Publishing and Marketing 05: The Reviewer Crossover

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.

Internet blog reader conceptDespite 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.

blogging01It 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.

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Posted on August 30, 2013, in Editorial, Publishing & Marketing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. damn do I love this post!

    why do I always find posts like this when I have to leave for work in five minutes!? make sure I leave you a longer comment later, so we can talk some.

    Like

  2. I kind of understand the “shouting into the void” feeling. I’ve put over 3 years of work into my blog, and you wouldn’t know it from the stats. Only a few regulars drop by and comment.

    But one thing have noticed lately is that when people talk to me about blogging, they’re surprised that my blog is as small as it is. So I must be doing something right? Maybe it’s being consistant, maybe my quality is good, maybe I’m just too stubborn to cut my losses and stop blogging, I don’t know. (Yeah, that last one’s not going to happen for a while, if ever. :p) So maybe even if people don’t feel that they’re making themselves heard, more people are actually paying attention than they’d think.

    Sadly, controversy does sell. Everyone loves a good argument. I’m no exception to that, either; if I see a controversial post, I want to add my two cents. And then I kick myself because all I’m usually doing is convincing someone that controversy sells.

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  3. I know the feeling of why are they so much more noticed than I am, but I always put it down to envy on my side. I’ve learned to let go of the feeling I need to get 500+ views a day. Right now, I’m at a consistent, if far lower, average, but you know what? Even if I don’t post for a few days or over the weekend, my numbers keep up, which to me signals I’ve built up a consistent and loyal readership, even if it isn’t huge.

    But you know what gives me far more satisfaction? When an author comments that they were impressed by my review or that I was one of the few that caught a particular reference or element. To me that suggests I’m not just talking out of my backside, but perhaps have something pertinent to add to the discussion of the books I read.

    As for writing lots of editorials, I suck at those. I know I worry too much about what people think and whether I’m not talking nonsense and I just don’t have the time, patience or contacts to write the kind of posts Justin, Aidan, or you write. But you know what? I’m fine with that and perhaps one day I will learn to to write them. Until then I’ll just write my reviews and occassional interviews and enjoy myself in the interaction I get from both the blog and Twitter and the people I’ve connected with there.

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    • Yeah, its a fine line to walk there re: envy. As for the readership, my numbers go up and down a lot Before I started doing the NANP posts, I used to even have days with zero views! Very dispiriting! Right now, I haven’t had any guest posts on the blog for a good long while, so I’ve noticed a dip in the weekly numbers for sure. This is kind of why I promote my posts/reviews at least 3-4 times a day, to make sure that I’m hitting all the different zones.

      And I definitely agree re: satisfaction. In a recent comics review, I made an offhand comment about a character, and when the writer read my review she was ecstatic that I caught that reference, the first one to do so! That made my day. Or the fact that my review of Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood omnibus really hit a nerve with former AR publicist Darren Turpin and he was all praise for it. I love when things like that happen.

      With the editorials, I think it largely comes with the practice of writing them. Some of my early editorials are just terrible. They are inane and just a regurgitation of material elsewhere. But I’ve stuck with it because I wanted to do them and because I wanted to talk about these things. I don’t think I’ll get to the level of where Justin, Aidan, Jared or the others anytime soon, and that it will probably take me at least another year to get there, but I’m okay with that. They have a much stronger presence than me overall, and an actual consistent readership.

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    • I’m right there with you when it comes to that feeling when authors like the reviews I write. I feels like I’m doing something right when that happens, and like you say, that I actually have something worthwhile to add to the discussion.

      Once I get over the, “Holy crap, you noticed what I said!” moment of awe (and fear if I said something negative about the book), anyway. :p

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  4. Good post. There’s one comment I disagree with, though (not a disagreement with you per se, but more something that you mention that is a common misconception about blogging – in my opinion, anyway). 😉
    I will, of course, blog about it later today. :p

    Like

  5. super long comment time!

    it took me at least a year to get what I consider a decent following (which is probably smaller than you’d think). being active on twitter is what really got me a better following, i was able to tweet my reviews, maybe tag the author in the tweet and hope that they’d retweet. I also was able to connect with a much larger qty of other bloggers. I’ve found that building a following is more relationshiip building than good post writing.

    As to expectations, i think i put much higher expectations on myself than anyone. I’ll edit a review for days until I think it’s perfect, put it up, and get like 4 comments. If I’ve ever been “called out” for something, i’m too dense to notice. when I’ve posted negative reviews, usually the author response is something like “sorry it didn’t work for you”.

    I agree 100% with what Mieneke said – I get way more personal satisfaction when the author tweets me with a nice comment about my review. warm fuzzies all around, you know?

    Ria is right – humans love controversy. a well written review gets plenty of “great review!” comments. a controversial editorial gets Attention!

    You mentioned in your article that it sucks when an author tweets a high-profile review, and yours doesn’t get the attention you feel it deserves. I agree with much of what you wrote, but on this one, I’m sorry but you are just going to have to get over it. Don’t be bitter, don’t feel
    bad, don’t think you did something wrong or not good enough. just get over it.

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    • Hehe, I bet your following is far bigger than mine since you’ve been running a dedicated blog for far longer than mine. My blog started as a place for me to talk about my tie-in fiction and some original fiction, and has gradually morphed into what it is today. Been a slow, and often laborious process.

      Being on Twitter is an immense advantage. From experience, people take more notice of things on Twitter than they do on Facebook. Much more advantageous. And its easy to follow people on Twitter and interact with them than it is on Facebook.

      For editing reviews, I confess I’m not so rigorous about that. I write something, and I post it after giving it a very brief once-over. If I find any mistake later, I edit it as required. And sometimes its gotten me into trouble too, with a negative review no less!

      And thanks for the comment, Red 🙂 Much appreciated!

      Like

  1. Pingback: Publishing and Marketing 06: Writers Welcome and Reviewing Etiquette | Shadowhawk's Shade

  2. Pingback: Monthly Report: August and September 2013 | Shadowhawk's Shade

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