Thursday, June 18, 2009

Publishers and bloggers

In a comment on a recent thread, Elizabeth posted a comment that I thought deserved its own discussion so I moved it here for your consideration:


Re. the question of anonymous posting, I seem to be the only person who holds the opinion that I would prefer to see people use their names, yet hold it I do. I may post my reasons why later, but for now I'd like to talk more about a question that publishers are debating re. the blogosphere, and which I don't think has been discussed on the thread below.


We are getting a lot of requests from YA bloggers, many of them teens themselves, who want galleys of one or another of our upcoming books. We are working at sorting out which of these bloggers have big enough followings to merit sending them a galley. Let's say it's roughly $8.50 to print and mail a galley, and our supply, and our time, is limited. How many of these bloggers might have enough readers to make it worth our while? Or, for that matter, write compelling enough entries that someone would want to read the book they are talking about? Interestingly, most bloggers, when asking for a galley, have not yet learned to say "I get 1000 unique readers a month" or whatever the appropriate lingo is. They just say they love YA literature, such and such book sounds good, and that they'd love to write about it on their blog. And as others have suggested, I think they'd also like to brag to their friends that they get a lot of galleys. But that's not a lot of use to us.

And as Roger and others *have* mentioned on this thread, while we have no idea what professional critics are going to write about our novels, we do expect most blog coverage to be positive. Maybe some of it will be really positive, maybe some of it will just mention our book in a long list of titles, but so far blog coverage, particularly of books seen in advance of the general public, has been pretty positive. When or if that changes, it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we'll keep a "naughty or nice" list!

10:51 PM, June 17, 2009

Delete

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts ...

Regarding anonymity on this and certain other blogs, you must take into consideration a sad but true reality: anyone who wields significant power (manuscript acquisition, high-profile reviews) in the careers of the unpublished and midlist masses is not ever going to have many public dissenters.

However, you will never be at a loss for people who will sign their name to agree with you! (Within minutes!)

That said, this is a really great post! It may be in the end that bloggers who are not already "known" entities but who are attached to a reputable platform a la Betsy at SLJ will be the ones to score the ARCs. Kinda like being at a ... newspaper.

Professionalism will count, too, in this regard. Quality of writing may finally carry more weight than the good ol' "love of books." Passion AND professionalism will be the order of the day.

Anyone, of course, will still be able to blog. And they should.

I am curious how bloggers measure their reach. How would you know if you get 1000 unique readers a month? The more name-brand/trade blogs must have some sort of media kits containing this information with which to entice advertisers. Roger, you must measure this, no?

I agree with the someone who mentioned that there will be a category between the buzzers and the reviewers (and by "reviewers," I mean someone willing to pan an actual book, not just its marketing) and that will be the "recommenders." Already print publications with limited space publish mostly positive reviews when it comes to books, film and music.

In this way, publishers will kinda, sorta know that this is a "safe" place. Either they'll get a good review or nothing. Not sure if this is all that great a thing but, like I said, it has a big precedent in print.

I had a post on this before but it got eaten ... What you're saying, Elizabeth, also reinforces my impression that "access" to a certain ARC will soon translate more to "legitimacy." It already does to some extent; that's one reason, intentionally or not, that I think bloggers like to talk about their galleys.

Who has what is going to matter even more. With the publishers scaling back the mailings and thus flexing their power (there's that word again!), accessibility will more and more serve as a means for readers to make choices as to whose blog to follow.

It certainly is the standard in print. If the NYT had to wait until the movies came out on Friday or for a book to hit store shelves in order to write about them, it would be a big, big problem.

Your good friend (and, really, I'm not such a bad egg),
Anon 5:57

L. Sullivan said...

Knowing that publishers are sending ARCs to the "safe" bloggers makes them less legitimate in my eyes. I'd rather read an honest review of a title after its release than praise just because someone received a free book.

I hope the reading public is smarter than you assume they are.

Anonymous said...

It is incredibly easy to track the number of unique visitors to your site, not to mention where they come from, how long they stay there, what posts they read, etc. It's called Google Analytics (or any other similar statistical tool). The internet is a mass of data. It's not hard to get it; the more difficult part is understanding how to interpret it.

Elizabeth said...

I didn't say that publishers are sending ARCs to "safe" bloggers. Right now we are just trying to sort out the influential ones. But yes, frankly, I can imagine a future scenario where if a blog is particularly rabble rousing we wouldn't necessarily go out of our way to send them free books. I'm a big theater fan, and certain critics aren't invited to see certain playwrights' works by theater producers (at the Times, in many cases producers are allowed to request one critic over another) and Pauline Kael stopped getting invites to screenings and had to buy her own tickets because she had panned too many movies. As a reader, and theater and movie goer, I like to read all the reviews, good and bad. But our marketing department wants to invest their money in people who are going to help our cause. Who can blame them?

Roger Sutton said...

Part of the problem is the conflict between the desire of publishers to market their books effectively and economically and the desire of bloggers to have no limitations on what they post. When publishers send an ARC to the Horn Book (or the other journals), they don't know what any subsequent review is going to say, but they do know the parameters within which we make our decisions. They know, for example, that the Magazine reviews about 500 books a year and that most of those reviews will be recommended. They know that almost all trade hardcover books, if not reviewed in the Magazine, will be reviewed in the Guide. They know that if a book is reviewed in the Magazine, we will send a copy of that review to them. They know they can call to make sure we've received something. They know how we go about "starring" books. They know our general schedule for reviews (hopefully, within one month either way of pub date). I would argue that this structural consistency is more responsible than anything for why publishers continue to send us review copies.

