Niki’s Top Ten Goals of 2016!

top ten tuesdayI really like setting and achieving goals, and declaring them publicly always seems to give me that extra bit of motivation I need to make them happen. Last year, I managed to knock out 5 of my 10 goals (all the reading/blogging ones… the writing ones didn’t go so well). This year, I’m hoping for 10/10!

Goals Achieved in 2015:

1. Continue my 1500 for 1 reading challenge.

In which I keep track of the number of pages I read, and as soon as I hit 1500, I’m allowed to buy a book. The previous year I’d been trying a 4 for 1 method, but all that did was encourage me to read the shortest books first. This method has been working splendidly for me – not only does it completely moderate my book spending, but it also curbs that almost addictive need to buy new books, as I read enough to get a new package in the mail once every few weeks. I’ve also noticed that it makes me more selective on what I bring home – after all, I only have one book “credit” to spend at a time, and I want to make sure I spend it on something I’m going to love!

2. Get rid of all the books I didn’t like:

This goal involved getting rid of books that I’d already read, but kind of hated. This one was really difficult for me because each read book on my shelf represents a little badge of accomplishment. I tackled this goal in baby steps, starting out by removing all of these titles from my shelves. I soon discovered that having bookcases only filled with both books that I absolutely loved and ones that I am super excited to read made gazing at my library a lot more rewarding than when I was having to stop constantly to lament how much I didn’t like a particular title. It sounds weird, but hey, whatever works, right?

3. Only review the books I feel strongly about.

I achieved this goal, but in a different way than I’d intended. Initially, I was thinking to review only the extreme ends of the spectrums, you know, the loves and hates. I discovered that sometimes, the ones smack dab in the middle of those extremes are the ones I felt the most strongly about. In any case, I feel like my reviews in 2015 were stronger than they’ve ever been because I wasn’t just going through the motions to get my opinion of the titles down – I genuinely felt passionate about every review I shared. I will definitely be continuing this as I go forward.

4. Add a few more buttons to my social media taskbar.

Done! It took me six hours and a lot of hair-pulling, but I’m glad I finally sucked it up long enough to get it done. And you know what? I like them. :-)

5. Stop being a phantom follower.

I still don’t comment as often as I could, but I feel good enough about my progress towards this goal to call it a win for 2015. I probably commented (with thoughtful and sincere comments) more last year than I had in my previous three years of blogging combined. This year will probably be even better.

Like I said, all of my blogging/reading goals were achieved, but for various reasons, I didn’t complete any of my writing goals. This year, I decided to make all of my goals reading/blogging/creativity related.

Niki’s Top Ten Goals of 2016!

1. Be Creative!

2016 is the year of creativity! In which I plan to do some sort of creative expression every day. I’m ready, too. I have a fresh set of paints, gorgeous high-quality colored pencils (and a nifty adult coloring book), a beautiful crossstitch project, and an organized arsenal of countless other supplies and possibilities! My first focus is to finish a gorgeous Royce Frogs crossstitch project that I started during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

9 & 1/2 frogs down, 2 (and a ton of back stitching) to go!

2. Dance to the beat of my own drum!

From a reading/blogging standpoint, of course. I’ve been kind of doing this throughout 2015 anyway, but I’d like to make an official goal for 2016.

Notes to self: [1] don’t feel like blogging this week? Whatever. I doubt it will hurt anyone’s feelings (if they even notice. I’ve seen a few of those “I’m back” posts where I went “oh, yeah… Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen a post in a while – glad you’re back!” [2] feel like posting 10 times in 2 days to effectively burn yourself out? That’s cool, too, just apologize to your readers for BOMBING their inboxes. [3] miss posting/writing a weekly feature post (like Top Ten Tuesday) that you’d wanted to do? HOW ANNOYING!!! Find a way to cope with your OCD and post it anyway. I don’t care if it’s Friday.

It’s an oddly liberating thing to finally realize that this is MY blog and I don’t have any rules or constraints on my creativity other than what I place on myself. Although, ultimately, I would love to dance to my own drum AND make my readers happy at the same time. I think it’s possible.

3. Finish out priority series.

This was an unofficial goal last year, and I’ve made a lot of progress with it. It goes along nicely with my “Read the best books first” mantra and has helped me focus primarily on the authors I claim as favorites. I also feel weirdly compelled to finish these outstanding series before I dive fully into new ones. Like I won’t enjoy the new ones until I finish the old ones? It doesn’t make any sense, so it’s probably just my OCD trying to rationalize this compulsion from my subconscious. I’m choosing to indulge it.

