24Aug

Genre Diversity

A few months ago I wrote a post about the fetish that bloggers have for frontlist titles – those books about to be released, the hot new things.

I’m increasingly discovering that there is something resembling a backlist movement. This is what the internet should be used for – not to prop up the titles that get decent amounts of marketing spend on them (mine included) but exploring niches and discovering range.

Admittedly, when you’re seduced by ARCs and free reads, it’s difficult to keep splashing out on older stuff, but supporting the full genetic breadth of science fiction and fantasy is healthy, broadens our horizons, and gives airtime to writers who probably never received a big advertising campaign – and whose books risk dying out of bookstores (though possibly being preserved in digital format).

Bloggers: more of these sorts of things, please.

In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest reviewing titles from the small indie presses once in a while – there, you’re really helping make a difference. You’ll help preserve genre diversity.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

66 comments

  1. I’m a bit conflicted about this. First, I’m glad more took up the challenges that you and I have made in separate places to read/review these classics (even if some might need more prodding to get more diversity at the SFF Masterworks blog, as only 3 people have posted in the past five weeks or so :P), but I think the “diversity” should expand to more than just backlist titles.

    After all, one of the more experimental reprint anthology series, Best American Fantasy, had to be discontinued due largely to lack of support from readers. Not that I’m bitter about that 😉

  2. But if there is more blogging about musty old books, what is to become of the invaluable coverage of cover art? Or the navel-gaze-a-licious blogging about blogging? Or the giveaways? WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHERFUCKING GIVEAWAYS!!!

    That way lies madness.

    And fewer giveaways.

  3. In the past few weeks, I’ve picked up several books by DG Compton, and I plan to write about them on my blog. I’ve also managed to find copies of some of the more obscure authors – such as Rex Gordon – on my list, and I plan to write about those too. Although I may well find they were obscure for good reason…

  4. As a publisher with a backlist that is vital to their business (ie a publisher)I can only heartlily agree with this.

    We have all of us missed good books and the relentless pursuit of being on the cutting edge, of having read all the new stuff is a fool’s game (not only is it impossible, it cuts you off from context and, more importantly, neat stuff).

    And if you are interested in blogging about backlist then I’d hazard a guess that most publishers would be happy to send you a reading copy of what you were interested in so you wouldn’t even necessarily have to splash out.

  5. I’ve been putting the I’m-a-blogger-and-need-to-stay-on-the-cutting-edge-of-new-releases behind me and trying to replace it with the I’m-a-writer-and-a-reader-who-wants-to-know-more-about-the-roots-and-breadth-of-the-genre’s-history. But, like Larry, I think diversity is about more than just digging into the past. My past four reads have been Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, M. John Harrison and Ekaterina Sedia – a nice little list, if I do say, and I’ve been much happier and more invested in reading than I was when I’d jump from major epic fantasy release to major epic fantasy release.

    Just wait, though, the next few weeks are going to bring an endless deluge of review for Mockingjay, The Way of Kings and The Black Prism. The blogosphere will look more sycophantic than ever.

  6. Fuck all that.

    More about the Abercrombie covers, please.

  7. Thanks for the link, Mark. I’ve also been enjoying Larry (and others) work on the SFF Masterworks blog, largely because I’ve read a stupidly large number of the books and am pretty interested to see what others have to say about them. Also, the “F” bit of it is interesting, as I know a lot less about that side.

    I think you’re right that it’s worth looking at back list stuff. I don’t have any particular bias towards one side or another in my own blogging (er, all 7 posts, so far).

    The only sensible thing that I ever remember reading in the NME was that “every year is the best year for music. You have all your new music PLUS everything that’s come out this year.” You can easily apply that to SF/F, I think.

    A more recent example of this with the review that I wrote of Counting Heads. It came out in 2005 but, partly I suspect because it hasn’t been published in the UK, it passed me by. I then read one of Marusek’s stories in an anthology and was intrigued enough to have a look into him. And…I was glad to do so. He’s an excellent writer, and if only one extra person has a look into his work, I’ll be happy. 🙂

    Good to know that some people are interested in reading about older work – it’ll help me keep my posting frequency up anyway!