But bloggers don't have these structures and many would bridle at having, say, a consistent review schedule or scope. If I'm a blogger reviewing one book a day, say, and choosing that book on the basis of what I'm feeling drawn to at the moment, why would a publisher routinely send me books?

Roger Sutton said...

And Anon, the only statistic I can comprehend about this blog is that it gets something like 8,000 "page views" per week. Good? Bad? Laughable? I dunno.

Anonymous said...

Yet it's more than just consistency: a starred review in the Horn Book also sells books. Marketing departments don't line up starred review blurbs for nothing on their ads. The risk of some books not getting reviewed or a "meh" review is well worth the cost of sending you all the ARCs in the hope that a few titles a year will be praised or starred.

At the smaller houses, it's really only a handful of books that produce the big profits.

Anon 5:57

jimmyprell said...

Roger, I think your blog's great strength is the comments section -- and that's a reflection of your readership and your ability to find those hot-button issues that elicit response.

One thing you might wish to look into is improving the functionality of your comments section. Believe me, I'm not a techie and can't explain it. But it would be great if it was threaded, that we could respond to specific comments, rather than simply run to the end of the line. When there are few comments, it's a non-issue. When there are more, it does get a little discombobulated.

I'm just saying from a business perspective: The comments section is your biggest asset, and it could be upgraded (somehow, by somebody, I think, maybe).

trish said...

I'm horrified at the casual way in which the anonymous commenter said, "Maybe we'll keep a "naughty or nice" list!" As a blogger, I review *everything* I read. Granted, I don't read as much as some, but I don't read enough books to only review the good ones.

I know that many bloggers only publish positive reviews. Heck, I've written a negative review, had a fellow blogger agree with everything I said, then review the book on their own blog completely positively with no negativity and gave the book a four out of five rating. If that doesn't make you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness, I don't know what will.

For the sake of my sanity, I'll assume the author meant that the "naughty or nice" list would have to do with those who are overly mean and critical about a book, as opposed to those of us who are courteous but actually honest.

Anonymous said...

In the print press, there is the sense (based on what, I don't know; readership surveys?) that people don't like to read negative reviews. They want to know what they SHOULD read, listen to, see and not spend a lot of time reading about what's crap.

It's not a dis against anyone's intelligence but more a commentary on priorities and time.

Unless it's a major deal (a highly anticipated blockbuster movie or a big novelist's book), you'll notice that the longest reviews are the favorable or mixed reviews. Not so much with film, but if a critic hates a book by a no-name writer, it's just not written about. The idea that there are too many good books to waste the space applies here.

I don't really know how this fits in, as bloggers have unlimited space, but perhaps something to consider as publishers place an increasing priority on blogs that are affecting the buying habits of parents without a lot of time.

Look at the Horn Book e-newsletter aimed at parents. Isn't almost everything in there a "recommendation"?

Anon 5:57

Anonymous said...

I should clarify ... I'm not saying that there should ONLY be positive reviews anywhere. I don't think that at all. (I love to read an Anthony Lane pan in the New Yorker -- funny, funny!) I'm just saying that publishers seem to be interested in what parents are doing online (the school and library markets are already well established) and that this will PERHAPS play into who gets which ARCs.

Anon 5:57

Tasses said...

First, I have to say that the conversations occurring here & on Chasing Ray have been very thought provoking and beneficial. I hope many book bloggers are reading them.

I have always tried to remain objective when reviewing a book, thinking about possible readers that might like the book even if I did not. In matters of poor writing and/or editing (especially early-on, when I was getting a lot of self-published stuff), I called the book what it was.

Then, I read a FANTASTIC essay on John Updike's rules for book reviewing over on the Critical Mass/NBCC blog. Basically, Updike's words made me wonder what good would come of negatively reviewing something someone had worked so hard to create. In Updike's words, "...The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end." And that thought stuck with me.

My profile has always stated that I strive to write, "honest, succinct and perceptive reviews." I aim toward these goals, but I also walk away from negative reviewing as I see it has no purpose. When a publisher/author contacts me after not seeing their book on my site, I state that I did not care for the book (probably stopped reading it) and felt that silence was the best policy. None have ever asked me to post my negative thoughts.

If this makes me more or less inclined to receive a galley, so be it. But it doesn't make the galley more inclined to get a review from me. Honesty is integrity and that is the sort of reputation I think most reviewers should strive towards. So, even though my blogs may look as if they are filled with positive leaning reviews, it's because I chose to walk away from writing negatively, not that I wasn't honest. I hope Updike would be supportive of my aims.


Thanks Roger - for the opportunity to consider book blogging and reviewing (warts & all) here.

trish said...

Anon 5:57, I can agree to disagree. (but I still have a few things to say, lol)

But you brought up the point of the Horn Book e-newsletter, and I thought I saw somewhere that Horn Books reviews 500 books a year. Whether that's true or not, I'd like to point out that of all the books I read, only a fraction of them would I "recommend". The more I read the more I find that my taste is refined.

Last year I read 59 books and would definitely recommend 18 of those. This year so far I've read 36 books and would recommend 19 of them. This isn't to say the others were bad, but why would I recommend ho hum books when there's so many STELLAR books out there? Why read WAKE when you could read WINTERGIRLS? (two YA titles)

I know people prefer only recommendations; I'm the same way. But most people don't read enough to only review the great books. Also, part of the reason that I rate books on a scale of 1 to 100 is to give people a quick visual of whether I loved it or not. 90+ is a book I would recommend, 80+ is *good* but not *great* and I wouldn't recommend any of those till you'd read all the 90+ books.

