work. But being a chronic overachiever has taught me the importance of self-care—and not just the Pinterest kind.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when blogging is to make sure you’re not wearing yourself out. I’ve always been someone that thrives when busy, but the act of self-care and knowing when things are becoming too much shouldn’t be understated. You need to make sure you’re giving yourself enough downtime so you can refuel creatively and ensure you don’t burn out. The idea that creators have to constantly be putting out work and be reachable via social media 24/7 is a dangerous ideology. Sometimes the best thing for your creativity is just taking a break. Finding that balance is really important.
If you’re thinking of starting a blog or any other kind of small business, I encourage you to go for it! If it’s something you’re passionate about, you have to make a conscious effort to find time for that. Beyond making the content that ensures you’re being true to yourself and your passions, it’s also important to engage with other bloggers and participate in conversations. One of the most disheartening things about starting a blog is feeling like you’re shouting into the void, but by posting consistently and engaging with other members of the community, you’ll find your crowd. And that’s the main reason why I started blogging: to find people who love books as much as I do.
Starting a blog has honestly been one of the best decisions of my life, one that has allowed me to explore my love of reading in a less solitary way. Many people think being a reader means just sitting alone with a book, but for me it’s so much more than that. It’s talking about my favourite reads with people via social media. It’s going to book launches, festivals and book club meetings. It’s having the opportunity to chat to authors and meet people from the publishing industry that I never would have had the chance to without taking that first step by starting a blog. But the most rewarding aspect has undoubtedly been the friends I’ve made along the way.
It’s been an incredible five years of blogging and I can’t wait to see where the next five will take me! ••