  8. Which isn’t to say that I don’t want to be seeing LOADS of reviews for THE WAY OF KINGS and THE HEROES (and it’s gorgeous cover) as well of course.

    Cake. Eat it.

  9. “This is what the internet should be used for – not to prop up the titles that get decent amounts of marketing spend on them (mine included) but exploring niches and discovering range.”

    This is a curious statement. You’ve previously been very open and honest about how important the online review scene was to you when you were launching your career, yet now you appear to be saying that reviewers should explore older genre fiction at the expense of supporting new fiction – isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?

    Anyway, I agree that diversity is desirable. But the simple fact is that new releases will always take priority, for a number of reasons that have already been mentioned in the comments section of your first post.

    I also think it’s worth pointing out that only certain blogs are really in a position to review older books – for new bloggers it’s not really a viable option if they want to build their readership.

    The blogosphere is a very crowded place these days, and if you’re trying to establish a new blog it’s vital to attract readers by reviewing titles that people are going to be looking for reviews of – frontlist titles. You need to tap into the buzz, the genre zeitgeist. You won’t achieve that by reviewing old books.

    For more established bloggers, this need isn’t so great, so these are perhaps the folk that can add some diversity to their reading habits.

  10. Larry – what kind of diversity do you have in mind?

    Dennis – ha! Don’t tell me you’ve never entered…?

    Ian – good on you! But yes, I suppose sometimes there are a reasons things don’t survive on the shelf.

    Simon – Indeed – you’ve got yourself a huge backlist to be plugging. Quite the long tail at Gollancz.

    Aidan – you’ve struck on something important there. Exploring things at your own pace, rather than always trying to keep up with what’s new, and you find that you’re enjoying the experience a little more? Good stuff.

    Joe – trust you to lower the tone. *Shakes head*

    Richard – ah, NME. That’s a good comparison. Everything is new and shiny and the best ever. Only so many times you can believe that without thinking, Now hang on…

    James – it would be a contradiction if I said “ZOMG stop reading new books now, kids”. But as I said, “More of this please, because it’s healthy” then I can’t see a problem.

    And as for frontlist for generating hits? Tell that to Paul C Smith, who seems to have a hugely respected blog in no time at all, without covering much frontlist. A good blog will be always about quality of content. Having worked in publishing, I saw dozens of new blogs cropping up reviewing new titles – and that was precisely why few of them generated many hits. They were covering books that had been debated elsewhere.

    I think it’s terrible to tell new bloggers they shouldn’t review old books – for so many reasons. Mostly, since it seems to imply new bloggers are only interested in hits. How disappointing things would be if that was the case.

  11. I’m totally behind this kind if thinking. I would also love more attention being brought to the short story, how many sites review shorts?

  12. I’m going to go with what Aidan said here. I’m not really a book blogger (I’ll review books, sometimes request copies, but not to the extent that a lot of blogs do), mainly covering whatever is holding my interest.
    However, I tend to write a lot on SF/F topics, combined with my interests as a historian and my love for most things geek. As suggested, I think that it’s more important to see what some of the roots of the genre are, because that helps to influence the genre.

    However, beyond books, isn’t it also important to look at current events, and things outside of the blogging world to see how such things impact culture as a whole?

  13. Mark, I’m thinking of “diversity” of styles, authors, and thematic elements. Read not just a William Morris, but also a Sherri Tepper (helps that I’m alternating between his The Well at the World’s End and her Beauty), or Raymond Queneau’s Saint Glinglin alternating with John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting. Toss in a graphic novel, such as the anthology series Flight (currently reading vol. 7). Add some short fiction collections (right now, I’m reading two collections that Brendan Connell sent me, metrophilias and Unpleasant Tales).

    All that makes for a diverse read, or so I’d hope. Just so happens I had all seven books with me outside while I was enjoying the sun for the past two hours. Reading 50-100 pages of one and then switching to another certainly creates a nice reading experience. Helps that these works have some interesting narrative approaches.

