This post is part of An Unconventional Blog Tour – as the title suggests, this is not your typical blog tour. The purpose of this week is to tackle some of the more sensitive and difficult issues that arise when blogging. For the duration of this week (May 28 – June 1), ten bloggers will write about these different topics, providing their own insights and opinions – together, these posts will (hopefully!) serve as a helpful resource for book bloggers, both new and old. Subjects included on the tour range from Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due: Citing Your Sources, to Objectivity vs. Transparency. Follow this link to read more about the week’s objectives and to check all the posts (links will be added to this master post as each stop is published).
When we were approached by Kelly at Stacked in the initial stages of organization for the week, we were thrilled at the opportunity to join in the week’s roster of discussions. And, of the many possible topics for discussion, there is one that is particularly close to our Smuggler hearts. This topic, which we will be discussing today, is Independence and Integrity as a Blogger. Today, we’ll examine how one might maintain both independence and integrity whilst still developing a relationship with publishers and publicists and growing one’s blog.
Bloggers blog for myriad different reasons. Some bloggers just want to have fun talking about books with friends. Others simply love to write reviews and share their opinions. There are those bloggers who blog as a hobby, and those who see blogging as a step toward a career in publishing (as a writer, as an editor, etc). There are those who take part on blog tours, organizing interviews and guest posts; there are those who avoid organized tours and events like the plague. The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong way to blog – and all of the above (and the many other rationales we have not mentioned) are completely worthy reasons for blogging.
We don’t believe on setting rules for book blogging. We abhor posts that instruct bloggers on what they can and can’t do, because each blogger should be able to decide how they wish to run their own blogs! This said, there is one aspect of blogging that we do believe to be a – not as universally acknowledged as we hoped – truth: the moment a blogger solicits and accepts a review copy (be that copy an early an galley, e-ARC, final copy, or otherwise), said blogger has officially become a part of the publishing industry. Publishing contacts – publicists, marketers, authors, etc – will now have the blogger’s address, they will be paying attention to that bloggers’s blog, and they most certainly will be hoping for a review of that book. This is the give and take relationship between blogger and a publisher (or author) on the most basic level.
Many of us, though, will go further than accepting review copies. Some book bloggers, like ourselves, will attend events hosted by the publishers, and attend conferences such as Book Expo America. We also take part in publicity initiatives such as blog tours, interviews, and giveaways, and we’ll establish and cultivate relationships with publishers and authors alike.
With all of these factors under consideration, the question arises:
Is it possible to maintain independence and integrity while still creating and cultivating relationships with publishers and authors?
Our answer is yes. Yes it most certainly is. And the key to maintaining blogger independence and integrity is very simple, really. It starts with self-awareness and honesty, which in turn allows a blogger to maintain their voice and opinion, which translates to professionalism.
The first step toward maintaining independence and integrity is self-awareness. The reality is that for all that we say we blog for ourselves, the moment someone starts a blog and makes it public, choosing to share their thoughts with others, that person is no longer blogging solely for themselves. This blogger has readers – readers who rely on them for discussion, for opinion, and for reviews. A rapport is established between every blogger and her readers. This relationship, between blogger and reader, is sacrosanct and should take priority over all others (including relationships between a blogger and a publisher or author).
Another important self-awareness step is to realise that bloggers do not OWE anything to anyone, except those readers. Bloggers are not indebted to publishers or authors over when they provide bloggers with a review copy; bloggers are not “lucky” for receiving “free” books; bloggers do not work for bloggers or authors and as such bloggers do not owe them a “positive review” (or even a review at all – though if you start requesting books, you should make some effort to review them). Review copies are part of each publisher’s budget – these are integral part of a publisher’s marketing and publicity arsenal, and would be created and distributed (we only mention this because there seems to be a popular fallacy circulating that states that publishers are somehow losing money by printing and shipping ARCs. Let’s make this clear: ARCs are an established part of a publisher’s budget and would be sent out regardless – so please, let’s quash this monetary/indebted argument before it rears its ugly head). This is what marketing budgets are for. Publishers send review copies to any number of organizations, to booksellers, to media in order to spread early buzz about a title. Bloggers are now a part of this ecosystem and a valuable outlet to which publishers reach out with news, queries, and review copies.
We do not have an inflated sense of entitlement for believing or arguing this point, because it is fact.
The truth is that bloggers have become an intrinsic, important part of the publishing industry. Not as subordinates, or mere cogs in a publisher’s “promotional” machine – but as equal partners. To feel indebted for receiving review copies, for a blogger to buy into this bizarre notion that blogging is not a serious endeavor, is not only silly but a dangerous thing that circumvent the very idea maintaining independence.
Once a blogger is aware of this, and starts taking the idea of blogging seriously, it is easy to establish the next step toward maintaining independence and integrity: honesty. Knowing who you blog for (your readers), knowing that you are not indebted to publishers you work with (not for) makes it easier to be as honest as possible. This is why we believe critical reviews are so very important. We completely understand that there are some bloggers out there that choose not to post negative reviews, and understand that this is a matter of personal preference (as long as those bloggers are upfront about their review policy and vocalize their choice not to post negative reviews). That said, we think it is of the utmost importance in maintaining independence and integrity that we, as Book Smugglers on our own site and through our own policy, speak our minds when it comes to issues that are important to us (take whitewashing, for example). In order to maintain integrity, being vocal about key issues that matter to you as a blogger (and thus to your readers) is of paramount importance.
Of course, it’s one thing to be all lofty and to say that a blogger should maintain independence (via becoming self-aware) and integrity (by being vocal about the personal issues that matter) is one thing. To actually enact these principals, however, is an entirely different matter. Especially when a blogger becomes more entrenched in the publishing environment, gets to know or even befriends authors and publishers. We struggle with these issues increasingly, with the friends we make and the relationships we forge – it’s easy to want to please and smooth things over, to turn a blind eye, or make concessions.
To that end, the only piece of advice we can offer is our own Book Smugglerish process: sit back, evaluate the situation, and think through the consequences of any action. Always, always we keep in mind that our debt is to our readers first and foremost – and with that in mind, we can maintain our own integrity – and by doing so, our independence as bloggers.
Although we have largely focused on those blogs who do have a direct contact with publishing houses, it does not mean that those who don’t accept review copies and who have no contact whatsoever with authors and publishers are not a part of the industry. They are perhaps, a less formal, official yet equally important part. Book Blogging at this very point in time is incredibly important, because we bloggers have something that publishers don’t: a direct contact with readers.
Perhaps many bloggers (and readers) do not realize that readers are not publishers’ direct customers (rather, they sell to distributors, to retail accounts, to booksellers). As bookstores close and physical shelf space shrinks, publishers are now grappling with the alien concept that they need to way to engage with an audience directly instead of acting through intermediaries. They have not established these direct channels, and as such, their marketing/publicity campaigns are increasingly relying on non-traditional media (aka bloggers) to spread the word about books.
Book blogs are important. They are here to stay. And if we want to be taken seriously in this new, emerging, and increasingly important role in the publishing world, maintaining independence and integrity is of the utmost importance.