Competition, Envy, & The Fine Print

The last day or so has brought a great amount of fodder for blogging. The more that came up, the more these things felt connected and the more I knew I had to say something.

I’m a fine print reader. I’m one of those people that does read the contest rules and regulations for anything. I read through all 100-some pages of my mortgage before signing the dotted line, and I had no problem calling my realtor and lender for every single question I had. I like to know what I’m getting myself into.

So last night, when I checked out the contest going on by GoodReads and the Independent Book Bloggers that gives book bloggers the chance to win a free trip to BEA (including airfare, hotel, and convention access), I read the fine print. And I tweeted about being a little nervous reading the fine print for this contest because it mentioned that the sponsors could use my entry, including my post content, without credit or compensation. There are any number of reasons this makes me nervous, but I ran the wording by someone who is savvier about legalese than myself, and I was informed this was fairly standard wording. Except — she couldn’t see what I was seeing. The terms I copy/pasted to her weren’t the ones on the website. In the few minutes between mentioning something on Twitter (and having a couple other people mention it), the terms changed. I’m not going to talk about what they say because that’s been addressed right here.

Honestly, they’re not that different than any other contest terms. The thing is, so few people READ the terms that when you do read them and see something like that, it’s jarring and makes you stop and think a little bit.

After thinking about the way the terms were now laid out, I decided to go ahead and enter the contest. I’d love to head to New York City and BEA for free. I love the networking aspect of the event, even if the show floor does little to nothing for me. As soon as I hit “submit” on the entry, though, I began to feel weird about doing it. I scrolled through a number of the other entries, and I began doubting more and more my decision to enter.

The contest is set up in two rounds: the first allows anyone to vote through their favorite blogs. Starting April 10, bloggers can campaign to earn votes, and the top 15 entries in each of the four categories will then be judged by a panel on a number of criteria, including writing quality, analysis quality, design, tone, and reader impact.

In short: it’s a popularity contest to start, followed by a real evaluation.

I sat on my entry for a few more hours, thinking about the work involved in promoting my blog among the other hundreds of YA blogs that entered. I sat on my entry thinking about having to spam my readers and my Twitter followers and whoever the heck else I could think about to vote for me. I sat on my entry looking at the other bloggers who have far greater followings than I do.

I took my entry out of the contest.

The only thing I could think about was the impending drama to come from this sort of set up. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think that the things which come up in the blogging world are necessarily drama, and addressing it that way belittles some of the legitimate issues worth talking about when it comes to blogging. But I’m not going to lie: my chest got tense thinking about how my Twitter and my Google Reader will look starting April 10 as people begin begging for votes in this contest. And why wouldn’t people try to get them? It’s a free trip to BEA and to NYC.

This leads me to talking about the bigger issue, which is envy. I sort of addressed this in my post about blogging stats and how it’s important to remember you’re doing what you’re doing because you’re passionate about it, whatever the reason behind it is. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, though, especially when you’re so eager to be a part of something big.

Being a part of a big promotional event is neat. It feels like you’ve been chosen because of something that makes your blog special and unique (even if sometimes it’s simply stats). When you’re not selected to be a part of something, it feels like you’re not good enough. It’s easy to find yourself envious of those who were picked, and it’s way too easy with social media to not only find yourself obsessing over who did get to be a part of something, but to also find yourself lamenting and devaluing your own work because you weren’t. Where one blogger gets something exciting — whether they asked for it or it just happened — another one doesn’t. It’s not fair, and there are going to be feelings on both sides of the equation.

I invited everyone to read Sarah’s post about this topic where it comes to the In My Mailbox meme because she hits it perfectly. While I do think In My Mailbox has a genuine and good purpose behind it, it does get people worked up quite a bit.

