What Blogs Can Do

By | on February 16, 2011 | 19 Comments

JE: We like to bang our drum around here for books we love, and we like to think we make a difference for those books. Some publicists take us more seriously than other. But even the ones who take us seriously, are always telling us: “Please don’t run your coverage until launch time.” I understand the logic. Publicists want to focus the attention, and monetize the coverage. But if publicists were smart, they’d ask us to post this stuff three months BEFORE pub, because book blogs function best as places where the conversations starts–don’t you think? I feel like we (book bloggers) drive interest, not book sales–particularly because many of our readers (agents, editors, writers, booksellers, etc.) can get a galley (for free) of anything they want simply by asking the publisher.

JR: DH and I had drinks with a prominent editor last week, who agreed that conversations should start as early as possible, especially on debut fiction. But I’m not sure everyone feels that way. We typically run our own schedule, but the people behind a recent literary debut wanted us to focus publicity the week of on sale. That kind of thinking is pre-internet. I get the fact that you spent money on publicity, but we offered it for free, we are self motivated, and we loved the book. No one said anything to me about the Mr. Peanut or The Imperfectionists and those reviews broke way early.

Publishers don’t know how powerful blogs can be, especially if we like something. I don’t even ask anymore (If I love a book, who is going to tell me to unlove it?). My question to publicity people is this; where does the book buyer hear about new books? Do they read about it in advertising? Hear if from friends, TV/Radio, or from their favorite bookseller? How about the Internet, most people spend ten hours a day in front of the computer, (they’re not working all the time), so why not approach the opinionated book bloggers who have a presence?

Publishers must think that the book buyer has only a few choices, which is wrong. At best, they are overwhelmed with distractions, and sometimes books don’t even rate. Look at how many books get published each month. Publicity departments are swamped and there just isn’t enough marketing money to go around for every book. When a blogger raves for free, unsolicited, then things are moving in the right direction, and publicity didn’t have to lift a finger. Blogs are taste makers, simple as that.

DH: The inconsistencies in publisher policies are pretty amazing. It’s common for booksellers to get galleys. Since we are an insider’s blog, I think many, if not most, of our readers can get their hands on a galley.

I was fortunate recently to get a manuscript of the new novel by one of my favorite writers. I’m two thirds through it and as soon as I am finished with it, I’ll write and post the first of a three-part review. The novel is months from its release date. But no one at the pub told me that I couldn’t write a review if I accepted an ARC.

The purpose of a galley is to generate advanced buzz. Why give out galleys if you don’t want the recipients to talk or blog about what they have read? It would be odd if publishers requested a vow of silence. Talking…blogging…same thing essentially…it’s conversation. But blogging is conversation with the world. Isn’t that a good thing?

Book marketers need to understand that their role is to facilitate conversation about books. I am willing to define books themselves as distilled conversations. Blogging, reviewing, interviewing are just extensions…amplifications of the original literary process. They are essential to a literary culture. And you need such a culture if you want books to thrive. And yes, if you want them to sell. The sooner the talk starts the better, and the more often the talk takes place the better, especially if it is really good talk. What is marketing? Make people talk. That’s it!

JC: Not to stray too far from the subject matter here, but this whole discussion reminds me of  a comment we got on part 2 of Tory’s FB post, where the commenter said the writers’ discussion was self-indulgent. My first thought was ungenerous. My second reaction was that maybe it seems that way, but that all these writers are working in a quickly changing environment, where they have to decide how much of a role they want, or are even capable of playing in marketing, sales, pr, etc.

I think a lot of publishers are suffering in the same way. Roles have changed. The old ways of working are so fully tattooed inside people’s brains that it’s hard to break the cycle. X was mentored by Y was mentored by Z, and never should the process change. And in some places ingenuity is given great lip service, but is only given credence when it comes from the top down. We’ve hinted at this before, how in a changing landscape, a nimble actor works best and fastest, and turning around a major marketing battleship is long and slow, and dangerous if you get it wrong. That’s why everyone wants to see what Richard Nash and friends are up to next.

But I think the idea is out there – that blogs can be part of the buzz machine that gets the word out. Some publishers have become very proactive about it – trying to get word out both well ahead of time and on publication, and some are still trying to turn the boat around.



19 Responses to “What Blogs Can Do”

  1. February 16, 2011

    Emily St. J. Mandel Reply

    But, just to play devil’s advocate — if you start talking about a book three months before the release date, isn’t there some risk that your readers will have largely forgotten about it by the time it’s available in stores?

  2. February 16, 2011

    Erica Barmash Reply

    If a blogger asks if he or she can post a review early, I always say sure but ask that they somehow remind their readers when the book goes on-sale, either by doing a giveaway or an interview then or just a post linking to the earlier review or even some tweeting. This also addresses Emily’s point in her comment about people forgetting about the book. I’ve heard a lot of the “but what if they review it early? GASP!” school of thought when it comes to bloggers and i COMPLETELY disagree with it.

