February 5, 2013

Same New, Same New: Social Media, Hype, Book Discoverability, ARCs and Blog Homogenization



Source: Someecards
Sounds random, but it's somewhat related if you think of the Hype-Machine.

The past week the blogosphere had an interesting conversation about social reading, hype and over-promotion. The general consensus seemed to be that too much of anything is never good, and that constant talk, as positive as it may be, can be overwhelming and off-putting. To anyone who habitually reads review blogs or actively uses Twitter, it’s fairly evident that trending authors and books routinely take over these mediums and that the noise they generate can be louder than any other book talk simultaneously taking place. It only takes not being part of the buzz (whether because we disagree with the majority or because we aren’t familiar with the subject) to notice how annoying it can get. Yet, I’m sure we all have been guilty of doing it at least once. After all, it’s difficult not to talk about a book we feel passionate about, especially when we are in the business of talking about books. 


Personally, hype only annoys me when I disagree with it, but there’s nothing I can do about it, except try to shift focus to other books and wait until it dies down. But as someone who mainly discovers books through social media and blogs, I think buzz and promotion are a necessary, and sometimes welcome, evil. However, it’s undeniable that at times only a few books get most of the attention to the point where blogland gets repetitive, even if it’s genuine excitement. 

I am guilty of this. Go and take a look at my latest reviews, most are books by popular authors reviewed during release week (I’m sure that if you went blog-surfing last week, you experienced a bit of a Ruthie Knox overload). What all of those books have in common is that they were ARCs. Services like NetGalley and Edelweiss have made coveted new releases available to bloggers everywhere. It’s difficult to turn down the opportunity to read these books in favor of others that aren’t as new or as popular, not to mention that galleys are free. But because the ARCs are so accessible, we keep seeing the same books in every blog. I’ve also seen bloggers comment on the pressure of reviewing new releases and how popular books drive more traffic to their blogs. 

The question is: should we expand our reading choices in order to diversify our reviews and do it to the detriment of the books generating buzz? The answer is no. We may review for readers, but we read for ourselves, so our reading choices should depend on what we feel like reading and nothing else. Besides, each reviewer offers a distinct voice and unique point of view, and over-reviewed books can still generate interesting conversations. As trendy as some books are, my wish list and TBR pile keeps growing and not just with popular books, so there are plenty of people reading, reviewing and recommending books that are far from mainstream. 

Having said all that, and I’m about to contradict myself, so no need to point it out, I’m trying to read more books that are not getting as much attention, mostly because I want to discover the next hidden gem and win popular recognition. Just kidding! The truth is that I want to expand my reading horizons, and step out of my comfort zone, which has become very narrow and filled with contemporaries. 

To wrap it up, social media and how it has transformed the way we discover books, word of mouth and fame, is an interesting phenomenon that’s in no way exclusive to our community. We’re still getting the hang of it, and we’re bound to make mistakes. But as long as we keep our honesty we should be fine. Real excitement is priceless, and I’m willing to bet it’s the main reason why we keep reading blogs and buying books because someone mentioned them on Twitter. My only piece of advice would be to keep the excitement close to release date, so that we can 1. appease the God of Instant Gratification, and 2. not have to deal with incessant talk for longer than necessary. 

34 comments:

  1. Great post, Brie! It's so true how we see the same books over and over again... and just as true that our traffic can take a hit on lesser known books.

    Sometimes I play around with pairing a popular new release with an indie or lesser known book on the same day. Even then, the less trendy book doesn't get the same kind of pageviews. I understand why, but it's hard not to think about it when I am planning my posts.

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    1. Thanks, Jen!

      It's interesting because a book like Hopeless, that has thousands of reviews on GR and I'm sure every other blog reviewed it, became one of my most reads reviews, in part because Smexybooks linked to it, but also through Google search. Whereas a book like Irregulars, one of my favorites of last year, faded into oblivion. It can be frustrating, not because I want people to read my blog (although that's also part of it, and anyone who says otherwise is not being completely honest; a blogger that selfless would keep a reading diary instead of a blog), but because I want people to read the books.

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  2. Great article, Brie! I do think there are more deliberate efforts to promote books and authors than we realize. Every book has a promo schedule attached to it, and authors and bloggers are a big part of that. If we only had spontaneous tweets and blogs and discussions, I think there would be less out there.

    I agree, though, that NetGalley and the expanded ARC distribution more generally has focused the chatter in ways that didn't happen before. I kind of dread Tuesdays now because it's just a round of release promo on Twitter.

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    1. I think the balance is hard to achieve. Social media and the internet has changed the way authors, publishers and readers relate to each other. But speaking strictly as a blogger, I think promotion should be a by-product of blogging, and not the end. When it becomes the end, and I'm guessing that's part of what you mean by more deliberate efforts, things get muddy and problematic.

