November 25, 2016
Book Bloggers: Blessing or Bane?
When I started my blog, CanLit for LittleCanadians, in the fall of 2011, my intent was to promote books for children and young adults written and illustrated by Canadians. Obviously I thought it was a noble endeavour, one I had supported as a selection committee member for book awards such as the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award and the multitude of readers’ choice awards of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading. I knew there was a wealth of exceptional literature for Canadian children and young adult readers but I didn’t think enough people shared this knowledge. As a teacher and teacher-librarian and awards committee member, as well as a volunteer at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, I could shout the praises of youngCanLit but my audience was a limited one of students and parents, other teachers and school and public librarians and anyone whose ear I could bend with my recommendations. It didn’t seem to be enough.
Sure, there are publications such as Quill & Quire, Canada’s foremost literary magazine, and limited exposés and reviews in other print publications and intermittently on radio and TV but, with the onset of the internet, it became possible to reach the masses with a few well-placed clicks and tags. And so, blogging, the frequent sharing of everything and anything, became a tool for the common person and even a non-human or two. If a message could reach out both spatially, to the far reaches of the world, and temporally, whenever convenient for the recipient rather than just the messenger, how could blogging be anything but positive and constructive?
Most book bloggers organize their blogs as platforms for reviews of books, for announcing book events such as book launches and cover reveals, and for participating in book tours which include interviews, contests, Q & As, and other measures that link readers with the authors and/or illustrators of selected genres or books of interest. Of course, there are many book blogs that are associated with publishers including 49th Shelf, the outstanding blog of the Association of Canadian Publishers in collaboration with the Canadian Publishers’ Council. Many authors and illustrators, practical about the need to have an online presence, also have blogs to showcase their works. But the lowly book blogger is an entity of her own, good and bad.
To examine what book bloggers bring to the story, it’s best to start with the question of why most book bloggers blog. I know why I blog (see my first paragraph) but I suspect there are many reasons people start book blogs. Consequently, depending on their mandate and the quality of their reviews, a book blog will either be a blessing to an author or illustrator–hopefully this is the case– or a bane to them.
Here are some reasons I believe book bloggers blog, based on those I’ve read or those with whom I’ve connected:
1. To share their reading and love of great books
2. To connect with authors and illustrators they admire
3. To get free books
4. To get famous
5. To opine on everything and anything
6. To do harm
7. To make money
Reasons 1 and 2 are both valid reasons, supporting authors and illustrators by promoting their books and perhaps stroking their egos occasionally (let’s face it, working along in an office or studio with little feedback does little to boost one’s self-esteem).
Reasons 3 through 7 are concerns for me. I see reviewers who post photos of themselves with piles and piles of books, calling them their "book hauls." It’s great to show your appreciation for publishers and writers who share advance readers copies and review copies of their books but calling them a “haul” suggests quantity, not indebtedness. Think about things that are normally hauled: junk to the dump, heavy boats behind vehicles, criminals before magistrates. Not an auspicious list. Calling a collection of books “a haul” does a disservice to the authors, the illustrators, the publishers, and ultimately the readers who really don’t want to hear how you’re amassing books.
Sure, some fashion bloggers and such segue their blogs into celebrity but blogging about books to get famous is akin to writing a book to become a best-selling author. Nice if it happens but don’t hold your breath. And definitely not a good enough reason to spend all that time and effort on something on the off-chance you’ll become famous. Don’t believe me? Name me three celebrity book bloggers. Told you.
Author Paulo Coelho once wrote that “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” He’s right. Maybe every review I write is my opinion but I like to think that I opine with my heart and pen, not spleen and knife. I know authors who’ve had to bear scathing reviews that begin with a series of expletives. Or had to read how their recently-nominated book is garbage. When did these reviewers feel the need to go beyond sharing their thoughts on books and deem themselves to be the voices of authority in declaring a book to be something less than worthy of publication?
Book bloggers who believe that reviewing a book means “letting ‘er rip” are mistaken. Some magazines and papers and websites may want reviewers of books, music, food, and stage to stir up controversy with nastiness and innuendo but that isn’t really reviewing. It’s more like slash-and-burn with someone’s efforts. Not cool. Of course, those who are seeking fame are the ones apt to partake in this version of reviewing. Don’t be fooled.
As for compensation, don’t believe all the hype about making money on your blog. Sure you can agree to a few ads here and there but it’s not going to earn you a regular salary. If you’re book blogging for a living, I suspect you’ve set yourself up as a charity or are independently wealthy because it is not a money-making venture. It’s a labour of love.
If a blog is effective, it will create traffic for the blog and for the authors, illustrators and publishers, and sales of the books. Let’s face it: sales is the bottom line for books. And if reviews or posts about award nominations and book events bring in more sales of great books, in my case youngCanLit, then I’ve accomplished something good. Every reader who gets tipped off to a new title or hitherto-unknown author or illustrator benefits from an ever-increasing collection of reading material and source of enlightenment. Can you say, “Blessing!”?
Though some believe reviews are to help readers with purchases, I've always believed that most people are smart enough to not take all reviews at face value. Whether it be restaurant reviews or rating sites for teachers, doctors or local services, most people use reviews as guides, not as irrevocable truths. For me reviewing has always been about sharing. For that reason, I will continue to review youngCanLit on CanLit for LittleCanadians and I will continue to shout the praises of authors and illustrators whom I believe produce exceptional works. Some readers will agree with my assessments (I’ve even had my ideas plagiarized) and others will not. They can leave a comment here (although I do moderate comments to cull out spam and hateful remarks) or write their own blog reviews. They can even write a review about this article. Let’s just hope their intentions are good and produce discussion, as I hope most book blogs do.