Every once in a while I think about blogging about blogging. It feels meta, but periodically, something in the blogging world catches my attention and I think about the value of writing about writing.
Being a blogger is being part of a community — one that’s both populated by bloggers and by those who enjoy reading blogs but don’t necessarily blog themselves. Both of those groups constitute a readership for a blog, and the reasons behind readership don’t necessarily land neatly into any categories.
Bloggers who read other blogs don’t necessarily do so because they want to read about blogging; they read because they care about the person who is writing or they’re interested in what they have to say about whatever it is they choose to write about (or parts of what they choose to write about, even if it’s not every single post they write). Readers who don’t blog may choose to read because they love the topic at hand or because blogging is something they want to pursue some day. Maybe they read because it’s part of their professional development or because they find that the blogger shares a lot of similar thoughts that they have but don’t express openly. Perhaps they read because the blogger is someone they regularly disagree with and they enjoy that tension (and that’s legitimate and awesome — I read a few blogs that I disagree with because I love seeing the other side of a book review or belief about reading/books).
Whatever the reason behinds why someone reads a blog, bloggers write because they like to and they write the content they feel compelled to write. Even if the thought of readership isn’t at the forefront of the blogger’s mind, it’s always there: what you choose to say or not to say is indeed thinking about audience and readership. There’s a reason there’s very little personal content at Stacked, except in the context of a review or discussion of a book or reading. Besides the fact this is a book blog, personal things aren’t what I want to share in this space except when I feel comfortable enough doing so, knowing that my readership can see whatever it is I write.
Not everything every blogger writes will be of interest to all readers. That’s the beauty of blogging. It’s like a magazine in that the content that’s of interest can be absorbing, but the stuff that’s not going to capture your interest is easy to skip over. You can still appreciate the effort or idea, even if it’s not your jam.
But a blog is a blogger’s space. The blogger gets to make the decisions about what she or he writes about, how she or he presents it, and how she or he chooses to be upfront or honest about whatever they share with their readership. In turn, that readership responds in some capacity.
Your blog is your reputation.
This is all an introduction to talk about a few things in going on in the blogging world I feel are worth talking about both to those who are bloggers, as well as those who aren’t. It’s not a how-to, and it’s in no way a guide to how to blog.
Rather, I hope this can generate some discussion about blog and blogging related topics worth talking about, since a few have popped up recently that deserve to be talked about, both with those who blog and those who don’t write but who consume blog writing. This may be the first in a series of posts on blogging over the course of the next few weeks.
Do you blog for or about?
Kim Ukura wrote two posts in the last couple of weeks that I think are must-reads for bloggers, both those who are new and those who are seasoned. The first, Why Isn’t Just Reading Enough Anymore, talks about a new program through Crown Publishing Group called “Blogging for Books,” wherein bloggers register and agree to review books in exchange for copies of those books.
I think readers and bloggers know that many of the books we review here at Stacked, as well as books reviewed at other blogs, come from publishers. They’re sent to us solicited or unsolicited, either as review copies (meaning they’re imperfect) or as finished copies, or they’re available to take at conferences such as ALA or BEA. I can’t speak for Kimberly, but I can say I personally request very fewARCs when pitched; I get seasonal packages from some publishers, wherein the bulk of their YA catalogs are sent to me, but only when I know there’s something I really want to read and consider for review do I take the time to ask the publicist. It’s a time and space issue — there are only so many hours in a day, and there’s only so much space in my house. Likewise, I know my tastes well enough that I can guess whether title is going to work for me or not. A lot of times if I end up not requesting a title and I see a lot of positive reviews of it and change my mind, I can grab it at Netgalley or Edelweiss or I wait and either buy it or pick it up at the library.
I never feel obligated to review anything, and even when I do accept or request a title, I always note that it’s for consideration and I never make any promises. Sometimes, I don’t get to a title in a timely fashion, and sometimes, I read it and decide I don’t want to review it (sometimes I just don’t feel like writing a review and that doesn’t reflect the book but my interest in writing). Other times, I may sneak a mention of a title into a book list or into a discussion about something else I’m interested in.
And sometimes? I don’t do anything with the book.
What Kim talks about in the post, though, isn’t that. Crown’s program, while it looks like an awesome way to streamline blogger requests, has some serious strings attached to it. It requires a review in exchange for the ARC/book that is requested, and it asks that bloggers not just write about the book on their blog, but that they should then share that review across all kinds of outlets, including retail outlets and other social media the blogger may be on. Doing this builds buzz for a title.
Kim’s second post, on her personal blog, dives deeper into the “Blogging for Books” program. She talked with a program coordinator and had some of her concerns not just heard but they were put into consideration and aspects of the program were reworded. But, like Kim, the standout to me in the response was this: “Just as there is an understanding that a blogger would review a book after requesting it, we are reflecting that arrangement through Blogging for Books.”
