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.