  3. February 16, 2011

    occasionallyzen Reply

    I do think that early press doesn’t hurt- if it’s a book people are liking, the buzz builds and builds, so you’ve heard about it several times & gotten excited about it – by the time the book is out you haven’t forgotten it, in fact, more likely the opposite.

  4. February 16, 2011

    Jason Chambers Reply

    Right. It’s reinforcement, in my mind. Talk about your books early and often.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Harper Perennial and jmessner, April C. April C said: RT @HarperPerennial: good post over on 3 guys 1 book about bloggers posting reviews early and how it's NOT a bad thing: http://bit.ly/hhvEHe […]

  6. February 16, 2011

    Greg Olear Reply

    The proof is in the pudding. West of Here had a boatload of Goodreads reviews long before the release…that didn’t seem to curb anyone’s desire to talk about the book now that it’s out…quite the contrary.

  7. February 16, 2011

    Jason Chambers Reply

    No kidding, Greg. And JE’s been talking about it, listing it his bylines, etc for about a year and half, right? So far, so good.

  8. February 17, 2011

    Pam van Hylckama Reply

    I always post 2 weeks before launch but that is because I am always behind.

  9. February 17, 2011

    Dennis Haritou Reply

    Print journalism is the older model. Coverage tends to be singular…the writer gets one or two shots to get attention in a newspaper or magazine. And coverage is expensive, it always costs money. Coverage on our blog can be multiple and coverage is free. It mimics conversation where an interesting subject can come up again and again. How many times do you discuss your friends?

    I agree with JC’s top-down model of how publishing houses work. Everyone is waiting for some big guy upstairs to say that it’s okay to innovate. On our blog
    I just ask the Guys if something is okay to do. The answer is almost always “yes” unless it’s a really dumb idea. I like our corporate model better.

  10. February 17, 2011

    Anonymous Reply

    Great article. As somebody who writes about both books and music, I really don’t think it would hurt the book industry to take one of the only good pages out of the music industries playbook, and get book bloggers talking about books further off in advance. Get the bloggers excited and get the readers excited as well.

  11. […] You should read this essay about how blogs can hep the book industry at Three Guys One Book. […]

  12. February 17, 2011

    Will Entrekin Reply

    Great post. One would think it would be obvious, but so many obvious things rarely are. Up above, Emily said: “But, just to play devil’s advocate — if you start talking about a book three months before the release date, isn’t there some risk that your readers will have largely forgotten about it by the time it’s available in stores?”

    But really: no. Just look at the film industry. After the Superbowl, everyone’s talking about all the big action movies that won’t be out until at least May in most cases.

    One thing that’s really demonstrable, and worth remembering, is that culture doesn’t “forget” about anything but that which is disposable. The big-opening first-day sales may be great for business (and, perhaps, the number one way publishers turn a profit), but books aren’t anything anyone forgets about. Moreso than any other medium, in fact, books are something that “stick” to culture.

  13. February 17, 2011

    Emily St. J. Mandel Reply

    It’s not obvious — I know a few book publicists, very intelligent people who know their industry, who fall squarely into the “please don’t run the review three months before the publication date” camp — but it’s always interesting to come here and get a range of views on these things.

  14. February 18, 2011

    Alma Katsu Reply

    There is interesting research being done in temporal patterns of breaking news. A couple studies came up with the same conclusions — based on analysis of social media — that an event that breaks in traditional news, or news aggregators tend to be talked about a lot but die off quickly — that’s even if blogs are part of the online discussion. But when an event breaks in blogs first, the discussion builds more slowly, then crosses over into traditional media, then usually dies off quickly. It supports your argument generally; the only problem might be if traditional media seize on a story in the blogs, makes it peak, then attention drops off before pub date because its sometimes hard to get trad media to go pay attention to something again unless something significant happens.

  15. February 19, 2011

    Jonathan Evison Reply

    . . . as usual, brilliant insights from the readership!

  16. […] Guys One Book wonders why publishers aren’t more aggressive about drumming up pre-publication hype, instead admonishing media […]

  17. February 21, 2011

    K. Victoria Smith Reply

    This is a good example. I just found this blog through Twitter, 5 days after posting. I am a future published author but also a person with a long business career. The publishing model is undergoing seismic changes. Anyone can e-pub. The issue is how to sell a book worth reading. Market channels are more diffused with the e-reader explosion and the Borders bankruptcy signposts along that road. In this world, advance marketing especially via blogs and social media is a must. Borders appears to admit that they failed because they sis not keep up with the changing environment. As writers and other participants in this market, we must remember Economic Darwinism–Adapt or Die.

  18. […] What Blogs Can Do Three Guys One Book […]

  19. February 23, 2011

    Jasonaustinrice Reply

    Case and point. The Imperfectionists. Check sales on that title (hardcover and paper)…and see when people started talking about it. The Buckley review helped, certainly, but early raves did nothing but help it’s cause.

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