Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This is why I don't have a blogroll. Or friends.

In the face of a cranky attack on blogging that appeared in the resolutely print journal n+1 (and which is excerpted here), Fuse #8 this morning offers a defense of review-blogging that, I think, misses a big part of the point. I agree with her about the general cluelessness about the argument, but I don't think the biggest problem the online reviewing of children's books faces is its "out-and-out unapologetic fire and verve." Would that it were. It's more a problem of, to take a leaf from the old Spy magazine, "[b]logrolling in our time." The fact that librarians, teachers, enthusiasts, reviewers, parents, publishers and authors are conversing in the same corner of cyberspace has created a community of interested parties heretofore unknown in the children's book world. (Children themselves are still among the missing). In the old days, public librarians and school librarians barely spoke and both groups complained about teachers. All three groups interacted with authors via publishers and usually discretely.

That the brave new world has all-of-the-above kind of people in't, communicating as peers rather than through hierarchy and intermediation, is in most ways cause for celebration. But I'm not sure it has lead to better reviewing: can we truly "all be in this together" at the same time some of us are judging the work of others? Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention. It's hard not to be nice to someone, author or editor, whose own site may appear on your blogroll, or who regularly drops by your place to comment.

I recognize that I speak as someone invested in the system of book reviewers as putatively disinterested experts. But authors: reviewers are not your friends. This is not to say that we are out to get you, either--merely that we don't have your interests at heart. I watch with a sinking heart the "blog tours" of writers; recalling my favorite Law & Order mantra, any subsequent review from any of these blogs becomes "fruit from the poisoned tree." (Likewise, Fuse, with that Little, Brown promotion.) It isn't a bad thing at all that publishers are doing their best to use blogs as marketing tools. That's their job. But it's a reviewer's job to ignore the publisher and the author, and to instead focus on the book and its potential audience. Coziness has its price.


Andy Laties said...

Isn't this related to the discussion you so genially hosted last year on the subject of whether awards-committee-members become corrupted by the fancy parties publishers throw for them?

That is: Haven't authors (and publishers) been attempting to corrupt the review process ever since Homer flattered his host? Stefan Zweig reports that 16th century authors (Erasmus, e.g.) earned their incomes by personally (flatteringly) inscribing copies of their books to the many prestigious Learned and Crown-ed of Europe, and mailing these books off (unsolicited!), then waiting hopefully in expectation of a handsome payment IN RESPONSE.

Author visits to reviewers' blogs then is simply an extention of a very long tradition. What's so bad about corruption? "And if we purify the pond, the lilies die."

Roger Sutton said...

You're right, Andy, in that publishers and writers have forever been trying to get people to buy their books. But the book blogosphere with its too often undifferentiated mix of gossip, news, promotion and reviewing (sometimes all in one post) has not yet sorted itself out, probably because it doesn't need to. Certainly gone are the days when May Massee and Velma Varner took turns telling the Newbery-Caldecott committee what to vote for, but today's reviewers and librarians are subject to self- and external scrutiny when it comes to their book evaluations, with consequences to both their authority and bottom lines. But children's book blogging is at this point, largely self-referential, consequences only measured in links and hits. There is neither a bottom line nor an institution to protect. I'm guessing it will all shake out as the nature of electronic communication matures.

Mitali Perkins said...

For authors, blog mentions provide an alternative way to get our stories known to potential readers. But reviews from critics who obviously care more about the book and the reader than the author are CRUCIAL for the credibility of our stories.

There is room at the table for all kinds of book chatter -- the nurturing kind and the tell-the-truth-even-if-you-sob-when-you-read-this critique. Discerning readers can soon tell the difference, and authors NEED BOTH KINDS OF REVIEWERS. It's a lonely job, so what's wrong with a bit of you-did-it-hoorah kind of buzz? On the other hand, what kind of a loser would I be if I cared more about my ego than about the story and the children reading it? Hold me accountable to the craft, please. As a blogger, you have to decide what kind of critique you want to offer and stick to it.

Andy Laties said...

Sorry that quote should read: "And if you purify the pond, the water lilies die." It's by William Stafford.

Roger Sutton said...

And, Andy, it very aptly speaks to Mitali's point. Well played!

sdl said...

I'm glad you posted this. I couldn't tell if it was only professional jealousy that made me so cranky about the New York librarians being treated to fabulous book parties. Obviously there's a hefty portion of that but at the same time I don't see how the same people can then sit on award committees or offer up online reviews and still claim full independence and unbiased opinions.

And despite my feeling that way, I am sure I would accept any invitations that came my way too, if Chicago had a big publishing company with a great juvenile house because it's irresistible.

Kelly said...

I don't know, Roger. Many of your points are well taken, but I do think you're taking the blogs at face value. I don't know a single blogger who will be welcoming Ginger Spice on a blog tour. Or Jenna Bush. We do actually *decide* when and whether we want to host an author. I always insist on reading the author's most recent book first, for example, before hosting. I have said no to blog tours when a) I am unfamiliar with an author's work or b) I dislike an author's work. Would it make you feel better if we said so? Would it make you feel better if a blogger like me posted my blacklist (books I hated and didn't review) for all to see?

We've all been through this debate and I know several people who feel as I do: I'm not being paid to blog, so I don't want to waste my writing time on bad reviews. Each review takes 30-60 minutes to write. I don't feel like spending the time and I also don't feel it's fair to writers to just put up a list of the books I didn't like.

Also, re: "friends" and "blogrolls." There are many true friends on my blogrolls, but there are also people I dislike or whose agendas I dislike on the blogroll. Why are they there? I consider my blogroll a resource for others--a place for people to refer to when they want to find many and diverse blogs in the kidlitosphere.

Thanks again for giving us much to consider.

Anonymous said...

My first book will soon be ripe for review, and I had the very same feeling you talk about when I saw your shout-out to Mitali regarding her forthcoming excellent (and well-deserved) review in Hornbook. "Darn! I should live in Boston -- then I'd know Roger too!"

But thinking a bit further, I recognized that, from what I know, it simply isn't in you to give a "chummy" review to a friend. Perhaps you should assume that others have similar standards.

Mitali Perkins said...

Rumors are flying that Roger trots across the river every day to eat homemade lamb vindaloo for lunch in my crib.

Sadly, though, we've never met.

Anonymous said...

Sorry -- I didn't mean to suggest I knew otherwise, Mitali. My intention was to criticize my own set of assumptions here.

Kelly said...

