Science fiction and fantasy                                            

How To Remain An Obscure Book Blogger

30th May 2012


Musings and rants

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Authors: stop thinking of other writers as your rivals. They're not the enemy.

Reviews Are Useless Without Context
With so many review blogs, quick ways of understanding their authors are more important than ever.

It's been hard to look away from the train wreck made by M. R. Mathias, the self-published writer who insisted at length that such a tag didn't apply to him. Chuck Wendig weighed in with a post reminding us that Mathias isn't representative of all self-publishing authors. One of the interesting things to come out of Chuck's post appeared in the comments, where SQT of Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews writes:

"This is precisely why I won’t review self-published books."

SQT's attitude is one I've often encountered, and you only have to examine a few book blogger review policies to discover how prevalent it is. I've experienced this from both sides of the blogger divide: up until 2007 I reviewed self-published fiction on this website, and after that I've been increasingly fussy about which books I'll cover. Partly as a result of the stigma of self-publishing there are a lot of so-called indie publishers that seem to be no more than a front for self-publishing operations, so the first things I look for when I'm considering what to read is who the publisher is and what reputation do they have.

That stigma: it exists, and in some ways it's deserved. Although the vast majority of self-published writers I've dealt with have been incredibly courteous, those who have flown off the handle as the result of a negative review have never been traditionally published. This is because, as Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz once stated in one of those how-to-get-into-the-business seminars, (I'm paraphrasing) publishing houses generally vet their authors for moonbat craziness. But the stigma isn't just down to occasional bad manners: in my experience at least 80% of the self-published books I've read ought to have been rejected on grounds of quality. For every Eve or A Destiny of Fools there are countless NaNoWriMo first drafts and drunken dream transcriptions.

So the quality can be poor and the manners sketchy, but that's still not the whole story. It's often reported that there's no money in publishing, and when it comes to book blogging this is a fair assessment. No one's doing it for the champagne lifestyle. No, the true currency of book blogging is interest: the readers kind, not the bank kind. It's very discouraging to write about books no-one cares about. In this respect self-publishing tends to get a triple-whammy of fail: there's rarely any publicity, so people aren't searching for reviews of the book in question. There are no links from publishers to the blog, and more often than not the author won't link to the review because it's not positive. And even when authors do link out they tend to have much less significant followings than their traditionally published counterparts.

What Price a Review?

You might imagine it's exciting to introduce blog readers to books no-one else has heard of, but in practice that's not how it works. First you need an audience to address, and it's been my experience that, with one or two notable exceptions, self-published books are blog death. Kirkus agrees with me: whilst they will cover traditionally published books for free, they offer a relatively expensive paid option for anyone else who wants guaranteed coverage.

I hear a lot of talk about bypassing gatekeepers, but this presupposes that books will somehow magically find their audience through word of mouth. However there's no incentive for bloggers to cover self-published books for free, and the disincentives are considerable. Meanwhile the reviewing systems of various retailers are muddied by paid shills or authors' families and friends taking part. There are a few blogs that mainly deal with self-published works, but I haven't come across many. Readers need opinions they can trust, but the filtering and recommendation services self-published writers are hoping to use for promotion barely exists.