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?