In Which I Discuss The Role Of The Blogger And Why I Blog – And How I Am Going To Blog From Now On

Recently I have been looking back through a lot of my old blog posts, from this blog and a previous incarnation that I wrote from 2009 to 2011 while still at university. I only posted on there about 10 times in total and the posts are a bit random and there aren’t really book reviews per se, it’s more like a collection of thoughts and a bit of an online diary in terms of what I was reading and studying. and though it wasn’t perfect, you know what, I liked looking back at it. Partly because of nostalgia, but also because I liked the way that it was not too formulaic or rigid, and the posts felt very organic. I particularly liked the two I wrote about reading Loving by Henry Green, which you can see here and here. It’s also nice for me to read those posts again because I remember really enjoying Loving but I don’t actually remember that much about it. Anyway.

My point is that I think in the last almost-three-years since I started These Little Words I have lost sight a bit of the original reason that I wanted to blog – and that was to have the freedom to talk about the books I read and the things that interested me outside of essays and university; and to reach out to a wider community of readers and writers. The latter has become more and more important, which I like, but the promotion of books has also become increasingly important. In a way this is good, as it means that great books get the attention they deserve, particularly if they come from a small publisher, or are translated, or are older titles that may have been overlooked.

Now here’s where we get to an issue that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately – how books are promoted, and how bloggers fit into that. I have an interest and a little experience in marketing, all in publishing, so I have some idea of how it all works. As a blogger I also know how much publishers appreciate good reviews and a few tweets here and there to draw attention to their books. And from my experiences in publishing I know that a lot of time and money is spent getting proofs ready and sending them out to people who may or may not give them good reviews – or might not even read them at all. There’s a lot of give and take on both sides (though some take issue with bloggers ‘working for free’ to promote books – but the publisher has spent the money on the book, so not sure if it’s totally unfair).

I review books for both big and small publishers, and have had the chance to see the differences in how they operate. Small independent publishers often don’t have the resources to promote their books as much as they might like, which is a real shame, and one of the reasons I am very willing and happy to work with them. Big corporate publishers on the other hand often have oodles of money to spend on marketing (some proof that publishing is not in danger of going kaput) and while some spend this wisely I think others overdo it slightly, foisting their books at you at every possible opportunity. There is also the question raised by my fellow blogger Kim Forrester on Twitter: “Why is [a] publisher promoting a book that would sell anyway when it could use that budget to promote something that might struggle?” I thought about this and saw that she was making a good point – an important point. The sheer number of both publishing houses and published books means that we need to think carefully about where we focus both our resources and our attention. This applies to publishers but also, from my perspective, to bloggers.

When I originally started blogging I just wrote about what was present in my literary life; then I cottoned on to ARCs and review copies, and I wrote about new and upcoming books, which was quite exciting. Now, I feel I do more of the latter, to the extent that my TBR is composed of a pile of books sent by publishers as well as all the unread books on my shelves that I have bought over the years (and there are a lot of those). While I love discovering new books and writers, and feel very lucky and grateful to be sent new and unpublished books, I think they often draw my attention away from some excellent books that I already own and that crucially I chose for myself. When I look at the books I have that I have purchased, I feel a greater urge to read them and a greater excitement about what I might discover within them than the new books I have very kindly been sent. I have a note on my ‘Contact’ page that officially I am not accepting unsolicited books, and that if any are sent to me there is no guarantee I will review them. From now on I will only review books that I want to read, that I am genuinely excited about – whether they be old or new. I am currently reading a book that is not out until July, but I read about it for months and was thrilled to finally have a copy. So, I am more than happy to review it and help promote it. But from now on I’m only going to do this with books I have actively chosen to read – and that if they were not offered to me for free, I still would have chosen to read on my own. That’s the clincher.

I hope I have made it clear that I very grateful for the books I am sent by publishers, and that I still want to work with them to promote great books – whether old or new. I think I just want to get back to what made me want to write a book blog in the first place, and to get back to the books that really make me happy. For without happiness, what is the point?

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21 thoughts on “In Which I Discuss The Role Of The Blogger And Why I Blog – And How I Am Going To Blog From Now On”

  1. I agree, Lizzi, it’s hard to achieve a sane balance. I sometimes see myself drowning in OKish reads for review purposes, when my heart is actually calling out to read something that has been on my shelves for a long time. Like you, I am grateful for the opportunity to discover new authors or books which I might not have found otherwise, but at the same time there is a burden of obligation and expectation (even though I have made it clear that there are no guarantees that I will review everything). Besides, I would also like some time to re-read…

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    1. Exactly. My recent emphasis on re-reading has been part of the reason I’ve come to this conclusion. At times it feels like there are just too many new books to read and we need to slow down and focus on what we really want. Something I’m now going to try to do!

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  2. Great post, Lizzi! Although my relationship with book promotion and ARCs is rather recent, I’ve been following the book blogging community for some time now, and have noticed that many bloggers seem to share your situation. The constant influx of new books is creating pressure and drowning the sense of fun, but at the same time it’s hard to say ‘no’ to publishers. It was good to hear your thoughts on this subject, and I hope that we’ll see some “re-read reviews” in TLW!