I’m not comfortable begging people to choose STACKED over another, equally worthy blog. I’m not comfortable, either, when we’re given an opportunity — one we may not have chosen to be a part of but were instead selected to be part of by some reasoning beyond our knowledge — and people find themselves judging us or themselves as more or less worthy. Because the truth is, we’re all here doing something good and we’re all doing something different.

Even though I’ve pulled my entry for the BEA contest, the anxiety of it hasn’t left me because I know there will be hurt feelings all over the place. It’s the same kind of hurt people have when they don’t get the latest ARC or promotion. What makes it challenging to keep doing what we’re doing with camaraderie and without the hurt feelings is that we ARE all working toward a common goal (spreading the word of great books) and sometimes, the rules and decisions are ones completely out of our hands. The decision makers don’t always take the implications of their contests or their promotions into consideration before they put them out there.

And the thing is, they don’t have to.

It’s our responsibility as bloggers to stand up and choose whether or not we participate. It’s our responsibility to decide whether or not we’re going to let ourselves get anxious or nervous about them, too. It’s our responsibility to speak up and speak out.

We blog because of the freedom it allows us. The only way to keep it free is to remember we have the right to say no thanks and we have the right to step out when we’re not comfortable with how things are going.

That’s the fine print, and we get to write it ourselves.

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  1. says

    'Being a part of a big promotional event is neat. It feels like you've been chosen because of something that makes your blog special and unique (even if sometimes it's simply stats). When you're not selected to be a part of something, it feels like you're not good enough. It's easy to find yourself envious of those who were picked, and it's way too easy with social media to not only find yourself obsessing over who did get to be a part of something'

    NAIL ON THE HEAD. I know what you are referring to and in full disclosure and honesty, I was really jealous of everyone picked and was like am I not good enough? Until I found out that I was picked. And okay I got really excited for a little bit. But like it's not okay, at least to me, to make people feel like they suck for not getting chosen. Like, I do not want to be that person. I don't know if I'm even making sense.


    As to the Goodreads contest, it's too bad you aren't still entered, not cuz of the fine print stuff, but because of a more selfish reason. I think you would be an interesting panelist, because you said you were tapped to be a panelist on critical reviews but had to turn it down right? Anyways, it would have been interesting to see a panel with someone I 'know' who doesn't seem to mince words or BS but handles her critical reviews and discussion of book blogging issues with candor.

    • says

      We weren't even paying attention to the promotion, and in the midst of writing this post, we found out we WERE invited to it, which was a bit baffling.

      I wanted to talk a little about the BBC issue, but I decided not to. I'm really disappointed in how that all shook out because I DID want to talk about the topic. But, it's their loss and not mine. Thanks for the vote of confidence though — I appreciate it.

  2. says

    I really agree with this post. I feel bad about my blog sometimes, and I feel like no one cares about it, but I really love blogging and I remind myself that I'm in it because I love it, not because I want free stuff (though I like free stuff, obviously) or want to be a huge blog. I actually just wrote a post on popularity recently, though your post explained things far better :)

    Everyone wants to feel good, and that's what sometimes fuels jealousy in things like this, as you pointed out perfectly. I think it would have been great to have you be in the Goodreads contest (I would have voted for you, and I say that with complete honesty) but it also is a great learning experience and a great way to remind ourselves about the fine print and popularity.

    I'm proud to write my own fine print.

    • says

      That's the important thing, and that's also the hardest thing, the reminder that you're doing it because you love doing it.

      Writing your own fine print is the beauty and the glory of blogging, in my mind.

  3. says

    Love this post – I entered too and immediately got a creepy-crawly feeling. Cheers to you for posting your thoughts so openly…so many feel the same!

  4. says

    Exactly! I agree with everything you said. I feel bad 90 percent of the time because my blog is always left out of the big promotions. At times it feels like high school again with everything based on popularity. While I have many followers, I have been blogging for almost three years. Three years is a long time and I still am not included in the promotions which makes me think my blog sucks. My husband always has to remind me that I do the blog for myself — just like from day one. It is a constant struggle to remember that.

