The OF Blog: Sometimes, blogging is like a massive circle jerk

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sometimes, blogging is like a massive circle jerk

Or at least I sometimes feel that way after reading posts that some small-time SF blog reviewers write about blogging that attracts other small-time bloggers to comment (and especially when another small-time lit/SF blogger, namely myself, is cited separately in two separate posts on different blogs today).  It's a very small world, I suppose (and doubtless, some might take offense at my title and depiction of this particular "scene," but hey, it isn't exactly a topic that's going to appeal to thousands of readers of these various blogs, many of whom (and mine) have a large overlapping audience), but I suppose I should just post the links and then some commentary:

First up is Grasping for the Wind's post on 5 General Tips for New Book Bloggers.  I have nothing personal against the blog owner, John, but some of his tips are a bit misguided.  Of particular concern is the very first one, where he suggests new book bloggers pay for their own domain.  Note the highlighted word.  New.  For those who may decide to hop on the blogging bandwagon thinking that they'll be on the fast track to receiving dozens of review copies a month, but whose willingness to be proactive, inventive, etc. is questionable at best.  Sure, it isn't all that much to do the Go Daddy route, I'm sure, especially if your probable audience will be less than 50 regulars/day for at least the first few months, but the benefits of doing such are negligible at best unless one is consistently drawing high fours or low five figures a day.  Then perhaps the small percentage lost to not having all posts appearing in searches will be something that would have to be combated.  Then again, it seems that I do quite well with certain reviews/topics despite using Blogger.  At best, domain purchases ought to be a secondary concern, one done after the presumed newbie blogger has decided that s/he likes to blog about books, movies, sex, etc. and that there is an audience that would justify the costs of shelling out money in an attempt to draw potential new readers.

John's second point is much better, although I'd note that reviews don't have to be the bread and butter of any site.  Voice is much more important; same for flexibility, especially since so many people end up wearying of repeating themselves after a while.  Variety is the spice of life...and of blogging.

Point 3 is pretty much a truism.  Would add that while reading and lifting elements of other blogs is okay to an extent, having a self-awareness of what would work best for one's own blogging is much better.  I certainly didn't see/read too many blogs devoted to transnational literature when I shifted the focus of this blog a couple of years ago.  Creating (or at least expanding) a "new" market has its own charm that exists outside of stats.  I'm always bemused by how my Feedburner stats are several hundred more than what shows up in Sitemeter each day.  I'm guessing either I'm just more discussed about than read or that stats are pretty misleading.  I'm leaning toward the latter, as I've been rather boring lately.

The fourth point, about publicizing, irritates me to no end.  Although I do occasionally link to this blog on the forums that I frequent (which I must admit, I frequent less consistently now, with my other responsibilities), I certainly didn't need the Facebook bit to publicize what I'm doing (I think I have fewer than 30 "friends" there and my main purpose for that is keeping track of others, not for them to keep track of me, since I rarely post more than syndicated Notes there) and I refuse to have a Twitter account.  Perhaps for some people, the main draw of book blogging is the "networking" with others who are doing similar things, but that element does not appeal to me, nor does engaging in such activities insure that one will become a better blogger.  Chances are that those who devote a lot of time to Facebook and Twitter amongst each other will end up thinking that their little discussions, their little arguments are more important than perhaps they are.  Sometimes, (mind you, sometimes) maintaining a distance from the social networking can benefit one's own blogging, since it allows the intrepid blogger to let his/her mind wander down paths that aren't so trodden by others' opinions.  So yes, there's a downside to the publicity methods suggested there.  Not saying that those couldn't be of worth, but rather that there's an inherent risk there as well.

The final point is on the surface somewhat sound.  But I happen to take a much more mercenary approach to this.  I have only once contacted an author directly about receiving a book (and I should note that was after a discussion on his blog that involved me querying about who to contact for receiving a review copy of a reprint anthology).  I have had authors that I've befriended give my contact info to publishers, but that was not the end point of getting to know these authors.  Rather, I made contacts with several publicists over the past few years and I sold them on this blog based on audience, focus, as well as offering to provide samples of past reviews.  I have only read one self-published book and that was as a favor to the author who I came to know on another's blog.  I turn down several offers each month.  It's a business.  My time is money, both in what I do with my day job and with my current part-time one, and I don't feel any obligation to review a book, especially since most what is sent to me is unsolicited.  I guess what I'm trying to state here is that of all the tips given, there is virtually nothing about how to view all of this as a business.  Sure, buddy-buddy with fellow bloggers, authors, publicists, etc., but ultimately it's a business where money is being transacted.  Always best to keep that in mind.

