[THE BLOGGING DIARIES] How I Make My Blog Graphics

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted a tutorial on how I take and edit my photos, and you guys seemed to enjoy it.

So, now I’m finally going to be posting my tutorial on how I make my blog graphics, mainly the ones I use for my Featured Images! This was second place when I asked my followers on Books Amino what they wanted to see, so therefore, it came second.

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Personally, the app I use to make my graphics is Canva. It’s free, it has templates that I can work off of, and it’s quite easy to use, so I highly recommend it!

For the most part, I use my own photos as the background for my graphics, but if you’re not into that, I think Freepik is the best way to go! It’s an amazing website where as long as you credit who made what you use, you can use anything, and it has LOADS of pretty designs, so don’t be scared to use it!

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After opening the Canva app, there is a long list of templates that you can scroll through along the top of the app. Personally, I click the “Instagram” button, and pull the screen down so the “Search Instagram Templates” pops up. I usually just type “Where” and it takes me to the template that I usually use!

You might be wondering why I use “Instagram,” and not the official “Blog Graphic,” but there are a couple of reasons why. One, because I’ve attempted to use “Blog Graphic” templates and they are much harder to manipulate to your liking. Also, because I much prefer squares over rectangles as my Featured Images, but this is all personal opinion. Feel free to use “Blog Graphic,” if you’d like!

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After selecting the template, I’m taken to this. I click on the template, then scroll through my Camera Roll for the picture I’d like to choose as my background, then select it, which changes the background!

Now, I can edit my background photo. I usually skip over the “Colors” section and just use “Filters.” As you can see, there are unlimited choices for what filter you can use on your photo, but I personally choose “Wry,” because I like my graphics to be softer than my pictures (which are usually super bright). But it’s all up to you and what you prefer! After that, I double click the text on the screen and delete it.

After that, I click away from there, I’m taken to a screen that says “Tap something to start editing.” Click the “+” in the corner that’s surrounded by a circle, then click “Library,” and you’re free to choose a shape!  Again, there are unlimited choices for which shapes you can use and different designs to implement, but I personally prefer to use the square.

After choosing the square, I double-tap it, which gives you the choice of editing the shape. You can change the color of it if you want, but the only thing I do is play around with the transparency of the shape. For me, the setting I like best is at “75.”

After editing the square, I go back to the home screen, click the “+” again, but this time click the = “Text.” There are loads of pre-formatted font designs and such that you can click on and edit the text, but I usually just like to click the “+Add some text of your own” bar. After I do that, I just type in the title of my blog post and click “Enter.” You’re then taken to a set-up where you can change your font. Obviously, there are lots of things you can do to change the font, but I only play around with four things: the color, the “B,” the “AA,” and the font.

Regarding color, tap on the black square next to the number 42. There are default colors, but I use pink, so I just click the square with a “+” in it under “Used.” I then scroll to the area on the bar that shows me pink, and then just guess by sight which pink to use. Since the update, coloring is ten times harder since it doesn’t even bother to save the color you use (which I hate with a fiery passion), so I work with what I got.

I then click the “B” and “AA” to bold the font a little, and then click the font and scroll through until I get to “Amatic Small Caps,” which is what I use, but there are endless font choices! After that, click on the number to scroll through and make my font bigger or smaller, then click the “Share” button in the top right hand corner to save it to my images.

And, behold, this is the final product:

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And, basically, that’s how I make my blog graphics!

I’m hoping that helped you guys out a lot! Much like I said in my first two tutorials, if there’s anything specific you want me to make a tutorial on, feel free to leave your ideas in the comments; I’d love to hear them!

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[THE BLOGGING DIARIES] How to Write the Perfect Discussion Post

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“Yeah, a tutorial about how to write a discussion post written by Mikaela!” said nobody.

(But I wrote it anyway.)

Some of you guys apparently think I have really good discussion posts, which is extremely flattering, so thank you; I try! And I know there are always people out there who WANT to write discussion posts, but don’t even know where to start. Hence why I’m here to give you a tutorial on how to write a discussion post for the Blogging Diaries!

