The OF Blog: Five general tips to "old" book bloggers

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Five general tips to "old" book bloggers

Seems that the readers here are almost evenly divided about whether they most enjoy me being snarky or me actually writing reviews or essays dealing with authors/reading/etc.  Although I don't really believe in getting what the audience what they necessarily want (nor would I be so presumptuous as to assume that I give them what they need), here are a few early-morning musings that may or may not be serious and which ought to serve as equal doses snark and something actually useful to those who read this blog for more than hoping to read about themselves or someone they may have added as a Facebook friend or Twitter follower:

1.  Don't always trust your instincts.  Yes, you heard me right.  Don't trust yourself even.  By this, I mean don't believe that you have found a "good niche" or have "established yourself."  You haven't.  You likely never will.  In many quarters, you may be viewed as the epitome of suck, even when you hear praise for covering X and Y and making people interested in Z.  In fact, you probably need to XYZ yourself.  Your fly may be open and you may not be compared favorably to the Ron Jeremies of the book blogging world.

2.  Do something new.  Hate to say it, but many erstwhile book bloggers have become stale, old acts.  Covering the same ground after a while can stamp out the creativity that perhaps led you to trod that ground in the first place.  Take up a new hobby to go along with what you're currently doing.  Review Mongolian goat slash in addition to hack-and-slash fantasies.  It will broaden your mind and teach you how to review books outside your (and the goats') comfort zones.

3.  Remember that you are part of a business.  Yes, I know several authors, editors, and others in the publishing industry.  Most of them are fine people.  Just like I am (mostly) a decent person.  But all of us have goals and agendas as well.  Mine is to cover things that interest me.  Others are to try and interest me in things that they have available. It's a business (albeit with some genuine friendships on the side outside of business).  I would suggest not going ga-ga whenever Publisher A offers information on Author B.  It's nice, but it's just business.  Never hurts to treat all the review copies, offers of interviews, and the like as business proposals that are to be negotiated, not as favors bequeathed to you.

4.  Broaden your horizons.  I know this is related to #2, but hey, if you didn't like the idea of reading/reviewing Mongolian goat slash, perhaps you need to first start by broadening your horizons.  Maybe start small, like reading Scots or Welsh sheep slash, or maybe Aussie or New Zealand sheep/cattle slash if you're feeling a bit adventuresome.  You might be surprised by how many visitors will discover your site if you make references to "porn," "sheep," "slash," and "Scotland."  I received close to a thousand visits from horny Turks a little over a year ago when I titled a book picture of mine "Turkish book porn."  Still get the odd few visits from Istanbul as a result of that late 2008 post.

5.  The third-person is not your enemy.  Using first-person in reviews is okay to an extent, but really, too often it becomes a crutch that shifts the focus to how this one particular reviewer was baffled/disgusted/overjoyed/etc. by this one book, instead of concentrating on how this book may be of interest to readers.  Sure, some people might enjoy reading about me as a person and what I think, but I imagine those who read posts here for reviews would much rather read about the book than about how "the hype" that reader might have heard about (again, see #3) might have influenced perceptions.  Few people have access to that "inside" stuff.  Don't take a press release and your inner circle (...) friend/reviewers as being the Alpha and Omega of such discussions.  Just wrestle with the text itself and leave your anecdotes about what Bloggers W, T, F had to say about the book.  Doubtless, there would be many anonymous readers who would thank you.

So yeah, snark and actual advice, all rolled into one, for your reading (dis)pleasure.  So...who's going to read those suggested genres I mentioned above?


Tea and Tomes said...

I especially agree with the comment about branching out. While I don't call myself an old book blogger (I'm incredibly new to the game, after all), and I plan to mostly review fantasy novels, I do plan to stick other genre reviews in there too. Usually nonfiction, usually involving religion of some aspect of history that I'm interested in. But as much as I know that focusing on one genre might gain me a more focused group of eventual readers, it also prevents me from sharing info about other books I've enjoyed, books that somebody, somewhere, might be looking for an opinion on. Sometimes being specific just ends up making a person narrow.

Of course, sometimes people find a good niche, a good following, and can get by without needing to branch out because people like what they dish out. But sometimes things get stale, and need something fresh and new to rejuvenate themselves.

Eddie said...

Disagree re third person, I have to say. Everything in the review is your opinion, and using the 3rd person is just a distancing technique to pretend you're objective. Particularly in extended piece (i.e. academic writing), I find it much harder to read stuff that uses awkward fictions like "this author considers". No, you mean "I consider." "Wrestling with the text" is inherently a subjective activity.

Which isn't to say that lean, anecdote-free reviews are a bad thing. Reviewing the hype is just bad form because you're not concentrating on the text. I just think that an emphasis on third person style is tangential to the issue of concentrating on the text.

Magemanda said...

I can see your point regarding third person book reviews, and leaving out the anecdotal bits (like which other bloggers liked it and how much hype it has received) - but I do think that these two things sometimes add perspective to a book review. For instance, if you know you're about to give a negative review for a book that has received a great deal of hype - well, you're essentially giving the discerning reader of your review two views in one. They then know that the book has received good reviews from other locations, but that you didn't like it for x, y and z reason. For me, this is giving the review readers the opportunity to exercise their own mind on whether this book is for them. If you just head right on into a negative review without any context at all, I think it can be more detrimental. Just my opinion though :-)

Anonymous said...

There's a fine line between preachy first person reviews and good first person reviews. If all the reviewer quotes is I... I ... I... and doesn't tell me anything about the book it makes me wonder.

I like to branch out on other books, I don't always review them but I do like to try the occasional "different" book from what I review.

All fairly good advice with a bit of snark.

Larry said...

Eddie, I suspect we don't disagree as much as you might think we do. Look how I phrased things - "The third person is not your enemy," followed by focusing solely on an over-reliance on the 1st person by some.

I use 1st person on a limited basis, mostly in an attempt to avoid certain awkward constructions. I write reviews under the presumption that it is my opinion that is being expressed and that there isn't an "objective" view possible. I just believe that when used correctly, a mixture of 1st and 3rd person can convey much about the book without placing the reviewer in front of the text. Those type of reviews usually annoy me. Borges is one of the few who could pull it off and he didn't use it constantly, as his personal anecdotes were designed to place the text in a more proper context.

So I guess my comment here can apply to many of the other responses as well. All things in's just that I don't believe that several reviewers know how to use 1st person in moderation :P

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