Roger Sutton said...

Notes from the Horn Book is definitely designed to point parents to what is new and good, so no negative reviews there. It's also not review-copy dependent, since we work from the same books sent for the Magazine and Guide.

jimmyprell said...

I understand, respect, and have sympathy for the positive reviews and the motivations behind them. It makes sense to me. Why go negative?

OTOH, my favorite film reviewer, Pauline Kael (also one of the great pure writers of our time), was famous for her negative reviews. She loved film so much that dull, insipid, commercial movies pained and outraged her.

Though at times perhaps too harsh, Kael set a high standard for film because she loved and respected the art form so much. And that has a value, too. Or perhaps we're all destined to reside in Lake Wobegon, where all books are above average?

King Rat said...

Unique viewers at the blog: number of actual eyes that see something at the blog
Page views: number of times people looked at something, counting multiple looks. Sort of an indicator of interest level, as people might coming back indicates there's something about it to draw them back.

Both of those can be measured for the blog as a whole and separately for any individual post/review. Just because the site gets 3000 visitors (as mine does), doesn't mean 3000 people will see a particular review. Because of search engines, a lot of people will only see stuff they are already vaguely interested in. Most of my visitors come by by searching on an author or title name. The interest in the author is generated before they even see me.

Subscribers (via RSS, email, twitter, FB): number of people who get notified about something on the blog. Doesn't mean they read it or open it. You can sorta get good numbers on this if you use feedburner or the like. Less accurately measured than the other two. For instance, I have 400 friends on facebook that get fed my reviews, but they wouldn't be counted as subscribers by the stats packages I've tried.

Some bloggers count comments as a better indication of interest level, as those are engaged people.

I can also count click-throughs and purchases to Amazon based on links from my reviews, so I can tell somewhat what my direct influence to buy something is. Very very little. In 4 years tracking this, maybe $400 worth of books I've recommended sold this way. Compared to some, I'm a particularly negative reviewer and I also don't focus on new and buzzworthy, which doesn't inspire people to run out and buy the books I didn't like.

It all depends on what you are looking for in a blog. There's no one measurement that works best for all blogs just as there is no one measurement that works for all print publications.

Chris said...

I would bridle at a schedule. I blog and read as my hobby. If I was reading all the ARCs I get on a schedule, I'd stop getting ARCs. Reading should not be work- unless you are paid to do it. I say in my policy that I blog about all the books I read. Since people keep sending them to me, I assume they are happy with that.

beth said...

Another thing about book bloggers: they have very specific interests and a directly targeted audience. I speak from experience--at least ten of my last fifteen book purchases this year have come directly from book blogger references. There are two book bloggers who, if they unreservedly recommend a book, buy that book the next time I see it (Reviewer X and Bookshelves of Doom).

As someone who writes reviews, I also know that I have a direct influence on book buying. Bloggers have a two-way conversation on blogs that reviewers don't have. If someone comments on my review with a question, I answer it. If someone emails me for more information/opinions about the book, I take the discussion there and flesh out the recommendation. And bloggers tend to be more active beyond their blogs: bloggers email, post reviews on GoodReads, and tweet about a book they love.

Tradition reviews are pointless--especially for the rising MG/YA markets. But book bloggers are NOT the wave of the future--their influence is already here.

...so, if anyone wants to send me some MG/YA books to review, send 'em to me!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Fascinating discussion! (Came here via twitter). I have to say that I have very pronounced views on this since with my first book, I sent a lot of books to bloggers myself (that's all being handled by my pub with ARCs with my upcoming). So I got a very direct lesson in what worked and what didn't for marketing. And here's what I found out.

A negative review is as good as a positive review for business. I got as many folks saying "I picked up this book because of X review" (where X smeared the book) as "Y review" (where Y loved it and explained why).

The posts that weren't useful? The ones that just said, in two lines: "OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK SO BAD EVERYONE GO BUY IT."

This totally goes against the idea that positive reviews are good and more positive reviews are better. What sells books is not a positive review, but a comprehensive one. And that's why a lot of teen book bloggers aren't effective -- you need to write a review longer than three sentences to properly showcase the book, and you need to back up your opinion, good or bad. Otherwise no one wants to read it.

And also, stats. Everyone can get their stats for free these days from statcounter or anyone else, and frankly, if you don't get more hits than my blog . . . (between 3K-5K) meh. I need to be convinced by the comments that you are reaching an audience I can't.

Frankly, it's like wrestling an octopus and I'm thoroughly glad that it's in my publishers' hands now.

farmlanebooks said...

I agree with Maggie - I frequently post negative reviews of books, but because I explain exactly why I didn't like the book and compare it to other books I didn't like, I often get people in the comment section saying that my negative review has persuaded them to buy the book.

We don't all like the same thing, and so you need to pick people who will write comprehensive reviews rather than those that are just wanting books to show to their friends.

Roger Sutton said...

The reason for the traditional preponderance of recommended-only or -mostly review sources is that most people reading reviews of children's books are adults looking to purchase some, whether for a grandchild or a library. The thrill you might get from reading a Kakutani smackdown doesn't really apply if you're just trying to do your job.

Anonymous said...

King Rat makes an interesting point about linking to amazon. Unlike a good review in The Horn Book which inspires me go out and buy a book, if I buy a book using a blog's link after reading a good review in that blog - that blog will make some money from the sale.

How might that affect blog reviews, and their incentive to drum up excitement about a title?

