Blog Blather: Thoughts on Blogging Post-Book Blogger Convention

I purposely wanted to wait a little longer to process my thoughts about book blogging in general.  This post is not so much about the book blogger convention as it is about book blogging in general. For a great discussion about the keynote speaker and some of the panels see MotherReader or Shelf Love. There are tons of other retrospective posts, those are just two the stood out to me.

An Ocean and a Sea

Many bloggers mentioned disappointment in the BEA session “Book Reviews Online.”  The speakers were from major media outlets like the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, and they spoke of the book blogs they’ve developed as an extension of the print media. I don’t know if I was disappointed or appalled or annoyed or what by that session. I was taking tons of notes simply because my hands wanted to be busy. I look over those notes now and think, “duh.” There was nothing new in that session. And yet, I walked away feeling enlightened.

No, I was not enlightened by anything they said. Rather, I was enlightened by what they didn’t say. There was no mention of Amazon Reviews, GoodReads reviews, LibraryThing, the Book Blogger Convention, or any of the blogs that you and I recognize as “book blogs.” In fact, they are a completely different circle, and their reach is far beyond what I can comprehend in my blogging experience. It’s like they are a salt water ocean and our blogging circle is an inland freshwater sea. A small one.

So here are the questions I had after that session: Are we little fish trying to get into the ocean? Do we want to fit in with the traditional media approach to blogging? Are they trying to fit in with us? Why are they blogging to begin with? Do we just keep swimming in our own sea and ignore them, or is there a way for our blogs to welcome the big fish into our community?

Or maybe they are the Pacific Ocean and we are the Atlantic Ocean and sometimes we mingle together, but mostly we run by different currents.

From what they said, for their media outlets, blogging is fairly new, as in three years or so. In our blogging terms, three years is still rather young (at least it is to me, as I started three years ago and there were already a gazillion books blogs then). I don’t think most bloggers want or ever expect to read thousands upon thousands of readers a day. But when I think about how very limited our reach is, I begin to question my own reasons. Why am I putting so very much time into something that so few people read? It is a small percentage of a very small sea of readers. It makes so very little difference in the ocean of the world bloggers.

I must admit that by this time of BEA I was not feeling well – I’d had that discouraging first conversation, and then stood all day and my feet were killing me, and I was in a rotten mood. (Apologies to all the people who only met me when I was in a rotten mood; I really wish I had been 100% good mood for the entire BEA-BBC week). So maybe that’s why that panel left me feeling rather negative to my own blog for some reason. But still, I think it’s worth considering: where do our book blogs fit in with the traditional media? Do we care?

I don’t feel quite so negative about my blog anymore, but I still feel the question is out there in my mind.

The State and Future of Book Blogging

And then as I was pondering this concept, I stumbled upon The Reading Ape’s Questions (via Jillian’s blog).  Here are my thoughts, most especially from my perspective as a blogger about classic literature.
1. What does book blogging do best?

Book blogging provides a place for like-minded individuals to share and discuss thoughts on literature and recommendations for future reads. I think book blogs recommend books better than they do anything else.

2. If you write a book blog, why do you?

I write my blog because I was looking for people to chat with who read what I read. I also was looking for suggestions and liked the opportunity to provide suggestions to others.

3. What do you think the future of book blogging is?

I think some book blogging voices will become a part of the larger “ocean” of book bloggers as I mention above when they are hired by traditional media outlets. I think new book bloggers will appear and others will stop posting. It will ebb and flow. For example, 2009 was a huge year for book blogging, challenges, and so forth. Right now it’s at a lull because people are busy and can’t keep up. (Maybe the bad economy is to blame.) It changes. Challenges and blog awards are so 2009. Readalongs are the big thing this year (and last).

4. What do your favorite book bloggers do?

My favorite book bloggers share their own personal reactions to a book as well as opening opportunities for discussion about it. I’m not overly concerned about “spoilers” for books I haven’t read, so I like open discussions. I like it when book bloggers respond to specific comments on their blogs because then it is a discussion. I don’t have tons of time to read huge essays, so I also like it when bloggers can do all that in less than 1000 word posts. (he he, mine go over quite a lot of the time too… HYPOCRITE.)

5. If you could tell all book bloggers one thing, what would it be?

If I could tell book bloggers one thing, I’d tell them to please, don’t use the publisher’s summary in your posts. Write your own if you must have a summary.  I know this is a lame suggestion but really, it makes a blog post so much more valuable when it’s all yours.

6. If you could change one thing about book blogging, what would it be?

If I could change one thing, I think I’d change the sense of obligation. Less pressure to post because of review copies, for example, as I think many read and write about books because they “have” to. I recently have begun to feel this with my own Classics Circuit, and I just began taking review copies. It could be an issue.

7. How do you think book blogging fits into the reading landscape?

I think our type of book blogging is the personal side of things. If we really are a small sea (and maybe “classics blogging” is even a little lake), then we are a fun one. We are friends and personalities instead of just being a bunch of words. I wonder if maybe the ocean of book blogging is a bit less personal. I don’t read many of them though. I just wasn’t impressed with personality when Publisher’s Weekly says all their reviews are anonymously posted.