4. Respond to comments ON MY OWN BLOG!

Ugh. How embarrassing. I mean, I managed to comment on other blogs this year while awkwardly neglecting my own. This is unacceptable behavior for me because of how much I appreciate anyone who takes the time out of their busy day to visit and interact with me. I feel ultimate shame. It’s one of those situations where I read the comment in the email WordPress sends me, formulate a reply in my head, then promptly forget to actually respond. #fail

5. Get my eyes healthy.

Really, this should be my first goal this year. ANY other goals I set for reading or blogging are absolutely pointless if I can’t focus long enough to achieve them. This stupid mofo injury has had me down and out for the past 6 months and it has been MISERABLE. Imagine your 3 or 4 most favorite things to do in the world. Do they require eyes? ALL of mine do! Woe is me. I miss reading, I miss blogging, I miss TV, I even miss driving. Okay, I’m done bitching.

6. Create templates for my posts.

Why haven’t I thought of doing this before? There must be some form of brain damage to blame because it would save me SO MUCH TIME! And it only took me 4 years of blogging to figure this out… Sheesh.

7. Host a MASSIVE giveaway.

Thus far, I have over 50 titles to give away that I’ve been hoarding for the last year. Some are new, some used, some are signed, and some lack SKUs (ARCs), and they all need a new home. More to come…

8. Figure out what to do with signed (and personalized) editions of books I didn’t like.

It’s what I get for not being brave enough to say “signature only, please,” fearing it might hurt the author’s feelings or something. Does anyone have some suggestions? Should I include them as options in the giveaway? Help, lol.

9. Rate titles on Goodreads.

This shouldn’t take me too long. I’ve been assigning “no rating” to all my 2015 titles so I could more easily remember which ones I hadn’t reviewed. The trouble is, I’m so far behind in reviewing that it’s getting ridiculous. Also, per last year’s completed goal of “Only review the books I feel strongly about,” there are more than a handful of meh titles that probably won’t get reviewed ever. My reviewing habits have clearly changed, it’s time my Goodreads account adapted with me.

10. Continue my Read 1500 for 1 challenge.

Because I love it and because it works.

What goals do you have for 2016?

by Niki Hawkes


Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookblogger: The Book Review Conundrum

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

The Book Review Conundrum:

Today I’d like to discuss book reviews: specifically 1) my reviewing process and how it has changed over the last two years 2) my alternating problem with having either too many or too few books to review, and 3) my battle with publishing impatience. I know these sound like they could be individual topics, but they’re all things I struggle with whenever I try to improve my blogging experience (and that of my readers).

The Book Review Evolutionary Process

When I started this blog two years ago, I was posting a book review every other day. When I finished a book, it got written about immediately. Even I can’t read THAT fast (unless I’m exclusively reading YA), so I supplemented the reviews with my book review journal – which contained a hefty arsenal of books read before I started the blog. It’s how I kept track of books before I discovered blogging. I’d even go as far as to print out little pictures of the covers to tape inside. Anyway, when I ran out of current titles, I just pulled out that journal and transcribed the pages into posts.

Even while “cheating” with older reviews, posting every other day was a lot of work… perhaps too much. I was also at risk of overwhelming my audience. So to avoid burnout and unnecessarily inundating my readers, I took a chill pill and switched over to reviewing two times per week rather than three or four.

Too Far Ahead of the Game

Now, reviewing feels more free and easy – I write them when I feel like it. The downside to this newfound freedom is that sometimes the posts just don’t happen. I went from posting around fifteen reviews a month to seven or less. This is a change I think both my readers and I are happy with, but it did create a problem I never thought I’d have: too many books to review and not enough time… and it’s only getting worse.

I can remember several week stints in which I had trouble reading enough books to sustain my goal of two fresh reviews per week (as opposed to ones taken from the pre-blog journal). But now I’m reading more per week than ever before and am getting completely buried under TBReviewed titles. I can think of worse blogging catastrophes, for sure, but seriously, I now have have seventeen, I repeat SEVENTEEN unreviewed books from this year alone. If I don’t get inspired and post a review right after I’ve read a book, there’s a good chance the review is from a book read in February or March… It’s July. #fail.