Mitali: If you have homemade lamb vindaloo, I'll *fly* to Boston to meet you! I'm not sure there's a food I love more than a super spicy lamb vindaloo.

Roger Sutton said...

Kelly's right that I really don't know anything about how blog tours are formed (I've never been asked to participate in one), but there's no question that they are publisher (or author) driven publicity. It's free advertising. The author gets exposure and the blogger gets copy. The only problem is that said interview is published within an undifferentiated mix of news, gossip, shoutouts, trivia--and reviews. It's only the context for the last that concerns me.

Kelly said...

"...the blogger gets copy..."

Roger, you can't be serious. Do you really think bloggers interview authors merely for copy? Why do magazines interview writers then? Why do newspapers? Why are authors invited to speak at award ceremonies? For copy? For advertising?

I'm curious as to what you think the solution should be. Should bloggers not review books? Or only review books and not include trivia, or gossip (unclear what you mean by gossip), news, or interviews? If they interview an author, should they not post a review of the book as well?

I'm not be snarky here. I am honestly interested in your ideas on the matter.

rindawriter said...

I like these words of Mitali's, and I quote (don't you just LOVE cut and paste functions?)

"Hold me accountable to the craft, please."

To me that implies that the one accounting is an EXPERT about the craft, i.e., NOT only does he/she READ a lot and KNOW a lot but is also an EXPERT practitioner in original, independent, critical thinking...

So, yes, oh yes, please, please, PLEASE! Don't ever be my friend as a reviewer of my words whenever, if ever, wherever in ANY sort of universe, Roger! My words, alas, alas, must live or die, prosper or or suffer whatever tortures all on their ownsomes--so have at them, anyone, anywhere!

I'm all for freedom of speech, so I say let the bloggers blog away...I mean I ardently support their rights to blog in public about whatever whenever(and I equally ardently support their rights to make fools of themselvs in public with meaingingless, sloppy, words as well if that's what they like to do).....

BUT, when I choose to read reviews, all of the book creator bloggers who review books are making me go to and rely on, now more than ever, to the experts.....those who have literally given their lives to books for young people. I know full well that expert book reviewers, librarians, and teachers don't get the $$$ that many a publisher and/or book creator does...and I also know full well that no expert reviewer, librarian, or teacher has the vested self interest in publicity that most book creator/blogger reviewers have--not that such publicity is as much of a publicity as the bloggers seem to think it it all is.

They have forgotten that getting your words out there on the Internet is not an automatic route to real word power; you have to hvae something powerful to say as well....!

Yeah, yeah, so the bloggers get a few hundreds of fans and a few extra people buying books and a few extra bucks in their own pockets on a Myspace blog....from mostly teen fans with, as far as I have been able to see from teen blog spaces, some in real life, real time huge needs who would be far, far better off learning how to and trying harder to communicate in real time with real life human beings of any age rather than being encouraged and egged on to live so immensely and completely in sick fantasy worlds that offer no help and no insight into real-time living.

Chidren's book authors are NOT social workers. They are NOT mental health therapists. They are NOT parents or guardians. They are NOT librians or teachers or school counselors or good peer friends. They are not psychologists or psychiatrists.

And what authors are doing online in Myspace type blogs, so aggressively promoting their own books by setting themselves up to be experts and superiors to young teens and offering vulnerable young folks online advice for personal problems, whether in the form of book recommendations or not....I do not know, but that's a place I'm not ever going as a writer. My words online are enough as they are, there to read or not to read...I'm not going to soil myself with shoving my words down vulnerable young readers' throats by free giveaways and agressive promtion of my work coupled with free advice on myspace type blogs.

If other writers want to go there, fine. Let them get sued someday by some truly messed up teen's family for...who took online advice the wrong way round...

Good books should always lead us, ON THEIR OWN MERITS, BY THEIR WORDS ALONE, should guide us, help us, whether a child or an adult reader, into understanding, exploring, coping with, enjoying, and LIVING IN the real world with real-time relationships and to understand that real world more fully. That's what Lewis' Narnia books did for me as a child. They opened me up to alternative real worlds in a marvelous way, to pepole who thought differently, lived differently. And I would never have learned about nor loved medieval and Renaissance history or indeed history of any sort without those books. And without history and without books, how do we learn to understand truly in real time who we are and who others are and from whence we, all, came? Do readers really, REALLY need anything extra beyond the words alone to empower, convince, persuade,aid, pleasure,stretch us? Or is the blogging world getting making words confused with and mixed up with making THEMSELVES into Hollywood multi-media stars?

God spare us the horror....all those middle-aged, sagging lady writers with wrinkles and gray hair like me....trying to make like movie stars...

Sorry...for hogging up so much sand in the sand box today....

Anonymous said...

Well this is very interesting. As it happens, I have just organized a large multi-author blog tour for the month of June. (Which Fuse is participating in.) I did not organize it at all with any assitance from publishers with the exception of helping me get in touch with a (very) few authors. I came up with the list of bloggers who are participating and from there we came up with a list of authors whose work we enjoy or who we are curious about. The intent here has never been to specifically review any of their books. We are interested in asking them about their process, their characters, their research etc. My goal is simply to spread the word on some great authors who have written some great books.

All of this stems from my work at Bookslut where I have a monthly YA column and where I also review adult books and write features. In the process of writing reviews I have come across many books that I don't think have gained the mainstream attention they deserve or authors who I feel are doing something interesting with their writing that merits closer attention. No publisher has ever asked that I organize a blog tour - my participation has always been, and continues to be, based on the worthiness of the literature in question and through my own contact with the authors.

As far as being nice - well that's interesting. Reviewers truly can not be friends with authors? That's a rather upsetting and very general statement. I doubt that in the print journalism world there are no authors who have friends who are reviewers. (And what about all those authors who guest review? Where do they fall in this?)

There is a lot of good and bad in the blogosphere Roger - some people perhaps only providing lip service while others work very hard to develop a reputation of honesty and integrity. I think it is unfair to dismiss blog tours so casually - especially without knowing much about how each is developed. I am only trying to help readers find interesting authors - I fail to see how that could be deemed self serving or "cozy". I am focused on the books and their audience - that's why I'm doing this.


Colleen Mondor aka Chasing Ray

Anonymous said...

I know plenty of bloggers who post interviews when they don't have anything else to blog but want to keep generating traffic. Why do non-author bloggers want traffic? Hmmm...virtual internet popularity contest? It feels very highschool, sometimes. Especially when the review mentions the authors' fabulous personalities or dashing good looks. Many *literary* blogs seem to be about the people, not the books.