    Diverse enough for ya? 😛

  14. Firstly @Joe Abercrombie huzzah! I just bought The Blade Itself. I also bought Nights of Villjamur at the same time, so Mark, you shouldn’t feel left out 😉

    That totally goes against what I was going to say, which is that I love older sci-fi and fantasy, as evidenced by my writing about mainly older books. The reasons are twofold – 1) economics. Old books are cheaper and I can’t afford to buy new books all the time. 2) time. I don’t have the time to keep up with all the new releases. Following bookish people on Twitter is bewildering enough…I work in a completely different industry so when it comes to finding the “next big thing” I just can’t compete. I have to go at my own pace. Which at the moment means I’m somewhere in the 1970’s.

  15. Kai – some reviewers are now breaking up anthologies (though it’s usually a major fantasy anthology release, or something similar). I’m sure there are some more out there!

    Andrew – yes, I think the culture aspect is also important. I’d like to see more on how culture is informing authors – I know that’s something I wear on my sleeve in my books, so I’d be interested to see how other authors respond to society.

    Larry – indeed it is! That’s pretty much the route I take with my own reading, mainly because I don’t want to get bored with one sub-genre.

    Bookowl – you ignore that Abercrombie fellow. He’s nothing but trouble.

    Yeah, it’s pretty inexpensive to come out of a second hand bookshop with an armful of books for less than a tenner. Own pace is good, too – I think for blogging, it’s important not to be jaded too quickly, and going too quickly trying to keep up with new titles has jaded more than a few.

  16. I’ve always mixed in reading older works with newer releases, but I find it is harder to review something that a hundred other people already have. Reading classics and challenging my reviewer skills are precisely the reasons I joined the Masterworks blog. My next review for them is Ringworld, which I think will end up reading a little different than my traditional reviews.

    On the short review front Aidan, I, and Adam mix-in reviews from time-to-time, but few others seem to.

  17. Oh how convenient. I just posted my review of David Eddings’ Queen of Sorcery. My plan is to read the new releases, and listen to the classics as audiobooks (which I can do at work). Doesn’t always work as my next audiobook is a Peter V Brett.

    But then I’m not so much a book blogger as a writer and fantasy fan. My motivations are as much about understanding the market as personal enjoyment.

  18. Kai – I’m thinking of reviewing a couple. I recently read Harlan Ellison’s The Beast That Shouted Love at The Heart of the World (and enjoyed it a great deal). But I have to confess that I do find the thought curiously daunting. Easier, perhaps, with that given that it’s all by the same author. But the thought of a big anthology is a little scary.

  19. I also think it’s worth pointing out that only certain blogs are really in a position to review older books – for new bloggers it’s not really a viable option if they want to build their readership.

    Like Mark, I think this is really worrying. Since when is building a readership the aim of a blog rather than a happy side-effect of having worth saying?

  20. Us bloggers are in a strange boat, that’s for sure. One the one side, because we get sent ARCs (even finished copies, sometimes) there is this definite need for us to repay the publishers – in many ways it’s a win-win situation.

    But you do have a good point, Mark; Ian McDonald’s Necroville, for example, is a book that seems to have disappeared, yet it’s one of the best SF titles I’ve ever read and I guess the only way I’ll get other people to read it is to re-read it and review it (even though it’ll be my 5th read); I guess it’s just about making a commitment and making time. 🙂 Cool post!

  21. Blogging about the latest releases is fine so long as that is not all that is reviewed. Not everyone receives ARCs so personal buying habits has to influence review choices.

    There are so many SFF books from the last 40 years alone, no-one could possibly have read them all. I think it is important to read and review a mix of new and classics as this gives depth to the blog overall.

    Personally I try to cover a range of books though I seem to be attracted to older works at the moment, which helps me better understand what has influenced new writers (and pick up on references and in-jokes too). I recently posted this http://templelibraryreviews.blogspot.com/ in which I write about 10 books I plan to read over the next few months, all of which are classics.

  22. “Dennis – ha! Don’t tell me you’ve never entered…?”

    Of course I have! Just because I’m aware of the moral paradox of a “reviewer” promoting books through publisher-sponsored giveaways does not mean that I would forego the opportunity to get a free book. I may be a hypocrite, but I’m a sensible hypocrite.

  23. Looking at my last three blog reviews they’re all for books that have been out a year and I’m currently reading ‘The Stars My Destination’ for SFFMasterworks and I’m really into Sherlock Holmes stories and have been since before the TV series.