At least I don’t feel at risk of forgetting how I felt about the book – I take thorough notes, and I have decent recall of everything I’ve read (within the last ten years, anyway). Every once in a while, I struggle with regaining my emotional reaction to a book, but a quick skim through usually brings it all back. Furthermore, not all reviews have to wait in line. I usually post reviews for 5-star books soon after reading them because, frankly, I just can’t wait to talk about them (has anybody who has followed me for a while wondered why I’ve reviewed so many 5-star books lately? Granted, I’ve been really good at picking titles, but I haven’t been that good, haha). In a way, this method has served me well because my excited “just finished the book” feelings gets poured into those reviews – usually making them better. I should also mention that I always post right away for “obligation” books (ARCs) and ones I REALLY didn’t like (which are few and far between). It’s the middle of the road titles that I find difficult to make time for.

All Is Not Lost!

So you ask, why don’t you just write reviews when you have the time then schedule them for a later date? I think it’s a great idea, but haven’t been able to do it. I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s like this, but once I write a review, I want to share it… immediately. It’s this crazy impulse to hit “publish” even if it means sharing two, possibly even three posts a day. If I don’t publish it right away, it hangs over my head and actually stresses me out more than if I’d just waited until the last minute to write it (this is the only place in my life where that sentiment is true – I’m usually a very “get it done now so you can play later” type of person).

I guess my point in all this is that I am fighting annoyance with how far behind in reviews I am while simultaneously trying not to set myself up for blogging burnout. I have yet to experience burnout of any kind, thankfully, and I think that has a lot to do with stress-reducing adjustments I’ve made along the way. Although I have occasionally felt a mite stressed to get something out on time, I haven’t ever felt like I need a break longer than just a couple of days. It’s essential for me to keep blogging fun because it’s something I’m truly passionate about. Avoiding burnout will be even more important going forward as I am working on several self-motivated projects that require me to sit in front of the computer screen all day (writing a book while starting a magazine… i.e. topics for another post). On the bright side, I can stop reading for several months and still have material to blog about (yeah, like that will ever happen). :)

Am I Alone?

How often per week do you write book reviews? Has it changed since you started blogging? Do you find yourself behind in your reviews or constantly struggling to finish books to write about?

by Niki Hawkes


Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Bookblogger!

Top ten Tuesday pink

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

 I love these types of Top Tens because it gives me a chance to share a little more of my personality beyond my taste in books. This one took me a lot longer than usual to compose, so please forgive the late posting. In no particular order, here’s the:

Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Bookblogger!


 1. Level-up Bookseller

I knew a lot about books before, but my knowledge of what’s hot and what’s not has expanded considerably since I joined the book blogging community. I’m also better able to speak to the titles I’ve read because by the time I talk to a customer I’ve already thoroughly evaluated my opinions on each title. At the very least, it keeps me from getting tongue-tied when someone wants to know about a book. :-)

2. Now, It’s Personal

  Before I discovered book blogging, I spent several years logging all of my book thoughts by hand – even going so far as to print out little photos of the covers to tape inside my journal. Holy cow have I come a long way! This blog is something I’m really passionate about and I love how truly personal I’ve been able to make it. I would probably be utilizing it to track my reading even if there wasn’t a follower option (although I do love that I get to share my thoughts with other readers).

 3. Author Love

If you had told me a year ago that I have so many interactions with my favorite authors through this blog, I probably would’ve laughed and said “I wish.” After all, there are thousands and thousands of book bloggers, and even with the steady growth I’ve maintained over the last year, I’m nowhere near as accomplished as most of the ones I follow. Nonetheless, I’ve had some pretty amazing author moments – including a tweet of one of my reviews from my all-time favorite author!

 4. Righting my Writing

 I’m happy to practice my craft, no matter the format. Composing reviews and even responding to comments keeps me sharp. I’ve noticed a measurable improvement in my writing since I’ve made blogging a daily activity, particularly with grammar and sentence structures.

5. The Shrunken TBR

After reading a few lists today, I realized that most people have the opposite problem. Since my awareness of what is out on the market (due to book blogging and bookselling) is a bit more extensive than most, I already have a pretty good idea of what I want to read. Book blogging actually helps me eliminate titles off the list because I feel I can rely on other bloggers’ opinions a lot more than random customers (of course, my bookselling buddies help me with this too). They also help me prioritize my TBR.

