How Book Blogging Has Changed Part 1

I thought I’d share my totally subjective and anecdotal impressions of how book blogging has changed over the past few years. My views are formed mainly from my own blogging experience and my observations of blogs I read, mainly genre fiction blogs, especially romance.

For readers who have no idea who I am, I started a book blog, Racy Romance Reviews, in August 2008. I changed its name in 2010 to Read React Review. In August 2012, I stopped blogging there altogether. I started blogging irregularly here in January of this year.  I would say I am in the second or third cohort of book bloggers, at least in the romance genre. I can think of several romance blogs that began around 2002-3, but I can’t think of any that are much older than that (and I mean blogs, not review sites).

[Once I began writing this, I realized it’s too long for one post. Consider this part one. I cover awards and contests, ARCs, cross-platform blogging, and sponsored blogs.]

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Yours truly, just one blogger with many observations

1. Awards and conferences

When I started blogging, some kind person gave me an award. Remember those? People would put these cute homemade little blog awards on their sidebars, thank the giver, and then have to pass it on. Or as Carolyn Crane’s alter ego, Little CJ put it:

If it was a real award, it would have a little something called a PRIZE that goes with it. Instead, it has a chore. Like, hey here’s a digital picture made by some freak I don’t know who probably lives in their parent’s basement and has nothing better to do than make awards. Woo-hoo! Now go ahead and copy it off my blog do a post about it and bug some people with it. And if they don’t happen to read your blog every day – there’s a shocker – then you have to email them.

Then from 2008-2012, there was the Book Blogger Appreciation Week with its corresponding awards. This was a little more official, with committees, nomination forms, and prizes donated by authors and publishers (I was a finalist one year for romance). There was usually some disagreement, like whether a blogger who charged cash for reviews should be eligible, or whether a blogger had to agree to be nominated, but overall it seemed like a positive event. Then in 2012, Goodreads and the American Association of Publishers began to sponsor the Independent Book Blogger Awards, with the winners getting a free trip to Book Expo America in New York. Some bloggers disagreed with the restrictions placed on these awards by Goodreads.

With respect to conferences, although book bloggers have attended conferences and met informally for years, the first “official” book blogger conferences in 2010 and 2011 were hosted by a small group of bloggers in conjunction with the annual Book Expo America event in NYC. In 2012 and 2013, the book blogger con was sold to BEA and became an official part of that massive publishing event. In recent years, this event has been criticized by attendees (including me) for being too focused on publishers and authors.

In the romance community, there have always been a number of fan events, but it was not until this year, coinciding with RT ’13 that there has been a one day bloggers event sponsored by bloggers. If online chatter is any indication, it did not seem to garner much interest its first year, but these events usually take a few years to get up to speed.

My take:

Partly I’m a little sad that there is less of the homegrown type of award, and I worry that this means that the community has possibly become less cooperative and more competitive, but on balance I am pleased bloggers do get recognition, one way or another.

I think a challenge remains with any blogging conference to accommodate the many diverse book blogs out there. Some bloggers have a vision of a book blog as a kind of reading journal and discussion forum with other readers, while others are hoping it can become a hobby that pays for itself ,or even more, a career that allows for the end of the dreaded day job.  Some reviewers think a reprint of the book blurb and a couple of lines of reaction constitute a review, while others take days and 2000 words to analyze a book. Some bloggers, especially those with a more visually creative bent, want to have complete technical control over every aspect of their blogs, while others are happy in the safe but limited environment of Blogger or WordPress.com. Some bloggers have been doing this for a decade and have a  “been there, done that” attitude about many topics that fascinate or mystify newbie bloggers. Those challenges aside, I do hope conference organizers continue to try to find a balance that works.

2. ARCs

Back in the day, only certain bloggers got advance reader copies of forthcoming titles. I know that when I started blogging in 2008, I thought (probably not accurately) a blogger had to be very famous or influential to get ARCs. Then two things changed. First, digital books made distribution cheaper and easier. Second, there was a recognition by authors and publishers of the value of blogger reviews, especially for titles that don’t get reviewed in major media outlets. Netgalley launched in 2008 and Edelweiss (already well known among publishers for its e-catalogs) began offering e-galleys to bloggers soon after. I was on Netgalley for about a year (20011-12), and also accepted paper ARCs offered to me email by publicists during the time period I now refer to as “my failed experiment.”

Today, to get access to ARCs, you don’t even have to be a blogger. Different publishers have varied and often obscure criteria, but many people can get ARCs just on the basis of  Twitter followers,  Amazon reviews, and/or Goodreads friends. I think there is probably still a hierarchy among bloggers, especially in YA and SFF, related to access to highly-coveted ARCs (this has never been much of an issue in the romance community), but I’m guessing the greater access to ARCs has minimized the competition over them.

While old school bloggers still say there is a consensus that a new blogger should wait for six months to request an ARC,  I personally don’t think this holds true anymore, at least not for e-ARCs (aka AREs). This has led to a lot of discussion over which comes first, the desire to blog or the desire for ARCs. In the old days I would see posts that referred to ARCs as a way to grow your blog. These days, the advice is as likely to be that blogs are a way to get ARCs. I think this is true for some genres more than others.