I have a few times read an exuberant blog review, ordered the book - only to find that it didn't even remotely live up to the hype in the review. I don't really think a blogger would consciously sabotage their credibility that way, but might some unconsciously?

Anonymous said...

The only thing new I know after reading all these comments is that I want "Kakutani Smackdown" as my user name.

Jen Robinson said...

I've had the same experience that farmlanebooks describes. I've written not so much negative reviews, but definitely mixed or less than enthusiastic reviews, and had people respond telling that they want to read the book. This doesn't happen with really short reviews (how can it, unless someone is just being contrary?). But often when people read about a book in detail, they can see something that will resonate with them, even if it didn't work for the reviewer.

Colleen said...

Another thought on the positive vs negative reviews topic is that when you are reading books for free on your own time for your own reasons then you generally do not continue reading something you hate. When you are paid to review the book - good, bad or otherwise - then you will certainly persevere on through to the end. Why not? But for me, unless I'm paid, if I hate it then it's gone. I might briefly mention on my blog that I didn't like a book and why but there won't be any big review and it certainly won't make it to my column at Bookslut - I just don't want to waste my time on something I don't enjoy.

I think that is likely true for a lot of bloggers.

As to what publishers will or will not do about bloggers, honestly at this point I wish they would just do something or admit they don't have a clue. For every comment from a pub saying they need to consider what bloggers are worthy of ARCs or what they will expect in return for ARCs, etc. there is the obvious act of pubs sending ridiculous amounts of ARCs out to everybody and their cousin. The only thing consistent about how the industry interacts with bloggers is their inconsistency. That's one thing that has not changed in the five years I've been reviewing for Bookslut and I don't see any signs of it changing in the future.

And really, the first pub who actually states they require positive reviews in return for ARCs or starts "punishing" bloggers for negative reviews will be blasted from one end of the lit blogosphere to the other and everyone knows it. That's something they have to think about as well. (And I'm sure they have.)

It has to be frustrating to be in PR right now and I don't envy them - it's very complicated sorting out what to. A perfect example is Maggie's comment above that she is not generally interested in blogs unless they receive more visitors then she does. The point though is that at a blog other than her own she would be meeting thousands of readers who may have never heard of her. It's something she or her pub need to think about.

Actually, it's all something to think about!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, talk about your Kakutani smackdowns! Will the publishers punish the bloggers? Or will the bloggers punish the publishers?

Anyone taking bets?

Susan

Colleen said...

Oh good grief. That is so not what I meant. Point is as soon as a pub suggests something like requiring positive reviews then everybody and their third cousin will be blogging about it and thus every review of every one of that's pub's books would be called into question.

That's what I meant - nothing smackdown oriented.

trish said...

Roger, I wasn't trying to degrade what you do. However, after explaining the reasoning behind why you only have positive recommendations in your newsletter, it makes a lot of sense. Book bloggers are a different beast, though.

@Anonymous 3:40pm - Bloggers linking to Amazon does not mean bloggers make any money when someone buys a book. Amazon only pays 4% commission, and you have to have a significant amount of traffic to get many people to click through to Amazon and then actually buy something.

susanwrites said...

I'm a writer, not a reviewer. My last book came out in 2006, just about the time that blogging reviewers were ramping up. I contacted various bloggers myself and my pubishers mailed out ARCs. I am forever grateful for the help that blogging reviewers gave in getting the word out about my book. That being said, I know the times have changed and the process will be different with my next book.

I don't garner the kind of attention (yet?) that Maggie does to be able to put restrictions on who talks about my book but then again, I'm a writer, not a publisher in hard times trying to figure out the best way to spend their advertising budget.

What I wonder about it ARCS being sent out as PDFs? I have a few friends that have had PDFS be the ONLY ARC going out on their book. Because the cost is, well, zero, do they also need some sort of restrictions on who gets them?

Susan Taylor Brown

Jennie said...

Honest question-- When sending ARCs, do publishers/authors take into account the non-blog audience the blogger might also reach? Many kidlit blogs (including mine) are written by librarians. If I read a book, it reaches a decent number of people via my blog, but it also reaches a lot more REAL! LIVE! CHILDREN! via my day job. Even the books I don't like reach the kids this way, because just because I don't like a book doesn't mean I don't know someone who will.

Also, trish... there are lots of times I'd read WAKE over WINTERGIRLS, because I want a fun read instead of something that's going to totally depress me. Would I give WAKE a prize for literary merit over WINTERGIRLS? No. Will I recommend both? Yes.

And, Susanwrites... my know several people who review books (professionally) in the adult nonfiction/current events market. They're incredibly jealous that I get bound ARCs, usually with promotional material on the book and author, and sometimes other goodies (like candy!) because many of their reviews are done off "badly scanned PDFs with hand-written changes." While it makes sense with the quick turn-around in the current events market, they are incredibly jealous of a bound ARC with supporting material.

Amy said...

Well there was an incident when a blogger who contributed to a group blog was told she could no longer receive review copies because of the tone of her reviews. And I've had an email where a publisher said "blatantly negative" reviews would not be tolerated. So yes I can see that such lists would be made.

Like Trish, I review everything I read. And yes I write negative reviews, but not really cruel reviews. And I think negative reviews have a place...after all, sometimes a reader will spot a book in a store and wonder about it. But if no one covers it, because they didn't like it, how will they know? I've had readers tell me they've wondered about books I've reviewed and were glad to see my review (positive or negative)

At the same time, I think only recommending books that are worth the money is a fine practice, too. No reason for everything to work the same way.