Why do magazines and newspapers exist? To make money. This isn't to say they can't have a point of view or do good work in the process. But implying that it's purely public service? A stretch.

Why are authors invited to speak at award ceremonies? Hmmm...why do awards exist? To recognize good work, promote good books. Sure. BUT they're not entirely altruistic. The awards also promote the award-givers' establishments and agendas.


b.e.m. said...

Interesting topic, Roger. I agree with SDL. The New York-area librarians have always gotten the year-round swag and party invitations that those of us in the hinterlands will never see.

The only difference is that now, children's lit blogs have exposed that part of the business to the rest of the world, since it seems there are bloggers who can't refrain from gushing about their latest social engagements, rubbing elbows with publishers and authors, under the ruse of giving the rest of us poor slobs relevant news about our field.

From the gossipy reports I've read, they seem to be very easily dazzled and, yeah, it makes me question their credibility as reviewers and as members of a book jury.

It does seem like some bloggers are being used by the promotional division of publishing companies, and it doesn't always sound like they realize this is happening. Obviously, it benefits the publisher to cozy up under the guise of friendship, to tell the bloggers how interesting and brilliant and important they are. (Bloggers must already be preconditioned to believe this -- why else would they have a blog in the first place?) And what a boon for the publisher -- free advertising!

It'll be interesting to see if blogs quickly become yet another means to reach consumers.

Roger Sutton said...

All media needs copy. All products need promotion--ta da! The trick is in respecting the integrity of each, so that the consumer knows where one leaves off and the other begins. (Actually, the trick is disguising one as the other, as in the "advertorial" supplements plaguing magazines.) I can't think of a single blog I read that has complained about having too many things to write about--we're all looking for new stories that our readers will enjoy. So an offer of an interview, a book, a party, can look good. Beyond their own inherent pleasures, they give you things to write about. THIS IS NOT EVIL, and can provide some sharp and entertaining writing.

All I'm trying to do is figure out why there seems to be too much squishiness in children's-book blog reviews. Part of it is the "make nice" that's always plagued children's book reviewing. Part of it is the self-indulgence--I speak from experience; why, I'm doing it RIGHT NOW--of expending too many words on too-slight books, because you can, because it's easier to write long than short, and because none of what we write sees an editor. (Fuse has a good article about this coming up in the May HB, by the way. SHOUT-OUT!) Another part is the easy communion of reviews amidst stuff that looks like publicity. Yet another part is that some of the best and most popular bloggers are authors who will see our reviews in an instant.

If we want blog book reviewing to get better, how do we negotiate all the facts of blog life? Like you, Kelly, I'm not being snarky--that's a genuine question.

Kelly said...

B.E.M. said: "Obviously, it benefits the publisher to cozy up under the guise of friendship, to tell the bloggers how interesting and brilliant and important they are. (Bloggers must already be preconditioned to believe this -- why else would they have a blog in the first place?)"

Well, BEM, I can tell you why I have a blog. To talk to other people about books. I only wish my self-esteem were what you suggest. Life would be grand.

Roger Sutton said...

Two brief things: B.E.M.'s posts remind me that the real Bertha E. Mahony (founder of the Horn Book) would be totally loving this conversation. And let's not forget that being feted by publishers is not something only our NYC sisters and brothers can enjoy; anybody who's ever served on an ALSC or YALSA book committee will tell you otherwise.

Anonymous said...

As a publisher (on the opposite coast) I have to say that the Kidlit world has introduced me to children's book afficianados that I would not meet otherwise.

Joining this online community (or what I refer to as my Book Club) lets me correspond with people who share a common interest - books and children's books in particular.

The mere fact that book blog authors - the newbies in the industry- are interested enough to create a daily ritual / habit / addiction (?) of writing about children's books just gives us publishers more useful feedback. After all, these book bloggers are not in it for the money and choose to surround themselves by children's books based on the pure joy of discovering new books to share. In fact, the more time I spend on the book blog sites, the longer the list of books that I decide to purchase for my son. His lbrary is quite diverse and since I am able to read reviews of books that many print publications won't mention for a few more months, this online book community offers the most up-to-date look at the industry.

Technology is certainly changing the way consumers shop and therefore, it is only necessary to change the way we (publishers) market to them.

Gwenda said...

Wow, most of the bloggers I know aren't nearly as cynical as the commenters here imply. Blogging for glory is a fool's game, and you're not talking about stupid people here, folks.

I assume the best of the people who read my blog. That means one of the things I assume about them is that they have pretty good bullshit detectors. I fully expect them to know if I ever dip a toe into the waters of insincerity. Positive reviews are not necessarily _dishonest_ reviews.

At any rate, bloggers draw traffic largely through their personal voices and personal tastes. It's not likely, then, that they'd allow either to be so easily corrupted. In fact, I'd argue that it's _because_ of the mix of things that provide the context for a blog's reviews--things that reveal information about the blogger and their tastes and point of view--that I take blog recommendations seriously. I know a lot more about where Colleen or Fuse is coming from than I do about an anonymous Kirkus reviewer. (And having been an anonymous Kirkus reviewer, I say that with no hint of an insult to Kirkus.) And, of course, lots of bloggers also review professionally these days.

I think the chumminess complaints are also a little overblown. The litblogosphere is a community, that's for sure, and people do develop friendships. In that way, it is exactly like any field -- only more visible. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is inherently exclusionary.

Andy Laties said...

It's Greek Democracy versus the Roman Republic here in this debate. A classic dialectic. The blogosphere as the free-wheeling, small-'d' democratic Athenian Agora; the print-review journals as the (putatively representative) 'father-knows-best' Roman Senate.

Just a thought.

Kelly said...

Roger said: "If we want blog book reviewing to get better, how do we negotiate all the facts of blog life? Like you, Kelly, I'm not being snarky--that's a genuine question."

I understand what you're saying here, Roger, and will try to articulate my thoughts clearly.

I do think you're underestimating bloggers and blog readers. We *know* our audience consists of book lovers, parents, teachers, librarians, and one another. They're/We're looking for "book recommendations," and that's what we mostly provide. (And, as the anonymous publisher wrote above, we often provide it first.)

Readers of book blogs are also looking for news about books, writers, books being turned into movies, etc. Blogs are able to aggregate this information and quickly.

As far as book reviews are concerned, I think we all know whose reviews we prefer to read and pay attention to those more closely. I'm also certain that each reader's list of favorite reviewers is different. In some way, as Gwenda mentioned, when you're dealing with the blogs, you know who to trust.