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  3. It's always going to be this way. There are always a ton of books released the last and first weeks for the month. The more popular authors are the books you want to feature right around release day. It's just the way it is. But that doesn't mean smaller authors don't get notice either. It does make me LOL sometimes going through google reader and seeing a dozen reviews of the same book. But obviously it's a book A LOT of people will be reading...so you can't ignore it either.

    I make an effort to accept a lot of self-pub or unknown author books...honestly, many of these books don't even make it to the review stage but I'm always looking for that book that no one has heard about that turns out to be really good. Or searching blogs for those recs (like most recently Painted Faces and Escorted). They are out there..just have to weed through the big reviews to find them.

    Did I ramble enough?

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    1. I'm always waiting for you to find the new unknown awesome book, so I can read it!

      I admire bloggers willing to take chances with unknown books and authors. But I don't fault those who play it a bit safe. This is not a job, and no one can force anyone to read something they don't want to read, just to have different content to offer. Hell, I play it so safe, 75% of my reviews are contemporaries. Maybe I review a variety of contemporaries, but I'm still reading my favorite sub-genre.

      What's important is that the only motivational force behind the books we choose to review, should be desire to read that particular book.

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  4. You know, I've heard a lot of people echo your statement that reviewing new, highly-buzzed books really gives traffic a boost. Strangely, on our blog our most popular posts are those about lesser-known and older books are far more popular than those that are about the highly-promoted books. We may be an outlier because Clear Eyes, Full Shelves doesn't focus on a single category or genre and our audience is a bit different than most book blogs. I don't know how to interpret that radical difference in my own experience, but I do think it's interesting.

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    1. I have a good example of how popular books drive traffic and get more attention. It wasn't a review, but it's quite interesting.

      Last month we had two giveaways that ran fairly close together:

      The first was for Molly O'Keefe's new book. It came with an awesome guest post, that I thought was better than the giveaway and in fact got some great comments. I tweeted about it all day and I'm sure Molly also help spread the word. This is an author I love, giving away a fantastic book, and it got 11 entries.

      The second was a quick giveaway of Lisa Kleypas' upcoming release. I've given poor reviews to that series, but Kleypas is one of the biggest names in romance. I only tweeted about it once, the day the post went live and early in the morning, and I doubt the author even knew about the giveaway. It got 33 entries, including an attempt at cheating.

      To be perfectly honest, I don't review highly-buzzed books because of the potential traffic; I do it because I wanted to read them and found the time to review them. But it's something that does factor in some bloggers' decisions to review. This is not me judging, it's just what I've seen and heard.

      It's interesting what you say about your own experience. Can you predict which review will have more comments? Or is that also unpredictable?

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    2. Ah, just now seeing this reply...

      Commenting is less predictable for me. There's this weird correlation with reviews where a review will get a ton of traffic but get no comments. (This just happened with The Reece Malcolm List, which is still getting hits like mad--and the sources are all over the place--but it has two comments.) Then, less popular reviews may get a lot of comments.

      I really can't get my head around what the trigger is that prompts comments on reviews, aside from that reviews published on Tuesdays seem to get more, but that may be a coincidental.

      Honestly, as our traffic has grown, it seems like comments on review posts have gone down in general, but comments on list posts and opinion-type posts have gone up. I think this has more to do with that people know the blog for these two things more than the reviews. But I really don't know and can't get anything meaningful out of crunching the numbers.

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  5. LOL. Now I'm worried that this little cluster of posts considering social media hype is going to be an over-hyped phenomenon of its own!

    I do care about my page view numbers to some extent (I'm human), but not much. I want *some* audience, or I wouldn't be blogging, but I am happy with a small, engaged audience, because I started blogging for the conversation. The few times a post of mine has gone very modestly viral, I haven't entirely enjoyed the extra traffic. I try not to get caught up in caring about the numbers and letting that drive my blogging. The only thing I have ever given away is a used Charlotte Lamb paperback, I don't accept ARCs and review copies, I couldn't care less about "cover reveals," because it's what's inside that matters. I tend to stay away from blogs that do a ton of giveaways, reveals, author guest posts, etc. because they do seem to be mostly about buzz (I think you're well on the right side of that line BTW). I don't mean this as a criticism of other people's choices, but I find their content is not as interesting to me so I avoid it. That cuts down on the hype feeling. I just read whatever, and of course sometimes it's something "everyone" is reading and I enjoy being part of the crowd, but sometimes the feeling of crowd-following turns me off.

