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Interview via Critical Mass: What are the roles of book blogs?

I know we can get sort of burned out talking too much about book blogging so we don’t have time to read or write for our own blogs, but I have one more post to suggest on the topic. I just came across an interview with critic and blogger Mark Athitakis posted at Critical Mass that has some of the best insight on book blogging I’ve read in awhile.

The interview is excellent for two reasons. First, the interviewer asked Athitakis all the right questions about what is going on in book blogging right now. And second, Athitakis, who has been blogging since January 2008, didn’t give into the baiting questions and instead gave a series of articulate and fair answers on the topic.

I’m going to just put a few quotes I think are especially awesome here and encourage you to check out the entire interview over at Critical Mass.

What are the non-electronic precursors of book blogging?

Funny: The first thing that popped into my head after I read this question was “the society column.” That’s unfair and inaccurate and diminishes what blog bloggers do, but it probably came to mind because book blogs a) occasionally speak to a small, somewhat esoteric group that shares many of the same opinions and social graces and b) because they play a largely supplemental role in the media landscape, and even within the book-reviewing landscape.

He goes on to explain this further, pointing to print newspaper columns of “information or “tidbits” that have since moved to blogs that supplement the print edition of a paper.The answer might sound a bit dismissive, but Athitakis goes on to point out some of the unique things about the blog format that are important:

Blogs are also much, much better at stoking conversations about books than print reviews, even the ones that appear on comment-enabled Web sites. To perhaps overgeneralize, book reviews are declarative statements; blog posts are questions. The former puts forth a line of argument; the latter invites others to help formulate lines of argument. Or at least the better blogs do that, leaving the door open for additional commentary.

This is a lot of what I see in the community of book bloggers – an idea that our reviews and thoughts are part of a conversation rather than a statement of fact. Blogger reviews seem more open to disagreement and personal whim. I appreciate that, although know there is a place for a more declarative and, as Athitakis puts it in the interview, “considered reviewing.”

The final section of the interview addresses the idea of audience and how some bloggers become “more popular” than others.

If the real question here is, “How can we create better book blogs, and how can we get more attention drawn to them?” I’m not sure that can be done in any organized fashion. I certainly wouldn’t want to be charged with trying to make it happen. Book bloggers already exist in a competitive environment for their audiences: To get attention, they have to do things that other blogs aren’t doing, find their points of differentiation and run with with them. Sometimes you can get attention by stuffing your blog with linkbait like a top-ten list or a passing mention of a celebrity. But ultimately a blog’s success is going to have to be defined by how often you provide interesting commentary about books, without gimmicks.

I want to take that last line and use it as a canned response to every blogger that complains about their traffic or that some people get more books or comments or whatever. Stop whining about what you don’t have and take advantage of what you do have – your personality, your ideas, and a platform you can use to share them. That is what is great about blogging; just appreciate it and do your best. </rant>

This is sort of a lot of quotes, I realize, but the interview is long and full of way more insights I’d want to share with others. Go read and see what you think!

UPDATED TO ADD: Mark kindly commented on this post and pointed to a couple other links of note. The comments I’ve written about were in response to a symposium called “The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time,” where a number of book bloggers were all asked to respond to the same questions. If you click the link above then scroll to the bottom of the right hand column, you can find links to the response posts.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anastasia October 2, 2009, 1:08 pm

    Thank you so much for linking to that interview! It’s actually really uplifting and I think a lot of bloggers would feel better about themselves and their blog if they read it. 😀

    • Kim October 2, 2009, 5:54 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s why I liked so much — it was pretty positive about the relationships between various book communities and the role of book blogs more generally.

  • Rebecca Reid October 2, 2009, 1:42 pm

    Yes, I too love that last line! Favorite book blogs are favorites because they have no gimmicks! Drop the giveaways and the other silly stuff and just write something useful, already!

    • Kim October 2, 2009, 5:55 pm

      Ha ha, yes, exactly! It’s more important to post good stuff less often than it is to post average stuff or unoriginal stuff more often, something I’m still learning to be comfortable with.