I think also that the flexibility of the medium is useful to readers. If they have a question about a review, they can just leave a comment, or send an e-mail if they don't want to go public. Much quicker than writing into a magazine or newspaper.

Finally, I would like to add that many of us worry about form, writing, and seek a style that works best for us. We read about writing, about writing reviews, and we discuss the form frequently.

Oops: One more finally: I've never been jealous of the NYC/rest of the US divide. I don't want to be feted and I hate going to parties. What blogging allows, however, is a discourse about books--a discourse that often can't happen in person due to geographic considerations. I landed, not by choice, in the middle of the country. Book blogs allow me to talk about the children's books and the many, many adult books I read. Sure, I can read and do read as many book review publications as possible. But, then, how and with whom do I discuss them?

sdl said...

To clarify, I'm not talking so much about the party aspect of the NYC events (though that sounds like quite a treat) or the cocktail parties etc. that publishers throw at ALA. The thing that I get jealous about AND have concerns about as far as staying a little distant is having the opportunity to have books introduced early and in person by the editors and people who worked on the books. If an editor I already knew told me lovingly in person about a book and made sure I got a copy to review and maybe the author was there too, I would have a harder time staying impartial.

Someone referred above to having faith that Roger can separate his reviewing from friendships, and I expect that he could, but we aren't all Rogers and anyway the reviewers I know tend to pass on opportunities to review things written by friends.

Of course the whole community aspect of blogs makes the concept of friendship much fuzzier than it used to be. I'm sure many of us watching John and Hank Green's Brotherhood 2.0 weblog feel like we know them and they're friends even though they don't know us.

brian said...

Maybe what the blogs need is simply to establish standards. (The more we have of the internet, the more I see how and why things evolved in the print world.) I would like to be able to access how each blogger handles conflict of interest and swag. The blogs that avoid them I will read. The others I will send copies of my books and chocolates.

eisha said...

We've been running a series of interviews with other book bloggers (including a certain Mr. Roger Sutton, ahem), authors, and author/bloggers on our blog. One question we always ask of bloggers is "Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?" Of the 20+ interviews we've done so far, no one has said anything about fame, glory, the desire to be taken seriously as professional reviewers, money, swag, or parties. Almost all of the answers have mentioned the desire to talk about books with like-minded people, the sense of community that comes from the kidlitosphere... and some are just trying to keep track of their own thoughts on reading and writing.

Given that... exactly why are we book bloggers supposed to be concerned that some people doubt our integrity as reviewers, or are jealous of the opportunities some bloggers have to interact with publishers/authors? Most of us are doing this FOR PLEASURE - our own, and that of whatever readers we might attract. If a blog doesn't please you, then move on.

And good luck trying to standardize the kidlitosphere. Everyone has his/her own tastes, approach, writing style, and comfort level with reviewing books they don't like or books written by friends. Some of us are open about what we're trying to do, some of us aren't, but that's the nature of blogs. They're all about individuality and personal expression. And like Kelly said, most of us are happy to converse with you about the content of our blogs through comments or email.

One last thing: is there really such a thing as an objective book review? Don't personal tastes, past experiences with the author's work, previous reviews by others, what you had for lunch that day, etc., all play a part in how you read and review a book?

fusenumber8 said...

Just to pick at a single tiny thread in the course of this conversation, I wonder if the more visible authors and illustrators on the blogosphere really are helped by the community they come in contact with. For example, if such an author writes a bad book, wouldn't many of the bloggers actively ignore it for fear of offending a "friend"? No one has ever satisfactorily come up with a way of determining whether or not blog activity makes any difference to an author's sales whatsoever. I wonder if it might cause more problems than good in some cases.

Roger Sutton said...

I'm working with a student whose paper topic is reviewing on the internet, and it was no doubt my ruminations over that that lead me to post on the rant Fuse mentioned. I don't think it's a question of objectivity v. subjectivity; it's the different contexts in which book reviews appear in print and on blogs. On a blog, one post might be a review, another a rant about some trend, another an interview, another a cute cat picture, etc. This is the nature of the medium, which glories in randomness. The print review media, on the other hand, each have their own systems: the book reviews are editorially separated from other material, they cover a defined span of material and include both recommended and not-recommended reviews depending on the policy of the individual source. And the individual reviews are never just "one person's opinion," which is perhaps the starkest difference between blog and traditional reviewing: at the journals and magazines I know, a print review always involves at least two people, usually more, and a review policy, resulting in a certain amount of standarization. Maybe that's not what we want from blogs.

Fuse's point that blog reviewers might ignore a bad book from a blogosphere acquaintance is certainly possible, but isn't it also possible that a mediocre book could be reviewed "because she's so nice" or something? Readers of blog reviews generally have no clue why a certain book was chosen for review. They don't know what universe of books the reviewer is selecting from. I know there has been something of a movement for blog reviewers to tell readers the source of a book being reviewed (ARC, from the library, bought, etc.) but I'm not sure that informational is in itself helpful unless the reader also knows what books in general the reviewer is seeing.

I'm guessing that most blog reviewers would say, "I review what I want to review." That's fine, too, and attractively anarchic. But I find, anyway, that those reviews tell me more about the reviewer than they do about the book. And I hasten to say I've met some pretty interesting minds this way.

MotherReader said...

Now, I've done my share of negative reviewing, including a entire Tulane readers theater, but I know that many of the kid lit bloggers shy away from negative reviews for a variety of reasons. Most often what I hear is that they don't want to waste their time writing about what people shouldn't read when they can use that same time and blog space to suggest something people should read. I mean, really, isn't the Horn book pretty much book suggestions too? Do you waste your precious page count on reviewing the latest Captain Underpants? Extreme example, but still, I think not. What I notice in the kid lit blogging is silence, dead silence, when a book isn't loved.

Something that I don't understand about this discussion is whether professional reviewers have some kind of pill they take or spray they put on that makes them not susceptible to the chumminess and wiles of authors and publishers. You guys spend quite a lot of time with the most famous of authors and get the fancy parties and what-not. And doesn't the Horn book have author interviews as well? Why do you assume that the bloggers are swayed by this but professional reviewers are not?

Roger Sutton said...

Actually MR, not as much as you might think. We rarely publish interviews (there's usually one a year in our special issue, and I pick someone who has a particular relationship to the topic at hand) and I'm not the party animal I used to be. I can count the authors I feel like I'm personal friends with on less than ten fingers, and I don't review their books. (The Horn Book may or may not, but I keep out the decision. Yes, it's horrible.)

