Armchair BEA: Book bloggers and publishers – evolving expectations

Some of you may remember that a few months back, I was really making a push for book bloggers to make their presence known at BlogHer’10 this coming August. I’m not sure it was all that successful, unfortunately – I guess I’ll find out when I get there! However, I can tell you that book bloggers will be represented as part of the conference programming, in a session that will look at their role as part of The Evolving Publishing Ecosystem:

With traditional publishers spending less and less on marketing, authors must now become marketers, and that means they must become bloggers too…sometimes they take to it eagerly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. Add to the mix how much easier than ever it is to self-publish and the book bloggers who are now being wooed by publishers and even authors directly, and you’ve got a new publishing eco-system.

The solitary pursuits of writing and criticism are now transparent and sometimes even crowd-sourced. And more authors and critics are now not only the content producers, but their own publishers and business development representatives. The lines are decidedly blurred. But the opportunities seem so much more accessible than ever. We will dig into it all in this session featuring Kamy Wicoff from She Writes, book blogger Florinda, marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, and author Carleen Brice.

(Yes, I’m the panel’s book-blogger rep.)

In a post on the LA TimesJacket Copy blog, Carolyn Kellogg (@paperhaus) asked:

Who, exactly, goes to (BEA)?…Lately, publishers focus on previewing their upcoming books to members of the media and, more importantly, to booksellers. Booksellers don’t just scan for familiar names and nice-looking covers; they notice the size of posters and banners and the number of free copies the publisher is giving away. Part of this is, admittedly, due to the heady desire for conference swag, but there is also something to be learned from these indicators: They show the kind of resources a publisher has committed to promoting a book, which affects how many a bookstore will think it can sell.

Big chain booksellers don’t need to come to Book Expo to make deals — although perhaps they will get business done here. Instead, independents from all over the country come to map out what they’ll pick up and sell from their stores, feeding the long tail of the publishing industry.

…(B)ut you won’t be able to (see authors) at Book Expo, unless you’re a bookseller or in publishing or one of these people like me who writes about books because BEA is not open to the public. Could opening up Book Expo to the public help the conference expand, rather than contract? If so, is there a good reason not to try it?
In one way, BEA has stretched open its doors. It used to be very hard to convince the staff that a book blog was a viable venue. Now, anyone who has registered for the separate Book Blogger Convention — the first-ever, scheduled to take place on Friday — also gets a BEA press pass. Whether this can be considered an expansion of press coverage, or if it’s the first step in allowing enthusiastic readers into Book Expo’s pass-only halls is hard to say.

Publishers seem to be recognizing that book bloggers occupy a special place in the book world, bridging “enthusiastic reader” and “book seller,” and we do indeed get wooed. Publishers do want to work with us – and why not? We’re dedicated – and vocal – readers who eagerly rally to support books and authors we love, and we literally “will work for books.” But they need to understand – and fortunately, many of them seem to already – that while we love to work with publishers, we don’t work for them. We are independent contractors, with independent opinions – and when you send us a book to read and review, you’re taking your chances on whether we’ll like it as much as you do.

Some book bloggers don’t promise to review every book they receive from publishers, and if the books are coming unsolicited, I think that’s understandable. However, if there’s been discussion about the book between the blogger and the book’s representative prior to sending it, I think it’s entirely reasonable for the publisher to expect a review, even if the date is “to be determined.”

I believe that what we do as book bloggers is having a bigger impact on book promotion all the time, because I can see it every time I walk into a bookstore. I recognize more and more of the books I come across because book bloggers are talking about them – and sometimes I’ll realize I’m less familiar with some mass-market books because they’re not being featured on book blogs. Bloggers don’t sell books directly, but we influence readers and drive interest, and that affects what bookstores stock and the size of the print runs needed to keep those bookstores stocked. Bloggers have rallied behind small-press and self-published books, fueling word-of-mouth sensations that have led to pickups by major publishing houses and trips up the bestseller lists. Book bloggers are often discriminating, careful readers who are driven to discuss what they read, and we’re vocal about what we like – and what we don’t. Many of us have come to consider ourselves part of the marketing team for the books we support, and we’d like publishers to view us that way too – as partners with a significant role, deserving of attention and respect.

And that should work both ways. I always mention a book’s publisher when I review it and try to link its information on the publisher’s website, but before I get to that point, I’m really not all that attentive to who put the book out there. I’m not knowledgeable about publishers’ particular niches and reputations. I haven’t really put much emphasis into nurturing relationships with publishers, and I’m pretty sure that if I have any ambitions to ramp my book blogging up another level, I need to start focusing on that more than I currently do.

As a result, I’m not sure I’m meeting publishers’ expectations of me as a book blogger. Unless I’ve agreed up front to post a review on a specific date or I’ve been given an advance copy, my reviews are often less than timely. And when I do (finally) get the review up, I almost never send the publisher a link (but I assume Google will help them find it). Also, I rarely do anything promotional other than post reviews. I only host giveaways occasionally, because I’m not convinced they do much to help build blog readership in the long term, and I choose not to interview authors because I’m not good at asking insightful questions. When it comes down to it, I guess I’m putting my own expectations as a blogger ahead of anything publishers might expect of me. However, I do try to be clear about what they can, and reasonably should, expect from me.

This really is an evolving thing, and I expect our expectations of one another to change over time. What do you expect?

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