    And I’m always a little surprised that bloggers don’t go chasing and sharing their new find authors. I’m very slowly catching up with Neal Asher for example. Some blogs like Walker of Worlds are great for seeing his fandom in action.

    But I can see why they do have a new book fetish and why I do it now now and again. We like the buzz. Blogging is a lonely pass time on the whole. And hitting the new books is exciting. You join excited publicists, other bloggers, fans etc in a shared experience. Plus getting an ARC early does make you feel special.

    To go out and blog about lesser known and less crowd pleasing books is a big leap. The writer Paul Magrs is a amazing blogger for showing the most diverse range of reading but most of us would never have time to read that widely unless we had his type of job.

    I think as we get more bloggers and wider range of individuals the ones that want to stand out will be showing their reading through more personal selections rather than crowd surfing.

    I’ve seen enough Way of Kings reviews already but I’m sure there are going to be a few hundred more. Though I haven’t seen enough reviews of books of some books that I’d expect to be pounced on by enthusiastic bloggers.

    Sending out a review copy or ARC no longer a guarantee of lots of reviews. The book to exciting blogger ratio is high. And the choice for the blogger of books to read is mindsmashing. Choosing a hot book is just easier than weighing up things and making a choice out of everything that could be read.

    The books I bought this month are 1 short story collection and 3 books to explore more EuroCrime. And sticking to my reading of SS and EuroCrime is feeding my own needs as a reader.

    And I’m happy to see Short Stories are starting to appear more and more on blogs. Now that’s where the real chances are taken by writers,

    In the end their is going to be a rebellion by older bloggers I think when they realise that they can’t live of New Shiny Alone 😀

  24. “Having worked in publishing, I saw dozens of new blogs cropping up reviewing new titles – and that was precisely why few of them generated many hits. They were covering books that had been debated elsewhere.”

    I doubt that very much; more likely it was because the quality wasn’t up to scratch, or the posting consistency was too irregular, or maybe something else entirely – there’s so many variables that can affect the success of a blog.

    I can only speak from my own experience. I focused almost entirely on new releases when I began Speculative Horizons, reviewing books that had already received extensive coverage elsewhere, and it did my fledgling blog no harm at all – quite the opposite.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a blog off the ground by focusing mostly on backlist, but I think it would be harder. Paul’s done a great job though.

    “I think it’s terrible to tell new bloggers they shouldn’t review old books – for so many reasons. Mostly, since it seems to imply new bloggers are only interested in hits. How disappointing things would be if that was the case.”

    I’m not telling new bloggers not to read old books. I’m just looking at why frontlist gets the lion’s share of attention, and citing the fact that perhaps new bloggers feel they ought to be focusing on more recent releases (which is totally understandable).

    And come on, most new bloggers are interested in hits; it’s all part of the excitement of starting a new blog, watching it grow. I used to check mine twenty times a day, not because hits were the most important thing to me – they weren’t at all – but because it was fun to see that people were actually paying attention to what I was rambling about.

    I get the impression that you seem to think bloggers shouldn’t care about hits or worry about building readerships, and just read whatever takes their fancy – old or new books. But the fact is that – although most of us bloggers do it for the love of it all – the majority of us do care about trying to increase our reach and attracting as many readers as possible, so is it really so bad if we focus mostly on new books for this reason?

    To get back to your original point though, I do agree that reading backlist is important and encourages diversity. I just think we have to take into account blogging mechanics.

  25. @James… and the nature of consumerism – we’re always being told that the new is better than old – we’re made to feel excited by the latest series or sequel to a movie. Books are no different. So we use the same tricks on blogs to make them exciting.

  26. “Like Mark, I think this is really worrying. Since when is building a readership the aim of a blog rather than a happy side-effect of having worth saying?”

    I’m not saying it is the aim, but I am suggesting it is a consideration at the back of many bloggers’s minds.

    And why should it not be? Is it so wrong of someone to want to build up their audience? Sure, if that took priority then that would be wrong – the love of the subject matter should always come first, and must be the driving force behind the blog. But I don’t see much wrong with trying to build up a readership, and I understand why new bloggers might take this into consideration.