I don't think this is a case of pros versus amateurs. To me it's more like the difference in the mediums.

Anonymous said...

Roger, I've only worked in the industry for about five years, so I don't know who May Massee and Velma Varner were, but I smell a story. Can I have the full history lesson, please?

And from my vantage point, blog tours seem to be cropping up primarily by author initiative. Publishers might support the tour to a certain degree with galleys to give away to readers or some other type of incentive, but the success of the tour itself is usually dependent upon the author's previous relationships with other bloggers. I think even publishers realize that the tour has to feel "organic," to carry any sort of value at all to the readers of blogs.

alaties@aol.com said...

Fuse said:
"No one has ever satisfactorily come up with a way of determining whether or not blog activity makes any difference to an author's sales whatsoever."

But I'd say that this is why authors obsess over their Amazon rankings. I can say for sure that when I participate in a particularly lively discussion here on Horn Book's blog -- and I only post regularly to a couple of blogs so I'm a pretty good test case -- that my Amazon sales rank for Rebel Bookseller -- my only book -- generally will go from its usual 100,000-or-so-level up to 35,000-or-so for a day or two, which I know from using the backend of my publisher's distributor, SCB Distributors, means that I sold maybe 5 books via Amazon. So, in other words, I am an author who utilizes this exact blog in order to sell my books, and I know for a fact that it works. And: a year and a half ago, I gave Roger a copy of my book when he visited Eric Carle Museum, and he said something about reviewing it, and he never did. So I can vouch for him not reviewing books written by acquaintances. And -- I barged into his blogospheric space anyhow: which certainly shows the difference between the two media (print versus blog), and the power of authors to manipulate bloggers to the authors' advantage!

Anonymous said...

Alaties: In fairness to our host, saying "something" about reviewing is not the same as saying that a review is coming. The man must have a well-used and friendly and noncommital phrase for such occasions....

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add something about Roger's comment on how blogs are not as ordered as the sections of a newspaper. You need to keep in mind that it is not as if readers are visitng 1,000 blogs a day - most read 10 or 20 and they read them for the blogger's opinion - they want to see what the blogger has to say about certain books, or literary news, or authors, etc. That's why I read Gwenda, Jenny Davidson, Fuse, Kelly H., etc. If Gwenda reviews a book then I am usually interested in it because she and I have very similar taste - but I'm just as pleased to see what she has to say about, say, the death of Kurt Vonnegut. I read Gwenda for her thoughts for the day - not because I am trolling for book reviews.

And over time, I have come to trust the bloggers I read. I have read enough books they recommend to know that I like the books they recommend. It's like a reader identifying with the NYT as opposed to the LAT - you trust the reviewers or bloggers who have proven over time to be honest.

As for the discussions about swag, I can only assume that many folks commenting here are not involved in other industries. My husband and I bought a Cessna aircraft last year and we have been buried in Cessna cups, blankets, shoulder bags, hats, etc. ever since. We already bought the plane - Cessna just keeps sending the stuff to us because they love their owners. I've seen the same stuff come through my house from the NRA, AOPA, NRDC, Audubon Society and on and on. What about the promotions for fashion week? Do we assume everyone at Vogue is lying about the latest hot designers because they feel grateful for wine and cheese? Promtions are just that - promoting an object (or organization, etc.) and it might buy some but it won't buy most.

I do receive a lot of free books each year, but I can't be bought that easily. And really - the amount of work it takes to maintain an intelligent blog would cost more than the price of the books. Heck, I review for Booklist and all of you know how cheaply we are paid for that. I do it because libraries changed my life as a child - I do all of this (including organzing what will be the largest author blog tour to hit the kidlitopshere this June) because I think books matter. And because I believe that, there is no way I can be bought. My readers know this (at Bookslut and my site), and that is why they read what I have to say.

Please don't assume something bad about me without knowing me or my motivations.

Colleen Mondor aka Chasing Ray

Andy Laties said...


OK, speaking with my Marketing hat on, are you telling me that all those professional marketing people who are sending you stuff like Cessna Swag are doing this because "they" love their customers?? Nonsense. They're professionals. They're in the process of ensuring that you remain loyal customers, that you promote their products to your friends, that when the time comes you purchase a new Cessna, and not one of the competitors' models. Corporations do not "love" their customers, they are engaged in the professional "management" of those customers. No company throws money away if they can help it. Swag exists because swag works.

And: the arguments from wonderful individuals about how THEY write blogs that have no ulterior motives misses the point, which is that corporations are manipulating them. Let me use the most obvious example. Blogger is a company owned by Google. Google is benefitting by its "users" creating endless reams of "content", thus drawing ever growing "streams" of "eyeballs". So -- all of our efforts here are for the benefit of Google. Now: this may not interest the selfless bloggers in this discussion -- you may take it for granted. But then you are also taking for granted Rupert Murdoch and his corporation Harpercollins! When you say that you are reviewing a "book" because you honestly like "it" don't you notice that there was a whole business process that went into the decision to produce this product, this "book" you say you like? Books are produced by companies. Some companies are terrific at understanding the marketplace. Harpercollins needs to 1) gain an understanding of the marketplace and 2) produce products that will attain acceptance in that marketplace. So, they need to 1) read the Bookslut blog (to take a particularly incendiary example, at this instant) and 2) think about whether some book they're considering producing will be favorably reviewed there (and of course in comparable sites).

My sister is a leading children's book editor and I know she thinks about which review sources will review her books favorably WHILE SHE IS DECIDING what books to do.

Bloggers with lots of eyeballs have influence on the publishing process. The publishing people need to ensure that they do fall into line at the appropriate moment also, of course! It's a highly manipulative process. To argue that anyone is not being manipulated, when there are huge sums of money on the table, is simply to acknowledge passivity in the face of Corporate Capitalism.

If my little essay has held any reader on Blogger for ten seconds longer than they planned -- then I have just made a zillionth-of-a-penny profit for Google, and I didn't get paid. I should send them a bill. Google is manipulating me!

Roger Sutton said...

Colleen, I don't think Vogue is the best example of editorial integrity, as their involvement in creating the "latest hot designers" begins before the clothes are even finished. It would be like me chatting up Doug Whiteman at Penguin and telling him which books his imprints should be signing up, and then providing starred reviews when they appear.