  • Mark Athitakis October 2, 2009, 2:58 pm

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks so much for saying such nice things about my comments in that interview—it’s much appreciated! The only thing I’d add here is that I was just one of a dozen or so book bloggers who addressed the same questions as part of an online symposium organized by two very good book bloggers, D.G. Myers and Patrick Kurp. Take a look at http://dgmyers.blogspot.com/2009/09/symposium.html for an introduction to it, and look at the posts in “Symposium” in the left-hand column for links to all the responses.


    • Kim October 2, 2009, 5:57 pm

      Thanks for pointing to the symposium — I saw it mentioned in the introduction to your interview but didn’t see the link to it right away. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the responses.

  • Valerie October 2, 2009, 3:38 pm

    Thanks for pointing out that article, Kim. I like how Mark says in it that there are a lot of book bloggers that blog about the type of books that the more established publications tend to ignore (such as small-press books, romances, etc).

    I have noticed that book bloggers write about what they enjoy reading. We need to reminded of the real reason why we blog, rather than worry too much about other aspects of blogging (i.e. how many visits, etc) :-).

    • Kim October 2, 2009, 5:59 pm

      Yeah, it’s fun to run across blogs that write about book that are different — books in some sort of niche that we don’t normally see. I think it’s important for lesser-known books to get attention, even if it’s just on a few blogs here and there. Reviews can stay up indefinitely, so a review can get attention long after it’s written.

  • Teresa October 2, 2009, 4:55 pm

    Very good interview. It seems to me that many book bloggers are really as interested in conversation as they are in airing their own views. For me, that’s the exciting thing about book blogs–finding like-minded readers and learning from them. And yes, totally agree with that last statement. It’s the content (“interesting commentary about books”), that keeps me coming back to certain blogs. Giveaways, flashy graphics, widgets, etc., are fine, but they aren’t enough to make me a loyal reader of any blog.

    • Kim October 2, 2009, 6:01 pm

      Yes; the conversational aspect is something I’ve noticed. I love bloggers who respond to comments or even take comments and turn them into posts in response to some idea. And reviews that link and comment on each other also create a sort of conversation around a topic too. I’m also much more used to book bloggers saying they dislike a book but acknowledging some of their own biases that might impact a review. To me, that makes the review more of a conversation because it invites different opinions.

  • Jackie (Farm Lane Books) October 3, 2009, 10:57 am

    I saw this set of interviews a few days ago and really enjoyed reading them.

    I blog to create conversation about the books I’ve read. I value every single comment and ensure I respond to them all. I think this is what people like about my blog and why they keep returning.

    I’m not bothered about ‘flashy giveaways’ (most of the time I’m not eligible to enter anyway!) I value blogs that try to engage their audience and not ones that just seem to be all about the author.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:06 am

      I agree — I do my best to reply to all comments which I hope is valuable. I know I love seeing comments responded to on other blogs! I don’t mind giveaways, but I get annoyed when I get to a blog I haven’t read in awhile and see most of the posts are about giveaways or winners of giveaways. Not fun to read!

  • Susan October 3, 2009, 6:00 pm

    Lovely post! I really enjoyed reading it, and I especially like the conclusion. As someone who has been blogging for two years now, sometimes I think about popularity and who’s reading what. I usually end up remembering that I’m writing about what I love, books, and that it is a pleasure when anyone reads me and especially, leaves me a comment. My favourite blogs are the ones who discuss books. Thanks, Kim!

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:08 am

      I sometimes worry about being popular too; I think we all do at some point. When I post and then don’t get any comments right away I have one of those, “No one likes me anymore!” sorts of moments. But then I get over it because I get a great comment like the ones on this post or I think of another topic to blog about that makes me happy.

  • Ti October 3, 2009, 7:21 pm

    It’s interesting because bloggers (as a whole) do lean towards the more popular titles but it’s the smaller, lesser known publishing houses that could really benefit from the publicity. I’ve not had luck with too many independently published titles so I don’t review them anymore unless something happens to catch my eye.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:10 am

      I feel like bloggers do write about popular books, but there’s also a lot of discussion about older books or books I’ve never heard of. I think if I compared the reviews on five blogs compared to the reviews in five mainstream publications, you’d get a lot more variety from the bloggers. They may not always be small publishing houses, but they will be from a much larger time period or broader genres. That’d be sort of an interesting experiment!