    • says

      It's really hard to remind yourself of it, especially when you HAVE been blogging for a long time. But something to also remember is you HAVE done it for three years, which is in and of itself a huge accomplishment.

  5. says

    I too entered the contest, and will probably be withdrawing from it. Why I'm withdrawing has less to do with the terms and conditions, which I'm sure are complete b.s., but such is life these days, and more to do with the fact that the first stage is a popularity contest. For one thing, I'm not a fan of those. As someone who had no friends for a lot of her formative years, popularity has never really been my friend.

    This contest seems like it would be an excellent opportunity to honor someone who puts out quality reviews and other content, rather than to once again automatically select the blogs with the most followers. This is not to say that I think I would win even then, or to imply that the blogs with the most followers would not win on merit alone. All I mean is that, by beginning with the popular vote, all the blogs without hundreds upon hundreds of followers will be out of the running.

    I've been blogging about books for about a year and a half now, and, for the most part, I really love it. I have no plans to stop. There are definitely some things that drive me crazy though. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be a logic to publisher/blogger relationships, which irritated my INTJ brain. I also hate the constant envy I feel for whoever has the newest, shiniest ARC, even though I get plenty of titles on NetGalley (so many I can barely read them) and a few review copies from publishers.

    Even when it's completely illogical, I find myself stricken with this jealousy. In this case, I'm referring to the elephant in the room, the contest which at least in part inspired this post: the #DivergentNation promotion. I have not even read Divergent yet, so why the heck am I jealous of those that have been talking it up since it was published for getting an ARC of book two? Because I'm a greedy person. I should stop. Honestly, I won't though, but I try to parlay that envy into something constructive: a desire to make my blog as good as can be so that I can build relationships with publishers and receive the ARCs I want.

    • says

      It is interesting to me how they set up the contest because it seems like it'd make sense to do it the other way around (American Idol style), where the judges select the best on the written criteria, then it's open to popular vote. That seems like it'd pull out the best based on quality then allow the popular weigh in. It seems like it gives an advantage to those who do have huge followings.

      I'm also an INTJ, so the logic comment made me smile. I don't think there is a science to it, and so much of that has to do with the fact this is still new and experimental territory. The bloggers are trying to demonstrate their value at the same time that publishers are really tightening up on their bottom line. There are hard and unclear choices to make left and right. And that's just how I look at it. I guess I'm not a person who has much in terms of envy, but I do understand and appreciate where those who do feel it find reason to. I always remember that just because I don't get something in an ARC form, it doesn't mean I can't buy it in a few months.

      The promotion you're speaking of did indeed spark some of this, and interestingly, half way through writing this, we found out we were invited to take part. The challenge is that we don't do those sorts of promotions on our blog. We're here to review books and promote them that way; we don't tend to take it beyond that. Moreover, we weren't pitched this nor were we ever let in we were a part of it, so when the email showed up with how to handle being part of it, we were surprised. It's not that we're not grateful we were selected but more that…we aren't the right people to be chosen.

      I think putting that envy to use in making your blog as strong as possible is the precise thing you should do.

  6. says

    The other thing that irritates me is related to the whole popularity contest-ness of it. In my 19 months or so of blogging, I have written almost 400 reviews (way more than most review blogs from what I've seen). Until a couple of weeks ago, I had a grand whopping total of 65 followers. I was operating under an 'if you build it, they will come' philosophy. It worked to the extent that I got an interested publisher to send me books and to offer giveaways. However, even with free books to hand out, I would get just a few entries every time.

    In the last couple weeks, I have gained 170 followers. Why? Because I caved. I've started tweeting, reading other blogs constantly (which, honestly, I don't mind…it's only fair), participating in memes, and taking part in giveaway hops. It's the giveaway hops and memes that are really key for traffic and followers.