But was not ever thus. NYPL's Ann Carroll Moore certainly threw her weight around with publishers, among them May Massee and Velma Varner, and I'm tracking down that story from an old Horn Book and will post when I find it.

sdn said...

anonymous: may massee and velma varner both ran viking children's books at various points in its history. you know who anne carroll moore is, right?

fascinating discussion. i think there's also a big difference between a review journal (like the horn book) and a blog.

it'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, SDN. Yes, I know who Anne Carroll Moore was and the power she wielded (like every good entry-level children's publishing employee, I've read Dear Genius!) But I was intrigued by this particular comment from Roger: "May Massee and Velma Varner took turns telling the Newbery-Caldecott committee what to vote for" - I didn't realize it was part of the same old ACM story, or was Roger implying something different? Looking forward to reading the old Horn Book story, Roger, thanks for digging up the link.

-Anonymous Again

"e" said...

Roger, I have a serious question for you. Why do you write book reviews?

Anne said...

I just posted the following ethics policy at Book Buds:

Review copies come from the publishers. So do fawning emails and the occasional free lip gloss. We review what we like, and pass on what we don't. We occasionally publish email excerpts, but no Q&As, industry gossip or "shout outs." This site is supported by paid ads and Amazon sales. No advertised books have ever been reviewed on this site, and reviews' effects on Amazon sales appear to be negligible. Most review copies are eventually donated to charity or given away.

Don't know if that's a small step in the right direction, or off a cliff.

Anonymous said...

To return to an earlier thread, one of the main differences between blog reviewing and professional print reviewing is that, when reading the latter, you don't HAVE to simply trust that the reviewer isn't being swayed in some way by a personal connection to the author. I speak for the Horn Book, where I work (there, bias exposed), but I imagine this is true for other journals as well: Reviews are edited by other people who have also read the book. If the reviewer feels strongly about a judgment with which Roger (for example) is in disagreement, they are called upon to re-examine and/or defend it. (This is not to say that we will trash their opinion, just that it will be scrutinized). Furthermore, most reviewers I work with explicitly request that we not send them books by authors with whom they have a personal connection.

So, checks and balances. As has been argued before in this blog (and, I believe, in Fuse's soon-to-come article), they are a key point of difference between print reviews and blogosphere reviews.


eisha said...

True, blog reviews don't have a formalized system of checks and balances, but once we post we're subject to all the scrutiny and opposing opinions of the blogosphere. Anyone gets to post a question or counter-opinion: the author, the editor, kids, teachers, librarians, your mom... so really, which forum provides a better opportunity for various opinions about a book to be expressed and discussed?

Anonymous said...


I agree that blogs are a superior discussion forum in both response time and outreach. But I don't agree that the opportunity for public discussion is the same as the pre-publication scrutiny of reviews, for two reasons. First, the initial review posted to a blog stands (reviews could be changed or taken down, but that seems neither practical nor common). So no matter how much disagreement occurs in the comments section, the main statement of opinion remains as originally posted. Second, the recently flogged "culture of niceness." I can see how a negative blog review could spawn plenty of opposing comments, but commenters flocking to disagree with a positive review? (The exception being in cases of objectionable content) Particularly of a new author or illustrator? *I* certainly wouldn't want to be that person.

But please do direct me to examples to the contrary if I need to be educated. :-)


P.S. May I gently direct attention to the under-utilized Letters to the Editor section of the Horn Book Magazine? Philip Nel and Barbara Bader had quite the debate about Julia Mickenberg's *Learning from the Left* last year...

Anonymous said...

I've been gone for hours so just to explain a couple of quick things.

The aircraft I was referring to cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars and blankets and mugs will not be enough persuade buyers to purchase another one. (And if they do the buyers are insane.)

All reviewers want positive reviews (duh), but they also send their books to Booklist, PW, Kirkus, with no way of knowing how they will be reviewed. At Booklist my editor trusts me to be honest - I don't see why I am assumed to be honest there, but not at my site.

It is impossible - really - to form some sort of reviewing standards for the blogosphere. In most ways it functions as a big informal book club in that people just talk about their latest favorite title with others. Publishers take a chance every time they send out a book that it will be read or reviewed - yes they send those books for marketing purposes but they don't know for sure that the blogger or reviewer is going to like it or even find time to review it. This happens in the music industry, in the fashion industry, in the video game industry and on and on.

What bothers me about this entry (and the ensuing discussion) is that it is assumed that bloggers as a huge single group are more likely to dishonest than honest when it comes to reviewing - more likely to be swayed by the swag.

Which brings me back to the airplane analogy. Am I really more likely to buy another Cessna because I like the mug? No - my respect for the aircraft is built around its performance. Same goes for a book - it's all in how it reads.

And no, there are no published standards that explain that at my site (or Bookslut), but readers learn who to trust. At least I have learned who I can trust (both in print and online) and that relationship is the one that makes all the differece between popular blogs and those that are rarely read.

Why does anyone have to assume dishonesty about me or any other blogger just because we have done some author interviews?

(And yes I get the Vogue thing Roger - I think what I meant was could they have their opinion bought by a free lunch which was picking up on the comment about Betsy and the LB promotion. :)

Colleen Mondor aka Chasing Ray

eisha said...

Claire, I take your point, and I agree - public discussion on a blog is NOT the same as prepublication screening of reviews. And I'm not saying either is better or worse than the other. They're just different. I happen to really like the fact that, if I do see a review on a blog that I disagree with, I can usually engage that blogger in a real, back-and-forth conversation about it, rather than the traditional letter-to-the-editor gamble. But I like the print reviews too, believe me. I refer to them all the time in my job as a public children's librarian - I have collection responsibilities for the juvenile and young adult collections for my branch. But given how often I disagree with print reviews, I can't say that the prepublication screening process makes the reviews any more "trustworthy" for my purposes. Look at all the starred reviews that Edward Tulane got, for example, and I haven't seen a single child check it out at my location. So, purely for my practical-librarian-on-a-budget purposes, those reviews were not trustworthy, in spite of whatever rigorous screening process they went through. I've had a couple of similar experiences with books that got raves on the blogs, too - that's just how it is. No matter the process, no matter the format, reviews are opinions, and the review reader always has to use his/her judgement in determining the "trustworthiness" of the review.

But that's just my opinion. ;)

By the way, just out of curiosity, how often does it happen that a print review gets changed or pulled because the editor/screener doesn't agree?

zee said...