    It seems there’s a school of thought that suggests if a blogger so much as thinks about hits, they’ve somehow compromised their integrity – bullshit.

  27. If a blogger thinks about hits – they are thinking about building an audience just like a writer does – what’s the point if you don’t connect to people. Hits are needed both to know that you are saying something people are coming back for and as motivation.

  28. PS – it’s easier to get hits with New Shiny – the other way you just have to work smarter to get them.

  29. I tend to review small press titles, but that is largely based on what I receive and what I can get through. Sometimes the small presses have some really great stuff that I can read, and sometimes they have things that others probably would love, but that aren’t up my alley.

    That said, I agree with you. The small presses deserve a lot of love, and so do smaller titles from smaller authors. I’m planning to review a couple of those soon enough 🙂 (waiting on one to arrive in my mailbox).

  30. James – many variables, indeed, but a lot of it was bound up by giving commentary on frontlist like everyone else. They’re not going to rise up the google rankings that way, so unless they promote heavily on Twitter etc., there wasn’t the opportunity to be discovered.

    “I get the impression that you seem to think bloggers shouldn’t care about hits or worry about building readerships” – if a blogger was primarily concerned with hits, it would show – it would be filled with the reek of desperation, and I would have no interest in it whatsoever. I dare say others – especially industry folk – would feel the same. There’s so much white noise out there, why should I listen to a repeated frontlist plug?(Note: this is not the same as having a good idea about how to blog by focussing on things like design and regular, unique content – that’s called being smart.)

    But again, you’re reacting as if this was black and white, or seemingly creating an offence out of nothing. If bloggers chase hits without having the chops to back it up with regular and relatively unique content, they’re going to be disappointed.

    Now, back to the debate. Gav – “And I’m always a little surprised that bloggers don’t go chasing and sharing their new find authors.” Yes, I quite agree – that’s one of the delights of literature, no?

    “I think as we get more bloggers and wider range of individuals the ones that want to stand out will be showing their reading through more personal selections rather than crowd surfing.” Absolutely. Which also argues against James’ insistence on frontlist to build hits.

    Hits for motivation: I can well understand that, but to blog to get hits just seems a strange psychology. Then again, I suppose it’s no different than writing to be published.

    SMD – yeah, and the small presses can’t compete for review space now that huge publishers with dedicated marketing departments are sending out free copies.

  31. I don’t get a great deal of hits, but people tell me they like the blog and I talk about what I want to talk about which is good enough for me.

    The key thing for older titles is discussing books that have aged well and still have something relevant to say. I do think there are people who are looking for books outside the mainstream new releases and those are the people I see as my audience.

    Frontlists may build hits, but how many reviews saying The Way of Kings is great do you really need to read? How many Mockingjay reviews will pop up this week? Variety is a good thing and I like to think in some small way I provide an alternative.

  32. Ooo, thanks for those links! Very interesting.

    I recently blogged about the First Book of Lankhmar- not because I’m generally a book reviewer, but because as a writer of fantasy I’m trying to immerse myself in the classics of the genre. I wrote about it essentially because I’m really enjoying the stories, but I do often feel a little bit lonely in my reading habits. Everyone else is reading the next big new sexy genre book, while I’m meandering through the Fantasy Masterworks.

  33. I think (generally speaking) there are two sorts of blogs, each of which is equally valid.

    There are those that deal with the new and shiny, those we trust and go to because we want to know if the new Mark Charan Newton book is any good. We don’t want spoilers or deep analysis, we just want to know whether it is worth buying.

    And then there are those types that take a text, engage with it, take it to bits and consider it. This is the sort of thing Paul C Smith does so well, and I’d read his review of a book even if I personally hated the text… just because he always has something interesting to say (Note: he now owes me alcohol for that comment)

    In reality though, these types aren’t mutually exclusive and the best blogs mix these types up to different consistencies.

  34. I am in agreement that book blogs, or bloggers who also review books amongst the other stuff they write about, should include both older titles and newer titles.

    In my old blog I certainly did a little of both, and I’ve reviewed both old and new titles for some of the other review sites I’ve done reviews for.

