How much influence do book bloggers wield from behind their laptops? Leah Eggleston Krygowski talks to authors about how the online critic has influenced the industry.
It seems as if everyone is blogging about something these days. People freely give their opinion on everything from where to have dinner, the best places to vacation, or the latest trends in fashion. Blogging has become the activity du jour for anyone wanting to be heard. And as the number of bloggers increases exponentially, so do the number of unsolicited opinions posted on the internet.
One area in which bloggers are voicing their very strong opinions is in the area of books. More and more bibliophiles are taking to the web with their reviews of the latest books from their favorite authors. While there may be no such thing as bad publicity, just how powerful are the voices of those who blog for a hobby? Can the online critic really drive book sales or are they just writing for their own pontification?
I spoke with several authors in an effort to learn their opinion, both good and bad, of those reviewing their books online. This is what they had to say about book bloggers.
Marilyn Brant – author of According to Jane, Friday Mornings at Nine and A Summer in Europe
Overall, I’ve found book bloggers to be very helpful to authors as far as spreading the word about a new novel. Nothing can replace a publisher’s advertising budget when it comes to promoting an author or making a specific book a bestselling title. However, for the majority of authors, sometimes the only way to break out of the black hole of authorial anonymity or the respectable but not very visible placement in the midlist is to generate great word-of-mouth through contest wins, our own creative promotional efforts and the time and generosity of book bloggers, who are willing to read our work and, if they like it, shout their love to the fabulously voracious reading masses. An author can send an online reviewer a book/ARC, but we can’t buy the kind of enthusiasm that comes when a reviewer really loves one of our stories. It shows. And it’s very helpful to alert readers to what new novels are out there — for both the readers, who need help narrowing down the millions of choices, and for authors, who almost always need the visibility. So, in my opinion, the role of a thoughtful and fair book blogger is a much needed one. My personal experience has been very good (except for a few ranters) and quite often I know new readers have found me as a direct result of well-written book-blogger reviews.
Are book bloggers just as knowledgeable as professional reviewers? I certainly believe they can be. But I think there is a question of intention that tends to arise — particularly in the way that the book bloggers perceive their “role.” Does a particular reviewer want to share a love of books in a way that’s fair to writers — as well as open and responsive to readers — so a dialogue about the novel might be established? Or does the reviewer simply want a platform to show how “clever” he/she considers him/herself to be and, possibly, create enough controversy to drive more traffic to the reviewer’s website?
In my opinion, the job of someone who’s a good reviewer is to summarize the book clearly but without spoilers and to give the pros and cons of the story by reflecting on how effectively the author created believable characters, a descriptive setting, a compelling and well-paced plot with moving/rising action, dialogue that rings true and any additional elements specific to the genre being reviewed. An evenhanded reviewer will point out both the strengths and the weaknesses of a writer’s storytelling style. It will allow blog visitors to better analyze the novel and, hopefully, be interested enough to check out an excerpt. Reviewers — whether in print or on the web — may bring books to our attention, and that’s an incredibly helpful thing, but it’s still our responsibility to determine which stories are right for us.
The only book bloggers I’ve ever considered to be very unhelpful to authors are the ones who feel that they’re justified in ranting about a novel they disliked with little fairness or logic to back up these rants. And when these include personal attacks against the author, their behavior can verge on a kind of online bullying, particularly if the “reviewer” insists on putting up these types of reviews on sites besides their own and encouraging their friends or followers to comment and agree. As a reader, I will discount immediately any review I see that’s written in such a tone, and I’ll discount it even faster if it’s “anonymous.” That, to me, is the most destructive part because I really think the job of a reviewer is to help to connect the right readers with the right books, and these kinds of slams can disrupt that process. Anything where the main motivation of the reviewer seems to be an exercise in drawing attention away from the merits of the book and onto the reviewer’s own quippy insults puts me immediately on guard. I think the best gift we, as readers, can give to authors is to do them the honor of considering their work for ourselves.
Lisa Heidke – author of What Kate Did Next, Claudia’s Big Break and Stella Makes Good
Speaking from personal experience I have generally found bloggers to be very helpful when it comes to reviewing my books. I’ll often come across a review written by a blogger I don’t know and, generally, their reviews are positive, which is a relief because bloggers are attracting a growing number of followers every day and their influence is increasing. Therefore they are very effective at spreading the word about new books.