And Jennie, bless you! Bloggers are influencers and I've had publicists tell me they do consider a blogger's other influences. Whether other online ones or IRL influences. I think book bloggers are often book evangelists!

Oh and I"ve had people buy books through my affiliate links of negative reviews, so I don't think we need to worry about that.

Anonymous said...

Susanwrites and Jennie, do you mean sending unbound photocopied pages of a manuscript as an ARC, or do you mean sending an electronic file with PDFs of the pages? Because sending an electronic copy of the book into the blogosphere would freak me right out.

unkpinsh

Elizabeth said...

It's hard to imagine a scenario where a publisher would send a PDF to a blogger for review, unless it could be coded somehow and only one computer could open it. I am no technical expert, but obviously we print galleys to promote our books. With a PDF easily available, being forwarded and forwarded to interested readers, couldn't that really cut into sales of our finished copies? In that scenario, of course, authors would also lose out on their royalties.

And yes, Jenny, we are taking into account the a blogger's non-blog audience as we sort out where to send galleys. I just think it would be useful if, when bloggers ask for galleys, they gave us a sense of their reach. As I said before, we get "I really like YA books and I have a blog" as the only reason for a request very often.

By the way, my galley of Catching Fire says the following on the inside back cover. "This advance reader's copy has been distributed by the publisher free of charge for promotional and advance review purposes only. It is not to be offered for sale. Doing so would unfairly deprive the author of royalties from the sale of the publishers book." Then there is a sentence encouraging readers to pass the galley along to children or deserving charities if they so wish.

raych said...

Disclaimer: I review almost everything I write, and I'm as honest as I know how to be. If I don't review a book, it's because I'm up to my eyeballs in lazy, not because I don't like it.

*phew*

Ok, re: the pdfs. Elizabeth, sending around a pdf of a book would only reduce your sales by the two people who actually don't mind reading an entire book in pdf. The rest of the world hates it. Also, most bloggers have more integrity than to leak a book like that.

Also, the tone of this original post sounds like it's addressing teen YA readers who want free books so that they can lolcatz a review, all like ZOMG SO GUD U NEED TO BIE IT! Like Maggie said, these reviews are useless. You can weed these kids out, however, by reading their blogs.

I don't think it's acceptable or realistic to expect most blog coverage to be positive. Print reviews are a dying breed and, while they're still more 'respected,' the balance of power is shifting. I'd a thousand times more pick up a book recommended by a blogger I know and trust than by a NTY reviewer. Whatever that says about me.

Like many bloggers, I feel like I offer a service to my readers. Personally, I feel that I'm doing them a disservice if I fail to warn them off of a book that I wasted hours of my life reading. I understand the concept behind all-recommendations, but that seems more geared to casual readers who only pick up what they're told to. For those of us who lay hands on anything with a title page, it's a boon to be saved from reading a poorly characterized, poorly plotted, poorly edited piece of tripe.

The discussion of renumeration (in any form) for positive reviews has gone on in too many other places for me to even get into it here. I agree with Colleen that publishers need to figure out what they're doing, and do it quick.

Jennie said...

unkpinsh--The people I'm talking to receive electronic PDF files via email. The PDF itself is a "badly scanned" version of the galleys with changes in the margin. But, they are not blog reviewers, they are reviewing for publications that will pay them. I would hate to read a book that way.

I'm glad to hear that real-life reach is also taken into account.

Roger Sutton said...

Please don't count me among those who would review from a pdf!

I'm getting the sense that blog reviewing is kind of mano a mano--the bloggers want to be free to review books they respond to, and the readers sound like they are looking for personal recommendations. That's so different from the way we do things here--we review books that we think adults who work with children will or should want to hear about and consider sharing with children they may or may not know well. The reviewing bloggers seems to be much more adult fans of children's books writing for other adult aficionados, or teen bloggers writing for other teens. For good and/or ill, blog reviews aren't about gatekeeping.

Comparing the Times' adult reviews to blog reviews isn't exactly apples and apples either--they are reviewing books that they think should be part of the cultural conversation, not necessarily those a particular individual wants to read. While blogs can be great at the if-you-like-that-you-might-like-this kind of recommendation, that's not what newspaper reviews are for the most part interested in doing.

raych said...

Roger--granted. I think that's an accurate description of the difference between the NYT, say, and a blogger like myself. Speaking in gross generalities, I feel like newspaper reviews tell us what we should be reading (and I only kind of mean that in an elitist sense, and not totally negatively) while bloggers tell us what we want to be reading. While print reviews may reach more people, book bloggers appeal to the masses. From a mercenary perspective, and judging from all this talk about creating 'book buzz,' I would suspect that publishers are more desirous of reaching said masses.

Another apples to oranges is bloggers who request galleys (as those blogging teens seem to be doing to Elizabeth) and bloggers who accept them. If I ask a publisher for an ARC and they send it to me, they're doing me a favor and that skews things for me personally, which is why I never solicit books. I would be uncomfortable giving it a negative review, and uncomfortable remaining silent if it was bad.

If a publisher offers me ARCs because they're trying to promote their books, then I'm doing them a favor by giving their book free publicity. If they sell a good product, they have nothing to worry about from me.

Anonymous said...

"In a comment on a recent thread . . " You have really bought into the lingo, haven't you? May a threadbare correspondent join the discussion? Or must one pass a language exam?

raych said...

Anon. - I probably wouldn't join a discussion on gaskets and V8 engines because I don't know what those are. If you're unsure about terms like 'comment' and 'thread,' this discussion on bloggers and blogging probably isn't for you.

Anonymous said...

