Publishing and Marketing 05: The Reviewer Crossover
Posted by Abhinav Jain
A couple months back I came across this blog post, in which a reviewer/blogger questioned herself regarding her worth as a blogger, and whether what she did mattered worth a damn. It is a very engaging blog post and raises several questions that I’ve asked myself several times since I read the post. Just the core idea of it is enough to spark off a flurry of questions.
As of writing this post, I had a rather brief discussion on Twitter with an author of several years’ standing and a reviewer I’ve been following for a while. The topic of this discussion: shouting in the void that is the internet and making oneself be heard among all the noise that is generated by the tens of thousands of bloggers out there. In an environment where new book blogs are cropping up almost everyday, where Goodreads and Amazon have given rise to an extremely prolific blog-reviewer culture, it is tough to be heard as someone who has something to contribute.
In previous installments of this column, I’ve talked about various things, whether they be publisher marketing strategies or industry controversies, or even spotlighting women in the industry. For this installment, I thought I’d do something a bit different from the usual.
So what is it about reviewing that attracts so many people? I started doing it because I’d promised an author friend that I’d review her book when it came out (this was her debut). And I kinda liked it, so I did more. A few even. Then I was asked to write for The Founding Fields. And almost 2 years later, here were are.
I often trawl through reviews on Goodreads, looking for why people are attracted or repelled by the books that I’m reading. I want to see what I find in common with people and what I find myself in opposition too. A lot of the blog-reviewer culture I mentioned earlier is a happenstance. People read a book, they want to talk about it, so they drop a few lines on their medium of choice: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, etc. They just want to talk about it, wanting to share their good and bad experiences with the rest of the world. There are thousands of people on Goodreads who are posting reviews every day.
There’s this unspoken-of divide in this culture. This divide separates the casual reviewer from the more professional reviewer. I would say a casual reviewer is someone who leaves a comment (or a few lines, whatever) on social media or platform of choice, and that’s that. That person just moves on from there. A professional reviewer would be someone who operates or contributes to a blog, who writes reviews week-in, week-out and who engages with authors and other reviewers on a daily basis.
Despite perceptions, professional reviewers aren’t as common as it may seem. From all the interaction I’ve done in my time so far, and that I’ve seen, there is a very small community of reviewers, divided along genre lines. And rarely is that line crossed. There are reviewers who handle Science Fiction and Fantasy, reviewers who handle Urban Fantasy, reviewers who handle Crime/Thrillers, and so on. The overlap doesn’t happen a lot. And its only on levels where the blogs are “big names”, with lots of contributors, or reviewers who’ve been around for a long time, that you see that overlap happen.
In other words, what I’m trying to get at here is that this is a really busy job: being a reviewer. Its certainly not easy, not by any means.
Being a reviewer is a part-time full-time job. We gotta read the books, keep track of them, write reviews, publicize those reviews, and then go back to step 1. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes we even have to start discussions about various industry trends, talk about the hot topics of the moment. Often times we have to (by choice, and certainly not as a requirement) actively engage with the authors as well. Myself, I love interacting with authors. Often times, it gets very informative and educational. Not to mention that old, old concept of “word of mouth”. I’ve long lost track of what books I’ve read that were recommended to me by other authors, or books that I picked up because I enjoyed interacting with the author of those books.
And this is where the “not easy” part comes in. You see, its not easy being a reviewer. You often have to meet people’s expectations of what you should and should not be reading, reviewing, discussing, and so on. I’ve gone through this several times, and is something I’ve blogged on about as well. Because we put ourselves on a pedestal, it gives people the license to call us out. I’ve seen plenty of cases, personally and second-hand, where these instances have gotten out of hand. Not a fun thing to deal with.
These people often forget that we are just readers like they themselves are. The only difference is that we have a platform for speaking about our reading. That’s really it. Whether we are good or bad at that doesn’t matter. We bring a certain passion to his part-time job, this full-time hobby. Dealing with bullshit can get really depressing. This what most often causes us to question ourselves.
Certainly, this is what authors have to deal with as well. Irate readers and reviewers, ranting about how an author “screwed” something up. It makes the author question his/her own judgement, makes them second-guess, and just generally, it gets very irritating, to put it mildly.
But see, thing is, authors are seen as being people in a position of authority. Just by the very nature of what they do and who they are, they are treated as people in power. A lot of this comes from being an earner and getting tangible, monetary rewards for doing what they do. When an author does something, they are heard.
Reviewers have nothing like that. We get nothing out of this except satisfaction and the joy of doing it. There certainly is no monetary compensation involved. And we often don’t get heard, sadly enough.