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Well, obviously, before you even start writing, you have to have an idea of what you’re going to write. I know there are some people who wonder where I even GET my ideas, and it’s usually one of three places:

1. Other Blogs. There will be times where I’ll stumble upon a really interesting discussion post or topic or even just a random post in general that can really get me inspired, especially looking through the comments of said post. Sometimes, a random comment left will spark an idea. Usually, when looking at a post, I get my ideas from thinking about what my take on the topic would be or wanting to explore an angle the blogger hasn’t. So, who knows: maybe going on that blog-hopping session you’ve been putting off will inspire you!

2. Books. You don’t even really have to be reading 20+ books a month to be inspired by one. My first ever discussion topic discussed the whole trend of authors adding on prequels, novellas, spin-offs, or any other additions to their original series and why bookworms were so tired of it. All of that came from the whole flurry around The Cursed Child. So, if you’re scrambling from ideas, grab the last ten books you’ve read and choose an element to expand on. For example, if I chose The Hate U Give, and talked about diversity in books. Or book hype. Or what makes a good main character. Or what makes a good contemporary novel. Or your opinion on books that take a political stance on something. Or your opinion on #ownvoices novels. There’s a lot of topics to choose from!

3. Shower Thoughts. You might be like, “What the heck are shower thoughts?” but I basically mean when you’re doing nothing, and an idea comes to you. They’re totally random. I know probably a large majority of my ideas come from this, which is probably why my response to people who ask me how I came up with this idea is, “I don’t know.” But, MAKE SURE TO WRITE IT DOWN. I know there are tons of random ideas I think I’m going to remember and then don’t, and I get annoyed because it was SUCH A GOOD IDEA. So, write it down.

Once you have an idea, you can make an outline (which I do) or you can just start writing and edit it once you finish! Usually, I start writing with the…

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Basically, I consider it anything before the first arrow I insert in my blog post. Some people might not have such a weirdly strict formula, but I do, so we’re going with it. Usually I have my blog graphic, a witty opening line (or what I think is a witty opening line), and then I blab for a paragraph or two introducing the topic and going over what I’m about to cover. 

So, for example, if you’re going to write about hyped books, you could start out by talking about how you were inspired to write the post. Or maybe you could talk about a hyped book that impressed or disappointed you. Or you could talk about how it’s a common problem for bookworms. Or you could define “book hype.” Basically, there’s loads of ways to introduce your discussion, and it doesn’t have to be overly long.

After that, we’re getting to the meat of the discussion, which is the…

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Obviously, this is the most important part of the whole discussion post. This is where you pour all your thoughts and opinions out there. For me, I think there are five different types of ways to arrange your word vomit into a discussion post people will enjoy that I personally engage in:

1. Lists. Obviously, this type of discussion is in a list format. I usually use these types of discussions to list reasons – why you should or shouldn’t do something; why I do or don’t do something – or types of a certain topic you’re going to talk about. Going back to the book hype example, you could use a list to talk about why you don’t read hyped books. Or you could list why people should read hyped books. Or you could list types of book hype. Or books that were hyped, and which ones let you down and which ones exceeded your expectations.

Example: Do We Need to Set Monthly TBRs (And Why I Don’t)?

2. Tips. Basically, if there’s a general blogging thing you want to talk about – for instance, social media or which blogging schedule is the best for you – or if you think you’re good at a specific blogging thing – like taking photos or web design – then you can make a discussion post that lists tips. It doesn’t HAVE to be a tutorial (I like to think of those as more step-by-step), you can just give tips that are specific to you that might help someone else. So, for book hype, you could give out tips about how to review hyped books or how to find the perfect hyped book for you.

Example: How To Plan a Full Month of Blog Posts

3. Problem/Solution. This one’s pretty self-explanatory: present the problem to the reader, then give solution or advice of that problem. You can do this for just one topic within the discussion or through multiple topics within the discussion. For book hype, you could talk about the problem with book hype, and give some solutions to that. Or you could talk about the problem with people disregarding books just because of the hype, and some ways to prevent it from happening.