    At Cola Factory we’re planning to do a bit of both. We’ve asked that publishers/authors only send us new or about to be released titles to review, but under our own steam we’ll be reviewing older titles as well.

    There is more than enough room on the interenet for discussion of the good, the bad and the ugly of what makes genre tick. I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t review The Dispossessed even though twenty, or thirty, or even one hundred of other bloggers have done it. The more people who review that book, the more people are likely to say “hmmm maybe I should check this book out”. That can’t be a bad thing.

    There is also nothing wrong with revewing indie titles as long as you approach it with the same objectivity as you approach any review. This is should not be done to promote your friends, but as a desire to promote good books of all kinds.

  35. Because I’m a lazy man, even by the low standards of the truly effort-challenged among us – I haven’t read all the replies before mine. This is also why I’ve included no links. I’ll lazily apologize if all this has already been discussed, and covered, mea culpa, mea culpa.

    I’ll get around to reading the whole thread, possibly.

    Here’s my thoughts on the subject uncluttered by all your previous discussion:

    I get what Mark is saying, but I’m not sure I agree – not wholeheartedly at any rate and for the following reasons.

    New books are important, be they right at the heart of the movement or lurking out there in the fens at the fringe. We’d miss some great ones if we ignored one camp entirely in favour of the other.

    That said, there are no blogs at the moment that are both more cherished and more of use to *me* (our esteemed Mr. Newton aside) than Larry’s of OF Blog of the Fallen and Paul C. Smith of Empty Your Heart Of Its Mortal Dream.

    Now partly this is because they’re both erudite, engaging, and wide ranging, dare I say catholic, in their tastes. They take scholastic care to dig deeper than covers and ARCs giveaways – and they do discuss new and up and coming books.

    But, they seem to focus on older works, works recently translated, or seminal yet overlooked examples of the best in the genre (that word is starting to make me wince, but let us leave it there as a readily understood marker for the sake of clarity).

    Are they unusual? I don’t honestly know, they seem to be – even among the many other (very good) review and discussion sites that I follow, such as Punkadiddle, Speculative Horizons, Strange Horizons, NextRead, and A Dribble of Ink to name and shame but a few.

    However, I think they’re exactly the sort of book site which I most benefit from – but perhaps not others – as they’ve helped me a great deal to catch up with elements of fantastic fiction I have to my shame, long overlooked.

    One thing which I find helpful with the older titles is showcasing *why* they are so important and of course, the lovely pictures of bookporn and links to places to buy them (such as the Book Depository). I love a good cover especially from some of the smaller presses.

    This has not been good for my bank account or my shelf space but I’m happy all the same that people have helped to push me out of my comfort zone of reading mostly nonfiction and “literary” novels (past and present) and pointed the way to things which I’ve really enjoyed but wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

    But these works of the past and the margins are not just good reads, they’re very useful to compare, contrast, and show how they influenced the books of the moment (and the future).

    In conclusion, that is why I’d not want to see only the rare, the old, and the obscure, being championed online. They hopefully represent a past and a fringe movement which in the ideal world, continues to influence and enrich the present mainstream.

    And obscure, old, and rare, are after all, not to everyone’s tastes so keeping both sides active in the debate seems the way forward if the whole of the species is to survive. Hybrid vigour then, if you will.

    E.

  36. I am reading all these comments about frontlist reviews and I am thinking: but what about excitement! LOVE! Passion! Don’t these need to be taken into consideration as well? It just sounds so clinical…

    You can be sure we will be making posts of Way of Kings AND Mockingjay this week but not only because they are frontlist, not because they are the New Shinny, not because we want the hits (although I have no problems admitting that I love the hits!) but because OMG Way of Kings was one of my most anticipated reads of 2010 (and It.Is.Awesome.) and Thea was buying Mockingjay as soon as it came out and I don’t read the Hunger Games series myself but I LOVE to see the entire blogsphere in a lockdown of passion for this series.

    Thea and I try to read both new books and older ones, from small and big publishers alike not because of some clinical “How to” but because we really, really love reading and talking about books – and that’s I think, is what makes for good blogging regardless of what you read or don’t read. This is why I second (third?) the love for Paul’s blog for example: not because I think he is filling a “need” but because I can tell he loves to do what he does and readers are not morons, you know?