 6. “You’re the Only One Who Understand Me” ::sobs::

I’ve never before felt so a part of such a cool community – all of you book bloggers are friggen awesome! You guys just get all of my bookish problems and woes, and that is a nice feeling. I’ve made a lot of friends and participated in some really cool events (all things books, of course) and have truly had a ball!

 7. Rainy Day ARCs

 As a book blogger, I of course have experienced the joys of Netgalley and Edelweiss. Not only have I discovered some of my favorite new authors, but have also gotten my hands on works from my favorite authors months before they hit the stands! This is a very dangerous thing for me, as I don’t like to put obligations on my reading. But I can never seem to stop hitting “request title” no matter how hard I try.

  8. Book Love

Specifically when I recommend a book to someone and they love it! It makes my day, and I thoroughly enjoy being the one to hand someone their next awesome read. I think this is my ultimate mission as a book blogger.

 9. Now We’re in Business!

 You know you’re really committed to something when you are willing to pay fifty dollars for a few hundred business cards. Even though I changed the name of the blog about a month after I got them, I still am positively thrilled any time I get to hand one out.

10. Niki Unleashed!

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? This blog has been an incredible creative outlet for me, and I have spent hours and hours figuring out how to display everything in a way that I find visually appeasing. I’m still not totally there, but if you’ve been around since the beginning, you’ll definitely be able to tell how far I’ve come. Every single post is an opportunity for me to get creative and present things my own unique way.

by Niki Hawkes


Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookblogger: Comment Love

chronicles of an obsessive bookbloggerComment Love

Here’s the thing: blogging for me is an incredibly personal endeavor… but I wouldn’t have made my blog accessible to the public if I didn’t want other people reading it. I wanted to highlight my love of books but, more importantly, I wanted to geek out about them with other people – that’s where the comments come into play.

You could say getting thoughtful comments on my posts is the ultimate goal of my book blog. And, if comments are the ultimate form of support – meaning someone took the time out of their busy day to read what I had to say and share their thoughts on it – shouldn’t a response be the highest priority on my to-do list? In my opinion, the answer is yes.

So why, then, is it so hard for me to respond to comments in a timely manner?

In all fairness, when I comment on other blogs, I don’t expect and answer right away. As long as the blogger gets back to me within a week or so (i.e. before I forget what I responded to in the first place) then I’m happy. But for some reason I hold myself to a much higher standard. If I don’t respond to a comment within a couple hours of reading it, I feel incredibly guilty, and it hangs over my head until I’ve answered back. I think it’s mostly because I want everybody who comments to know how much I appreciate their attention.

However, there are a few exceptions.

My heaviest commenting days are Tuesday and Wednesday where I participate in the memes Top Ten Tuesday and Waiting on Wednesday. There are always a handful of people who hit as many blogs as they can on those days, copying and pasting generic comments as they go. In my opinion, they might as well just write “I’m actively soliciting you to come look at my website and don’t really give a shit what’s in your post.” I know I’m not the only one who finds it a bit tacky, and am always less inclined to respond to the comment if I can tell that’s what they’ve done.

The silver lining is that for every ten generic responses, there’s always one or two genuine ones that surface each week, and these thoughtful comments is where I have met several of my best book blogging buddies.  In fact, all of my awesome blogging friends have one thing in common: Comment Love. It is virtually impossible to have good blogosphere relationships without great comments that show you’ve taken the time to read and appreciate what the other person has to say.

So thank you to all of you who are still my blogging buddies despite the fact that I almost always suck at getting back to you in a timely manner. Just know it doesn’t lessen my appreciation in the least, I’m just waiting for a times when I’m able to respond just as thoughtfully!

 Now I want to know what you think: 

 Do you have a difficult time keeping on top of comment love? How long do you think the appropriate response time should be?

by Niki Hawkes


Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookblogger: Reading Challenges

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

Reading Challenges

This is the first year that I’ve taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I don’t know about you, but when I signed up I thought, “this could be a very bad idea.” You see, adding a reading challenge of any sort has the potential to suck some of the fun and spontaneity out of reading. I was worried that the end of the year would come around and I would be really disappointed if I didn’t hit my goal of 100 books.

Sure enough, around August I started paying attention to the little widget tracker as it helpfully informed me I was 8% behind schedule. Then October hit and I knew I was in trouble: I was a whopping 12% (thanks to easy math, exactly 12 books) behind my goal.