Enough of that one post.  Now for the second blog post that drew my attention.  Gav of NextRead poses the question of "Are you looking for book reviewers?"  Although there is nothing inherently wrong about his post or the responses, I was struck with a few similarities with the first post discussed at length above.  There seems to be a presumption that such a post ought to be directed toward those few fools who decide to start a (SF/F oriented) book blog.  As such, the discussion is oriented to those few readers who have their own blogs (incidentally, before any try to call me out on this, I am fully aware that this post is oriented toward much the same and that most, if any, comments will come from those who have their own blogs).  In the comments, several of the same blogs cited in John's blog are mentioned again (including this one, not that I feel special about it).  It's almost as if in writing about the craft of blogging, that any such examples and formats will revolve around a very particular niche and those reading such posts will tend to come from a very small and similar pool of readers, most of whom blog on occasion.

So back to the title of this thread.  A big danger that I've noticed (and have often failed to avoid) is that of assuming one's narrow field of focus is somewhat more than just a microcosm (if that; very divergent blogs about books, several of which are in the blogrolls here) of other discussions elsewhere.  In a small pond, I guess all those fish, regardless of size, feel as those their fish-like thoughts and ways of viewing matters is all that matters...until the hook is dropped and one is snatched out of his/her comfort zone.  Such coziness can breed pseudo-familiarity.  There is that danger of blogging circle jerks, where each blogger ends up writing on a similar topic (or a similar review topic, I suppose) and each afterward compares his/her "performance" to the others'.  There certainly are some attractions to that (cf.  this very blog post), but overindulgence is a bad thing.  Having a small circle of "fellow bloggers" who read and write about similar books, often using similar approaches, and who tend to congregate on Facebook and Twitter, cross-propagating what each is reading/discussing, all this can lead to what I guess might be the blogging equivalent of inbreeding.  Not that I'm going to develop this (semi)point any further, mind you, but I'll leave it hanging...perhaps to be discussed here and yonder.

26 comments:

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

You know what, that definitely seems to be a danger in the blogging world especially as you mentioned that bloggers may be tending toward commonality rather than creativeness.

Maybe we need a challenge to get the juices flowing. Any thoughts?

Larry said...

Don't know about challenges right now, since the ones I'm doing (learning Attic Greek, re-reading Bolaño in Spanish, reading dozens of journals/magazines for BAF4) probably are not going to have a lot of appeal to others :P

Perhaps just do self-motivation to create something of interest to you first and then see if an audience follows? Ruts are dangerous things to fall into, I've noticed.

Anonymous said...

I choose to anon so no one will take offense and know who I am ;).

You most certainly do not need a facebook/twitter account to make you popular. As a matter of fact less then 1% of visitors to the blog I work on have come from there. The friends on there were all people who visited the site regular so logically speaking it's not really productive to have a facebook/twitter account. Then again that's what works for our blog and it might be different for others.

I get so annoyed with blogs that constantly ask the people what they want (for example, should I focus on such and such books or such and such. Should i stop doing this or that). If you don't know your audience and you constantly need to ask them, maybe you shouldn't be a blogger at all. I'm not saying asking what book should I read I'm talking about constantly asking stuff on the blog.

Being a book blogger to get "free" books just amazes me. I had an email asking how to get free books and would I share contacts. I don't mind helping out but having no following at all, and asking for free books isn't the best start and the blog won't last long. Go to a library if you need free books.

As for being "friends" with authors/publicists. I don't see how you can be friends with them an give them a 100% honest review. Especially if you're looking for free books it just doesn't work.

/end of rant

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

@Larry - Those are quite the challenges, very impressive. I need to start reading in German again; those Alexander Lohmann books look interesting.