RAYCH: poor analogy in your retort to Anon 2:11. "Thread" is presumably bloggers' jargon and has a meaning to insiders; "comment" is a word known to many English speakers even those who are not literary critics.. The combination is not comparable to gaskets and engines.

raych said...

Anon. 3:43

Anon 2:11 seemed to be asking to participate in a discussion on a topic about which the 'lingo' confused them. 'Thread' is not so much 'bloggers' jargon' as it is a common internet term. I was suggesting that if terms like 'thread' and 'comment' (in a blog-related sense) were unfamiliar to them, that perhaps they would have little to contribute to a blog-related discussion. I humbly retract my poor analogy. Sorry, Roger, for cluttering up your comments section with all this.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the accusation that RS has "bought into" something by using the word "thread" as a metaphor. What are we supposed to think, that he's in the pocket of the garment industry? Ah, look, another garment metaphor right there. Insidious stuff.

melanie hope greenberg said...

I trust the print reviews because these publications have been around for a long time and have established themselves and stood the test of time. I have a librarian friend who does some reviews for
Horn and it took him a while to be asked, then asked again. When I send out announcements to editors and art directors I list the established reviewers.

I think blog buzz is a fantastic thing. We all need to help each other since the publishing promotional departments are so swamped. Proof of buzz is that since I've started my blog my latest book has gotten many mentions. And my editor told me the sales went up. (A grateful bow here to all the bloggers and you too, Roger. My profile hits have gone up since I've commented on your blog; even got a museum visit with Andy Laties from connecting here). I think since blog reviews and reviewers are so new it will take time to see who is reputable and stands the tests of time (like the print reviewers had to do) to those who annoint themselves reviewers.

Anonymous said...

"Elizabeth, sending around a pdf of a book would only reduce your sales by the two people who actually don't mind reading an entire book in pdf."

Look, Ranulf, all the letters are exactly the same size and they are all really ugly. None of them are illuminated with pretty pictures at top of the page. Trust me, no one is going to want to read a whole book that looks like that!

lynnrutan said...

As a relative newbie on the blogging scene, I've found this exchange fascinating. The key for me both as a blogger and as a reader of blogs is to identify who the blog is written for and if the blogger has identified a mission or purpose of any kind. There are so many blogs and as a reader I find that I quickly tire of some that are less than professional in their approach. A point of view is terrific and I enjoy reading blogs that have them but I like to have a sense of what that is if I am going to give it my reading time. As a blogger, I write with my audience and purpose in mind. I write a blog with a friend and we sorted out before we started that we were writing mainly as recommenders of books. We do have a back and forth format so we have occasionally posted negative comments. It is my experience that those often generate the most interest and comments. Teens in our book club fight to be next to read a book that another teen has just hated so a negative review isn't necessarily a bad thing ;-)

We blog three books a week and that is a lot of reading and writing so frankly we only blog books that we have enjoyed. We do get sent a lot of books but because we have sort of mission in mind, we do also seek out books that we haven't been sent.

Blogging is still new in the mainstream and I think that time is going to be the great equalizer. People will read what is useful to them and entertaining enough to bring them back regularly.

Anonymous said...

Farewell! I was attracted to the HB site because of my admiration for the magazine and my ongoing interest in children's books. Now that the site seems to have become more concerned with the apparatus of book promotion (and the mechanics of the BLOG universe) I must look elsewhere for matters of substance (as opposed to technique).
Where should I go to read about BOOKS and their Authors. Aside from publishers' promos.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:07, I think your comment was meant to end with a question. Where should you go to read about Books and their Authors? I believe that that's what we are trying to figure out right now. We'll be sure to let you now if we manage it. Oh, wait, you won't be here.

Elizabeth said...

Hey, anonymous 11:07, if the Horn Book site is too superficial for you, please report back about where the in depth, "substantial" discussions are going on.

But I logged on here to say one more word about PDFs and their readability. I do not want to imply that most people, and most bloggers who review, would violate copyright law by freely forwarding a PDF they receive. *But* I would like to raise what happened with Stephenie Meyer's Midnight Sun. A handful of copies of 250 pages of a manuscript in progress, each carefully labelled, were given out to trusted, responsible people involved with the publication of the book, or, in one case, with the movie of Twilight. It is generally thought that the one copy that was sent very carefully to the movie set, to give Robert Pattinson and the movie's director background on Edward's character, is the copy that was scanned and put on the internet.

I don't work at Little Brown, and I am certainly not privvy to any inside information, and am trying my best to report the story as I know it. But the two points I want to make are these.

No one closely involved with the matter believes that the person who originally posted the 250 pages had any idea that he/she was violating the author's rights, was hurting the book, etc. But the fall out was, in a nutshell, that Meyers' withdrew the book from publication at least in part because she felt angry and violated. The story is recounted on her website, and she eventually made the leaked pages available to everyone on that site so that her fans didn't have to read illegal copies.

I learned at least 2 things from the whole incident. 1, Meyer has done a lot to educate her readers that there *is* harm in sharing material illegally over the internet, and that an author's work is owned by that writer. I don't think her fans had any idea what the ramifications would be as they all began to gleefully download and read the 250 page PDF. And at least for now, the ramification is that they will never get to read the entire book.

The 2nd thing I learned is that I sent the PDF of Midnight Sun from Meyer's site to my Kindle. I have read it twice. I've read other PDFs on my Kindle, too. So I remain wary of the argument that a PDF of a manuscript is so unpleasant that no one will read it. I see a lot of people with Kindles these days.

gail said...