    Just to finish my rant, which is, admittedly, somewhat off topic now, two things have always really bothered me about the latter:
    1) So many giveaways on the hops require that you follow the person's blog to get an entry. Considering that you can use Rafflecopter and weight following to be tempting, what does it hurt to offer one free entry or blog post comment? This just feels like bribery to me, and I don't like it. My favorite sites do not do this. Exception: follower giveaways, which are to thank people for following you. That's legit.
    2) The memes seem to be largely a way to increase traffic for the hosting blog. I get that they do a lot of work, but some of them ask everyone who joins the linky to follow them. Plus, there are some memes that are identical but hosted by different sites. I'm participating for now, but will probably stop after a while.

    Anyway, I'm trying to get into the blogging world more and this is what I've seen. Of course, there's so much amazing stuff too, like how nice bloggers are on twitter and all of that, but I just needed to get that out of my system.

    (My comment was too long for one post…I'm sorry for this.)

    • says

      We're working on a tips and tricks post that I think will hit on some of these things, but the bottom line is that it IS work and it ISN'T easy. It won't ever make sense but the only thing you can do is keep pushing forward on what you enjoy doing. The rest will settle into place.

      I don't think there's anything shameful in tweeting, reading other blogs, commenting, doing memes, etc. It's part of being in the blogging community. That's how we got started. It's from there you build relationships, and it's from there you continue to figure out where you fit into the blogging world.

      On the giveaways point: I'm not a fan of Rafflecopter because it's not private for entrants, and I believe it allowing people to enter these privately. I don't know anything else about the product though.

      Memes DO drive traffic to the hosting blog, but they also build traffic for those participating. I don't have a problem with memes nor their purpose and there are some GREAT ones out there. They're great community builders. We don't do 'em because they can take up space for other things we want to post. We're selfish — we like posting our own content!

      It's not easy, but the work pays off eventually.

  7. says

    This is a fantastic article and an even better discussion in the comments. My blog has been open for 8 ish months, but I've just started book blogging since the beginning of 2012. Yes, my following doesn't look too bad, but I KNOW that most of that is from giveaways. On non-giveaway days, my traffic is almost non-existent.

    But, on the other hand, I'm not gonna sit here and say I haven't only like a blog because they were hosting a giveaway. As much as I might like to, there's no way I can routinely visit all of the blogs I follow. There's just too many awesome ones out there. So I see both sides of the giveaway story.

    As for publisher contacts/ARC's…well that is one I also have trouble with. I don't participate in In My Mailbox, and I try not to look at any IMM posts because I know I might get jealous of what others got. I'm only human. And I have no idea hoe to get ARC's from the big publishers…since every blogger I have ever read has said they DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES give away their personal publisher contact info.

    So, to wrap this up, I'll just say that on my blog, I'm trying to mainly keep the focus on doing book tours and getting the word out about lesser known authors. Everyone started out somewhere, and at any time an indie author may become the next big thing! Plus, since I keep my schedule packed with book tours, I have no need to participate in the memes. The giveaways, I will keep doing, though.

    • says

      There are a lot of blogs out there, but eventually you'll figure out which ones you want to read every day. I know that sounds like a dumb comment, but it's true. Contests/giveaways/memes are excellent ways to discover the breadth of the book blogging world.

      Bloggers don't give away their publisher information for fair reason. It's a private relationship. It doesn't seem fair, but it's usually out of respect for that relationship. I would never pass along my contact information to someone who asked. That said, you can usually seek out publicity contacts via publisher websites if you look around.

      The goal of your blog should be whatever goal you want your blog to have, and it sounds like you know what that is. That's how you keep yourself going!

    • says

      Use it to remind yourself why you do what you do and rather than get involved in it, invest the energy into a more productive channel.

  8. says

    This is a super important issue and you expressed it SO well—thank you.

    "We blog because of the freedom it allows us. The only way to keep it free is to remember we have the right to say no thanks and we have the right to step out when we're not comfortable with how things are going.