Another change related to ARCs is the 2009 FCC rule that bloggers disclose “freebies.” This was very controversial in book blog land, with many bloggers rejecting the idea that books are “freebies.”

My take:

I don’t see ARCs alone as affecting the practice of book blogging very much, at least in the romance community, in the last five years.  Some bloggers admit that they seek ARCs for their own ego boost, for the goodies that come with the books, and to be “first”. I wouldn’t put any of those on my personal list of blogging goals. But I’m not even sure the availability of ARCs has encouraged more “sham blogs” since anyone with enough Twitter followers or Goodreads friends can get at least some e-ARCs. I do think their wide availability has led to the crystallization of some new norms in the community, such as not selling them on eBay, not posting reviews too early, and trying to avoid spoilers on Twitter, which of course, like any norms, some people ignore. I see ARCs as just one subset of a larger trend I would describe as the professionalization of blogging. and I *do* think that larger trend has had an impact on blogs. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.

From what I have seen, disclosure has not been burdensome to bloggers. Mommy bloggers have to disclose every free product from a pair of sport socks to a jar of baby food. I realize that book reviewing is a vaunted practice, an art form, related to another art form, the novel, and that reading and discussing books is vital to democracy, to community, indeed, to our very humanity. But publishing is also a business and books are also a product, and viewed from that perspective, disclosure is not a problem for me.

3. Cross-platforming

One of the biggest changes in book blogging is not related directly to the book blog: it’s the increasing importance to book blogging of non-blog platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr (ok, that last is “micro-blogging”). And even Goodreads and Amazon. Back when I started blogging, RSS readers were still a mystery to many people. It seemed like a giant leap to be able to read all your favorite blogs in one space.

Just a few years later, the feed reader is practically antique. More and more, bloggers are spreading their content and presence across multiple platforms. Reviews, or links to reviews, can be posted in several places, allowing the blogger to go where the readers are instead of asking the reader to come to her blog.

The evolution of the Twitter widget is a good example of how integrated these platforms are with blogging today. Back in the day, it was a feat just to get a “Follow Me on Twitter” icon with a link to your Twitter account placed on your blog sidebar. Then, we had the widget that actually showed your recent tweets. Now, blog readers can actually go into the Twitter widget and tweet from the blog itself (just look on the right side of this page).

I used to think Twitter was one factor in the oft-noted diminishing blog comment threads, and I do still believe that. But these days I view RTs and Twitter replies as just a different way of interacting with a blog post.

Facebook is another platform bloggers are using more and more. I think in the romance world, authors were kind of out in front on this one. But in recent years, I have seen romance blogs really utilizing Facebook to connect with readers. I have no idea how they manage to be in all of these places all of the time, although I know there is integration between services such as Twitter and Facebook, or Goodreads and Facebook, or Amazon and Twitter, such that a post to one shows up on the others automatically.

Several bloggers have tried out newsletters (another way the bloggers are following an author innovation) and a couple have podcasts. I do not recall anyone, at least in romance, doing these in 2008. Vlogs, on the other hand, have not been embraced at all by book bloggers, except for some in the YA crowd.

This cross-platform thing makes it harder to figure out a particular blog’s influence or reach, and I have been astounded on more than one occasion to see that some romance blog I have never heard of has 20,000 FB followers. I also think that, unlike blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads are spaces which also serve as author platforms, and this has led to more interactions and sometimes greater opportunity for disagreements between readers and authors over reviews.  Sure, authors advertise on many blogs, but the ad is clearly delineated from the blog post. An author is unlikely to come to your blog and take aim at your critical review (although, as we know, anything can happen), but she’s somewhat more likely to feel comfortable dissing it on Twitter or responding to it on Goodreads, or complaining about it to her FB fans, which are, after all, her spaces too. On the other hand, some really great blog posts come of reader-author interaction on all these platforms, too.

My take:

I don’t use Tumblr, Goodreads, or Facebook, so my experience here is limited. But I adore Twitter, and absolutely think it has allowed me to have wonderful exchanges with many fellow bloggers, authors, and, most importantly, readers who might never start a blog or ever comment on my blog posts. The idea that whenever I want to, I can dip into the Twitter stream and talk about books is addictive. My sense is that Goodreads has been particularly valuable for avid readers who want to talk books but don’t want to start their own blogs.

On the downside, the comment sections of blogs now have to compete with all these other forms of reaction and response. And the fact that there are so many new platforms means not just duplicated content, but even more new content, with the result that people barely have time to skim the title, let alone read the post, let alone write a considered response. I know I feel much more scattered and overwhelmed and I attribute a lot of it to all of these different places to go and look for content and conversation. That said, on balance, I like the idea of taking the content to the reader, wherever she may be.

