What book blogging means to me
Today’s BBAW topic (“What does book blogging mean to you?”) reminds me of an old SF favorite entitled What Entropy Means To Me by George Alec Effinger. Some things, it’s just silly to suggest that they can mean different things to different people. I suppose that we all have different reasons for blogging about books, but in the end, book blogging is going to mean what it means to the world, and we will have all contributed our bit.
Thinking about what it means to me in terms of where it should be going implies a degree of control that I don’t feel I have. But I do have a suggestion, and to both get to it and tell you what it means to me, I must tell you about the congruence of several recent events: I got a copy of Michael Chabon’s new novel from HarperCollins, I did not get a copy of Lish McBride’s sequel to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer from her current publisher, I wrote a post (which is scheduled to appear tomorrow) about how much I love Nick Harkaway’s novels The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, and I read one of the essays in the copy of Neal Stephenson’s new collection of essays, Some Remarks, that Ron brought home this weekend.
Stephenson talks, in his “Gresham College Lecture,” about how intelligent people in the modern world no longer try to know everything (like Heinlein heroes) but “geek out” in increasingly fragmented ways. Readers here know that I regularly geek out over novels by Michael Chabon and Nick Harkaway, fiction that has to do with necromancy, and science fiction in general.
Publishers do not necessarily know this. Although publishers want to enlist the help of book bloggers in spreading the word about their new titles, they don’t have the staff to read through many of the book blogs out there. And many long-time book bloggers like me do not go to great lengths trying to track down advance copies of all the books we might want to discuss.
I do, however, answer the monthly questionnaire I get from HarperCollins asking me which of their new titles I might want to review; in July I said “yes” to Michael Chabon’s new novel. And then I went to Washington and Iowa and had a new orientation to run and urgent work projects overdue, and the upshot of that is that I felt increasingly obliged to read more of the Chabon as the date my advance copy identifies as its publication date–September 12–drew near.
And I’ve failed in that endeavor (which is not to say that you’re not going to hear all about the new Chabon novel, Telegraph Avenue, soon). The point is that HarperCollins is doing it some of it right. They have a mechanism for creating symbiosis between a book blogger who will “geek out” over specific novels in their group of forthcoming books, and their own interest in tapping such deep veins of boundless enthusiasm.
But HarperCollins is not doing all of it right. They did not include Some Remarks in the list of books they were offering to send me. I found out about it by reading the reactions of another blogger who is not the typical audience for this kind of book but was chosen for a hit-or-miss advance copy mailing. Why risk such a miss when you’re mailing out books, and why make it my job to know that there might be a collection of essays in one of their many specific imprint groups–this one called, unrevealingly, William Morrow–that I might one day want to discuss here?
Macmillan: Henry Holt is doing some of it wrong, too. According to Lish McBride, the extremely obliging author of Necromancing the Stone, they’re her publisher for the sequel, but they obviously didn’t look at book blogs to see who reviewed her first one and might give them the best publicity in return for an advance copy of the second one. Instead, they sent a few copies out to book bloggers who identify themselves as YA, which is how I discovered that the new one is coming out soon. They also ran a contest for “advanced” reader copies, which is one indication that they don’t think much of their potential audience. (“Yes, I’m an advanced reader; I went all the way in school.”)
Some of the biggest publishers–Nick Harkaway’s publisher KnopfDoubleday, for instance–are completely failing if they’re making any attempt to make use of the enthusiasm of book bloggers like me. The particular kindness of an internet-savvy author is no substitute for the broader marketing expertise that should be the responsibility of the publisher.
So my suggestion? Simple. Why don’t more publishers make a page for their web sites that identifies a mechanism whereby they advertise advance copies available to book bloggers? If you’re a publisher who thinks that sending out advance copies indiscriminately, like some stores send out enormous catalogs that go right into the recycling bin, I think you should consider targeting your audience better, for less waste. Shouldn’t publishers and book bloggers be walking down the same path for a long way, in terms of what book blogging can mean to their respective audiences, book readers and book buyers?