Example: How Do You Deal With Book Blogger Envy?

4. Pros and Cons. Basically, you present a question that has both positive and negative reasoning behind both sides, and then present the pros and cons for each answer fairly. I typically use these directly for questions I have, and these are best if you have a lot of reasoning behind both sides. Bringing back the book hype example, you could talk about the pros and cons of hyping up books before they’re released. Or you could discuss the pros and cons of reading hyped books.

Example: Should Book Reviews Be Subjective or Objective?

5. Methods. These are some of my favorite to write! You take the topic you’re discussing, and talk about the way YOU handle or deal with it. This is best for those who don’t think they’re good enough at something to do tips or tutorials, but still want to share their experiences with something. For book hype, you could talk about how you go into a hyped book. Or how you review a hyped book. Or how you choose which hyped books you’ll read, and which ones you’ll ignore.

Example: How Do You Balance Blogging, Books, and Life?

After you’re done writing the content of the post, you’re at the…

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Much like doing a book report or any sort of report, for that matter, I usually summarize what I talked about in the intro. If you feel like you have anything else to add near the end of the post, feel free to add it! If not, you can just move on and include whatever you include near the end of the post. I know I usually have two sections – “Let’s Chat” (this is where I ask questions and invite conversations) and “Follow Me” (this is where I leave my social media links).

It’s also a really great idea to ask questions at the end of the post! You wrote a discussion post to get discussion (hopefully), so get what you worked hard for! I usually ask people’s opinions on the subjects or how they do things or what they would choose. It really all depends how you arranged your post. Usually, questions can get people who don’t know what to comment to comment because they have something to bounce off of.

After finishing with the conclusion, the writing process is complete once you’ve given the post a…

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Personally, I feel like I obsess over titles WAY too much, but maybe that’s normal for everyone else (probably not). Usually, I ask a question in the title of the post because I feel like I’d be more inclined to click on a title that asks something rather than states, but it’s all up to you! You can be broad with the title – “Let’s Chat About Book Hype” – or you can be specific depending on what you chose – “The Pros and Cons of Book Hype”; “Why I Don’t Read Hyped Books”; “The Problem With Book Hype”; “How I Review Hyped Books”; “How To Find the Perfect Hyped Book For You.” I usually try to summarize the entire post in the title, but that proves to be difficult sometimes.

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And that’s the formula to writing a good discussion post (or, at least, how I write my discussion posts). 

Hopefully, you enjoyed this post and got something out of it! These tips can also help those who are just trying to formulate a blog post in general, so there’s something for everyone, I guess!

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Also, another reminder that we are in Phase 2 of the Big Blogger, Little Blogger Project, and if you need a reminder on what that is, the link to the original post is here! Whenever you do it, please link back to one of my posts so I know you did it, and make sure it’s done at least sometime in July because that’s when I’m posting the masterpost! 

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[THE BLOGGING DIARIES] How I Take and Edit My Photos

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I’m always asked, “Mikaela, how do you take your beautiful bookish pictures?”

(Okay, just kidding, I’ve never been asked that.)

I asked my followers on Books Amino whether they wanted to see a tutorial of how I take and edit my photos or how I make my blog graphics. By a small margin, the photos won out, so I decided to post this one first (though how I make my graphics will be coming up sometime later this month; don’t worry)! Obviously, I’m no photography expert – I don’t own a camera and I literally have zero previous experience in photography – but I think my pictures look all right, so I’m going for it anyway!

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But what if I don’t have enough books or buy a lot of books?

That’s totally fine! You might think judging by bookstagram that you’ll need an entire library and to buy ALL THE NEW BOOKS, but you really don’t. Some of my books look like trash because I’ve had them for a long, long time, and that’s totally fine! It’s really nothing  to worry about.

But what if I don’t have a good camera or can’t buy one?

