Summer 2022 marked ten years since I started my book blog. Back in 2012, I was nineteen years old, in my second year of university studying English Literature & Spanish, and things were a mess.
But during this time, I was reading a lot. These books were clearly helping me to feel better, and I had plenty of thoughts on them. I wanted to share those thoughts.
So I started a basic blog on Blogger and wrote my first post introducing myself and the books that had shaped me most.
After a decade of book blogging (with a vastly fluctuating publishing rate over the years) I wanted to share what I’ve learned about starting a book blog and building it to reach a wider audience.
Tolstoy Therapy now receives 100,000+ page views a month and gives me a bit of extra income to pay for the site, support my reading habit, and have some to spare.
In this post, I’ll share more about how I started my book blog, grew my blog traffic, built a community, and made it profitable enough to dedicate more time to it. Read on to learn more…
How to set up a book blog for free
You can start a book blog for free by creating a publisher account on sites like Medium or SubStack that don’t require you to pay for your own hosting or domain name. You can also monetize your writing through these.
These content platforms limit your scope for customization and branding, but it’s a good way to get started with zero expenses and figure out if you actually enjoy blogging.
Starting a book review blog isn’t for everyone, and you might even find that it ruins your enjoyment of reading or puts too much pressure on you to read fast and share your thoughts regularly.
PSA: You can just read good books for you and you alone, with no expectations of anything beyond that.
So by all means keep your love of books to yourself. And if you do choose to try blogging, feel free to start small and zero-cost (this is what I recommend time and again in my book Simple Business: How to Build a Business for Freedom, Ease & Simple Living).
That said, if you do decide to keep blogging and grow your site, at some point you’ll need more scope for customizing your blog.
For 95% of people, this will mean moving to WordPress. More on this now…
How to start a book blog on WordPress
Most websites you’ll see today are powered by WordPress. To start a book blog on WordPress, here’s a simple checklist of the main steps you’ll need to take:
- Choose your website name and buy the domain
- Choose and buy website hosting
- Choose your website theme
That’s it. Some of this might sound complicated if you’ve never started a website before, but you can absolutely do it. Here’s a bit more detail about each of these steps…
Choose your website name and domain
My first website was therapythroughtolstoy.blogspot.com. After a year or so, that became therapythroughtolstoy.com. Finally, I changed it to the current domain: tolstoytherapy.com. Phew.
Your first domain name doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t spend months trying to think of the best possible name. Thinking about what resonates with you during a walk in nature or while sitting quietly is enough.
You can change your mind later if you need to. What matters more will always be the content you produce. Just choose something! I usually buy domain names on Namecheap or alongside my hosting (more on this next) via SiteGround.
Choose and buy website hosting
You have two main options to create your own book blog on WordPress: creating an account on wordpress.com, or buying hosting to power a self-hosted wordpress.org site. You’ll want to do the latter (wordpress.org), which you sign up for via a hosting provider.
Website hosting can seem complicated. But all it really means is paying for the little space on the internet where your book blog will live.
I’ve found the easiest way to get started is to buy a Managed WordPress plan on SiteGround. Start small and scale up only if you need to. There are often deals for the first year of your hosting, so look out for those.
Choose your website theme
When you have bought your domain and WordPress hosting, you’re ready to choose a theme.
What’s the best theme for book blogs? I currently use Kadence WP, and I think it’s a really good WordPress theme for book blogs. (And other content websites, actually, I use it for my other websites too, including Live Wildly.)
Kadence is simple and free to get started with, offering several different themes and a block builder to customize your site (you can upgrade to access the pro features at any time, but you might not need these).
One word of advice is to avoid falling for a pretty theme. You’ll find a lot of them out there, especially on theme marketplaces like Envato, but they often fall short in terms of speed, user experience, and passing Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWV).
To choose the best theme for your book blog, make sure to prioritise these things above all:
- User experience. Will it be easy and enjoyable for your visitors to use on desktop, tablet, and mobile?
- Speed. Check a theme with Google Page Speed Insights to make sure you’re not going to slow down your site with a heavy theme.
- Lightness. Page builders like WP Bakery and Elementor can slow down a website a lot more than alternatives like GeneratePress and Kadence. Also, avoid choosing a theme that relies on too many plugins.
How do book bloggers make money?