4. The rise of the sponsored blog

As I type this, most of the major romance publishers offer some kind of venue for readers, typically reader-bloggers, to write about books. That was not true in 2007. Macmillan has been the most thorough on this front. Tor.com was the first publisher I knew of to host a blog, beginning in December 2008, and to pay contributors. A couple of years later, Heroes & Heartbreakers launched (I contributed three posts in 2011), focusing on romance, and then came Criminal Element. Avon has started syndicating Avon-related blog content on its site (you sign up if you want them to republish your stuff. Leading romance blogs like Dear Author, Fiction Vixen, Smexy Books and Book Binge all syndicate content at Avon). Strangely enough, the leader in publishing romance, Harlequin, only allows authors to blog at its site (although it has a community forum area for readers to discus books).

Booksellers also got into the act. In 2009, Borders set up its True Romance Blog, launched by Sue Grimshaw with the help of the a couple of established bloggers. Grimshaw eventually left the ailing Borders and wound up at Random House, which launched Romance at Random in 2011. Back in 2009 Barnes & Noble started several blogs, including Heart to Heart with former Romanceland denizen Michelle Buonfiglio.

USA Today launched a romance blog in 2011, Happy Ever After, which like most of the other mentioned, hosts both authors, bloggers, and “regular” readers.

My take:

These sponsored blogs tend to stick to the tried and true: cover reveals, contests, excerpts, book reviews, TV show recaps, favorites tropes, best of lists, etc. They aren’t particularly edgy or controversial but the content is usually knowledgeable, well-written and well-edited.  Despite this, I personally rarely read any of them, unless a friend is posting at H&H. The tone of the posts tends to range from upbeat to relentlessly cheery. I usually get a more authentic feel for a writer’s voice in her own abode.

Has this new kind of blog affected book blogging as a whole? They give folks who don’t want the hassle of hosting their own blogs a voice, and that’s often a good thing. The ones that pay (last I checked it was $20 a post for Macmillan blogs) also do an important service in recognizing that this work — so often women’s work, when it comes to romance blogging — is a skill worth paying for. But as far as I can tell, they haven’t really affected the way blogging happens, and they haven’t really become leaders in content or style.

That concludes part one of my scattered observations on changes in book blogging in the past five years. I know my perspective is just that — *my* perspective. So feel free to correct my “facts” or disagree with me, and stay tuned for part 2!

59 thoughts on “How Book Blogging Has Changed Part 1

  1. I feel the same about the sponsored blogs. I’ll read AnimeJune and Janet W, but otherwise their content isn’t particularly interesting to me. They also tend to have commenting policies that discourage discussion, like needing to sign in to an account follow a conversation.

  2. This was a good read Jessica.

    When I was blogging and I hopped around from Blogger to WordPress in the 2004 or 2005, ARC’s were hard to get period. You had to have a print publication. Had to fax a letter head with your company (or blog’s name on it) to even get considered. It was so rare to get an ARC back then. Today? Everybody has access to one, limited access but access to an ARC. Sometimes when I see so many readers who have ARC’s in the mystery community, I wonder who is buying the books then? I think there shouldn’t be so much free access but that’s me. I get my fair share but it’s not something I pursue. I read only a few ARC’s that I’m interested in reading. I refuse unsolicited stuff as tempting as it is!

    Conferences/Conventions – at one time I thought I would attend a romance convention but learned two things: 1) it’s expensive to just go there and hang out especially if you’re not an aspiring writer 2) I have no aspirations to be a writer. Remember when bloggers were not welcome to one of these romance conferences? forget which one it was. It was BIG news. I think Jane from Dear Author gave her best coverage of the first conference/convention she attended. The ones after were not so detailed.

    I still use RSS feeds and don’t really depend much on Twitter for content. My preference. Nothing against Twitter but I’m rarely on there.

    Did Book Blogger Appreciation week end? I was nominated one year for mystery. Never moved beyond nomination but I do want to again give a shout out to the one person who thought of me 🙂

    I think a lot has changed in the blogging community, too. I am fascinated by those changes and can honestly think back to the days before ebooks that it was pretty spare blog wise. I think there is competition, jealousy, sham blogs, ARC envy, traffic seekers out there no doubt and more. As a blogger, you can’t worry about what other people are doing. In the mystery community, I face a lot of stiff competition for reader attention. All of them are sooooo good! They make me work harder. But then I have to remind myself why I am blogging in the first place: to share my love of good books. That’s it! No career out of it for me. Too much hard work.

    1. Yes, My Friend Amy decided to stop doing BBAW after five years for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that there is now an actual blogger con. I think the Goodreads sponsored blog awards are a pretty different beast, and do not fill the niche Amy and her team did, but I respect her decision to move on.

      Thanks for sharing that about ARCs. letterhead!! lol!

      I also recall DA Jane and SBTB Sarah blogging about attending a romance conference years ago, and feeling not super welcome. gosh, how times have changed. They are now typically keynote speakers or at least on the panels of cons I have attended in recent years!, and other bloggers feel very welcomed and are invited to sit on panels as well.

      I totally agree about the imporance of doing your own thing. In life as well as blogging, it is madness to try to compare what you are doing to others. In the next post, I plan to touch on the emergence of the true professional blogger, and about the new diversity in blogging.

  3. I think sponsored blogs have affected blogging in the same way that the professionalization of blogging has, or rather, it’s another subset of professionalization. The goal is to make things as appealing to as many people as possible

    1. I hadn’t thought of it that way (obviously) but I think you are right. I will come back to this point in my next post. Thank you.

