How much promo is too much, Part 2: Bloggers and promo

There’s no question that bloggers are amping up the promo as much as authors and other industry professionals. Not all book bloggers are alike: some blog for themselves, as a sort of reading record. Some blog because they are part of a community and commenting alone isn’t enough. Others blog because they read a lot and want to share their reactions with other readers. Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author began in part because the structures and norms of romance chat boards and discussion groups of the time didn’t allow them to express ideas, opinions, reviews in all the ways they wanted.

In the last few years, as social media venues have exploded in number, blogging has become high-profile and (occasionally) lucrative. Some bloggers get book deals. The process of getting ARCs, which used to be only for major review sites, has been greatly democratized through Netgalley, Edelweiss, and individual blogger-author relationships. Giveaways of ARCs at places like Goodreads extend that reach even further.

As a result, blogging has become not just an end in itself but a means to other ends: income, status, visibility, etc. So bloggers, who used to provide promo as a by-product of an expressive post (the most obvious being book promo through a review), are now providing much more direct promo, sometimes to highlight books and authors they care about and want to help, but often to drive traffic to their blogs. I can think of three major types of promo-friendly blog content:

  • Giveaways
  • Blog hops
  • Memes

Giveaways are the most common, at least among the blogs I visit. People love free stuff on the internet as much as they do everywhere else, so giveaways are popular for authors, bloggers, and commenters alike. And giveaways do increase traffic, although the amount of traffic varies by blogger and by giveaway item.

But every giveaway has to be publicized to be effective, and so they are tweeted. And retweeted. And retweeted again. If the giveaway is open for a few days, you’ll see multiple tweets about it, with interested parties RTing those tweets over and over.

Blog hops are somewhat less common but still pretty easy to find. Especially for newer authors and newer bloggers, blog hops are a way to publicize an upcoming book and themselves to a wider audience. A blog hop involves writing posts or answering questions for a number of different blogs. Bloggers like hops because bloggers are always looking for content, and here the content is either provided by the author or pre-structured, so it’s easier to convert to a post. But as with giveaways, a blog hop has to be publicized to be effective. Enter the tweets, RTs, and so on.

Not all blog hops are pointless; a reader can learn about both the book and the author’s approach to the genre through them, if the blog posts are informative and varied. But all too often the posts are basically retreads, with the same questions being asked and answered, or in the worst cases, the same material is posted to multiple blogs.

Finally, memes. I did not know this was A Thing until last year, probably because I don’t follow YA blogs. The individual blogger/reviewers I have followed for many years, and who therefore shaped my idea of what blogs looked like, were bloggers like SuperWendy, Rosario, jmc, and Keishon. They wrote idiosyncratic, personal blogs that reflected their interests, which encompassed reviews and the occasional What I’m Up To post. The only meme I remember is SBD, and I can’t even remember what that was about.

But now, with the YA juggernaut and all the new bloggers, we have a surfeit of memes. In My Mailbox Monday. Waiting on Wednesday. Follow My Book Blog Friday. Here’s a handy list of more of them.

Memes are useful in the same way blog hops are: they provide structured content and increase the likelihood of links and traffic. All bloggers, no matter whether they are obscure or highly visible, face the endless need to come up with content. And successful blogs usually structure their content: for example, Dear Author has the Saturday First Page and the Sunday Tech Post, while Smart Bitches has had Friday Videos forever. I did it too: before I went on hiatus I’d settled on a three-post-per-week system that made generating content easier for my small, obscure blog.

But all of these examples are about individual ways of shaping content and making it predictable for repeat visitors. The meme approach is about coordinated content, and it winds up becoming incredibly competitive when it’s adopted by bloggers who want to increase their influence and follower numbers. It becomes part of branding, and as such, it requires publicity. I think my least favorite is the most common one: In My Mailbox Monday. This meme is about which ARCs the blogger has received, and it can become really distasteful. It’s all about the blogger: Look at me! I’m so important! I have this book you all want to read but can’t yet because you’re not fabulous enough!

I can’t think of a meme that illustrates the promo machine better than In My Mailbox Monday. Obviously reviewers and authors benefit if they can get books ahead of publication date to review. But when ARC acquisition becomes a competitive sport and a way to signal importance, it makes the blogger an integral part of the promo. I can see how that’s good for authors, publishers, and ambitious bloggers. I don’t see how it’s good for readers who rely on trust networks to find books. When readers trust bloggers to steer them to good books regardless of hype, bloggers don’t need memes to generate traffic.

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34 thoughts on “How much promo is too much, Part 2: Bloggers and promo

  1. I have a huge problem with blog hops. I joined one for my first novella, and while I didn’t see it improving my sales it was fairly painless. The second put me off of them for good, when it was obvious that the majority of the entries were not from people even remotely interested in the genre, but were there merely for the free e-reader and the abundance of gift cards up for grabs. It chapped my ass to have to hand over my prize. Subsequent invites to blog hops, I’ve just ignored because many are now asking authors to pay a fee to take part. Nope. I can think of a better use for promo dollars.

    • Oh, I’d forgotten about the free stuff that has nothing to do with the book. Those are the worst. And fees to take part? That’s ridiculous.

      You know what makes GREAT promo? More books. But what do I know, I’m just a reader. ;)

  2. I’m glad you did a separate post on bloggers, because I really noticed that even after I unfollowed most of the authors in my stream, the promo stuff was still there.

    You forgot some of my least favorite: the Cover/Title “reveal” posts and the canned author interviews (accompanying a giveaway). I know others enjoy them, but I tend to “mark as read” in my reader. The types of posts you mention are a huge inducement to bloggers because they are an easy way to generate content. The more posts, the more hits … the more hits, the more comments (esp. easy to generate on giveaways) … the higher your search ranking, your stats, your *whatever* measure of influence, the more you can reach whatever blogging goals you may have (career in publishing, monetizing your blog, boost to self-esteem, etc.).