Can a book blog make money? The short answer: yes. For many years, Tolstoy Therapy has paid for itself (and the huge number of books I read) via Amazon Affiliate income from people who buy the books I recommend.
In December 2022, I also finally made the decision to monetise the blog further with advertising. This is something I’ve stayed away from until now to avoid irritating my readers.
But after dedicating a lot more time to my blog in the last few months, thinking about the thousands of hours I’d spent on it in the last decade, and noticing that even the BBC News website had advertising, I decided to look into it.
I did my research, chose the ad management platform with the best reputation and reader experience (for me that was Mediavine, although Adthrive is another solid choice), and spent a month making sure I met all of the requirements (including reaching 50,000 sessions).
You can become a paid book blogger by monetising your website with revenue streams such as:
- Advertising (including Google AdSense, Monumetric, Mediavine, and AdThrive)
- Affiliate programs (such as Amazon Affiliate, Bookshop.org, or other partnerships that pay you for each referral)
- Sponsored posts on social media (I have never done this and don’t plan to, so I don’t have any guidance here)
- Products (I have written several books, and I also offer The Sanctuary as a low-cost course)
How much can a book blogger make?
How much money you make as a book blogger depends on several factors. But the main one is how much traffic your book blog gets.
When you have more traffic, you will generate more affiliate sales, advertising income, product sales, sponsorships, and partnerships. Everything should go up.
Mediavine’s RPM, or Revenue per mille, is the estimated earnings per every 1000 impressions. This fluctuates a lot between blogs, depending on their industry, but an average RPM is about $10 (this can fluctuate as high as $70 for some lucky bloggers).
So if we say a blogger is receiving 50,000 sessions at $10 RPM (50 x $10), that’s $500 income in a month from advertising.
Perhaps this imaginary blogger is also an Amazon Affiliate, receiving an entirely estimated 200 clicks on affiliate links for every 1000 visitors. If this leads to an (again estimated!) $0.05 revenue per click, they would gain an extra $500 for their 50,000 website sessions a month.
That’s an estimated $1,000 monthly income for a book blogger with 50,000 website sessions each month using advertising and affiliate links.
How to get more traffic to your book blog in 2023
Okay, so if more traffic generally leads to more income, how can you increase your book blog traffic?
You can generate more traffic by:
- Writing quality content
- Optimising your blog for user experience and SEO
- Publishing more posts
Ideally, points 1+2 are boxes you tick from the start. Point 3 will come with time.
Over time, you’ll become a better writer and learn more about what works and what doesn’t. (At this point, you’ll probably think all of your early posts are rubbish and rewrite them: that’s totally fine and expected).
To optimise the user experience on your book blog, you can follow recommendations on Google Search Console (this is broken down into mobile and desktop).
To optimise your book blog for SEO, I’d recommend the free Webmaster Tools from the SEO tool Ahrefs, which flags issues like 404 pages and redirect loops. The Ahrefs free Rank Tracker also gives you an overview of the keywords you’re ranking for.
One of the best SEO tips is to identify which posts are ranking just outside of the top 10 on Google (positions 11-15) and make optimisations to help them reach the first page.
That said, the main way to increase your blog traffic will be to publish more posts. To do this, follow your curiosity, write about your interests, do more of what’s working, and try to craft your posts to match search intent – what people are typing into Google.
For example “summary of psalm for the wild built” and “beautiful books” are two keywords that lead people to Tolstoy Therapy, because of the keywords I’ve used in those respective posts.
However, despite the importance of keywords, you’ll find that you increase your Google rankings when you write quality content that’s natural, honest, and sounds like it’s from a real human.
Do this – and aim to provide the most helpful piece of content for every keyword you focus on – and over time you should be rewarded with higher rankings and traffic.
Are book blogs profitable?
If you keep your expenses low, a book blog can absolutely be profitable. Your main costs will be website hosting, your domain name, and the books you read (but if you’re anything like me, you’d be paying for books anyway.)
Like all blogs, however, it usually takes at least 2-3 years to start making decent money from a book blog. That’s with top-quality content, consistent posting, regular updates, and following best practices for search engine optimization.
If you keep your costs low, a book blog should give you a high profit margin compared to many other business models – even if your profits are small, at least for the first few years of your blog.