I don’t own a camera. If you asked me what types of cameras I could use, I wouldn’t even know the answer. I use the camera on my iPhone, and it works perfectly fine and produces great pictures (at least, I think it does)

But what if I don’t have any money for props or a fancy background?

I worried about this when I first started out because I saw all the bookstagram accounts use props, but you really don’t need them! And as for the fancy background, I literally use my hardcover books and lay them spine-up on a desk in my room. It costs zero dollars!

But what if I have no skills to take pictures?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my old pictures because I deleted them a while ago, but trust me, they were ugly as all hell. It took me a couple of months before I started taking pictures I was satisfied in, so you WILL improve with time. Trust me.

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#1: Choose your background and photo-taking space.

Personally, my space is in the corner of my bedroom, on my desk, which is pushed against my window. I decided that the best course of action was to have my desk pushed up against the window because natural sunlight is always the best light! I highly recommend taking your pictures somewhere where sunlight is provided, or anywhere close to light!

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This is a picture of my set-up and shooting place! I took this photo at 7 at night, so, of course, it looks like trash, but let’s pretend this photo looks absolutely stunning.

Regarding your background, it could be anything! Some people use their bedspread, some people use the floor, some people actually buy backgrounds, some people use a table, some people use their bookshelves. There are endless choices out there! I know I personally struggled with finding a background I liked because nothing was working for me, and my room is (unfortunately) in no way aesthetically pleasing. I decided to start using books as a background, and I found myself finally satisfied! Be creative – there’s no need to spend a lot of money doing this.

#2: Set up the shot.

Obviously, it’s up to you what you include in the photo! I know there are some people out there who plan their photos and write down their ideas when it comes to them, but I’m more of the type of girl to just do a photo shoot and just come up with photo ideas on the fly while I’m taking pictures, so it’s all up to you! You can choose if you want a theme to your photo, what books you want to use, what props you’re using them, if you are, etc.

Then, you’ll decide how you use them and where they’ll go! This is when you arrange your shot, use your props the way you want to, decide if there’s going to be a theme concerning your photo, what angle you’ll take the photo at, etc. There are multiple styles out there – flatlays, stacked books, multiple books in one shot, a pile of books, naked books, book rainbows, etc. There are probably a lot more I’m missing out on.

#3: Actually taking the pictures.

Since I use my phone, this is a pretty non-complicated process. I usually take my photos in a wider shot, because I always end up cropping them once I edit (and I like having empty space and such). Personally, I usually only take one or two photos and then move on, but I know there are people out there who take several photos and then choose from all of them which ones they like best and trash the others, so it’s all up to you!

Feel free to change things up in the photo-taking process – take the picture from a different angle, put in a prop that you think will fit in, change the book’s position, etc. I also always look closely at all the photos I’ve taken just in case something looks off-center or doesn’t look right. Usually, I’ll take a picture, look at it to see if it’s easy on the eyes, and if it is, I move on. Definitely not everyone’s photo-taking process, but it’s mine!

And, also, don’t feel like all the pictures you take have to be THE PERFECT SHOT. I struggle with this all the time honestly – I’ll look at a picture and get frustrated with it because it’s not to my liking – and I really hope I can fix this terrible habit. Trust me, editing is a wonderful, magical process, and can make even the ugliest of pictures look like masterpieces.

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I’m sure there are many a photo-editing apps out there in the world, but, personally, I use PicMonkey. It’s a free app, and it makes my pictures look less ugly, so it’s a win-win. If you don’t have a phone, you can also use the website on the computer. Since I take my pictures on my phone, I also edit on my phone, so I’m going to show you how I use the PicMonkey app.

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Here’s the “Before” picture! I took this one last month for one of my posts in May.

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Once you download and open the app, just click the picture you want to edit, and it’ll take you to this screen. On the left hand corner of the picture, you’ll see the “Crop” button, so click that.

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Usually, I’ll choose “Instagram” for my cropping needs. Obviously, you can crop your photos for different social media sites, such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, but since I just use my pictures for my blog and for graphics, “Instagram” is the best for me.