    That's the fine print, and we get to write it ourselves."

    So beautifully said.

    • says

      I think sometimes we forget we can do that because we're under no obligation to anyone but ourselves (and if we blog with other people, them too!).

      I didn't blog about it, but hopefully if people DO read the comments, they read this one. We spent a long time talking today about being invited into this promotion. It would have directed a lot of traffic to our blog, and we knew that. While we respect and appreciate being included, we decided it wasn't right for us. Didn't match what our goals and purposes were in running our blog. It wasn't easy, especially knowing how much people wanted to be a part of this, but ultimately, it's OUR decision to make.

    • says

      Adding to this: I have absolutely no disrespect toward anyone who DOES participate in this at all! Same with Kim and Jen. We feel bad that WE were invited when there were people who would have loved the opportunity and were overlooked.

  9. says

    I LOVE this post.

    Another interesting subject to touch upon is the point of view of the "newcomers" in the blogging world. I am just shy of 3 months into book blogging (my blog opened on January 6, 2012). I have gained a fairly decent following thus far, but it is largely due to my extensive SEO background, frequent giveaway hop participation and lots of networking. I talk to fellow bookies on Facebook and Twitter, I talk to authors, I visit other blogs, I hold giveaways, etc. I am already receiving ARCs from my favorite publishers, but it has not come without A LOT of effort on my part. Luckily, these are efforts that I was already doing anyway, even before I started blogging, only now I'm dedicating much more time to these efforts than ever before.

    But I sometimes have to step back and ask myself, WHY do I put so much effort into making my blog (still so new) into something BIGGER? ("Bigger" as in better stats.) What drives me to want it big NOW, NOW, NOW? Easy: The matter of KNOWING what others are already doing, and what I also WANT to do myself, makes me feel like I NEED to put so much work into my blog in order to catch up.

    As a new blogger, I have already seen just how much of a popularity contest (ie. how much like high school) the blogging world can be. Sadly, this "popularity contest" can be discouraging to a new blogger. (Heck, there have even been times that I've felt that the "more popular" bloggers have (purposely) outright ignored me on Twitter; I can name a few particular bloggers who have…) There have been times that I have actually had to stop myself, say "NO!" and put the computer away so I don't forget WHY I started blogging about books in the first place: Because I LOVE books, not because I want to be "popular". Funny, how only 2.75 months in, these "big blog" ambitions can already be so powerful.

    Your post will definitely be bookmarked. It's an extra reminder for me to remember WHY I started blogging. Thank you for helping others to stay grounded.

    • says

      Everyone decides how to parse out their time and energy, and everyone's method leads them to different experiences. I think this is especially true at the beginning, when you're trying to wade into the pool.

      It can be easy to get sucked into wanting what you're doing to have the same sort of response/following/stats/etc as other people, but if you're in it for yourself, that's what matters most. You can't force a following nor a community nor can you force yourself to the top, so to speak. We actually blogged about this back in November 2010, and it's sort of guided us to the point we're at now:

      I doubt people are purposefully ignoring one another on social media like Twitter. It's overwhelming to keep up with it all, and since we're all only human, it happens. I know I'm guilty of not always being the best responder, and it's not anything to do with anyone personally (I only know so many people personally anyway!).

      If the goal is to be the best you can be, the only way to get there is to keep going. It doesn't happen over night.

  10. says

    Thank you so much for this! I am REALLY new to blogging (as in a few months) and have already started feeling uncomfortable about some of the memes. I don't mind Reading Challenges because it is easy to make them your own, but memes almost feel like doing someone else's homework. I absolutely love reading your blog! I love seeing the way bloggers from different blogs interact with each other. THAT is why I blog – I love reading and I love talking about books with other people who love reading. I blog because I wanted to join a conversation that just cannot take place in the 'real' world. Thanks for helping me to keep things in perspective!