    The judgmental tone that some people have is so tiresome. It is so backwards and ANCIENT.

    Furthermore, just to be clear: I think it is possible to be both critical and passionate, to love both old and new, to be truly enthusiastic about the art of reading and reviewing (hey, that includes blogging about covers, and about blogging), and taking part on the exchange of ideas with other readers whilst at the same time keeping an eye on stats and hits (hey, that includes giveaways as well) because hey, if I didn’t want rapport, readership, comments, etc, I would just keep a private journal.

    To quote Mark: it is not black and white. To quote Simon: it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.

  37. “Admittedly, when you’re seduced by ARCs and free reads, it’s difficult to keep splashing out on older stuff”

    I like this. Perhaps for transparency, more bloggers should post the provenance of the book they are reviewing – it might fill out the picture for us readers if there’s a line along with all the nuts’n’bolts that says “provided in ARC form by Gollancz” or “I bought this from Waterstone’s!”

    I agree that bloggers should mix up some older stuff with their new shinies – perhaps a monthly “classics spotlight”.

    As for reviewing the indies – with two novels and a collection from a very small press out, and a third novel coming out from Pendragon Press this December, internet word-of-mouth has been vital to the continued existence of my stuff. Small presses usually can stretch to free review copies, but marketing budgets usually end there.

  38. Is it so wrong of someone to want to build up their audience?

    There is nothing wrong with wanting an audience, everybody likes to be read. But I think if you are writing specific types of posts with the aim of generating hits, you have to ask yourself: to what end? What are you going to do once you’ve got them? If you are an author or another professional there is a clear reason: someone might buy your work. If you aren’t a professional, then what? So you can be like Pat and boast that you are Number 1 whilst everyone takes the piss out of you because you don’t have anything to say?

    Blogging should represent an alternative to mainstream media. That sounds a bit grand but it is just a side effect of the medium: you don’t need to appeal to advertisers, you don’t need to chase broad demographics to meet circulation targets, you are free to say what you want. the diversity that Mark wants is built into the format and it is a shame to see people so quick to give up this freedom.

    To take an example from James’s own blog, I can’t imagine you get a lot of hits writing about Golden Axe II. But no one else in the SF blogosphere is writing about old arcade games so it makes it distinctive and gives the blog a personality. I don’t think a new blogger would be harming themselves by doing something along these lines. Quite the opposite.

    The other problem about a lack of diversity that I don’t think has been mentioned is that lack of perspective it engenders. If you only look at the new, what is your yardstick for comparison? And if everyone else only looks at the new, who do you stop from being sucked into the hype? The result is the sad fact that a lot of praise in the blogosphere is wildly inflated.

  39. I’m not a book blogger, although I do post the occasional review on my blog. But it’s chiefly there for me to write about stuff which interests me – which is science fiction. (I have another blog for the space exploration stuff.) I’ve noticed, however, that my most popular posts have all been book lists. And the more controversial those lists, the more popular they are.

  40. I am reading all these comments about frontlist reviews and I am thinking: but what about excitement! LOVE! Passion!

    Passion is vital. It isn’t a substitute for having something to say though.

    Speaking of Mockingjay, Niall Alexander posted a really odd post yesterday. Presumably it means he is passionate about the release of the novel but it is still just an advert. Why would any of his readers want to read an advert? Why would he want to publish an unpaid advert? Who benefits apart from the publicist who knocked up the ad? I just don’t understand it.

    Niall is one of the bloggers who does mix the old with the new and writes about all different types of SF. So there is plenty of diversity there. But there is still a large amount of complicity with the publishing industry and I think this is what leads to the the focus on the new elsewhere.

  41. Martin: definitely not a substitute for having something to say which is why I said that you can be both critical and passionate.

    AS for what Niall posted yesterday: I find it cool, I think it shows he likes the series. I don’t see it as an advert (although yes, it can be), more of a shout out to other fans of the series.

    YOU might not like it (maybe you don’t read the series)but why do you presume that you know what his readers want? Maybe the majority of them had the same reaction that I did: cool, another fan!