    2. This is my impression as well. The internet used to be described as the Wild Wild West, but it’s become much more important for companies and marketing, so it makes sense that the professionalization of blogging has been part of that. And when so many bloggers (across different subject areas) get book contracts out of their blogs, it’s not surprising.

      I’ve followed blogs and websites in a number of different communities, and I’ve seen more or less the same changes (from largely amateur and communitarian to much more standardized and professional) across all of them.

  4. I really appreciated this post (as someone who still thinks of herself as a relative newbie). My own aim is definitely of the book journal/conversation kind, and I have gotten less rather than more concerned about numbers over my two years of blogging. I like having a small audience.

    I love Twitter (too much!) as a different kind of conversation, but I do feel kind of sad when I get retweets/”interesting post” tweets in place of comments on the post itself. There’s a loss of in-depth conversation in those 140 character bites. But then, I’m an old person who still mourns the epic threads on the professional listservs I belong to, which are sadly diminished to mere requests for help/reading lists now.

    Other than Twitter, I have mixed feelings about cross-platform. I use Facebook only for family/old friends and have no interest in following blogs there. My general impression is that there is a sense of “community” but it’s a more promo-focused space with fannish type comments rather than a community drawn to discussion and debate. I could be wrong, though, because I don’t look at much on FB given my aversion.

    Some blogs I’ve followed for quite a while seem to me to have shifted to much more promotional-type content and I’m just not interested in that. (I’m not objecting to this–people should blog how they want. It’s a loss to ME as a blog reader, though).

    1. First, step away from the keyboard and read The Story Guy!!

      I agree about the limitations of twitter. Some people kind of have a knack for in depth twitter convos but I cannot hack it. I get lost in thought, then I get behind, not to mention my natural longwindedness is not a good fit for 140 chars.

      On WordPress, there is the Like button, akin to facebook likes. I use it a lot, because I really do like the posts and because I want the blogger to know I am reading. But before the advent of likes, I probably would have forced myself to stop and comment. and because I don’t want to just say “nice post”, the comment would have something to it. The RT functions the same way as likes, except that I admit I have sometimes been guilty of RTing a post I plan to read, rather than have read. And do I always end up reading it? No.

      I plan to talk more about the promo part of the story in the next post.

      1. I used to get “likes” for my VM blog posts, and I certainly appreciated them. But even when I knew the person who “liked” the post, I didn’t know why, and frequently I didn’t know the person. It was interesting to know that they were following the blog, and it was nice to have positive validation, but it’s not feedback in any real sense. At least with RTs on Twitter you know that the person is sending that info out to a somewhat different circle, whereas the “like” stays on your post. I suppose if you are trying to raise your profile it’s useful, but I didn’t really care about that.

        Comments on blogs are still the most substantive, but they’ve gone down in number quite substantially since so many people spend their time on Twitter. I know I basically stopped commenting when I was tweeting and blogging, and I found that troubling.

        1. I’m glad you mentioned this about post likes. I started this WordPress.com blog only a few months ago, and at first I was excited about the follows and likes. Then I realized that many people just use them as a way to get visibility and hopefully get you and your readers to check out their blog. Several of my likes are the same old group of self-promoters I have always wanted to discourage.

    2. “I do feel kind of sad when I get retweets/”interesting post” tweets in place of comments on the post itself.”

      Me too! Especially when I’m online (*coughprocrastinatingcough) in search of a good blog post & comments thread. Just yesterday I was lamenting the decline of intensive and detailed blog recaps of writers’ conferences. Twitter and Facebook are great for immediate nosiness, but 140 characters or a dashed-off status update lack the comfort of a good blog where the writer reflects on the ins-and-outs of their time at the conference. Plus, knowing that most of the good info is only going to be shared on Twitter makes it difficult for me to get off the computer for fear of missing something that will be buried in two minutes.

  5. After hanging out in online Romland for (mumblety) years, I’ve just now set up a blog. I needed about 10 years to mull it over and then made a snap decision to go forth. Lol. It started to feel pointless to post reviews at Amazon, Audible, or GR and why don’t I just keep it all together. I was surprised at how many reviews I had out there when I started looking for them to bring them all home. I’ll never be a “pro” blogger. Now that I’ve got the hard part done I think I’m really going to enjoy having my own space. Thanks, Keishon and Jessica for your moral support and Keishon for answering my newbie technical questions.

    Not much interested in ARCs because I’d rather pick and choose and avoid the “must review” pressure. I love to review audiobooks and there is a source I’m working with for advance copies. Right now I’m content to stay in my little corner. Give me a heads up if you sense I’m turning into a competitive, argumentative ARC grabber.

    1. I am worried that you did not mull long enough. Maybe another five years? 😉

      I think you will really enjoy it. There’s nothing like having your own online space, making it look just how you want and filling it with the exact content you want. And usually, you don’t have to worry about dealing with aggravating people in your own space either.