Isn't it interesting that Roger is getting lots of traffic on his blog today because he is challenging the motives for the "proletariat" blogger? In fact, I bet many people are visiting Roger today because of the very bloggers that are offended by his inquiry. I would never have even heard of Roger if it wasn't for Fuse, and while she is definitely at the top level of the kidlit food chain, she is still a kidlit blog. I think Roger invented this whole thing as a publicity stunt to create controversy and traffic on his blog:-) Hmm, maybe I'm kidding, and I'm maybe I'm not.

Roger Sutton said...

I couldn't possibly think that hard, Zee. But I thank you for reminding me of Dorothy Parker's (before your time) re-write of "Higgledy, piggledy, my black hen/ She lays eggs for gentlemen . . ."

Parker: "But you cannot persuade her with a gun or lariat / To come across for the proletariat."

zee said...

Well, even if you didn't thunk it, you are getting lots of traffic over it. I just thought it was ironic that you were getting so many hits from some of the people you were targetting with these comments. I guess controversy is the spice of life. And how do you know Dorothy Parker is before my time? Roger, you are scaring me.

Andy Laties said...

On the subject of why companies send freebies, I said, "Swag exists because swag works." Colleen responded (re: getting Swag from Cessna):

"The aircraft I was referring to cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars and blankets and mugs will not be enough persuade buyers to purchase another one. (And if they do the buyers are insane.)"

My response:
This is classic brand management. It's in the textbook. There's a marketplace, there are competing products. The companies aim for "mindshare". They want brand loyalty. Evidently you are a very happy customer right now. You can't conceive of your loyalty ever being shaken. However, the Ford Explorer was I believe the very most profitable Ford product, until the vehicle was revealed to have dangerous design characteristics. How do you know that you will always think highly of Cessna? Cessna is playing both offense and defense; thinking strategically and tactically. They are engaging in an aggressive, proactive marketing strategy. They are spending millions of dollars building up the warm and fuzzy side of their brand image. Companies like that do not throw money away. They have studied the impact of mugs and blankets on the entire population of their current and prospective customers. Surprisingly for you, mugs and blankets make a difference. The pudding is the proof. If you love Cessna, then you shouldn't insult Cessna's marketing department. Cessna is a for-profit company. Which means, since you are the source of their revenue, that you are in fact paying for (have already paid for) all the "free" mugs and blankets.

I live in the for-profit world, and I'm perfectly comfortable here. I'm not accusing Cessna of poor or cynical or inappropriate business practice, I'm merely pointing out that they're smart and they know what they're doing.

Anonymous said...

methinks the bloggers protest too much...

I think Roger hit a little close to home with this one, no?


Anonymous said...

Andy I don't want to go around and around on airplanes which has nothing to do with the many interesting things that have come up in this comments thread.

Roger has moderated a very good discussion here, and I don't want to hijack it with something so completely and totally unrelated.

But please, airplanes and books are not the same thing - my point (long ago lost) was only that companies and organizations send "swag" all the time and it often does not influence the decisions of the recepient.

I only own one Cessna and four aircraft - clearly, my loyalty was not bought.

I won't respond here again, so please let this go.


Anonymous said...

I was born in 1981, but that doesn't mean I haven't read Dorothy Parker! "Now at Liberty" has always been one of my favorites.

Come on, Roger, give the kids a little credit, would you?

Andy Laties said...


Goodie, I get the last word!

I have cast myself in the role of Defender Of Brand Managers Everywhere, and since you think there's no comparison between the Brand Managers of books and the Brand Managers of aircraft, I'll tell you a story about the woman who in my opinion is the best Brand Manager on the planet, and she's a publisher (also, a woman, in case you thought this was an Obnoxious Male Monopoly or something).

Pleasant Rowland's father was the director of Leo Burnett, the huge Chicago advertising agency. She became a writer -- specializing in history textbooks. She concluded, mid-career, that there weren't enough women and girls in the mainstream American History curriculum. She drew on her family knowledge of advertising and marketing to create surely one of the hugest success stories in writing, publishing and bookselling of the past 20 years.

Pleasant Company was launched with one million dollars in initial capital, and sold for something like a billion dollars fifteen years later, to Mattel. I don't think I need to describe the American Girls books, dolls, catalog operation, museums, theatrical shows, etc. to you.

My point is that Pleasant Rowland applied top level Brand Management techniques to the field of publishing and obtained the kind of results that are EXPECTED of every high-performance Brand Managing pro. I dealt closely with Pleasant Company, back when I owned The Children's Bookstore, in Chicago -- they were head and shoulders above all other publishers when it came to understanding their business objectives and intelligently achieving these in a focused manner. And these objectives had a highly socially motivated, altruistic core intent. The year they released the "Addy" books, which are about a girl who escapes slavery, they were naturally concerned that their mostly-white readers wouldn't buy. So -- they set themselves the target of selling one million books (three titles were released simultaneously) during the first year.

How's that for American Business style? The impossible dream.

And they DID IT -- they sold the million books.

I think that all American readers, including all book reviewers, are in fact influenced by the activities of the marketers at the publishing houses. Blog reviewers, Horn Book -- and also, all buyers in bookstores like me. We are OF COURSE influenced by marketers. It's a science for goodness sake. Every American is exposed to three thousand advertising messages every day because we honestly do respond, in the aggregate, over our lifetimes, at a sociological and statistical level, to advertising.

I agree that all blog reviewers are significantly more likely to be unconsciously manipulated by the professional brand managers out there in the world working for big corporations. Because these self-designated reviewers are not inside of self-regulating institutions (like Booklist; like Horn Book) with checks and balances, they are more vulnerable.

But all of us are all vulnerable to marketing messages. They function at an unconscious level.

If Pleasant Rowland's marketing managers had failed to achieve their one-million-Addy-books-sold target, they would have been subject to replacement with other marketing managers. They were doing their job. Every book your review, every author whose interview you book onto a friend's blog, has been nudged, massaged, touched, placed by a marketing department. If not: if it's an unknown, self-published author, then that individual is serving as HER OWN marketing department and you know about her/him via their self-promotional efforts. It's America. We do this.

Anonymous said...

I think its funny that the post that got the most comments perhaps ever on your site is the one where bloggers could comment on blogging. Clearly blogging is the real draw, not kids lit.

Roger Sutton said...

Now watch your step, Andy, because if Pleasant Rowland gets her mitts on Colleen's air force, we are all in big trouble. ;-)

Anonymous said...