With the demise of so many bookshops (especially here in Australia) authors rely on word of mouth and internet reviews to spread the word about their new titles so I believe it’s definitely been a positive development for us. Occasionally, my books will get average reviews. Of course, you’d like every review to be glowing and give you ten out ten but that’s not realistic. Not everyone who reviews your book is going to love your story or writing style. I try not to take it personally and use the review to think about how I can improve my writing. All you can hope is that you get more positive than critical feedback.
When I come across blogger reviews, I always leave messages on their blogs thanking them for their time reading my books and if they’ve only read one, I’ll always offer to send them one of my others.
I believe bloggers have enormous influence. Of course, it depends on how many followers/subscribers they have but in the main, I think their influence is growing and readers of their blogs really do take on board their opinions, especially if the bloggers are known for reviewing romance, sci-fi, chick-lit, etc. I think the more that bloggers get known for their reviews of particular genres, the more their influence will increase, especially as the internet continues to take over the world, along with Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Certainly, when bloggers contact me saying they write book reviews, etc., I’m happy to send them my books. It’s all about marketing, promotion and getting the word out. Bloggers have enormous power to do this and obviously their readers are from all over the globe. Bloggers provide a brilliant service and I think they’re amazing to be able to keep up with all the new books being released.
Milly Johnson – author of A Spring Affair, A Summer Fling, Here Come the Girls and An Autumn Crush
The admirable thing about bloggers is that they’re passionate enough about books to be reviewing them for the love of it. On the whole I think that most bloggers are fair in that they appreciate that their review is their opinion and not necessarily the standard for everyone. Even when a blogger doesn’t enjoy a book, so many of them give authors the courtesy of pointing out some of the stuff they did like in the story. Authors are never going to please everyone all of the time and we know this – even though we wish it were different. Bad reviews do hurt authors – it’s like someone saying your child is hideous. Books are our creations and precious. So of course we love it when bloggers enjoy our books and ‘get’ them. And a fair review is all we would ask for.
Bloggers have been very useful to me and I’m sure have been instrumental in driving my sales upwards. My favourite bloggers are so generous spirited and I’d be so dreadfully disappointed if my future books didn’t satisfy them – but I also have to recognise that they have to report their true feelings, otherwise what’s the point of it all?
I’ve just had the one notably negative experience with bloggers. One launched a rather vicious diatribe about me rather than my book because she didn’t like my tweets. She wanted freedom of speech for herself but not for authors. I hated the way she used her site to attack a long list of authors in a way that was tantamount to online bullying. She’d upset a lot of people and that sort of behaviour didn’t do her any favours as bloggers and writers usually manage a nice balanced relationship. Alas there’s always one who goes a bit power mad. There’s nothing you can do about them but try to keep the experience in perspective and rise above it. My tongue was bitten to shreds that week, I can tell you! Luckily for us, most bloggers are respectfully honest, and do a fantastic job both for like-minded readers and us authors. We co-exist beautifully.
I direct traffic wherever possible to good blogging sites. And I feel a thrill for them when I see their following build and all that hard work paying off.
Kathleen Kole – author of Breaking Even, Dollars to Donuts and Favorable Conditions
Before I share my thoughts about bloggers, I feel I must make the confession that until I set forth on my journey as a published author, I’d never had personal interactions with any bloggers – at all! I’d heard the term, had a vague idea of that which they do, and that was about the extent of my scope. My how things can change. In less than a year’s time, I have had the opportunity to not only flip the scales and interact with numerous bloggers, but have learned the value of what they can bring to the table both personally and professionally.
When I began seeking a venue to allow readers to know about my work, it was fortunate to be in communication with a kind blogger who offered her guidance to help me through the process of setting up my first and second blog tours. What an opportunity and learning curve! I was given the privilege to meet an entire group of bloggers who willingly agreed to read and review my books and, during both tours, discovered two things of great value: 1. Bloggers are wonderfully generous and willing to cheer you on. They really do want to see you do well. 2. Their reviews and support have the potential to help an author’s work to gain more attention; allowing for a larger reader base.