  6. As a neophyte blogger and still awkward at all this, spinster of limited means and certain age, and in the faith of disclosure, I must admit the idea of e-ARCs or whatever one calls them, was very appealing. After reading quite a few duds, feeling obligated to slog through a review and pondering the reading years left to me, not so much. I’ve also learned that the few reviews, or thoughts that gave me the greatest satisfaction and responses were the ones about books that I really wanted to read and really wanted to write about. And I decided in the past while that the ARC, e or otherwise, is not for Miss Bates.

    When I think of Netgalley and Edelweiss and the sprint to request the ARC, get the ARC, read the ARC, review the ARC, etc. I think of what Northrop Frye said in THE SECULAR SCRIPTURE about popular romance … it’s not very nice, so please don’t take offence, he was quoting the Bible and said it was about “the wandering of desire.” My goodness, the cyber-world certainly manifests this. So, Netgalley, etc. one is like a child wandering through a candy store, wonder-filled eyes, desire insatiable until you thin you’ve picked that perfect confection. And it doesn’t quite turn out to be as good as you thought!

    I love reading romance and I love writing about what I read and that’s all I’m resolved to do, as the fancy takes me.

    1. “The wandering of desire.” Oh, can I ever relate. Often, as soon as I got an ARC, I was seized with the desire to read something else. Blogging on someone else’s schedule just didn’t work for me, and neither did having, in addition to my two work accounts, a third email account full of unread and guilt-inducing messages from publicists.

    2. Being in the middle of a slog through an ARC, I have to agree. I keep trying to open up to new writers and try new things — especially since the books I know will most likely be pretty good are generally also being requested and reviewed by all the other romance bloggers — but then I wind up committed to some gawdawful book that gives me hives. I wish Netgalley had samples, so it would be less of a crap shoot. But even when it’s a good book, the commitment changes something about the reviewing experience. It’s a trade-off.

      I too have wondered, who’s buying the books. 🙂 Though come to think of it, I don’t think I know a single blogger/reviewer who doesn’t also buy books.

  7. The multitude of social media platforms has changed blogging in ways that make me a bit sad. I miss those long, often epic, comment threads that could last for a couple of weeks.

    I also miss a number of blogs who seem to have vanished into thin air (KristieJ, how I miss you!). Many of these missing bloggers seem to be fairly active on twitter, but since I don’t use twitter myself, they are pretty much gone as far as I’m concerned.

    I blogged at Karen Scott’s for a few years and only in January last year did I start my own blog. The main reason is that I didn’t feel comfortable broaching some topics in a space that was not mind–I know she doesn’t mind, for she’s a generous soul, but it felt a bit like hosting a political rally at someone else’s house. The downside is that I have close to zero visibility (no epic comment threads for me), but since I blog mostly to get things off my chest, it’s a fairly small trade off.

    I have in the past accepted ARCs, and have recently agreed to guest review at Book Thingo for their 2013 R*by Finalists reviews and to guest review on occasion at The Book Binge. (In both cases, the content is mine to repost at my own blog after a period of time–which is not the case with other blogs, and I doubt could be the case with professional blogs such as Heart and Heartbreakers.)

    However, I’m refusing to give in to pressure. Other than the deadline for Book Thingo’s book, I’m only reviewing what I want to review and as I can review it. Way back when, all ARCs I got were directly from authors and, with a handful of exceptions, there was no deadline to post the review. There was an understanding that the author would benefit the most if the review was posted during the week of release, but still, “get to it when you can” was the feeling I got. The pressure to review on a timely manner was all mine and it’s probably what burned me out after three years of two reviews a week.

    1. That’s a damn good point. I used to review print books and I didn’t feel anything like the time pressure. I guess it’s the whole “archiving” thing that makes it feel more urgent now.

      I had no idea, you’d started your own blog, btw.

    2. I didn’t know you were guesting at Book Binge. I hope you enjoy it. And I agree that those epic comment threads are very hard to generate these days on any blogs except for those with the largest number of readers, and even then, they are fairly rare.

      1. I have yet to send them anything, but it’s in the works. I love that they are relaxed about it–Holly said something along the lines of “send us your old time re-read reviews, it’s all good” when I mentioned the about-to-bury-me-alive TBR mountain range and the small book budget.

  8. Re: sponsored blogs, I definitely write differently for those than I do for my own online journal and blog. When I do previews, I am usually trying to let the book’s potential audience know it exists – not a critical approach, but one of discoverability. I might like the book but not love it, while at the same time knowing that people who like X plot element more than I do might love it, so I try to present X to them. For my own purposes, when I blog about books I aim for the conversational mode, and tend to ramble a lot, mixing in bits of criticism with things I liked and stray random bits.

  9. I was just commenting at Liz’s Story Guy discussion and it occurred to me that the limitations imposed by twitter are really having an impact on discussions. (Not an original though, I know.) Given as much space as I need to say something about a book I loved, in a non-review context, I didn’t know what to say!

  10. I’ve been blogging for about the same amount of time as you, and your observations match a lot of what I’ve seen in my segment of the book blogging world and I feel much the same way you do about it, especially the mixed feelings about multiple platforms. I’ve had to limit myself to where I follow blogs and which blogs I follow because I find that I simply can’t keep up if I try to follow the conversation wherever it exists.