The exception is if you have high running costs for some reason, or outsource a lot of your content creation (which I wouldn’t recommend, at least for the first few years until you understand what really works and you can justify the cost.)
However, I’d be hesitant to describe book blogging as a very good get-rich-quick scheme. For one, it takes a long time. And two, you have to publish a lot of good content to get anywhere close to a decent income. Over time, it can be a good source of side income though (and a great hobby in any case).
Post ideas for book bloggers
So you’ve decided to start a book blog, but maybe you’re not too sure what to write about. Fortunately, there are lots of options. You get to pick and choose what works for you and, over time, your readers.
Here are some popular post ideas for book bloggers to help inspire your content calendar:
Review the books you’re reading
Book reviews are what most people think of when they imagine a book blog. They’re easy to get started with, but can be hard to differentiate from the competition.
To make your book reviews stand out in Google searches, you can use a plugin like RankMath Pro to include a star rating in your post that also shows in Google searches. Here’s what one of my review posts looks like with the book rating schema:
Listicles can get a bad reputation, but I don’t mind that. They’re my bread and butter here at Tolstoy Therapy: nearly all of my top posts are round-ups of the best books around a theme.
Share advice on being a reader
Can you help your readers to find their next favourite book, build a reading habit, or take their reading to the next level?
Write book summaries
These types of posts have been becoming more popular in the last few years (perhaps as we all become a little bit lazier or prone to skim-reading.) Book summary posts often offer a concise summary as well as an in-depth chapter summary.
How to get traffic to your book blog
So you’ve started a book blog, but you and your friends are the only ones reading it? That’s fine. You just need to generate some traffic.
You have a few options for driving traffic to your book blog, and it’s always a good idea to diversify. Here are some of the best options:
Organic traffic from Google
Ideally, most of your blog traffic should come organically from Google. When your organic traffic and keyword rankings are increasing, it’s an indication that your site is high-quality and relevant.
(That said, you are at the mercy of Google’s algorithm changes, so it’s always worth building an email list and some social traffic for diversity and resilience.)
To generate more organic traffic, you can post more content and optimise your blog for SEO.
When researching keywords to write about, low-competition keywords tend to be easier to rank. You can find ideas for these on sites like KeywordsPeopleUse and measure with tools like the Surfer SEO Chrome Extension).
Another good tactic is to optimise the keywords you’re already ranking for, but not yet at #1 for. With a few tweaks, you can usually appear higher in searches. You can identify your rankings and opportunities using the free Ahrefs dashboard.
Email marketing traffic
By starting an email newsletter, you can get more repeat visitors to your book blog. Email traffic is also much more reliable than other sources (including organic and social traffic) as it’s far less likely to be affected by algorithm changes.
The easiest way to build your email list is with valuable free opt-ins on your site like an ebook, workbook, or book recommendations download.
You can also just use a subscribe form to let people hear more from you if they like your writing, but these tend to have lower conversion rates and are best supplemented with helpful resources you can give away.
Social media traffic
I do very little social media for Tolstoy Therapy. As I talk about in my book, Simple Business, I don’t like spending time on social media in my personal life and that extends to my business, too.
However, many book bloggers and influencers use social media as the foundation for their brand and income. It can absolutely be successful if it’s a model that works for you.
The little I do on social media is mostly adding new posts to Pinterest when I remember, and sharing new posts to Facebook (also when I remember, haha).
Summary: how to start a book blog
It takes time, patience, and perseverance to build a successful book blog. But most of all, it needs love.
You can’t make a successful blog without caring a lot about what you’re writing about. You’ll probably be writing hundreds of posts, after all!
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s totally fine to write about books with no expectation or pressure to make any money. You can even just share reviews on Goodreads and document the books you love.
If you do decide to start a book blog, do it primarily because you love books. Then, just see where it takes you.
If you end up making enough to pay for the blog’s running costs, that’s great! If you make even more over time, that’s even more cash for books. Maybe it’ll turn into a profitable business, or maybe it’ll be one of your most rewarding hobbies.
There’s no right answer or definition of success. And you’ll never know what’s possible or most enjoyable for you until you try.
Thank you for reading this! I hope it’s been useful for you. If so, you might also like my new book, Simple Business, which is all about how I’ve built a business around the life I want to lead.
Any other questions you’d love to see covered about starting and building a blog? Feel free to reach out anytime.