@Anon - Blogging to get free books is doable I think, but would make for quite a boring blog. I started mine to track what I read and be able to comment on the genre, which I guess SFFworld and Westeros weren't enough. :)

Gav said...

I agree it was a circle jerk question and although I would have found it on my feed reader I found it on Twitter first.

Interesting reading. And yes it did turn into a bit of navel gazing. But hey ho. It seemed to get other people talking and the point was made that the only people that comment are other bloggers. Then we do tend to engage more.

I guess I should have gone for my question about covers instead...

Larry said...

Anon,

Excellent points. In fact, I'm very hesitant to post much (if any) about the books that authors I've corresponded with have published. I ended up reviewing one solely because I thought I'd be dishonest with myself if I didn't review it, since it really was my favorite new fiction read of 2009. But on the whole, I tend to review fewer and fewer SF/F books in part because I'm no longer "just" a "fan." That works for me, but perhaps others can make it work differently for them.

Bryce,

Why not? The brain is like a muscle in that it needs that regular exercise (and my German has atrophied mightily over the past 13 years).

Gav,

Don't take it too harsh, okay? I wouldn't have discussed your post if it weren't for the other treading upon similar ground within a day's time :P As for bloggers talking/engaging with each other, in and of itself, it's not a bad time. But if it becomes more of a closed-circuit conversation, then it becomes troublesome. That being said, I did respond here, no? :P Although I really should be sleeping and getting ready for work in less than 7 hours.

Anonymous said...

Oh I believe you can blog for free books but going in there just for free books and to see how many arcs/review copies you can get and how many author interviews you can grab really shouldn't be the point to blogging. It'd be quite a boring blog if it was "Oh I interacted with Joe so and so, and I talked to James bladdah bladdah".

I just think going into blogging because you don't have the money and think that you'll be provided free books galore isn't the route to go.

I like blogging because it allows me to talk about what I enjoyed about books and what parts quirked me and what parts I loved. Lord knows no one else in my real life would listen to me talk about it.

As for free books/cheap books, I'm just as likely to get them from the library or a store then I am from review copies.

I love when little fishes try to take the big guys on for one reason or another.

It doesn't mind me if an author asks for a review consideration, but there's a fine line between "friends" and just a casual interaction between the reviewer and author.

Jonathan M said...

One person's circle jerk is, I suspect, another person's sense of community.

Talking about the same issues as other people, writing about the same books and sharing the same reference points are part of what make blogging a sociable activity. It can be really lonely blogging into the aether largely unsure whether anyone pays attention to what you think.

So I think you're being rather unfair in characterising it all as a circle jerk.


One thing I have noticed though is that this type of behaviour is much less common in film-blogging circles. Book reviewers, even litfic ones, tend to be a lot more sociable than film reviewers who really do stick to the role of the critic, watching and writing about films.

Not sure why...

Larry said...

Jonathan,

I suppose that's the point of contention there. I'm a sociable person, but not so much online, particularly when blogging. It still seems strange to me this notion of combining elements of criticism with social activity. Then again, since when were historians ever known for being overly chummy? :P

Anon,

I've crossed back and forth that fine line quite a bit and have learned that sometimes it's best to just acknowledge any entanglements and move on from there.

And now, to try and sleep again. Stirring to the nice sensation of wanting to vomit stomach acid up is always a pleasant way of avoiding dreams, I suppose...

Martin said...

Community is one thing and I won't knock someone for combining social activity with blogging but I do find it hard to think of reTweeting and the like as anything but a circle jerk. I mean look at that Next Read post - there are nine Tweets stuck to the bottom of it which essentially say nothing. Their only purpose is to bring in more clicks. But what is the goal in bringing in more clicks? Blogging isn't a business so why treat it as such such? Why spend so much time growing the brand? Why not just allow it to happen organically? As Joe Sherry says over in that Grasping The Wind thread: content is king.

Chad Hull said...

The 'circle jerk' mentality is precisely why I put no stock in the Hugo awards.

Aidan Moher said...

So, Larry, if you're on the outside looking in, does that make this post a wrap-around?

;)

Jonathan M said...

Oh come now!

