Why Book Bloggers Won’t (Often) Review Books

Lissa Warren, writing in the Huffington Post, has it right:

I’ll tell you what does make my jaw drop: the seemingly widely-held notion that these book sections are being adequately replaced by blogs…. I read them often for news on new titles (and older ones I missed) and Q&As with authors. Many of them are also good for stories on publishing trends, which as a book publicist and editor I appreciate a great deal. But, for the most part, these blogs don’t actually review books. Instead, they cover the business of books, book culture, and the world of the author. Yes, they often link to reviews–but, ironically, they’re usually of the dead tree variety.

This is an aspect of litblogs I used to grumble about: It’s hard to argue that blogs are supplanting book coverage in newspapers when blogs rely so often on those very papers for something to write about. Want to crow about how you’re erasing the necessity and utility of a weekly book review? Take the reviews offline for a while and see how much you have to work with. (I know about the most notable exceptions, such as Bookslut and the Quarterly Conversation.) Now that I run a blog myself—now that I’m part of the same parasitic culture I used to take issue with—I understand the issues a little better, and I respect the different but vital roles each play. Reviewing, when you care, takes time; writing that takes time is still best suited for print, or at least a Web publication that has an editorial team structured much like a print publication. Blogging is often an off-the-cuff sort of thing, and I’m still less interested in hearing somebody spitballing an opinion about a book in a blog post (or in an Amazon review) than reading something that went through some sort of vetting process.

So Warren’s request that bloggers review books more often is well taken, but likely not something to happen for a while—at least with me. Because registering an opinion is something that anybody can do easily, without too much effort. Reviewing is labor, and I’m old-fashioned enough to still believe that labor ought to be paid for. (So is Scott Esposito, apparently, who, bless him, is figuring out a way to kick some cash to his contributors.) Find a way to get more money into the hands of more bloggers, and it won’t be hard to find more quality reviews.

4 thoughts on “Why Book Bloggers Won’t (Often) Review Books

  1. I found your website a while ago and confess to be a lurker — your posts rarely fail to lead me down unexpected avenues.

    I’ve been reviewing books for a year at an ezine called Open Letters Monthly for, alas, no pay. Though I just picked up a book reviewing gig at my local paper, The Half Moon Bay Review, they too, refuse to pay and the 300 word limit is nearly suffocating me.

    I think the ezine format — which allows for links, is relatively free of word count restrictions, and is eco-friendly :) — may hold the most promise to fill the book review void left by newspaper cutbacks. Now, if we can only get more of these sites up and paying (like Scott’s site) maybe we could afford to actually pay the rent with our livelihood.

  2. Interesting post. Did you see the post about the “two waves” of book-related blogs?

    I’ve fallen off a bit on reviewing books, lately, both at my site and for publications, largely because it can be laborious – which is good, and enjoyable, if the book sparks that sort of response. But what should we do with the other books? I’d like to pick your brain on how you handle the inflow of review copies, what you decide to do with them, etc.

    1. I’ve spent most of my adult life getting more stuff in the mail than I can possibly process—movies, CDs, books, etc. Once upon a time I felt a vague anxiety that I wasn’t writing more about all this stuff, and that my behavior would sow unhappiness among PR types. But though I have a lot of respect for the work that good publicists do, my first priority isn’t making publicists happy. Job one is looking after what I think readers would be interested in, and my best guess about what they might be interested in is what I’m interested in. So I just gravitate toward what I think I might get a charge out of—stuff that, even if it’s bad, might be bad in a way that I might enjoy writing about. For instance, I’m in a rare lull between review assignments, so today I was free to pull something out of the stack of copies of June releases. I ultimately opted for Ron Currie Jr.’s “Everything Matters!”—I enjoyed what I’d read of “God Is Dead,” and it seemed the most promising of the available options. (I’m only 50 pages in, so the jury’s still out on that one.) There’s a high likelihood that I won’t get to the rest of the June releases in that stack. As for what to do with them, I’m OK with doing nothing with them—I’m a one-man operation, and a fairly slow reader.

      The worst thing that a publicist can do to you is stop sending you stuff. And if you weren’t reviewing the stuff from a particular studio/label/publisher, you probably won’t miss it anyway. Anyhow, you’d likely have to actively anger a publicist to get pulled from a publisher’s list—everybody knows coverage is a crapshoot. (The second biggest problem I have when it comes to stuff is acquiring stuff I like. The biggest problem is getting the people who send stuff I don’t like to stop.) If you don’t want to review or write about something, don’t. I think most people can tell if you’re doing something dutifully—and once you spend a lot of time doing things just because you feel you have to, you’re sunk.

      (I know you didn’t say you were worried about what publicists might think, but I know that’s a common concern among people who worry about what to do with all the free books/CDs/whatever.)

      I’m still thinking about this “two wave” thing. I’ll likely blather about it in its own post.

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