    One thing I’ve noticed about ARCs is that they can have a homogenizing effect with so many people being able to get and read the hot books at the same time. I like how that generates conversation, but the conversation ends up being about the most available books, not necessarily the best or most discussion-worthy books. In the last year or so, I’ve seen more bloggers giving up on or strictly limiting the number of ARCs they accept because they feel they’re reading books they feel obligated to read, rather than the books they most want to read.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the professionalization of blogging!

    1. “One thing I’ve noticed about ARCs is that they can have a homogenizing effect with so many people being able to get and read the hot books at the same time. I like how that generates conversation, but the conversation ends up being about the most available books, not necessarily the best or most discussion-worthy books.”

      Yes, absolutely. And this homogenization also worries me somewhat because one of the things that gives me a good feel for a blogger’s individual sensibility is exactly their book selection. The books someone decides to review tell me a lot about their unique areas of interests and ways of looking at the world, and very often I’m almost as drawn to that as I am to their writing. I get excited to see what they’re going to discover next – what someone with those particular intellectual interests is going to bring to my attention week after week.

      Even if the ARCs a blogger decides to review still tell us something about their individuality, the pool of books they’re choosing from is so much more limited. I don’t read a lot of blogs that review exclusively ARCs, but I worry about some of that decision-making power being put in the hands of publishers rather than of bloggers themselves. And it probably goes without saying that even though I still review a fair amount of back catalogue titles, I’m as much a part of this as anyone else. In some ways I’ve given up some of that power myself, and this concerns me.

      1. Teresa and Ana,

        Thanks for these comments. I agree completely with the homogenizing effect of ARCs, or even of new releases. Just this week in Romanceland, a debut novella, The Story Guy, by Mary Ann Rivers, has been reviewed everywhere by everyone. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m glad to have the chance to talk about it while it’s fresh in everyone’s minds, but it’s pretty much sucking up all the air in the room right now. So the plus is that there’s a lot of great discussion, the minus is that it is quite focused on one book.

        I think a focus on the ARC or the new book is overdetermined. It’s very common (at least with me) to want to read what your buds are reading, and also there’s that niggling need to keep up with everyone. And, I agree with Teresa that the rise of ARCs is connected, on the blogger side, to increasing monetization of blogging.

        Ana, your point about judging a blogger’s unique reading style – maybe we can almost call it a “reading voice” — getting harder when everyone is reviewing the same books is an excellent one.

        1. On the other hand, ARCs allow us to be more adventurous and take risks with new authors and books that maybe we wouldn’t be able to read otherwise. So I think it’s about balance and having control over our reading choices.

    2. “I’ve had to limit myself to where I follow blogs and which blogs I follow because I find that I simply can’t keep up if I try to follow the conversation wherever it exists. “

      Yes, exactly!

      It often makes me feel out of touch/out of synch, but it can’t be helped. At work, I cannot be on the phone or the computer checking who is saying what here, my online time is very limited and I aim to make the most of it.

  11. I’ve been blogging for 5 years,( actually started blogging on My Space) and there has been massive change in the blogging atmosphere since I started. The sole reason I still blog is because I like that sense of community and that “welcomeness”. I can find the same on Twitter, but there’s still something nice to visit a blog and interact that way. I set my own rules and terms and go with the flow.

    When someone who blogs stresses out about reviewing and feel they have to compete with other blogs, then it’s not longer fun and relaxing, which I thought blogging should be?

    I will also say blogging gave me a boost in self esteem and a voice I never thought I had. It also allowed me to meet so many wonderful people online through discussions and exchanges, as well as face to face.

    1. You’ve had amazing success with your blog, Kate, and I’ve enjoyed how you do some different things, like discussing the best seller lists every week. I remember first seeing your name as a commenter on posts at other blogs and I was surprised you didn’t have your own blog back then.

  12. Aloha, Jessica! I found this link via Twitter! I enjoyed RRR because of your honest but tactful thoughts. I also enjoyed this post. Moving soon to Baltimore so I’ll have to change my moniker!

  13. Here’s a change I don’t think has been mentioned. I’ve pretty much stopped leaving comments anywhere except blogs of people I already know. With all the craziness and stalking and doxxing out there, I no longer feel comfortable letting my info get out to strangers. Quite possibly locking the barn door…

    1. I would say I’ve ben less adventurous in seeking out new blogs. These days I get to know someone on Twitter before checking out her blog. In the old days, I would admire someone’s comment on a blog and then follow them to their blog. Although I did leave a totally fangirlish comment yesterday on a blog I found that reviews only old nurse-doctor HQNs from the 70s. They probably think *I’m* the stalker.

  14. One more thing about ARCs: the proliferation and easy access to ARCs has had a great impact on blogging, and at times that impact seems quite negative, at least from my perspective. The main reason I enjoy blogs is because of the book discussions. But every day I see blogs publishing their ARC reviews early; sometimes even months before release day, so how are we supposed to provide book discussions when our audience doesn’t have access to the books? While book promotion used to be a by-product of blogging, now it seems to be one of its goals. I realize that not everyone blogs for the same reasons, but this is something I’ve noticed more and more (along with the proliferation of bloggers adding paid book promo services to their blogs). To me, this changes the blogger/reader relationship, and maybe even the blogger/book relationship. Good thing that there are many blogs out there to accommodate every taste and need.

