There's an interesting post today over at The Passive Voice by a book blog reviewer, Big Al, from Writers in the Storm Blog. He discusses a few things I've always wondered about book blog reviews, and compares book blogs to large publications that review books like the New York Times. I think whether or not you agree with him will come down to how you shop for books and how you vet reviews for books nowadays. And I hate to say it's generational because I know that my own readership ranges widely in age, but I do think that most people in the mainstream under forty-five are getting most of their information online, and in places that don't charge for it...including book reviews. To make it simple: I'm talking about the difference between people who still write checks to pay bills and those who do it all online.
I agree with the basic point Big Al is making in a general sense, but I also still have to wonder about the significance of book reviews from book blogs for genre authors. In other words, I don't think book blogs are going to help or hurt the biggest authors with the biggest books and the biggest publishers and agents. But there has been a virtual explosion in the past decade with genre authors and e-publishing who are not Patterson or Grisham. And many of these smaller genre authors are making a small living from writing e-books and catering to a readership who only reads e-books, both self-published and with small start up e-presses. These are the authors that The New York Times...or any other large well known book review publication...will most likely never review. And that's because so many changes have been happening in the past decade in the way people read e-books and reviews now as compared to five or ten years ago. The same authors in genre fiction that are gaining a readership and selling e-books would not have sold ten print books a year ten years ago.
As a reader, I used to check out the New York Times Book Review weekly. I lived for it. But that was pre-Internet when we were all still reading print. In the past five years I don't even think to look at New York Times Book Review anymore (unless I find a link and I can read it online for free), and I don't think I'm the only one because from the looks of how all print publications are suffering, including The Times, a lot of people are finding their reviews in other places, and I have a feeling it's a combination of book blogs and retail web sites like Amazon. In fact, I rarely read anything in print anymore except for a few magazines I'm still clinging to until the subscriptions run out. A good example would be this week's Time Magazine book section where they talk about beach books for the summer. It was so dated and so hokey and so out of touch with what I normally find online from book blogs and book review web sites I found it almost endearing in a gentle, harmless way. Kind of like old fashioned charm.
Big Al said this, with regard to book blog reviewers:
The biggest difference I see is that we aren’t normally professionals. I don’t mean our blogs aren’t run in a professional way (I think most try) or that we make just a trivial amount of money for our efforts (although that is reality for most). But the typical newspaper or magazine review was written by a fellow author or at least someone who was a professional writer. Today’s book blogger, while sometimes an author or a wannabe, is more likely to be an avid reader who can manage to string enough words together to write a review.
Maybe this is generational, but I can't say that for sure because I have no idea how old Big Al is. And as I said, a good deal of my readers vary in age. But the main reason I vet book blogs and retail web site reviews as opposed to "professional" reviewers is because I want reviews that are not written by so-called professional writers...if there actually is such a thing anymore. I don't want to be snarky here, and I truly do enjoy writers like Joel Stein from Time Magazine, but the only differences between Joel Stein and a writer at a small blog are a few good connections and a little bit of luck.
I do think that I would have fully agreed with Big Al five years ago. But the changes in the way people get all information in the past five years have been so drastic I can't help but wonder where all this is headed. As I also stated above, I also think Big Al's post is still valid for big authors with big books, but I do think that book reviews from book blogs can, and do, influence the success of books written by smaller genre authors.
Getting a review from any particular book blog isn’t going to make or break your marketing efforts. Few book blogs are going to give your book the boost that a review from The New York Times Review of Books or Publisher’s Weekly would do.
It's hard to agree with the first sentence in that paragraph if you know genre fiction and you've been up against good and bad reviews from book blogs. Book blogs can, indeed, make or break marketing efforts for some genre authors, especially in romance. And of course the second sentence makes sense, but how many book reviewers at The New York Times are even paying attention to the millions of dollars readers are now spending on e-books in genre fiction like romance. And I think you have to subscribe to PW to read the reviews, and most readers aren't going to take the time or spend the money to do that when they can get their reviews for free on book blogs that are most likely just as good, if not better, than the so-called professional book reviews. This might sound terrible, and I really don't mean it to sound that way, but I have two good friends who still believe the only place to get a good book review is The New York Times. However, these people are not computer literate, they still have a flip top cell phone they only use in an "emergency," and they listen to records on a stereo. If you ask them what Angry Birds is they'll tell you it has something to do with nesting and territorial rights. And, their TV still has a rounded edge screen.
I do agree with the last sentence in Big Al's post. I think this might be the most important part of the post. If you are a genre author it is important to get as many book blog reviews as you can to help spread the word about your book. However, I also think book blogs and book blog reviews are highly underestimated these days by those who don't fully get the power of online book reviews or the way they can influence readers.
I can't say this is the case for everyone, but I found Fifty Shades of Grey on a book blog a few months before it went mainstream. No one knew it would become a big book. I posted about it here several times, and then I told everyone I knew about it. I get an average of about 6,000 hits a week from this blog, which isn't huge. But if 1000 other people did the same thing I did, as a result of reading a book blog, and they told as many people about FSoG as I did, then I think that might be a good example of how important book blogs are nowadays. I also know other cases where genre authors have made out very well as a result of just one book blog review (good and bad), and that review actually sparked their marketing efforts.
The Women Who Love to Love Gay Romance Update
Contracts went out, edits went out, and I've heard from all the contributing authors in the upcoming anthology, The Women Who Love to Love Gay Romance. I'm planning on an August 1st release date, but that could be subject to change depending on tech issues that can, and do, arise in the beginning.
I am still on the fence about how to distribute the book. At first I was leaning toward Amazon and KDP select. But that would tie me up for three months with an exclusive, and I'd really like to make this book available on Allromanceebooks, and other retails web sites, too. So as of now, I'm heading more toward distribution as widely as possible. I know readers have favorite web sites and I'd like to accomodate everyone.
Here's the raw introduction I wrote for the beginning of the book. It's also subject to change, depending on my last minute thoughts before publication. But I do think you can get a good idea of how it felt for me to work on this book.
When I first imagined the concept of an anthology of short stories about The Women Who Love to Love Gay Romance, I wondered about how many responses I would receive in the calls for submission. The next aspect that made me stop and wonder was whether or not I would receive the kind of stories I wanted to include in a book like this. In other words, I wasn’t looking for M/M Romance written by women in the classic sense. And I didn’t want boring, drawn out academic diatribes about gay men in M/M Romance. I was hoping to receive stories about women who not only love gay romance, but were willing to include strong female characters in gay romance as active participants in the actual romantic storylines. But more than that, these stories also had to be plausible…or at least reasonable…as well. In the same respect, I didn’t want to place any restrictions on the authors, and I wanted them to run with their fictional fantasies, so to speak.
An unusual thing happened. The moment I opened the first story submitted for the book and I started reading I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I hesitated to open the next story because I was worried it wouldn’t be as good as the first. But the same thing happened the second time: I couldn’t stop reading. And that’s literally what happened with each story that followed. What is even more interesting is that none of the stories are similar, and yet they come together in this book and complement each other in a way I could not have predicted. Some of the authors have been published before, and some are brand new voices. And when I was finished reading all the stories, I found that’s it’s not only possible to include female characters in gay romance, but there’s a deeper emotional meaning that taught me a few things I didn’t know.