There is never an arrangement between blogger and publisher. It’s not an understanding, and it’s not an arrangement. A blogger isn’t beholden to a publisher nor are they beholden to a book. A blogger is beholden only to his or her blog and his or her audience.
The vast majority of publishers we work with are wonderful, as are those authors who pitch at us directly. Like Kim, I utilize the phrase “for consideration” when making requests, as well as when I agree to a pitch. There’s no agreement something will happen; I get to make that choice when it comes to reading and I get to make the choice of whether or not I write about it. If I read something and don’t think our readers would be interested, I’m not going to write about it. If I don’t want to write about something or if life gets in the way of something, I’m not going to push myself to do it. This is my space and Kimberly and I both agree that when this stops being fun, then it stops being what we do.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t blog for books. I blog about books. Those two little words are extremely different. One suggests there’s obligation and the other does not.
I blog for my readers about books. I’m not paid by anyone to write what I write; the advertising revenue we generate goes right back to our readers in the form of giveaways and minor site hosting fees. Bloggers work exceptionally hard at what they do when it comes to reading and thinking about the books they’re reading, and they work hard at writing about them and getting that information out to their readers. They do it because it’s a passion and an interest, not because they’re employed by a publisher or an author or a marketing company to do so.
My favorite part of Kim’s first post is this and I think it’s worth repeating:
Blog for yourself and your readership. Be enthusiastic authentically, not because you’re told to be that way. Don’t blog because you want books. The books will be there.
Your readership though? They might not be.
Sponsorships and Disclosures
Tangentially related to blogging about, rather than for, is something I’ve seen popping up more and more, and that’s sponsored posts. Those are posts written because the blogger is being paid to write the content.
Sponsored posts can come in a variety of forms. Over at Book Riot, I wrote a sponsored post for the “I Read YA” campaign last month, wherein I got paid a small amount (under $30) to write a post about YA fiction. That was the entire requirement — I could write anything I wanted to, and the content was mine to decide, to execute, and to share. I had no limitations put upon me. I chose to write about diverse titles coming out this year because it was a post that added value to my own reading life and it was one I knew that my readership and the readership at Book Riot would want to see.
At the very top of that post, there’s a disclosure noting that it is a sponsored post. I suspect no one noticed that and no one cared because the content was all mine.
Kimberly and I have never written a sponsored post here, and I think it should be obvious from the prior section of this post that we’ve never felt obligated to review a book here, either. We’re picky about taking on blog tours because we know what we like and we know what our readers do and don’t like seeing. I suspect were we approached about a sponsored post, we’d take the exact same approach as we do with tours: is it something our readers would care about? How much control would we have over the content?
This is our blog, it’s our space, and we’re beholden only to ourselves and our readership.
While I haven’t seen it so much in the blogopshere yet (though I’ve heard rumors which haven’t been substantiated), I have seen some sketch examples of sponsorship popping up in other bookish arenas of the internet. Last week, for example, I saw a BookTuber/Vlogger with a massive following do two sponsored posts in a row. Not a huge deal.
The problem was that one of those sponsored vlogs was a book review, and the note about it being a sponsored post — again, content that has been paid for — was buried in the very bottom of the notes section under the video. It would be exceptionally easy to miss and never see, and the video itself didn’t make the disclosure. While there are ethical questions to consider about that, the real issue for me presented itself in the fact this was a sponsored review.
The vlogger was paid to review the book, and the disclosures were hidden.
This is a huge red flag to me, tying into to a lot of the issues mentioned above. How can I trust that review is authentic? Can I? What about the vlogger’s other reviews? At what point do you give up your audience’s trust in exchange for a few bucks from the publisher?
Sometimes, you get the opportunity to do a sponsored post, which means a little extra cash. There’s no shame in taking that on, but I think there’s a lot to be discussed more openly about the ethics of how sponsored posts work. Upfront disclosure should be a must, and what of reviews that are sponsored? Because there’s a huge difference between reviewing a book received as part of a blog tour or as part of a publisher’s mailing or requested by a blogger where there is absolutely no cash or goods exchanged and reviewing a book for which you got paid to review.
Is it for the book or is it about the book?
Are there other interesting issues within the blogging world worth talking about at this point in the game? I’m sure there are. For the most part, I like to just write. I love looking things up, thinking about them, then considering what the takeaway is. And for me, the takeaway is both what I get out of writing and what I think readers may get out of it. It’s fascinating to see that even after 5 years of doing this, it’s worth reminding myself and readers — both those who blog and those who do not — why blogging is great and why it matters. I think it’s clear that it’s a powerful medium, one which people want to get in on because it makes a difference.
The bottom line of blogging for me is this: am I adding something to someone’s day?
Because if I’m just adding noise, rather than value, I’d rather step back and reassess.