Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Blogging and The Publishing Complex

This the next and penultimate post in my recent series on book blogging. The comments on the previous entries (on reviewing and subjectivity [1, 2, 3], the problem of pleasure, blogging and literary terminology [1,2], thinking about your reviewing audience, the phenomenon of buzz, and the seven things readers want from publishing) have been wonderful. I highly recommend checking them out.

At the moment, I am reading and enjoying Michael Palmer's new novel, The Watery Part of the World. As much I like the book (it is fine novel, indeed), the most interesting thing about it is that I shouldn't be reading it. Or rather, I shouldn't have heard of it; the only reason I am reading it is because the publisher sent a review copy. I didn't ask for it, hell I didn't even know it existed, but it showed up, so I read the blurb and the first dozen pages and kept going. The publicity machine of publishing dangled the smallest worm, and I bit like a spawning salmon.

Though I've received review copies before, this is the first time where I didn't ask for something and ended up spending time with it. And honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I don't know if you've noticed it, but book blogs are slowly becoming a significant part of book publishing. Book tours, author interviews, sponsored giveaways, advertising, event promotion---the boundless enthusiasm book bloggers have for reading has been noticed by the publishing complex and they are trying to figure out how to use it to sell books. This, of course, is there job and a healthy publishing industry I think is good for readers, but I wonder if it is good for book blogs.

I started reading book blogs about seven or eight years ago, and I've noticed that the blogs that became widely read found their writers being plucked out of blogging into mainstream publishing (Mark Sarvas, Maud Newton, Ron Hogan, to name a few). Many of these blogs are now either gone, incorporated into publishing houses, or shadows of their former selves. Many of the currently popular blogs and bloggers have significant, growing ties to publishers, bookstores, and writers.

See, the thing I love the most about book blogs is the naked, unadulterated readerly passion. Call it being a geek, a dork, a fanboy or fangirl, whatever. The love of reading that spurs someone to write a blog about whatever they happen to be reading just because they need an outlet for their excitement is infectious, inspirational, and affirming.

Maybe it's a paranoid concern, but I can't help but wonder if book blogs will change, will lose some of their valuable amateurism, as they become increasingly linked to the business of books. I see this happen in the academy (and it is one of the reasons I started The Reading Ape); the more someone's livelihood and professional prospects are tied to something, the harder it is to follow your bliss.

What do you make of the strengthening ties between publishing and book blogging?


  1. Of all the things you mention, I find the developing dynamic between writers and bloggers the most interesting. Bloggers and writers interact in comments on blogs, and through twitter, in ways that I don't think traditional reviewers interact with writers.And smart writers are realizing the power of developing these relationships. I like what you said about the passion/geek factor/fangirl aspect of book bloggers-I think it is enormously appealing.

  2. Funny this was your post today-I came home to an unsolicited book for review sent by a publisher. I have mixed feelings about this. I am still a little starstruck getting communications from publishers and authors, but at the same time I'm not sure I like the pressure I feel to read their book on their timeline, and while I feel I am honest in my reviews I'm sure there is some part of me that feels more positively disposed towards a book if the author sent me a nice letter before reading.

  3. There are a few blogs about the feel like glorified advertising and I don't enjoy these so much. I think there's a balance between personal blogging and supporting the publishing industry with publicity. Whilst I do receive review books they are always books I've chosen myself. I've approached publishers who appeal to me and am selective on Net Galley.

    The more popular blogs are always going to be the ones with the personal touch I think. That's why publishers are tapping into them in the first place.

  4. Like Heather, I have mixed feelings about this. When I figured out that many book bloggers get review copies I decided I'd never do that, but then a publicist offered to fedex a review copy to me all the way in Macedonia and I couldn't say no. I've probably done about five posts on review copies, and still am not sure what I think of this professionalization(?) of book blogs, because my favorite book blogs are those that aren't tied up in this stuff. But when I consider my goals for my blog, and what I look for in the blogs I read, it's a certain degree of professionalism - of seeing blogs as a replacement or addition of sorts to the thinning newspaper books pages - which obviously means handling review copies.

    Going off of Heather's comment again, I also dislike the pressure to review a book by a certain date. I've given up on keeping up with my review copies lately because...well, I'm not a professional, and the blog is something I write in my spare time. I guess that's one problem with my dream for the future of book blogs, because most of us are doing this as a hobby.

    -- Ellen

  5. Personally, I'm happy with this trend. I appreciate the respect and the assumption of professionalism on my part that I'm seeing from publishers, because that's how I've always approached blogging and reviewing. I take the reviews I write every bit as seriously as someone who does it for money, and in lieu of money the next best thing is being treated with the same consideration.

    I really like the fact that, as a blogger, I'm not required to be an opinion-maker -- I can take a book that I wasn't crazy about stylistically and write about the philosophical aspects of it that I found interesting, if I want, or the cover design. I think that kind of freedom that bloggers have is terrific, and I don't feel that reading and responding to a galley in a reasonably timely fashion (or on an agreed-on date if you're part of a blog tour) is too much to ask.