    I don’t know what you mean by “large amount of complicity with the publishing industry” , it sounds like another judgemental comment to me, as though we are committing a vile crime when we,god forbid, even mention a publisher.

  42. I’m guilty of this so am not accusing anyone, but often when a new book is reviewed there isn’t any mention of books in a similar style, or if there are, it’s usually someone from the last maybe 3-5 years only. I’ve said it before, but ‘gritty fantasy’ whatever that is, is not a new invention of the last 5 years. Gemmell had been doing it since the 80s, and Barclay for 10 years now.

    Perhaps if there was more – if you liked X, why not try Y at the end of reviews it might encourage people to look at older books in the genre whilst they wait for the next release in the current series. I’m not saying offer ideas in the vague Amazon recommendations style, but using our specific genre knowledge to give very solid alternatives. I’m a slightly older reader so I have been reading fantasy for decades, but there are always a lot of new readers coming in that won’t know because they are too young, or because no one has told them of the similarities between the latest author they’re following and one that is not currently in the spotlight. I don’t know if bookshops could play a role, but bloggers certainly could.

  43. why do you presume that you know what his readers want?

    I don’t think I did. I asked a question – Why would any of his readers want to read an advert? – because I genuinely didn’t understand. You’ve now answered this question so thank you. That said, I still don’t really understand the thought process. If someone wrote a blog entry that said in its entirety “I LIKE CHEESE” I wouldn’t go “Cool, I like cheese too!”, I’d be more likely to go “Er, what?”. But I guess that is my problem.

    As it happens I have read The Hunger Games. I thought it was a nice, quick read that was also glib and manipulative so I didn’t have the urge to continue the series. I didn’t feel the need to post a Mockingjay banner with a cross through it to signal this fact though.

    I don’t think the fact lots of blogs provide unpaid publicity for publishers is a vile crime but I do think it has negative effects – “when you’re seduced by ARCs and free reads, it’s difficult to keep splashing out on older stuff”, for example – as well as more insidious ones relating distance and perspective that people often aren’t aware of.

  44. If people really just want “the hits,” then all they have to do is just post about “sucky” bloggers, “whoring one’s self out,” or review Portuguese-language books. Those are my biggest hits, outside of one new release that was promoted on a publisher’s email list.

    As for the rest, sometimes the “diversity” should include a diversity of approaches to blogging. Reviews-mostly do get boring after a while. Squirrel porn is more titillating, no? 😉

  45. Review what you want to review. If you don’t want to review it, you’re not being honest and thus you’re not being a good reviewer.

    Yes, once again I have summarized everything and rendered myself the salvation of this blog.

    Joe Abercrombie beats up kids. Don’t listen to him.

  46. Sam Sykes is 100% right.

    (Well, probably not about Joe Abercrombie beating up kids, but everything else is true.)

  47. Sometimes what we want, is bad for ourselves and others. Other times, it’s downright toxic.

    E.

  48. Like a pizza-bagel. Which is all of the above, *and* tasty.

    E.

  49. Good god. I leave you alone for a moment and look!

    Ana – yes, your’e right on the passion front. There are indeed many like yourselves whose passion is infectious. But you’re also in a very unique position – you have one of the most popular book blogs online. Do you think you’d do anything differently if starting from scratch?

    But indeed – balance is the key here. To make this clear to everyone else, I’m not for a moment advocating to forget about frontlist. I’m just giving a nudge to those who have forgotten about backlist.

    Martin – “the diversity that Mark wants is built into the format and it is a shame to see people so quick to give up this freedom.” Bang on the money. The internet is there as a vaguely anarchist and decentralised structure, and everything is here to allow niches to flourish.

    Stephen – “I’m a slightly older reader so I have been reading fantasy for decades, but there are always a lot of new readers coming in that won’t know because they are too young, or because no one has told them of the similarities between the latest author they’re following and one that is not currently in the spotlight. I don’t know if bookshops could play a role, but bloggers certainly could.”

    Bang on: bloggers can provide great context for new readers that way.

    Larry – that’s interesting. I guess the internet loves its shitstorms… 🙂

    Sam/Jared – absolutely, a kind of honesty right at the start.

  50. But Mark, we did start from scratch 3 years ago just like anybody else….I don’t understand your point.