    1. I thought not posting ARCs reviews too early was frowned upon so roundly — by authors, publishers, and fellow bloggers — that it wasn’t done much? Seems that I was wrong.

      I haven’t noticed the paid book promo services. I’ll have to look for that when I do my “research” for part 2. Thanks!

    2. I think it’s an issue even when the review is posted in the week of release. Not everyone has the time (or money) to get the book right at the release date. I understand authors and publishers want them because they want to hit the lists, but it only works for discussions if everyone is planning to read the book as soon as it comes out.

      That’s one advantage the AAR comment boards have, that people can start a thread on a book that isn’t brand-new and still generate a great discussion if there are other readers who want to talk about it. With blog posts, the posts fall off the front page and often later readers don’t think it’s worth it to comment because they think no one will see it.

      1. Agreed. I’ve been enjoying Liz’s comment thread on The story Guy for this exact reason. I know they are common on boards, but I hope dedicated threads for spoiler discussions become more common in blogging, too.

  15. I kind of miss the wild, wild, west feel that certain blogs had back when I started blogging and reading blogs in ’08. Seems like these days a lot of the discussions are so (keep it proper) muted and I miss the outrageous and colorful voices of years before. Karen and Mrs. Giggles particularly always had entertaining and controversial blog topics and it was fun. I experience that kind of thing now more on Twitter than blogs, which is why I can let go of reading my reader, whereas I’m on Twitter as much as possible.

    Some of those blogs I really enjoyed a few years ago are so different now and I find them boring. DA is one. There used to be lots of interesting and long discussions there but it feels like it’s just all promo now and they review books I don’t read anymore. So…

    I’ve had a blog since ’08, which I started so I could post reviews that I didn’t feel comfortable posting on Amazon. It’s a lot of stress trying to keep a blog going and interesting. Not something I’m into these days at all so I’ve let it go, only posting a review now and then so I have a “home” like Diana CD said for them.

    One thing has changed for me as far as blogs go, in the past bloggers I followed were my main source of new books to read. Now, it’s Twitter. Most of the books I buy are from links on Twitter.

    1. I agree on Twitter being my main source of book recs these days. It’s so immediate and easy to click that buy link. Reviews never sell me on a book, for the simple reason that I usually avoid them before reading a book. They are often too detailed for me even when they avoid spoilers. That said, I love reading reviews when I finish a book. It’s a ritual I look forward to.

      1. I do the same thing, read a book I’ve really wanted to read, decide what I think of it and what I feel about it, then I enjoy reading various reviews about it, sometimes as much as I enjoy the book! Initially though, I want to make up my own mind. Even though my blog has very few readers, the posts that readers have read the most are about beloved, or polarizing books that have been around quite a while, not ARCs, or “New Releases.”

        The ARCs were fun initially, but I’m not enjoying the feeling of obligation and potentially being a venue for commercial purposes. (Remember poor Jonathan Franzen when he refused to put the Oprah’s Book Club sticker on The Corrections?) It feels like a squirmy bit of conflict of interest and I want to write whatever I think of a book with integrity, though I do think decorum and basic manners should be maintained at all times, especially when a review is negative. I always try to write with the idea that the author will be reading it.

  16. I started my blog in 2003, and while I’m normally not one to shake my fist (damn kids get off my lawn!) – I would say the one thing I miss the most is the spontaneity and “personality” of many of the blogs that catered to RomanceNovelLandia. I think as more “group blogs” have cropped up, and the importance placed on “branding” has occurred – some of this has been lost. For example, on KristieJ’s blog you could see a book review or a post talking about how she hates to open her mail. On my blog you could get a book review, or some random library story tossed in. I miss that personalization – and it seems like so many of those bloggers I loved to follow who did personalize their content have dropped off the planet.

    It’s like they have lives outside the Internet or something. Geez.

    To me the rise of romance novel book blogging was an off-shoot of All About Romance. I think the reason many of us started blogging is because 1) we like that chatty “back fence” feel and 2) we’re narcissists 🙂 I’d like to see the return of that a bit. The “fun” aspect of blogging. Yes, I still want my book reviews and promo – but I want a little bit of chattiness as well…..

    1. This is exactly what I don’t like about group blogs, or at least when there are more than 2 or 3 distinct voices. I liked the chattiness of everyone having their own blog and rather miss that now – another aspect of the vanishing comment threads.

      I think often about whether I’m getting enough out of blogging to keep doing it. For now, I am, but I am definitely being very selective about the ARCs I choose and request.

      Getting the ARC of an eagerly anticipated book (especially the latest in a beloved series) is one of the big perks of an established reviewer reputation, but lately I find myself preferring to purchase the ones I want the most, just so I have the choice of whether to review it or not; so that the review obligation doesn’t shadow the reading experience.