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    1. Thank you! I recently posted about re-reading How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman, and have quite a few books on my To Re-Read list. Keep an eye out!

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  3. Excellent points, well put, Lizzi. My background is as a reviews editor and as such was used to reading lots of new titles that I would not necessarily have chosen to read. As a blogger I’ve made the decision to read only what I want to read but also to review only books that I have enjoyed. If I’m not enjoying a book, I give it up. On my ‘about’ page I’ve made that clear and also that although I’m happy to receive review copies it’s unlikely that I’ll have time to read all of them. I think publishers understand this and do not expect us to review everything we are sent just as they didn’t expect me to commission reviews for everything I was sent as an editor. It would be a sad thing if we all felt we were on a treadmill at a time when less and less space is given to print reviews so that many more readers look to bloggers for recommendations.

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    1. I agree completely. I also think that as bloggers we should really exercise our right to choose what we read and review – and not give in to the pressure of what is ‘hot’ or ‘popular’. I want to emphasise that I will review books I am sent if I want to, but I am not under any kind of obligation to do so, especially if they were sent without a request. I want to work with publishers for my blog, but strictly on my terms.

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  4. I agree totally with what you say and from the very beginning for my, my blog was to be about the freedom to choose, and in 2 and a half years I have only one publisher that sends me unsolicited books – Gallic Books – French translations, which isn’t too much of a burden.

    The new books that I read I either subscribe to (e.g. Peirene) or very occasionally request (via NetGalley only, never to a publisher directly), which I like because there is no obligation and its all about the books and not about a loyalty to one publisher and so that rule applies, is this a book I would purchase otherwise?

    Guarding that freedom to choose is important since books are such a great pleasure and I couldn’t bear for them to start to feel like an obligation. I love discovering a new voice that’s not mainstream, like my recent read of Howard Goldenberg’s Carrots and Jaffas and last year Niki Tulk’s Shadows and Wings. For finding gems like these, twitter is amazing.

    Bonne Continuation Lizzi, I look forward to finding out about what’s been lingering on your shelf, chosen by you.

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  5. Great piece, Lizzi. I’ve recently started blogging and whilst it would be great to discover a few new authors I might not have come across otherwise, I would like to read and blog about the books I already own. You make some excellent points about small publishers, and I’m more inclined to accept review copies from these groups exactly for the reason you state.

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  6. All very good points Lizzi, and well done for making them. One shouldn’t get bogged down in what you ‘should’ be reading or what publishers are foisting on you. That’s why I’m trying to do thematic posts, so I can include old and new books (it’s so lovely to revisit some old favourites!) After all, the reason I have started blogging is purely selfish – I want a record of what I am reading and I want to give more afterthought to the books I have chosen. Best of luck going forward 🙂

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    1. I like your thematic post Alice, I think they work very well – it can get a bit dull just posting review after review so it’s important to have some variety and some overarching point or theme. Thank you for your comments and good luck with your blog, I like it to far.

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  7. This sounds like a great change, that will help you enjoy your reading and blogging more — because that’s the important thing. We all started our blogs because we loved to read, and it’s a shame that sometimes outside pressures make it less fun. Good luck moving forward!

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    1. Exactly, I want blogging and reading to be more fun! As both you and Alice (above) have said, we want to blog because we enjoy it, so I’m going to focus on that a lot more now.

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  8. All great points, Lizzy. From my own experience, reading the latest published books is great, but I also try to keep another separate TBR pile made of the books that I buy myself. However, I understand from what you write that you are directly sent the review copies without asking? I don’t think that could work for myself, so I chose to contact the publishers to get review copies of the books that I like instead of letting them mail me their review copies.

    I hope you get back to your more organic and free roots and that, above all, you do not give up reading, writing and reviewing 🙂

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    1. Yes, publishers I have requested books from in the past have added me to their lists of bloggers that they automatically send books to, so I get quite a few books that I haven’t actively asked for. Sometimes this is good as it means I discover new, unexpected things – but it’s also bad because I end up with too many books to read, and I don’t always want to read the books I am sent unsolicited. This is part of the reason for this change – I no longer want to feel obligated to read books I wouldn’t choose for myself, and I don’t want to detract from the great books I already own – of which there are many!

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  9. Marvellous post! I think a lot of bloggers (including myself on a much smaller scale) have gone through this as well. I dabbled with Netgalley around a year ago and decided that I preferred to read at my whim rather than on schedule and it meant I missed out on some of the books I would have preferred to read. Nothing wrong with Netgalley reviewing, or ARCs in general, but I’m not sure that sort of blogging is for me. If I got sent a book, I certainly wouldn’t complain, but I have stopped being proactive in that regard.

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    1. Thank you! I completely see what you mean. It’s wonderful to receive new books but I just have too many unread ones on my shelves already. I’m now asking for hardly any books from publishers, and I do my best to make it clear that if I am sent books I haven’t asked for there’s no guarantee I’ll review. Blogging and reading should be fun after all.

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