  11. says

    I just wanted to say 'thanks' for helping me keep things in perspective. I am a VERY new blogger – just a few months old! – but already feel a little uncomfortable with memes. I don't mind Reading Challenges because it is easier to make them your own, but memes feel a little like doing someone else's homework. I started blogging because of blogs like yours – where I could see multiple different bloggers participating in a conversation. I love reading, and I love talking about books with other readers – THAT is why I blog. I wanted to become a part of a conversation about books that doesn't occur in 'real' life, to be part of a community of people who love reading as much as I do. (If my comment appears twice, sorry. I thought I posted it but didn't see it!)

    • says

      We all find what it is we love doing, and that's what makes every blog great. The reason I love blogging is exactly what you hit on in the end there: being part of a conversation about books that doesn't happen in "real" life.

  12. says

    I love this discussion. Thanks Kelly for taking the time to write it and to respond so fully to everyone's comments!

    I do love blogging and I do plan to stick with it. At the very least, I can go back and look at my reviews and keep track of things for myself. Plus, I have a couple friends who also blog, and I love reading their posts and they probably love reading mine.

    It's hard not to get caught up in the lure of all of the new fancy things, not to flashback to high school and wonder why nobody likes you as much as everybody else. I'm actually not bothered with not being a hugely popular blog now too much; I would just like to know that if I stick with it, my efforts will be appreciated. In moving out into the blogosphere more, I've been getting a lot more traffic, and, more importantly to me, comments. I love having dialogues with people!

    Also helping me chill out about my need for all the latest shiny books is the fact that I'll be going to BEA in June. I'll be able to get more books than I can read (almost) there, so it's not like I desperately need them. Haha. As it is, my bookshelves are nearly full.

    On the whole, I try to stay positive about it and focus on all of the good parts. Most of these things I talked about today were subjects which have irritated me somewhat from the beginning and it felt good to just get my rant out. Cleansing.

    So thanks again!

    • says

      There aren't any guarantees of anything, so you can only really count on making yourself happy with what you're doing. I do this because I enjoy doing it, whether or not people decide they're going to comment or read or not (I mean it when I say I always feel lucky people DO comment because it's sort of mind-blowing, even after doing this for three years!).

      BEA is a good opportunity to network, which will certainly help in getting your name out there.

      And you're welcome. I find that a lot of times people feel like they're alone in their blogging frustrations, and I guess it helps that we've got a team here on this blog so we can keep ourselves all in check with one another. So sometimes when "big issues" are emerging on Twitter or on other blogs, it seems worthwhile to reflect on it on the blog. Like I mentioned: it's not drama. It comes from a legitimate place of discussion and sometimes we're really bad at talking it out.

  13. says

    Thanks for pointing out the terms have changed. I wouldn't have gone back and checked had I not seen your post. I've updated my post to reflect the changes they've made.

    Also, I hadn't even though about the self-promotional aspect of this contest. I am now not looking forward to the voting weeks.

    • says

      It was kind of sneaky! I had the original terms up and was talking to someone about them, and she could not access what I was looking at. So I reloaded the page and they were different. STILL not entirely satisfying terms (because you're still giving them the rights to your posts) but a little less worrisome, I guess.

      I'm nervous about the self-promotional aspect for sure. I can't say for sure I'm interested in voting, since it puts me in a position to pick one person over another. Seems easier just to avoid it all together.

  14. says

    I looked at this contest and decided not to bother, since I'm quite sure my writing isn't exciting, fresh, or plain good enough. I'm definitely glad I didn't because the self-promotion popularity aspect makes me sick. I hate contests like that.

  15. says

    I kept bouncing around in my seat as I read this post, because it's just so right! It feels like I'm constantly muttering to myself, "It's not about the numbers. It's not about the numbers. It's not about the numbers." But it's just such a hard thing to remember sometimes.

    Thank you for making my muttered mantra a little easier to remember (and to believe).

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