In my case, I’ve told Cessna that I’m not in the market for a plane, couldn’t afford one, don’t need one, etc. — but the swag keeps coming! It comes via FedEx, UPS, USPS, and sometimes bike messenger. Baseball caps, Christmas tree ornaments, shot glasses, blankets (wool and cotton), even old ashtrays (unused, I might add, and collectibles, now). And why? It may be hard for a cynic like Andy to accept this, but for my part, I choose to believe in a little thing called LOVE.

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous above, from another anonymous, on behalf of everyone here, oh ICK

Anonymous said...

I don't know that I can add much to this discussion but I think there's a place for professional reviews and blog reviews.

The first is the traditional standard. It's an institution that libraries, bookstores, and industry folks depend on.

The second is a the new wave in blog and book promotion. Let's face it, in today's market you better have a way to promote your book or you're dead. Unless, of course, you're an author who got a six figure advance and a publisher who is throwing in another six figure amount to promote you.

Authors use blogs to promote their books. Bloggers use books to promote their sites. It's a great relationship and it doesn't lessen professional reviews in any way. I think that readers are well aware that blog reviews are a "grass roots" approach to marketing books.

That said, there are many reliable bloggers out there. As in all of life, you have to weigh what you're offered and decide for yourself. (And that also goes for traditional reviews.)

Roger, do you think that blogger reviews somehow take away from traditional reviews, cheapen them in some way, or water them down? Do you feel that they'll make traditional reviews less valuable in the long run or eventually make them unnecessary?

Anonymous said...


This is a mostly off-topic response to your question. Keeping in mind that my evidence is primarily anecdotal, I'd say that with one or two books in every magazine issue, we either pull a review that's been written (usually when the reviewer has already expressed some reservations about the book) or work with the reviewer to alter or add criticisms that are in contention. I get the feeling that it occurs more often in the Guide, where reviewers cope with more books and fewer words, and where the high concentration of review and strict rating system means more editing must be done to effectively and consistently match opinions to ratings and keep the rating system consistent throughout the Guide.

I'm with the anonymous who maintains there's a place for both. And (to be clear) I don't question the integrity or intelligence of bloggers as a group. (Individuals, sure, though no-one discussed here). There are certainly times I am more aligned with a Seven Impossible Things review than with a PW one. :-) For instance, I'm inclined to agree about the Edward Tulane reviews. To argue semantics again, though, I don't think trustworthy is the same as, uh, right. Someone can be wrong without it being due to a bias. Ah, more blurry lines. Is it better for a reviewer to subconsciously overpraise a book because they like, say, the message (independent from the literary quality) than it is for a reviewer to subconsciously overpraise a book because they like the author? Truly, I have no idea.


ed said...

I am a litblogger. I received a book in the mail from HarperCollins. Therefore, it must be good. It came in the mail. My name was on the envelope. HarperCollins really cares about me. Not just as a litblogger, but as a person.

I will blog about it and tell you that it is good because HarperCollins sent me the book and because, not having any independent mind or ability to discern a good book from a bad book, this is the only way I can use my mind.

I have also received a Cessna mug and I am happy to be their tool. I didn't ask for the mug. It was sent to me. Therefore, I matter. And I must abdicate all free will to Cessna too.

I was sent a Glock gun by an anonymous person. Glock is good and he clearly wanted me to use it. I will blog about this gun and then blow my brains out, per Mr Glock's instructions. It is because Gaston Glock is a good man and he anticipated my birth and he anticipated the rise of the bloggers.

I am a blogger. It has been a good life.

Andy Laties said...

Gawd!! Come on. This is about averages. When you're marketing any product you have to hit a zillion people a zillion times. 98% of these people -- ED -- will ignore or be repulsed by the messages. 2% -- and no-one knows which 2% will -- if the marketer is very good -- act in a way the marketer wants them to act. 98 no's and only 2 yes's.

If there are a million litbloggers, then 980,000 will disdainfully discard the promotional material but 20,000 will bite.

I simply don't understand the professed immunity to marketing messages I'm encountering here! I have been selling to the public since 1979. I've used every marketing method to sell books. Marketing works. If any person reading this blog has every walked through the door of a bookstore and bought a book, they've succumbed to all sorts of marketing efforts carried out by that bookseller. Indie bookseller, chain bookseller -- college bookseller -- we are for-profit operations and we have affected your supposedly immune-to-marketing psyches.

Today I sold several hundred books at a cash register. A bunch of people told me that I had a really great selection. I told every one of them: "I have the luxury of operating a store at the Eric Carle Museum, so my clientele is self-selected. They're people who love great books, and so I don't have to carry any junk. It's a pleasure to sell to this group."

I have psyched my customer base out, and anticipated what they will want to buy. They think they have discovered a feature of the natural landscape. They don't understand that I KNEW THEY WERE COMING. They thought they operated autonomously. But I was waiting like a spider in a web. That's marketing. It's tough to do it well, and I'm not embarrassed to be involved with doing it. If you're being marketed to effectively, then the people reaching out to you will make their presence invisible by correctly anticipating your needs. ED -- you can't tell me that you didn't use a whole slew of items today that have brand-names (What kind of computer do you use. WHY??).

You ARE manipulable.

Mayra Calvani said...

Fascinating subject! I just handed in my manuscript, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, to my publisher a few weeks ago, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to write about this blogging controversy and include the piece in my book...

A couple of years ago, this dilemma started with the emerging online review sites... now it's the bloggers who are being attacked. I think we're not giving enough credit to the discerning reader of reviews. It's so easy to tell a good review from a cheesy one guilty of facile praise! There are good and bad reviewers everywhere. Serious blogger reviewers usually aren't going to be stupid enough to post overly positive reviews because if the reader buys a book based on that review and then finds that book to be poorly written, that blogger will lose all credibility and that reader won't come back to this blogger for more reviews. Honesty and fairness go with our job as reviewers, without it, we're nothing but weak PR. That is not to say we should be nasty or mean... which brings me to the writing of negative reviews...
I personally think there are too many good books out there to be spending time writing about the bad ones (even negative reviews are a type of publicity!). Unless it's a book that has been written by a famous author and/or heavily hyped, I won't bother posting negative reviews on my blog and newsletters (this wouldn't be the case, however, if the book was assigned by a review site/publication, in which case I don't have a choice but to write the negative review).
Can we be totally objective when writing a review for someone we 'know' in the blogsphere? I doubt it--we're only human. What we can do is at least TRY to be as objective and honest as possible. In an ideal world, reviewers should NEVER review books by people they know. Only then can they have the total freedom required to write a perfectly honest review.