Perhaps I am a unique (and particularly crabby) reader, but I pass on reading most blog reviews because I know most of the blogs I visit post only recommendations. I might do a blog search after I've read a particular book if I've liked it a lot and want to read that others have agreed with me. But I don't really see much point in reading the reviews as I come to them because I know they're going to be at least favorable and perhaps raves. I know what's going to happen.

On top of that, I've been reading books and reviews for a long, long time. I've had way too many experiences reading so-called positive book reviews, going on to read the books, and finding they had no relation to the reviews. I've definitely come to believe that when everything is highly rated, being highly rated doesn't mean much.

Sure, as a writer I understand the need for quotable reviews to use in marketing. As a reader, though, I've got to say I've learned to ignore a great deal of the praise lavished on books. And I do wonder if a lot of other readers won't eventually tune out a lot of the recommendations much the way we tune out so much television advertising.

Anonymous said...

Of course you are all correct, and what interests you is the mechanics of what one might politely call criticism, not the content. You could be reading and forwarding screeds on hardware or canned beans.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

One must delicately wonder, when reading these comments, if being an internet troll pays well.

Regardless, I'm finding the discussion fascinating. The fact of the matter is that the product -- books -- are staying the same -- but the media that we get our information about these books and what we expect from each form of media is rapidly changing. I just find it fascinating.

Elaine Marie Alphin said...

Elizabeth made an excellent comment about advance review PDFs and what happened to Stephanie Meyer's Midnight Sun. As a writer, I would shudder at the thought of one of my publishers sending PDFs of my latest book out into cyberspace. Even ARCs can be scary in these high tech days when so many people have scanners and Optical Character Recognition software. This June there have been torrent downloads available of Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire online at multiple sites. How many teens will have read the book before it comes out in September? Putting advance copies in the hands of reviewers to create buzz is one thing - letting a much anticipated book loose in cyberspace for free is another.

raych said...

Stephenie Meyer's reaction to Midnight Sun being leaked was totally understandable, and I probably would have reacted in exactly the same way, but it was not the only reaction available and certainly not the most profitable one.

One of Paulo Coelho's books was leaked in Russia and his sales there jumped from 3000 to one million in three years. Sales of ACTUAL BOOKS. So he started leaking bits of his books on his own until his publishers made him stop. Now you can read one of his books online for free each month.

And I understand that he's Paulo Coelho, and we're not. But I'd bet dollars to donuts that if S. Meyer had finished Midnight Sun and released it, the sales would have been astronomical not in spite of the leak, but because of it. Ditto with Catching Fire.

Things are changing and I don't know where they're going. For now, people still love to hold paper books in their hands, and have them on their shelves. Maybe in 100 years they don't, everything is online, and we've found another method of remuneration for authors.

Rosanne Parry said...

As a writer I find it impossible to judge whether a blog review or interview, or book give-away contest, is worth the effort in terms of book sales.

However, if someone cares enough about kid's books to blog about them, then they are probably doing other things in their community to support literacy. Many are teachers and librarians. Some are parents who run book clubs or volunteer as reading tutors.

I care about literacy a lot more than I care about book sales, so if I can do something for bloggers who are out there doing the hard work of making a literate generation, it's worth my time. Book people are good people, in my experience, and I'm delighted to have a whole new category of colleagues.

kristin cashore said...

Elaine, I'm with you! I would also shudder at the thought of one of my books being distributed in PDF form -- especially if it had handwritten changes, which would just be embarrassing. But I'm not seriously worried, since I don't anticipate it happening; plus, raych's comment about people loving to hold paper books in their hands strikes me as both comforting and true. However, there is one aspect of the whole ARC phenomenon that keeps coming to my mind as I read recent comments. And that's that it's not the final book; it's an earlier edit of the final book; both little and (on occasion) big things are subject to change. This is where I, as a writer, experience the occasional shudder. People are reading what is essentially a work-in-progress!

Just to qualify -- I'm not lodging this as a serious objection; I don't lose sleep over it; and I owe a world of debt to bloggers, the existence of ARCs, and my publishers' effective distribution of said ARCs. I merely wanted, as long as we're talking about ARCs and readers, to interject one little way in which ARCs can be uncomfortable things for writers. I know that librarians, booksellers, and trade reviewers know, and remember while reading, that the ARC isn't final. I know that a lot of the bloggers know this, too. But with the proliferation of ARCs in the blog world -- or for sale on eBay -- are some people reading them as final books? (Admittedly, it might only be a nervous writer who would care about this.)

(end tangent)

Back on topic, I'll add that, as with Elizabeth, it's my experience that bloggers often neglect to give information about their blogging venue / audience size when requesting ARCs. Sometimes they don't even give a mailing address. This puts the onus of research on my publicity department. I think there's a bloggers' etiquette that hasn't sorted itself out yet. I struggle myself with what's appropriate on my own blog -- and in comments on other people's.

Elizabeth said...

Oh Kristin, good point about ARCs not being identical in content to the final book! In fact, with sales galleys needed so far in advance of the final book, ARCs are most often made from the first pass of galleys, which haven't even been proofread yet, though the manuscript will have been copyedited before being set in galleys. And even if galleys have been proofread and corrected before being set as ARCS, authors and editors usually have some last tweaks. In a way, though, that's kind of a relief. We still have time to catch and correct things. I said on the thread below that bloggers won't be able to make requests for editorial changes. But if one caught a mistake, we would certainly listen to that. (Not that we want any mistakes, but they can happen.)