Larry -- While you've disconnected a little bit and have (much like me) drifted into doing your own thing in blogging terms, you have been a part of a wider community. You've served your time on genre forums and you're plugged in to the blogs and write about them quite a bit.

You might not see it as social interaction but the matrix definitely has you :-)


Martin -- There is definitely a "manage your brand" feel to the advice about becoming a book blogger. That's a wider problem with social media, too many fevered egos on the make. the blurring of the lines between editorial and publishing industry PR does undeniably sicken me.


Chad -- I think that isolationism is a better way of thinking about the Hugos than circle jerkery. The natural state of the Hugos is giving awards to the same kinds of books written by the same authors while praising "fan writers" who are no longer relevant but who are popular with Hugo voters. Fan awards aside, I don't think you need to be plugged in to the Hugo social network to win a Hugo.

Jonathan M said...

Oh come now!

Larry -- While you've disconnected a little bit and have (much like me) drifted into doing your own thing in blogging terms, you have been a part of a wider community. You've served your time on genre forums and you're plugged in to the blogs and write about them quite a bit.

You might not see it as social interaction but the matrix definitely has you :-)


Martin -- There is definitely a "manage your brand" feel to the advice about becoming a book blogger. That's a wider problem with social media, too many fevered egos on the make. the blurring of the lines between editorial and publishing industry PR does undeniably sicken me.


Chad -- I think that isolationism is a better way of thinking about the Hugos than circle jerkery. The natural state of the Hugos is giving awards to the same kinds of books written by the same authors while praising "fan writers" who are no longer relevant but who are popular with Hugo voters. Fan awards aside, I don't think you need to be plugged in to the Hugo social network to win a Hugo.

Neth said...

wow, I find myself agreeing with Jonathan which is a rare enough thing. So I don't have anything else to add on that.


But I'll stoke Larry's fire a bit - what about all of us bloggers reviewing the same thing? Just wait for it - witin the next 2 weeks it will look like every single blog will have reviewed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by Jemisin at the same time. Is that a bad thing? Good? (certainly for Jemisin) Is that showing stagnation? Or is just that this is such a promising book that everyone wants to read it? Should I write my review and wait 2 months to publish it?

Larry said...

I think I'll be choosing between the red and blue pill any moment now... ;)

Ken,

Will touch that topic later. Right now, work beckons. Joy. Half-awake and I can't decide if I want to vomit or not...

gav (nextread.co.uk) said...

I was sleepy this morning - I don't often wake up to a circle jerk.

I'm a little more awake now.

I'm not a critic. I'm not an outsider. I am more on the inside than taking a objective view.

I'm in it to direct people to fun reading. So guilty as charged really.

The Thousand Kingdoms is on there partly because I wanted to see why it was a good debut. For me it's not a conscious thing to chase the big books.

I don't usually - I have never read Scott Lynch, Abercrombie, GRRM to name a few but it's nice to see a debut getting some attention.

Just good timing ;)

Hagelrat said...

It's a risk, and a small world, but no smaller than the world of SF & F authors, the whole industry is a little incestuous. I don't think we are guilty of anything that you can't see anywhere else. I've also noticed a tendency for hot topics to turn up in the guardian book blog a few days after we have been talking about it.

Joe Sherry said...

Larry: You’ll note that I mentioned you as a counter argument to John’s main point.

And I still hate promotion. Anything more than the link in a message board signature line or a link on my name as part of a comment is too much for me. That way, I’m not actively “promoting”, but rather engaging in a conversation. Blatant self-promotion and incessant self-linking and self-reference really rubs me the wrong way.

I would much rather my genius shine out as a flame that all of the reader-moths will inevitably be drawn to. That they are not likely says something about the strength of my flame. Or, I don’t do enough promotion.

One of the two.

Joe Sherry said...

Re the circle jerk: Because many of us (bloggers) are interested in the same things, we read many of the same blogs.

Someone makes a point, says something interesting, and you want to weigh in. Now ten blogs are posting about the same thing - and if you're also reading the same blogs, you see the repetition. If you're reading a different ten blogs, you never see the conversation.

It's the community thing, and while I'm not always crazy about seeing the same thing over and over again, I can't argue with it much, either.