Reviewing is a hobby. Unless you happen to work for a newspaper or some kind of trade publication, you aren’t actually doing a job. We don’t review with the intention of becoming earners in the same tangible sense that a lot of authors do. They work their asses off so they can one day give up their day jobs (quite a few) and making writing their full-time job. We work our asses off so we can one day be taken seriously by the community and that we just become a bigger entity. That’s really it.
I’d be surprised if people were actually into this to achieve anything else.
Which brings me to another point. Being heard. I struggle with this. I honestly do. Until September last year, as a blogger and reviewer, I was seeing very low returns for the amount of work I was putting into this hobby. I was putting out some 10-12 reviews a month right about this time last year, engaging with authors and the like, but I wasn’t seeing much in the way of return feedback. Of course, this also was an effect of me not being that big of a reviewer, and being attached to a review blog that was very focused on the books from a particular publisher, but still. Given the amount of content I was putting out, I wasn’t actually getting any feedback. At least, feedback that encouraged me to do better.
It is always great to have an outside confirmation, or rather, affirmation, because a self-affirmation isn’t all that great really. One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is being taken seriously. Part of the struggle was that unless you (the reviewer) is a big-name reviewer, authors don’t really pay you all that much attention. Unless you are writing for (to use a few examples) SF Signal, Fantasy Faction, Ranting Dragon, etc, authors don’t really bother with you. They are not going to make an effort to engage with you, they are not going to make the simple gesture of sharing with their wider audience what you thought of their work.
This is an attitude that is much, much more profound in the comics industry. I’ve been writing comics reviews for about 16 months, and in that time, I’ve only been noticed by a comics writer a handful of times. This is why when two of my favourite comics writers started following me a while back on Twitter, I was ecstatic. It was an affirmation that they had noticed me and that they actually cared what I thought of their work. Me!
Generally, the devil-may-care attitude is not as pronounced as my writing makes it out to be. Certainly, I’ve had my fair share of authors who’ve been extremely positive and supportive, but the reverse happens enough that it can sometimes be demoralising. And this is when we as reviewers have to be strong, really. It takes a great effort of will and a self-realisation that there are others like us all around and that there is only so much that an author can pay attention to in a finite amount of time.
They do have to work on their job/hobby, which isn’t something that we can begrudge them for at all.
It just gets on my nerves however when I see an author share a review of their work by a big-name publication, even though my review was posted around the same time and I made the effort to let them know about it.
I don’t know. I suppose I’m just being unfairly bitter about it.
Still, I don’t think I’m all that far off the mark.
Of late, I’ve put a lot of effort into making this blog, Shadowhawk’s Shade, into a more high-profile blog. It started last September with my Names: A New Perspective guest post series where I invited two authors every week to talk about their naming practices and inspirations, etc. The response was quite enthusiastic, and it certainly helped raise the blog’s noticeability in the blog-o-sphere. And I can say that with full confidence since I’ve noticed an actual dip ever since I stopped posting any new posts earlier this month. Trust me on that.
This brings me to a secondary point here. In the last 4-5 months, I’ve been blogging about more than just reviews and guest posts on names. You can just look at all my previous posts since like April to see evidence of that. I’ve been writing a lot of editorials on various things, whether as part of this very series or something else. I’ve talked about the state of things in the comics industry as well, and comic book movies.
And yet, I’m struggling to get noticed. A lot of the times it feels like what I’m saying just echoes around in a closed room. Or something. I see other people doing similar things and I see that they get noticed far more. What is that a product of? Not having enough content? Not having as old a platform? There’s been some great response to some of the things I’ve been writing, but I’m not seeing anything sustainable.
That’s what worries me more as a blogger. Not having a sustainable over time platform. I think that’s where some of my despondency and bitterness comes from. And this in turn makes me question whether what I’m doing is right or not. Whether I’m doing something that people actually want to read.
My most popular post to date on this blog has been an indictment of Orson Scott Card’s bigoted views and my refusal to watch an adaptation of first Ender-verse novel, The Ender’s Game, coming later this year. You can read my views here. So many people commented on that post, talked about it on social media (that I could take note of), and so on. The comments were certainly lively.
But still, it bothers me. Is controversy what sells? Should I really step to that level to generate a bigger audience? That’s not what I want this blog to be about as an identity. I see cases every month where certain bloggers generate near constant controversy for one thing or the other, and their tone is always arrogant and spiteful, to put it mildly. That puts me off. Big time.
The struggle to be relevant, to be noticeable continues.
Posted on August 30, 2013, in Editorial, Publishing & Marketing and tagged Being A Reviewer, Blog, Blogger, Blogging, Blogosphere, Book Bloggers, Column, Editorial, Industry Article, Marketing, Publishing, Publishing & Marketing, Review, Staying Relevant. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.