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After clicking the check mark in the top right hand corner, you’re brought back to where you started. Usually, this is when I really start editing. Personally, the only thing I play around with regarding editing my photos is “Adjust” (I’ll go more into detail about what I specifically use next), but you also have Effects, where you can choose from a variety of themes; Draw, which is pretty self-explanatory; Stickers, which is also self-explanatory; and Text, which allows you to type things and arrange them on the photo.

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After clicking “Adjust,” I usually edit using four buttons: Contrast, Clarity, Levels, and Saturation. All of these things come together to make my photos look less dull and ten times brighter. I have specific settings for each of these things (you have the ability to scroll left or right on how much of each you want), but you can play around to see what works for you. There are three buttons I don’t use: Brightness, because I take my photos near natural sunlight (though this might be helpful for those who don’t have that); Temp, which just makes your pictures “warmer” – brighter – or “colder” – duller; and Blur, if you want to focus on a specific part of the picture and blur everything else out.

Once I click the top right corner check mark, I click “Save” in the top right corner, click the first option, “Save to Camera Roll,” and that’s it! Here’s the final product of that picture I showed earlier:

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And that’s basically how I take and edit my pictures!

Hopefully, that was helpful to some of you who wanted to know all the behind-the-scenes about how I do things! I’m hoping to do two more tutorials this month (which will be how I make my graphics and how to write the perfect discussion post), but if you guys have any specific tutorials you want me to do, feel free to leave me a suggestion!

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[THE BLOGGING DIARIES] How To Plan a Full Month of Blog Posts

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Welcome to the Blogging Diaries!

So, my six month blogiversary is actually THIS MONTH – the 20th, to be exact – and I thought a good way to celebrate it would be with a new series! So, this month will be all about blogging – how I do things, blogging tags, tips for new book bloggers, tutorials, etc. I’m super excited for this month, and I hope you guys are as well!

So, I thought it’d be nice to kick off the series with this post! In my Let’s Chat a couple of months ago when I talked about balancing blogging, books, and life, some of you guys seemed so amazed at how far ahead I am in terms of planning and written posts! So, I thought it’d be fun to talk about how I usually plan a whole month of blog posts ahead of time!

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#1: Brainstorming is key.

It really is. If you’re reading a discussion post, and want to write your own take on the topic, write it down. If you’re doing something else, like cooking or cleaning or whatever, and you think of an idea, write it down. If you’re reading a book and something in it inspires an idea, write it down. If you see a tweet or Instagram post that you think would  make a good blog post, write it down. Don’t think you’ll remember it, because, trust me, you will not and then hate yourself for not writing it down when you should have.

Personally, I write down all ideas I have, discussion topics I want to tackle, tags I’m tagged in (or I haven’t been tagged in and just want to do), or any old topics for memes that I think I could turn into fully-fledged posts in the Notes app on my phone. They just sit there forever and ever until I’m in extreme planning mode for next year’s post (yes, I do this, and yes, I’m well aware it’s not normal). But, if you’re NOT like me and plan normally for the next month or so, it’s easier to have all these ideas to choose from rather than stressing out because you have no ideas and can’t remember the ones you had!

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#2: Decide what you want to post.

I mean, obviously. This is sort of detrimental to the whole process. But plan out what you want to post! For example, if you want to do some memes. For those that have topics based around them – such as Top Ten Tuesday or Top 5 Wednesday – look at the blog that hosts it so you can see what the future topics will be and know which books you’re going to choose! If it’s Waiting on Wednesday, look up some books that are coming out soon. Trust me, being prepared will save you the stress from, “OH CRAP, IT’S TUESDAY TOMORROW; now I have to throw something together!”