      1. I agree with both of you, Wendy and Nicola, and also Leah on the changes in the voice of blogging. I’ll says something about that and quote you guys in the next post, whenever the hell I get to it!

    2. (more time to respond to Wendy and Nicola) “We’re narcissists”?! Speak for yourself!

      No, seriously, it’s true. I know for me a solo blog has always been preferable because I get to speak my mind the way I want to.

      And that goes right to the “personalization” thing. If it’s a personal blog, the blogger can do those posts about their garden or their kids’ graduation, or their feelings about blogging. I love to read those. But a more polished blog cannot really do that.

      thanks for that comment about blogs being an offshoot of AAR. I have seen many comments form old time residents of Romland about “the old AAR boards”, so that makes sense. I also hear about an old romance newsgroup — not sure if it was the same thing.

  17. Great post, Jessica. I started looking around the bloggosphere in 2007/2008 before I began blogging in 2009. It was the wild, wild west and I miss it too. (I have one of those Little CJ stamps in my blog somewhere *g*).

    I miss the comments that led to actually discussing books reviewed (and authors) on my blog. They still come some of the time, but not like before. Those were the days. Unfortunately, I’m not a Twitter fan, although I’m a Twitter user. I’m too verbose for those 140 characters and I’ve never mastered the art. But I do like Goodreads, and I find myself discussing books there with different readers, sometimes more so than at my blog. It’s an interesting development. I still love to blog and to share my views on the books I read. It’s not about competing with other bloggers (thankfully, that has never been my goal), for me it has always been about sharing with other readers. So yes, I miss that interaction.

    RE: ARCs. I agree. Netgalley changed the whole blogger/ARC situation. In a way it stopped the fierce competition and controversy/division that this issue brought to the community, but it promotes a sameness across the board when everyone reviews the same book at the same time that after a while becomes tiresome. However, as Brie points out, there are blogs that make a point of reviewing different books/ARCs and for me it’s refreshing to find them.

    I have always been attracted to personalized blogs where books are discussed, not just reviewed, so group, professional, and promotional blogs have never kept my attention for any length of time. Unfortunately, some of my favorite blogs have become promotional blogs or have disappeared. I miss them! The chit chat (as Wendy says), the difference of opinions. What can I say? I love a good book discussion. But without comments, where’s the room for a good civilized book discussion? No room for that any more. 140 characters, a “like,” a thumbs up, a RT are welcome, but they do not replace a good discussion.

    1. Nothing to add except “yes” to your comment. But I am glad to hear you are finding Goodreads a source of good book discussion. My experience was mostly negative with GR, but your comments make me wonder if I should give it another tre.

  18. One of the positive things that NetGalley and Edelweiss have enabled is the availability of ARCs for bloggers/readers outside the USA. We used to have buckley’s chance of getting any print ARCs for any books without a local (Australian) publisher — even for Australian/New Zealand authors — but e-ARCs have made it much easier to obtain those titles.

    In terms of saturation by new titles that are on NetGalley, this is very noticeable among Australian blogs, but for me, it’s positive as well, because non-romance/generalist blogs, at least in Australia, are reviewing many more titles from Escape, Destiny and Mira.

    As for personalisation, I think it’s partly (if not mostly) that people are more conscious of online safety and privacy, particularly after witnessing some pretty nasty online altercations.

    1. hey Kat! Thanks for broadening my perspective to include the importance of e-arcs to countries outside the US. Very important. And I’m glad to hear generalist blogs are reviewing more romance. In Part 2 of this series, I claim that is not happening much in the blogs I read, but again, I may be too focused on US blogs. (I’ve really been enjoying the Escape titles myself.)

      1. Escape is interesting because there’s no branding on their covers. It was surprising to discover that when I click on ARCs based on covers, 8 times out of 10 they’ll be from Escape. I think Escape and Mira get into generalist blogs that way. For the more obviously branded books, I think local authors can more easily target blogs and then send them to NetGalley for the reading copies. A few years ago, when Australian rural romance(ish) was gaining popularity, some authors would have to buy their own print books and send them to us — that’s $30 + postage for the possibility of a review!

  19. I’m a little late coming to this discussion, but I’ve found it fascinating to read everyone’s comments. I had a review blog 3 or 4 years ago, but it got to be a chore instead of a joy so I stopped it. I’ve just started a new book review blog this year (first on blogger and then moved to wordpress a month or so ago).

    I’ve found this time around that blogs really have changed. I was amazed at all the blogs which review ARCs and eARCs. I knew when I started I didn’t want to pursue that. I buy all the books I read and review. For myself it would feel too much like homework plus I think subconsciously I would grade a book I’d received for review easier than one I bought.

    I’m also amazed at the bloggers who manage to put up a review everyday. Or the bloggers who just have a post up everyday. That’s not something I can manage and at first I found myself stressing about not writing enough, but since it’s my blog it should be what I’m comfortable with. I’m not on twitter or facebook with anything about reviews. My blog and reading a few other blogs takes most of the time I have for the internet. The other surprise I have is the people who say they are “following” my blog, but have never commented on anything and in most cases don’t seem to have a book blog at all!

    Sorry I got a little long winded, but I really appreciate your post and all the discussion.

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