That meant I would have had to read 3.5 books per week to reach my goal by the end of the year (I average 1.75). Rationally, I knew it wasn’t going to happen – between family, work, blogging, and everything else that keeps my life so busy there was no way I was going to finish that many books a week. But, like any stubborn reader would, I tried…

I even came up with a game plan – I would read as many YA as I could because, let’s face it, they are the easiest to get through. Almost all of the adult speculative fiction on my shelves are well over 500 pages which take me at least a week to read. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before I started to get really tired of reading all YA (I was focusing mostly on dystopian because I was doing a challenge for that as well). It felt like I was reading because I had to, and not because I wanted to. That’s NEVER good.

A few weeks ago, I finally threw in the towel. I was so tired of reading books that I knew would help me towards my goal that I randomly snatched an 800 page book off my shelf to reread and concentrated on that for a solid two weeks… it was bliss.

So what have I learned? It’s no fun to read things because you feel like you have to (even if they are really good books) and reading challenges can be stressful if you don’t pick goals that are consistent with your current reading habits.

In 2014, I’m going to start with 80 books as my Goodreads challenge goal and if I read more I’ll just bump it up accordingly at the end of the year. I’m still going to continue with the Dystopian Challenge (hosted by Blog of Erised), although I don’t think I will come anywhere near that 24+ books I read for it this year. Finally, I’m doing a Series Challenge (hosted by Read. Sleep. Repeat.) with the hopes that I can finish out a few of the dozens of unfinished series still hanging over my head. I’m worried about the last one mostly because I don’t want to feel obligated next year and I kind of already do when it comes to finishing what I start.

What about you? How many challenges do you have for yourself in 2014? Does participating stress you out like it does me?

by Niki Hawkes


Writing Diaries – Who Has Time to Write?

Writing diaries

I don’t know about you, but I often have difficulty finding the time to write. Between work, family, friends, and the obscene amount of time I spend composing this blog, I’m lucky if I write more than 5000 words a week. This is especially ironic because one of the main reasons I started the blog was to build a platform for my future novel (but has since developed into a passion all its own). It saps up most of my creative energy, leaving me with the constant mental state of “I’ll make up for it tomorrow…”

Writing a novel is difficult for many reasons, but the biggest one is nurturing that motivation to keep going. As most budding writers can relate, it takes a great deal of your free time with few gratifications – even once the story is complete. You have to really want to make it work. I don’t even remember what free time looks like anymore because, if I have a moment to myself, I’m either writing or stressing about writing (which is totally unproductive and not relaxing in the least). The trick is to figure out a schedule that will allow you to feel like you’re making strides within your novel while not placing unreasonable expectations on yourself.

Life gets in the way, and it does your creative energies no good to stress if you don’t have a chance to sit down at the computer every day. When this happens, I’ll take a moment to think about my next scene and maybe jot down some notes in the notebook I always carry with me. Even though I’m not writing, I’m still immersing myself in my story. Doing this allowed my subconscious to continue developing ideas that have led to several “ah-ha” moments throughout the project. I also find it much easier to pick up where I left off when I do this because the ideas have been percolating for days.

So now I have a rhythm down that works for me and my writing processes in all areas but one – when it comes to choosing between blogging and writing, the blog wins every time. They use the same sort of creative mental energy but one gives me instant gratification while the other seems a thankless task. I’ve recently tried to counter this by limiting the amount of posts I do per week to four, rather than the seven I was doing before. It it irritates me to do this because I have enough ideas and content to fill the blog 365 days a year so I’ve had to make some sacrifices. I’ve cut out a book club feature (which took the most effort for the least payoff), limited my other features (such as this one) to be written only after I’ve committed time to my novel for the day, and continued with two book reviews per week. I always see posts from other bloggers explaining why they have slowed down in their content and laugh a bit because I seldom noticed until they pointed it out. I figured the same would be true for my readers. As long as I am consistent with book reviews – the stars of the blog – I’d still be in good shape.

Since I made the change, I’ve noticed a remarkable increase in my amount of creative energy, and am much more able to recognize and take advantage of opportunities to write than I ever have before. Incidentally, my average books read per week has nearly doubled, effectively relieving any stress I felt at having things to review. Overall, it is allowed me to start off NaNoWriMo of with a bang and puts me in a great position to have the first draft of my novel completed by the end of the month… Wish me luck!

 What about you? How do you find the balance between life and writing? What kinds of schedules work for you?

by Niki Hawkes