Here's an interesting question for publishers and writers. We usually don't respond or write a letter when we disagree with a review, and the practice is discouraged. But would you feel more free to get into a discussion like that with a blogger? I think I might.

kristin cashore said...

Elizabeth, good question! I, for one, generally feel that the author is the last person on earth qualified to argue the merits of her book objectively -- and I also tend to fall into the camp of, the book needs to make its own arguments (the author can't stand outside the book explaining or defending the book). Personally, I don't even think I'd want to correct someone if their review of my book contained factually incorrect information (though I've never encountered that, so maybe I'll find myself changing my tune someday when it happens). I like to leave ALL that stuff to other people. But, that's just my personal philosophy. And I've seen other writers do it tactfully. (Unfortunately, I've also seen other writers do it untactfully.)

I wonder if if might be unfair to the bloggers, though? If a blogger reads a book and writes a thoughtful but somewhat negative review, and suddenly the Author Actual or the Publisher Actual is commenting on his/her blog in response, that could be a real power shift on the blog, couldn't it? Suddenly, the blogger needs to defend his/her position in opposition to the actual author. I don't know. Something about that doesn't seem fair to the blogger power-wise.

(Of course, I'm depicting it as being very conflict-ridden. I suppose it could also be quite civil.)

Elizabeth said...

Years ago, when the internet existed but blogs did not, I saw a West End musical that closed in 2 weeks after some excoriating reviews. There were a bunch of posts from people who had seen the show or were curious about it on a theater bulletin board. Since I had seen the show and I thought it had been unfairly vilified in the press, I posted a very favorable few paragraphs on my impressions of the show. But I did call to task some cliches and awkwardness in a few lyrics that were bad enough that I still remembered them well enough to quote.

The show's producer then posted and invited me to listen to the recording and hear the "cliches" as "lingo of the times" or some such and I thought "Sheesh, this guy can't see a single thing that was wrong with the show. What kind of a producer is he if he has no objectivity?"

I remember resenting that. I had gone to the trouble to say a lot of nice things and the producer couldn't hear a single criticism. I can only imagine how obnoxious publishers would sound if we start doing that kind of commenting on blogs.

Rosanne Parry said...

Kristin, I'm with you on your concern that an ARC could be confused with the final product. In mine all the Spanish words that had a tilde were misspelled--a quirk of the computer code apparently. They were correct in the manuscript and correct in the book. I would hate for an Spanish speaking child to read my ARC and think I didn't care about her native language enough to spell it right.

I'm also hoping there will soon be a somewhat formalized code of blogger ethics to guide not just bloggers but authors and other publishing professionals in working together in a productive way. I believe there will be a kidlitosphere bloggers conference this fall. I'm hoping something like that could be developed in the near future. I'd be very interested to see what develops.

Amy said...

Regarding a code of ethics, it is something that has been discussed many times, but a little hard to pin down. Maybe the kidlitosphere will come up with one, but generally new blogs start everyday and other ones cease to be. That's why each blog having a policy of their own is a good idea.

I've had an author email me about something I said in a review and while they were polite I was a little annoyed b/c they suggested I check out a section of the book they thought would make my point irrelevant but I had actually mentioned that very section in my review.

Liz B said...

If bloggers are to have a "code of ethics" (& I have big questions about that, btw) then publishers would also have to have a code for treating bloggers: not dictating terms of review, for instance.

Roger Sutton said...

Why would we ask bloggers to sign on to a code of ethics when we don't ask print reviewers to do the same? Publishers have in the past stopped sending review copies to journals they thought were being unfair, but that is rare, not to mention ineffective. I can probably count the number of times a publisher has complained about a review (to my face) on two hands but have more frequently heard complaint (or curiosity) about why a given book was not reviewed in the Magazine.

I don't think the problem with blog reviews is the lack of a defined ethical code, it's instead a surfeit of blogs with no apparent scope or mission. I can see where a publisher might feel like it's throwing books down a well.

Anonymous said...

Publishers have different goals in mind with their ARCs - perhaps generating buzz by sending some to bloggers - but the goal in sending an ARC to PW or to Kirkus is to get a quote early enough that it can be used in sales material to the trade (possibly to the consumer although that is less likely because both PW and Kirkus are not so well known to bookstore buyers; as a publisher we use those quotes only if we don't have something more commercial). Although I personally enjoy Horn Book, those reviews do not usually come sufficiently before publication to help us sell in to bookstores although it will help with library sales after publication. Still, it does not help us much in projecting the print run...

Anonymous said...

Kristin's comment made me recall that once when reading the ARC of a book I found a glaring inaccuracy. Part of me thought, "Well, of course, someone has caught it by now," and part of me thought, "No one would thank me for pointing it out." But then I thought if I were I, then I would want to know in case there were time to fix it. So I got up in the middle of the night, found her website and emailed her. She did write back promptly, somewhat surprised, clearly not as knowledgeable as I had thought since she had not realized her error, but basically said it was too late to fix and she'd mention it on her blog. I would have at least fixed it for the paperback but no, she did not. I think the error is partly because publishers economize on fact checkers and proofreaders these days, and many of the editors I used to work with were not very well informed themselves (and/or were so overworked they did not have time to read anything but the manuscripts due in production). I wondered if Shannon would have made the change if there had been time or simply ignored it.

kristin cashore said...

Just wanted to point out that in response to this conversation and similar conversations on Chasing Ray, Sarah Miller has blogged Three Suggestions for Bloggers and Publishers. Check it out, if you like.

Taschima Cullen said...

Hmm when I do write to publishers I always like give them my blog url, tell them by reasons, talk about my blog and followers, and also tell them my follower count.