Wanted: Braver Bloggers


 Book Bloggers, It’s Time To Raise Your Game

I have always trusted the American press over its British equivalent – that is, until Mr Trump decided to invent a new form of the fourth estate by making shit up. Now I’m not sure whom I should trust, although I tend toward the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Atlantic and the New Yorker. But then there’s the world of bloggers – and for book reviews I turn to dozens of favourite American sites analysing the written word in intelligent and original ways.

When I come back to British bloggers I find that although we have some truly fantastic sites, in general terms they’re not as detailed, fresh and fleshed out as US sites. There are certainly fewer academic literary destinations. This could be because they’re not as well connected to the publishing industry as their US counterparts, or because of the UK’s laid-back attitude to the creative arts; we have a bad habit of treating writing as a hobby. The UK market is smaller than US, so there’s less incentive, and the network that connects them to readers, deals and book clubs is weaker.

When I do a UK blog tour I take interviews very seriously and put in a lot of time over them, but I’m often shocked by the timid Identikit questionnaires I receive from some UK bloggers, as if we all fit one set of parameters and must be pandered to. Filling in a form of gentle, unprobing questions is not an interview. There’s a sense of rush, brevity and limited time about much blogging that suggests someone with passion for books is squeezing a hobby into the available hours after work, and worried about offending anyone. Perhaps it’s a Millennial thing, but we want a bit of fire from readers, not platitudes.

Sometimes bloggers lack the training and discrimination of professional reviewers, and use watery phrases like ‘well written’, which we consider insulting. After all, we’re published because we can write. What we want is an incisive, intelligent response to books in general and specifically – but it’s not to be undertaken half-heartedly; book blogging is a demanding and time-consuming task.

This could be an issue of confidence; if UK bloggers are serious about what they do they should petition publishers to make sure they receive books in advance, plus all supporting material they need to get the word out. The publishers, for their part, need to honour the bloggers who devote time, working for nothing, to review books and conduct interviews. Bloggers, you have nothing to lose by making demands of publishers. Most of the publishers I know expect and hope for a strong response from bloggers.

To be fair, agents and publicists are often not up to speed on the ever-changing world of book blogs. They tend to treat books as commodities to be shipped out to the right demographic group and forgotten. I met a respected writer today who was told she should not write in a male voice ‘because it’s not what the market wants’. Real writers employ passion and craft to present their work whether it sells or not, and are more concerned about finding a discerning audience than shifting units.

Don’t let this put you off running a blog about books; Book bloggers, it’s time to raise your game; demand more from writers and publishers, show your discernment in good writing, and you’ll be rewarded because we writers will whole-heartedly champion you and your work. Keep us informed, open new connections, don’t be afraid to flex your intellect and ruffle a few feathers.


8 comments on “Wanted: Braver Bloggers”

  1. Brooke says:

    “…we’re published because we can write.” I offer a counter example: Dan Brown.
    Wanted: Braver agents, publicists and publishers; then readers and bloggers will have something to think/talk/write about.

  2. John says:

    IMO, the majority of US book blogs are nothing but regurgitations of press releases. I know this because I get many of those press releases and the posts are nothing but cut-and-pastes from the email into the blog page. I see way too many contentless reviews with no discussion of the book’s intent or themes, deary plot summaries (easily constructed from Jacket copy without ever having read the book!), and the “I liked it/I hated it” kind of review that flood the pages of amazon. Contrary to what you have discovered I find more interesting ideas and insights being written about on UK based blogs, but then I tend to read mostly vintage crime fiction blogs and not book blogs with a focus on new books.

    I wish you had included a list of US based book blogs that you recommend. I’d gladly add them to my regular reading.

  3. kevin says:

    Yeah, Chris, how about that list? I’m in complete agreement with John about US book blogs. And I have to agree with Brooke too about the well-written compliment. Her example is devastating! At least to those of us who read your blog and books. Neoliberal readers might have a different opinion.

  4. Debra Matheney says:

    Amen to Brooke. The drivel that gets published is amazing, especially in the fiction market. I like quirky fiction and characters who are not cookie cutter as in your series. I like to think I would recognize the characters if I met them at a party. Life is too short ton read bad writing.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I’m assuming you mean that Chris’ characters are not cookie cut, Debra. I’m not sure about the need for quirky but certainly enough individualism to, as you say, recognize at a party.

  6. Patrick Marcel says:

    Hi, Chris, speaking of bloggers and books, you might be interested to know François Forestier has written up your Forgotten Authors in his Nouvel Observateur (now turned into just: « l’Obs ») column. He is mostly using it for his usual schtick of making fun of crappy movies, which he also applies to crappy books, with varying degrees of good faith.


  7. admin says:

    Thanks for that Patrick – I loved the ‘Je n’aurai que deux mots à dire: bra et vo!’

  8. Martin Gore says:

    Hey Chris.

    I’m a book blogger (The Beardy Book Blogger, thank you for asking), and I have to agree with you here. Not that my blog is big or clever; it is a daft thing and my reviews are a little different to the usual style (though I did win the Annual Bloggers Bash Best Newcomer Award this year, so I must be doing something right, eh?). I post mostly reviews and the odd original post. I never like to ask publishers for free books as I’m happy to buy them myself, but I often get people saying that I should be more proactive in this regard. I’m just shy about asking for stuff. I get the odd free one for blog tours, of course, but I nearly always buy it once it’s released if I enjoy it.

    Anyway, I thought you’d like to know that I reviewed Wild Chamber a little while ago and I didn’t use the words “well written” 😉 You’ve now made me paranoid that I may have at some point and I shall endeavour to never do so again.

    Here’s my review if you care to look at it. I hope you approve!!


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