8. What about your own book blogging would you like to do better/differently?

I’d like to be better at staying on a schedule. I say this after saying I want less pressure to post. I guess I just want to feel on top of blogging instead of always behind my rambling mind. I have so much to say and so little time and ability to get it out on paper (or, computer screen, as the case may be).

These eight answers are off-the-cuff quick responses. I have so much more to share about my thoughts on book blogging.Even as I try to write up these responses, I feel a little silly. Does it matter? Does blogging about blogging make any sense? I blog because, as I say above, I want to interact. So why does it matter if I’m a small fish in a pond instead of the ocean?

I’m not sure I do care where we belong. I know that somehow I still want my blog to be more, and reach as many people as I can. I want to have influence somewhere far beyond me. But that is probably a pipe dream.

Anyway, even with all this said, I still haven’t begun to discuss the issues I’ve been thinking of because of the panel I was on: blogging for a niche market. In fact, I have another thousand words about it. I’ll be back next week to discuss some of those issues for Classics Bloggers.

In the mean time, what do you think? Do you care if we’re a little sea instead of the ocean? Where do you think our blogging circle belongs in the entire sphere of the internet?


About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I wish I could have seen that panel but I wasn’t there. Your impressions don’t surprise me though, I’ve always got the feeling that there is a huge separation between ‘those’ blogs and my blog. I have my own blogging woes and moments, like you said, of ‘why am I doing this again?’ but for the most part, I’m happy where I am. I have a group of regular commenters who visit and I enjoy those relationships. I’d love more but if a blog gets too big, aren’t those relationships jeopardized?

  2. #5: thank you, thank you, thank you. This isn’t a lame suggestion, and I’ve never understand why bloggers go with publisher copy for the books they’re reviewing. It’s easy enough to fit a description of a book into a review, and it reveals more of the book to readers than a copy-and-pasted summary. I’ve pretty much stopped reading blogs that do this because it frustrates me so much; I want to read what other bloggers and readers think about a book, how they summarize a book, NOT what the publisher thinks of the book.

      1. I agree with #5, too! The only time I quote publisher or back copy summaries (and only in part, not full) is when I feel that it doesn’t mesh with what the book is about, and why.

  3. I think that is an interesting / apt metaphor, that we are a smaller sea / lake or at least a separate one. I think that the two different ‘types’ of reviews and blogs have different goals and purposes. Personally, I like the discussion and personality on our end of things. With thousands of viewers a day I wouldn’t be able to keep it up as a hobby. And that is another big difference, for us it is often a side hobby to whatever it is we do in real life. This means that, I think anyway, we take different experiences with us to the reading. Both of these things, in my view, make us a great source of recommendations and I know I get a fair number of random searches for books. The discussion is the key for me!

    1. Amy » I do think it’s nice how we all have our own perspective on books given our different experiences. I really need to do a better job of opening up discussions.

  4. #7 -yes, yes, yes. The Publisher’s Weekly, NYT, etc. panelists did not happen to mention how deadly dull their blogs are? Not just personality-free, but boring, written in a boring way.

    What kind of influence do you want to have, by the way? You don’t strike me, on the blog, as a crusader or ideologue.

    1. Amateur Reader » lol no, they didn’t mention how boring their blogs are. Am rather glad to hear it.

      And you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m not a crusader or ideologue of any kind but I still want to be SOMETHING. This post is mostly as a result of my wondering why I’m blogging to begin with. Do I really have anything original to add? It seems book blogging (and really, a lot of different kinds of blogging) are in a commenting drought lately. I’m a part of it, as I feel I don’t have tons of time lately. When there are no comments I wonder again why I spend so much time trying to write something. It’s for me but somehow I want to have Influence in Someway. I have no idea in what way. So no. I’m not a crusader, and here I’m trying to find my consistent place in the book blogosphere.

  5. Instead of comparing yourself to the print-moving-to-blog reviewers, another way to look at your ‘reach’ is to compare it to your reach in face-to-face life. I know I have maybe three or four people I can convince to read books and chat about with them outside of blogging. If I knew as many people interested in my reading recs face-to-face as I have blog subscribers, it’d be crazy! 🙂

  6. Also, maybe this is just me, but I prefer having a smaller ‘sea,’ which makes it more personal and fun. When I confronted the possibility of having to quit blogging because of my health, it wasn’t my ‘influence’ that I’d miss; it was the conversations I have w bloggers at their blogs, my blog, twitter, etc. So I guess I see book blogging more as a huge book club than anything else! 🙂

  7. Count me in on #5, too. I really like it when people write their own summaries! It can be difficult, but it’s also an extra way that the reviewer can put their opinion across (for example I know some of my summaries are written with a particular focus on one plot element because that’s what stood out to me).

    I’ve not read any newspaper book blogs, but I can see where they would be boring. I think the difference in the way they would post (less personal etc) would be interesting – the contrast between what we do and what they do – but it is so nice to get to know the reviewer because without that you’re never going to be able to trust the newspaper as much because you’ll never know what their preferences truly are. Our kind of book bloggers are more open.