    I have been thinking about authors' part in this. I know they're expected to promo, but how many tweets about their release and RT'd reviews, and the same for their writer-BFFs' books, do I need to see? I pretty much follow writers because I have ALREADY liked their books, and they seem interesting on Twitter. So I do want to know they have a new book coming out but I don't need to know 25 people gave it 5* to be persuaded to buy it. Maybe I am unusual, but I would think most people who are following an author are already inclined to buy her books. I think some authors--including authors I enjoy engaging with, so don't want to unfollow--kind of don't get that. Your followers are your fans. Don't give us the hard sell. And doing your promo while simultaneously saying you hate doing it is annoying. It's your job. We know that. Put on your professional pants, tweet some promo with meaningful content (what is this awesome book about anyway? What made Betty Blogger give it 5 stars?) and let it alone.

    In other cases, authors who do little promo but are interesting to talk to on Twitter have sold me their books by being themselves. That is in fact part of promo, not just the "fun part" of Twitter. I think authors are still figuring this out, like bloggers. But social media marketing is really not about advertising your wares non-stop.

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    1. I don’t care about numbers or audience as long as it keeps growing so I can eventually take over the world. As I told Jen, any book blogger who says they don’t care if no one reads their blog, is lying, otherwise they would keep a journal instead of a blog. But there are degrees of caring. Some put a lot of pressure on themselves. Take a look at all the plagiarism scandals, and the awards, the numbered ARCs, free e-readers etc. Sometimes it feels like a competition, especially for new bloggers who wish to stand out. And that’s when things get problematic, because some might think that getting the attention of authors and publishers can be a shortcut to recognition.

      The Twitter conundrum is something I keep thinking about. I just don’t get why some authors feel the need to over-promote. Aren’t their followers already fans? I mean, I follow because of the books, but stay because of the personality. I already know I like their books, so I don’t need 99999 5-star reviews to remind me of it. The only author I follow whose books I haven’t read is Moira Rogers, and I find her so funny and interesting that sometimes I feel like getting all her books, even though I’m not really into Urban Fantasy.

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  6. Hi Brie, First of all can I just say I read Molly O'Keefe's post and loved it. I feel sorry now I didn't leave a comment - I was so busy on the day, but it's made me realise if I love a post I should take time to say something - even if it's just "Great post!" I loved this post, too, and the thought-provoking comments. You're right: it's hard to strike the balance between reviewing popular new releases - which will get you hits, and which you want to read anyway - and going out on a limb to review a new author. I subscribe to a lot of romance review sites - and from today that will also be subscribing to Clear Eyes, Full Shelves :)- and, from a personal point of view, I prefer the reviewers who mix it up a little to include older releases and lesser-known authors that I would otherwise never come across. Sometimes I get tired of seeing the same names bandied about on Twitter and blogs, almost to the point of not wanting to read them any more.
    Please do continue to review contemporary romances. I think I have commented on your site before that it is so hard for us romance readers to find decent reviewers. Any other genre - sci-fi, crime, etc - gets critically reviewed in the mainstream. I've had to scour blogs in trial and error until I find romance reviewers I can trust. In fact, my blog got a hit today from someone searching for "reliable romance sites"! That shows how hard it is, so I really appreciate the thought and time you and other romance bloggers put in to your reviews.

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    1. Oh, please! No need to comment or to feel bad for not commenting. I wish I could comment in every interesting blog post I read, but it would take all day!

      I think that just bloggers takes some time finding their voices, readers take time finding those voices that better fit them and their necessities. So how reliable a blog is depends on what the reader needs and wants.

      I will continue reviewing contemporaries! In the meantime, everyone who commented on this post has amazing blogs, so you should check them out ;-)

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  7. Good points, all. I've been thinking about what I called "the Netgalley effect" for a while; it does get tedious seeing the same books all over the place. But I certainly don't turn down an e-arc of one of my favorite authors, because damn it, I wanna read it!

    I just reviewed a book which I happened to get from the library and thought interesting enough to review (an interracial Harlequin historical -- you don't see that every day.) And I've had several comments thanking me for reviewing because the commenter hadn't heard of the book. Just luck, really. But satisfying in a way that reviewing the latest craze isn't.

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    1. Replied under Wendy's comment.

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  8. Great post Brie. Yes to all of it.

    To be honest it's never occurred to me to read/review a particular book because it will get my blog more hits. I'm still at that naive stage where I think "do people do that?" and I get a kick out of every comment (they aren't that comment) and getting more than 20 hits on a post is a success! LOL.

    Of course I blog because I want people to read what I write but I'd be a very sad girl if I wanted the acclaim of Romance Stadium.

    I read what I want to read. I accept review books and get books from NetGalley and half the time I'm late to the party anyway so I review books where the buzz has already been and gone. I must get better of keeping track of when the books are releasing but a lot of authors who contact me are "whenever you get to it" so that's what I do.

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    1. "the acclaim of Romance Stadium" (!!!) I'm going to steal that from you and use it!

      I liked your review of Reaper's Property, and that's a good example of how a new take can offer great insight into a book that's getting a lot of buzz. Same with the way Liz reviewed The Other Side of Us. There are ways to get around the echo.