But for anything else – whether it’s a review, discussion, list, recommendation post, or whatever else you can come up with – just decide which topics you want to tackle! Are there certain books coming out that you know FOR SURE you’re going to review that you need to read? Any ARCs being published this month? Is something happening this month that you can make a list or recommendation post out of (like a holiday-themed post)? Do you have any discussion posts based off something that happened last month that you want to jump in on, or just inspired by a book you finished last week? Or do you just not care that intricately about what you’re going to post and just prefer a general idea of when you’re going to post and what type it is?

Either way, deciding the month before is, again, much easier. I always plan what I’m going to post for the month before I even begin to start writing, at least!

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#3: Off-days are perfect for getting ahead.

PERFECT. I’ve said before that the weekends are the time where I work on my blog, so that’s when I usually make my graphics, write blog posts, edit my blog, etc. Of course, that’s just me because I have school during the weekdays (at least, during the school year), and the weekends are my free time, but it might be totally different for you guys!

But, pretty much any day that you’re off – and by “off” I mean that in a blogging way and not a real life way – you can spend a little time working on posts and such! This is when I start my “writing mode,” usually, but just know that you don’t have to become the Writing Goddess or whatever and write ALL your blog posts for the next month. You can work on one, two, three, four, however many you want! There’s no minimum or maximum, and it’s totally okay.

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#4: Planner Pro is your life savior.

You might be like, “What even IS Planner Pro???” But Planner Pro is this amazing free app that’s a calendar. Here is what it looks like once you set up an account:

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And when you pick a date, this is what it looks like:

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In the both pictures, you’ll see a gray circle with a “+” in it in the right hand corner, and if you click that, it’ll give you a list of options: Add Note, Add Task, or Add Event. I usually click “Add Task,” and from there, you’re able to title the task, set the due date, add a description, etc.

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Then you can click the “Save” button, and, voila! You’re done! Once you’ve posted the post or edited it or whatever, you can click the check box next to the task seen in the second picture, and it scratches it off.

Personally, it’s an amazing tool for me. Not only does it function as both a calendar and a sort of to-do list, but you can plan months and months ahead. This is why I know what I’m going to post for the full year! It has no limits. So, very helpful, for those who like organizing, but constantly change things like I do.

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#5: Always have back-ups.

And by this, I mean back-ups regarding posts. As I’m writing this, I have a couple of back-ups (not completely edited, though. OOPS. Now they are! Good job, Future Me!) just in case something falls through or I don’t feel like posting something or I change my plans. For example, when I was in a reading slump last May and wasn’t posting too many reviews. Luckily, I had a couple of back-ups to post on Mondays until I did, so I wasn’t completely and totally in the dark. Your back-ups don’t have to be COMPLETELY MARVELOUS ORIGINAL IDEAS; for instance, you can write and edit some tags or awards you’ve been tagged in or some reviews of books that you haven’t reviewed on your blog yet or use an old Top 5 Wednesday idea for a post! But it’s always nice to have something to fall back on in case everything goes to crap.

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#6: Don’t feel scared of going off track.

SERIOUSLY. DON’T. I plan everything to the T, and things change all the time regarding my blogging schedule. Like, last month, SO MANY POSTS that were going to go up, didn’t. Most of the reviews I wanted to post, THE BOOKS WEREN’T EVEN READ (curse the reading slump). I changed things 28420840 times. I switched post dates 84928402 times. I was writing posts for May IN MAY (and I rarely do that). So, don’t feel like you MUST stick to your schedule or everything will fall apart. Because it will not, and the people that read your stuff will probably not even notice you were having a breakdown behind the scenes.

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And those are the tips I can give as a certified over-organizer.

(But, seriously, I’m TOO organized when it comes to blogging, and a hot mess regarding everything else; someone please help me.)

Hopefully, that’ll help any of you guys who were thinking of getting ahead or might want to in the future or for those who are just curious!

If there’s any specific tutorials that you want me to do (besides how to make graphics, how I take/edit my pictures, and how to write the perfect discussion post because those are coming later this month) or are curious about, let me know your suggestions in the comments! I’ll be doing another sort of blogging series in August surrounding your suggestions and questions, so feel free to leave any!

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