In a nutshell, I look upon bloggers with great respect and appreciation. As I said, in my experience, they do want to see an author do well. (Yes, there will always be those who feel they need to offer an editorial review, as opposed to a story review, but that’s life. Those bloggers, in my experience, are few and far between.) And, if a blogger possesses a substantial follower/reader base and is willing to remind their followers of an author they appreciate, I do believe they can help that author on his/her journey. That being said, I feel I must extend a huge thanks to all of the bloggers who have willingly shared in my journey thus far – your part in the process has been valuable beyond that which you know.
Sarah Pekkanen – author of The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat and the upcoming These Girls
A few months before my first novel was published, I fell into a panic. I felt as if I was about to give birth, but had no books or classes or friends to guide me. I’d heard a bit about the wacky, unpredictable world of publishing, which only served to confuse me even more. So one day, I sent out a few emails to book bloggers – actually, they were more like S.O.S. messages than emails – introducing myself and asking for advice: Did they think my website looked okay? Was it appropriate for authors to contact book bloggers directly?
Then something amazing happened: Every single blogger took the time to write back. They were so friendly, like a group of neighborhood women bringing over coffee and muffins to welcome the new girl on the block. They told me about blogs I should be reading, offered up advice on how to contact bloggers for possible reviews, and wished me well on my publishing journey. Then something even more amazing happened: The bloggers and I stayed in touch, and slowly they turned from professional contacts into friends.
During the past three years, I’ve met dozens of bloggers in person, at publishing conventions like BEA and when I’ve given speeches in the cities in which they live. We’ve shared coffee and drinks and meals, and chatted on Twitter and Facebook, and I’ve come to rely on their reviews for books I never would have otherwise read, like The Hunger Games. I think what has surprised me most about bloggers is that this isn’t just a hobby – they work incredibly long hours, devouring books and penning thoughtful reviews, and, in the vast majority of cases, they do it purely because they love books. At a time when the publishing industry is struggling, bloggers are infusing it with a burst of energy and enthusiasm. Although not every book blogger has given a positive review to my books, they have all been highly professional and courteous – and I enjoy reading their critiques, because I can learn from them.
Personally, I can’t thank book bloggers enough for all they do – and I hope they never stop doing it!
Catherine Ryan Howard – author of Mousetrapped and Results Not Typical
As a self-published author, I’ve come to learn that the support of book bloggers is vital to the success of my books. I used to read book review sites and blogs just for entertainment, to find new authors and titles I might like to read, but now I recognize what a stellar job such sites are doing helping readers and authors by connecting the two.
When I first self-published — I released a travel memoir called MOUSETRAPPED back in March 2010 — book bloggers were the only ones willing to review my book. They took the time to read and critique it, and some even interviewed me for their sites. This helped me promote my book, reach new readers and of course, feel like a “real” author! When it came around to my next book I had an established readership and so could’ve “got away” without sending review copies, but I remembered how helpful, supportive and encouraging those book bloggers had been, so I was happy to send them complimentary copies this time around. Book bloggers should form an integral part of every author’s social network; you’ll rely on each other in the months and years to come. For instance, I recently had a blog tour, and some of my book blogging friends helped me out by hosting me on their site and doing giveaways, etc. But if they need a prize for a competition or to help spread the word about their site or a new feature they have, I can return the favor. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
When you hear of authors dismissing book blog reviews as being unprofessional or perhaps too critical of their books, remember this: book bloggers don’t get paid. They devote hours and hours of their own time to read and review books and they get nothing except maybe a complimentary copy of a book in return. Some don’t even get that; they review books they’ve bought. They also devote time and effort — and sometimes money too — to their upkeep of their site. And personally, I know I’d prefer to read an honest review by someone who has no reason to lie, than a book reviewer who has an employer and a publishing house to keep happy.
Leah Eggleston Krygowski is an avid reader, writer and book reviewer for http://www.chicklitclub.com who would gladly give up her day job for the chance to read, write and discuss books with other bibliophiles full-time (as long as it paid well). She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two Cairn Terriers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.