Ken: Write the review. For Jemisin, it's a major release. I've been looking forward to the book for a good year or so. Since whenever I first heard of it. Call it hype, call it whatever, it's a book that has reached a point where folks just want to read it. It's good for Jemisin, but that doesn't mean we should avoid reading a book that interests us. Read it. Review it.

Neth said...

No worries - I'll write the review (it's about half-written now). I expect it'll be up late tomorrow or on Thursday. I too much a stereotpyical blogger to sit on good content too long :) It is indeed a good book - not flawless, but well worth the buzz.

The community part of blogging is rather nice. It has its downsides, but overall I think it's a good part of fandom.

Larry said...

Funny what sleep and then working on a planned essay can do for one's willingness to engage with this further. But here goes:

Reviews should be individualized essays, not competitions to see who can cover the same general ground before others do. Although I'm not such a strict formalist as to forego completely the use of first-person in my review essays (and other essays, for that matter), I do believe that too often blog reviewers of all genre stripes use the first-person approach to masque a lack of insight into the work at hand or any ability to state anything original. Sometimes (that dreaded "sometimes," which I used to title this post for a reason ;)) using a third-person approach to a review forces the reviewer to consider the author/text's (NOT saying taking the author/text as bibles of authority, mind you)possible aims/interpretations. I shudder to think how much poorer my just-posted essay on Roberto Bolaño's poetry would have been if I had written it in the style that several blog reviewers use in their reviews; it would have done an injustice to the works being reviewed.

But this is a topic for another time and perhaps place, no? Doubtless those who view this blog as being primarily SF-oriented will focus on these somewhat-incendiary comments above and totally neglect the essay I have written and its own faults and failures, since it was written for another audience ;)

Chad Hull said...

While under no threat from me, you are indeed on thin interweb ice, my friend...

Nonetheless, I applaud your effort.

Yagiz [Between Two Books] said...

> "all this can lead to what I guess might be the blogging equivalent of inbreeding"

The disturbing thing with this analogy is that I, for one, consider that my brain is more open and has more imagination than my testicles. But it is interesting to treat the blogosphere as an evolution lab and suggest that on their own, bloggers might become more creative or original than as a group. Jerking alone in a corner is really more original than a massive circle jerk?

Larry said...

I always make a habit of treading on thin ice. It's what makes me the (lovable?) person that I am :P

As for the separate/together bit, it just depends on the group/individual, I suppose. I tend to resist belonging long-term to any group because I find myself feeling constrained by this sense of implicit conformity. Not saying such things are "true," but rather that it feels that way sometimes (ever that key qualifier in my comments here!).

Foreverlad said...

Very late to the party, my apologies.

The more socially developed literature blogging becomes, the more it stands to gain, IMHO. You can count me amongst those who shun Twitter, Facebook and their like, but I won't discount their potential to turn the so-called circle-jerk into a full out orgy.


As you yourself noted Larry, the first 6 months of blogging won't likely produce many readers. Literature blogging as a whole is likely no different.

The community is a closed one without new blood and outsider opinions. Without investing in as many different avenues of exposure as possible, isn't a blogger doing little more than lining up for a tug from the blog next door?


The SFF genre blogs certainly subscribe to many of the same shortcomings found amongst other collectives, as has been described by yourself and others, but I would ask how much of this lies solely at the bloggers' feet, and how much is dependent on the breadth and width of the genre itself?


It's not exactly a new story; brick and mortar stores abandoning variety, catering to multi-volume series, trendy sub-genres, mega-sellers and Oprah's book-club in order to keep the coins rolling. Various publishers appear to rely on 3-4 authors to keep the ship afloat each quarter, so those authors are inevitably the ones given the full media treatment. If a blogger's intent lies in exploring a specific genre, their options will be limited to: what's available, provided, or recommended. Two of those options place the burden of diversity on others, while availability is a whole 'nother beast.


Anyway, my point is, while many of these bloggers could likely be pushing the boundaries of lit/genre content blogging, I wouldn't fault them for pushing the social boundaries of exposure. As the fan base grows, the potential content, community, and interest could expand as well.

I only touched on a few elements of the dsicussion, and it could easily lead to another 20 paragraphs of discussion, but I'll save everyone the torture.

 
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