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    2. Thx Brie :)

      I often see my blogger friends finding something different about a book. And, when we find basically the same thing (as with Back to the Good Fortune Diner) the discussion was great fun so I don't mind the echo myself :)

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  9. Oh, my goodness. This drove me crazy last week. It was all Molly O'Keefe, Shannon Stacey and Ruthie Knox ON EVERY BOOK BLOG. I stopped reading for a couple of days. I read blogs to find new books/authors I've never heard of. I used to get a lot of that a few years ago and a LOT less of that now. I'd spent some time thinking about this last week and chalked a lot of it up to NetGalley.

    Many bloggers are pulling from the same pool of books. (My publisher refuses to use NetGalley or Edelweiss so I feel slighted in that realm - but that's just personal).

    I also thought a lot about the reader vs. blogger/viewer angle as well - and concluded that folks can do whatever they want on their blogs. But I do feel like I'm in the same predicament I was a few years ago - how do we find new books?

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    1. I think we find new books through bloggers who speak to us (as in we like their voices and trust their views, even if we don't always agree), that way even if they review the same book everyone is talking about, we might get a different take and make us get over the annoyance.

      But I agree, sometimes it takes me forever to find new books. The problem is that one week hearing about the same books feels like forever to someone who reads two or three books a week.

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    2. Oh, so true. I feel that way whenever people are talking about romance conventions, which I have very little interest in. It's just freakin' everywhere and you can't escape it.

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  10. I'm sick - so let's see if I can muddle my way through a coherent comment!

    Piggy-backing on Willaful's comment on "the NetGalley effect" - I have a hard time putting too much stock in that. Why? Because there's a lot of stuff I see on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I don't see getting reviewed tons of places. It really seems to be a select group of authors - truly. So yeah, good on them that they've tapped into an audience but admittedly if I'm not already juiced in? Like Sylvie mentioned - I did a A LOT of blog skimming last week ;)

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    1. Twitter no doubt plays a big part as well, but I do think books with e-arcs/review copies get a lot more exposure. (For obvious reasons.) I don't think it's just about the author, because I've seen things go in waves even with the same author -- for example, Susan Mallery's "Sweet" series was all over the place, but her next series sank without a trace in my google reader feed. I may not read as many blogs as others do, though.

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    2. Dude! What blogs are you reading so I can add them to my Google reader? Those Susan Mallery Fool's Gold books are all over the place (including this blog, BTW) and the worse the books got, the more love they received! It's awful, she's about to publish books 10, 11 and 12. 12!!!!! I can't take it.

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    3. You just proved my point! The next series wasn't Fools Gold, but the Texas sisters one. That series just did not make a mark in the blogosphere.

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    4. Ahhh! Now I remember. That's the one with the sister and the evil brother that wasn't that evil. Yeah, no one talked about those books. I think after that she reinvented herself a bit, and created the Fool Gold's series that's almost like a marketing exercise with the cheerleaders, and the website, the magazine, etc. The books seem secondary.

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  11. Wendy and Willaful,

    I think you both are right, and the reason why is in Willaful's comment:

    But I certainly don't turn down an e-arc of one of my favorite authors, because damn it, I wanna read it!

    There's a shit-ton of books on NG that no one reviews, books that have to compete with popular authors or talked-about books. I'm more likely to take a chance with an unknown author when I can get the book free through NG, but if next to that author is a book I'm dying to read, guess which one I'm requesting? So as much as I want to say that I shouldn't force myself to read anything, maybe it's time to be more conscious about what I get from these websites and try give better chances to new, different book.

    That's why I said that NG and Edelweiss make coveted ARCs more accessible and widespread; coveted being the operative word. So when Wendy says good for the authors who tapped into an audience, they didn't do that on NG, they did it outside of it and before those books were made available on NG.

    Having said that, how many people were talking about Molly O'Keefe and Ruthie Knox a year ago? I've been reading O'Keefe for years, so now that I see her get so many reviews I feel happy and excited instead of annoyed. So there is a good side to the repetition and noise, and what we need is to find a better balance.

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    1. Brie: You're a genius. Thanks for the blogging inspiration - I'm off to write a post (with some linkage love getting thrown back at ya!).

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  12. Very nice post, Brie :) I used to be concerned about being part of the hype... However, my book-buying habits have changed and I'm so back-logged lately, that I haven't managed to review anything near its release date except for Did You Miss Me? by Karen Rose.

    I gotta say though, the hype definitively has reached new levels lately... and it's made blogland a bit boring.

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  13. "... as we keep our honesty we should be fine." = Truth

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  14. It only takes not being part of the buzz (whether because we disagree with the majority or because we aren’t familiar with the subject) to notice how annoying it can get. Nice thought. I really appreciate to the blog owner for a wonderful information.

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