  8. I actually like to read print reviews sometimes (and don’t *necessarily* find them boring), but I don’t follow print reviewers the way I do bloggers. It’s just not the same because I don’t know them and their taste.

    And I am absolutely with you on #6. I’ve been a long-time advocate of the “no pressure/low-commitment” approach to blogging, but even I feel it sometimes, especially as review copies pile up and interesting group reads appear. I think, though, when I reading what I want to read, I’m a *better* reader and blogger.

    1. No, no. Print reviews are not boring. Print reviews are essential. I read them all the time, in The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. It is strange not to read print reviews.

      Read them by author – soon you will know Ruth Franklin, you will know her taste.

      It’s professional book blogs, book blogs attached to magazines, like the New Yorker book blog, that are so lacking in personality.

      1. Thanks for clarifying that. I totally misread your comment! I had reviews in my head because the session Rebecca was talking about focused almost entirely on the fact that they can post more *reviews* online, which is means more book coverage. (And about that “revelation” all I could think was “Hello Captain Obvious.” The utterly non-cutting-edge print publication I used to work for figured that out 7 or 8 years ago.)

        And yes, most all the blogs I’ve read that are adjuncts to print reviews are pretty dull. Every now and then they’ll have a good post (PW especially), but I still don’t follow them–I assume that if they post something worth my time, some other blogger will link to it. But the dullness of their blogs may explain why one of the panelists said there wasn’t much of interest going on in the blogging world. If they only read each other’s blogs, well, they’re not seeing the good stuff.

        Following particular print critics is a good idea! But, alas, it’s something I’m unlikely to do when I’m already feeling overwhelmed with book recommendations from bloggers. I do have Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure book. It’s great.

        1. If they only read each other’s blogs, well, they’re not seeing the good stuff.

          Ain’t that the truth. If you look at the New Yorker book blog (linked above), at their blogroll, I believe you will want to replace “If” with “Because.”

    2. Teresa » As you know, I’m experimenting with review copies. Not sure what I think yet. But I am worried it will take over my reading. I’ve found some new books, and I’m challenging myself a little bit, though, so that’s nice too.

  9. I’m glad you took part in this conversation, and I can relate to everything you’ve said. I think part of the greater conversation about book blogging — is what some others have addressed above. Blogging the classics? Is a completely different blog genre than (as an example) a book blog solely devoted to reviewing as a means to support publishers/new authors and spread the word about new releases.

    I’m with you that I want a small sea, a personal connection. I absolutely blog simply to journal, but I would miss the one-on-one connections, if people stopped visiting. I don’t want to ‘sell’ books or blog by schedule or impress visitors. I just want — the “book club” mentioned above. A smile, an expression about the book. A way to share my growing love and discovery of history and literature.

    That’s a whole different channel on the book blog radio — and it ought to be acknowledged as its own channel (I think.) Until I made the connection, that there’s a difference between voices and purposes in the book blogging world, I felt offended by suggestions that journaling books is unimportant. Of course it would seem unimportant to a person who is trying to sell books, or a person writing to promote literary analysis, or a person writing to spread awareness of the classics, or a person writing to gain followers because he’s an up-and-coming author who wants to try book blogging as a means to gain awareness among book bloggers — of his book.

    So many book blog channels. I’m a journal-writer — a reflector. And it’s totally valid, and I’m fine with it. Book blogging is in itself becoming a form of literature, I think. There’s no straight definition of a book blog, just as a novel comes in many different styles and is written toward many different purposes.

    The conversation started by The Reading Ape is enlightening, though. It has me thinking about the future — and whether I want to contribute in some way to the book blogging world, or go on quietly following my own journey…

    1. Jillian » I think you point out some of my issues. I began blogging just for myself. Then people started commenting! And I liked it! and then about a year and a half ago, tons of people STOPPED commenting. I seriously think the economy makes a difference. People are working more/less/differently, so blogging suffers since it’s a side thing. But also, people began to get burned out of blogging. But then, maybe I changed on this blog and don’t realize it?

      Anyway, when a post gets no comments I wonder. But your comment here reminds me that I need to write for myself first. And if no one comments because life has gotten busy or what not, I need to not let that affect my personal ways of reflecting. I love how your blog has your voice and you are able to just write and post. Sometimes I wish I could do that instead of agonizing for a long time over each post. It would make those zero comment posts a little less painful 🙂

      An aside — I don’t think many bloggers are blogging to “sell books” but rather the suggest great books they loved. Whether it’s classics or the newest release, people blog because they have a passion for the books. I think sometimes people do want to help publishers out, but not generally.

  10. I think it’s hard to blog regularly regarding book reviews, especially if the only “compensation” is ARCs (if even that — I can see how classics bloggers don’t get that advantage). I appreciate the ARCs I get — and I seriously limit the amount that I allow in my house — but let’s say the book is worth $20 in the store and takes me three hours to read and another hour to write a review. That comes out to only $5 a hour, less than minimum wage. So, it definitely has to be a labor of love. People who actually make *money* (and not just recieving ARCs) by writing about books are the ones who probably should feel the need to report in on a regular basis. For the rest of us, it’s what and when works best for us.

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