    Some bloggers have a hard time trying to fight these trends. I know of one who agreed to post author-generated content, with the stipulation that it be unique. After she put up the post, she saw an identical post on another blog.

    And, undeniably, readers like them. Another prominent blogger introduced a feature that basically amounts to a list of upcoming books, and was shocked to find it became her most visited post of the week.

    Although there are ways to be obnoxious about promo, I can appreciate the blogging goals I mentioned above, and I can understand why readers get a kick out of a lot of posts that leave me cold, so I just move along in search of content I personally prefer.

    • I feel really dense sometimes. I review and write the occasional opinion piece at a major blog but I don’t really think about traffic, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get comments and know that what I’m writing resonates with people, but whenever *I* start thinking consciously about whether something will be successful online, I screw it up. I had to force myself not to do that with this blog, because it takes the fun out of it and it never works anyway. So on the one hand I’m sympathetic to people who want traffic, status, etc. but on the other, it changes the nature of the blog in ways I don’t like, either as a contributor or a reader. I have such respect for bloggers who have a good nose for what is successful and engaging to readers. Mine is more of a reverse barometer.

      I know promo matters, for both bloggers and authors, and it’s not as if genuine enthusiasm isn’t promo as well. But the romance community has been pretty good about seeing through fake promo, and I just worry that it’s getting harder to tell the canned from the genuine. Which will cause our our wonderful, effective word of mouth process to suffer.

      You know, I don’t even *see* cover reveals in my reader because my eyes just glaze over and keep going. I’ve never bought books for the cover (many in spite of the cover, of course) and I am not artistic, so usually I just don’t care unless the cover is so good even *I* can appreciate it.

  3. Giveaways are exhausting and while they might temporarily drive traffic to your blog, about 90% of those folks are only there for…..yeah, the giveaway. I’m not convinced it actually gets you repeat visitors. I did a BUNCH of giveaways late last year, mostly because I had a ton of leftover RWA books and tote bags – and I liked doing them, but was just as glad when they were over.

    The only time I read blog hop stuff is when it’s an author I’m already curious about – which is probably not the response a lot of newbie authors are looking for :) I’ve done a few of them on my blog but they’ve always been because I wanted to – not because some author or publicist e-mailed me about doing one. I’d actually like to see more blogger-generated blog hop ideas – like back in the dark ages when KristieJ, Sybil and I hosted “The Great Western Drive” for a week. That was different, fun (and totally KristieJ’s idea) and other bloggers got in on the act by maybe devoting a blog post to the subject of westerns during that week. More of that would be fun, I think, – but then I like stuff like this when it feels spontaneous and like it’s coming from a genuine place.

    I did my own meme for a while – the whole Random Romance Sunday thing – where I spotlighted a random romance every Sunday. I liked it, and I know some readers liked it too – but just like giveaways? It got to be exhausting! I’ve thought about bringing back a very stripped down version of the idea – but just…..can’t. Feels too much like “work” to generate content on a specific day every.sinigle.week.

    Oh good Lord – the Cover Reveal! The less I say about those the better – and I’m a person who LIKES cover art. Can talk about it endlessly actually. But even I don’t need to see the same cover “revealed” on 15 different blogs, plus retweeted endlessly. Damn kids, get off my lawn! LOL

    And now that I’ve rambled on for a while hogging up the space on your comments – I have to say over the years I’ve gotten the most enjoyment out of bloggers who are “like me” – the ones you’ve mentioned like Rosario, Keishon and jmc. I like group blogs, and I like blogs that give me a lot of “news” – but it’s the ones where I get some personality that really flip my switch. Less promo, more personality – and I’ll follow that blogger through the fires of Hell. OK, maybe not – but you get the idea…..

    • I always read Random Romance Sundays, and I loved the Great Western Drive. But those were about your love of books, and they never felt forced. Same with Save the Contemporary a while back. A meme that is generated through reader initiative and based on what readers want can work beautifully. I mean, the TBR Challenge does, and I really enjoy the RTs every month because I don’t just find out about books, I get these cool reviews that I probably wouldn’t see otherwise.

      Responding to your comments makes me realize why memes are so popular (aside from the content issue that Jessica summarized so well): good ones really work and are fun. It’s when they get promo-ized and obviously orchestrated that they stop working for me. Even the Nalini Singh cover reveal was kind of fun to watch from the sidelines because it seemed spontaneous and people were really into it.

      I didn’t enter, but I actually looked at all of your giveaway posts because I’m still in shock about how much swag is around at conventions. The amount you had left for a giveaway even after everything you’d disposed of made my jaw drop.

  4. Yes, yes, yes to all of this.

    I am not sure whether more of my tweet stream has become promo (I have slowly followed more authors and authors-to-be) or whether I am just more sensitive to it. But I am increasingly wary of adding to it. When I have a new post, I tweet it once. And again at another time of day, maybe. But not if a lot of other people have already RT’d it, or if if the numbers suggest that my (small) audience has already found it. Because I don’t want to be annoying. Just as more and more tweets about an author’s book do not make me more likely to buy it, more tweets about my post will not make more people want to read it.

    I think memes work when they provide meaningful content, not when they are page-filler. Stale interview questions, pictures of piles of ARCs, and cover reveals generally don’t meet the test for me. The Nalini Singh cover reveal was actually supposed to hint at something about the plot, so reader excitement made sense. But in some cases, same-old covers are RT’d so often with inane comments on how gorgeous/sexy they are that I hope never to see the book again, which is surely not the aim.

    • Your blog is such a great example of a not-large blog that has great comments and discussion. You have a real community, and I’m sure it would be different if you had thousands of followers, but I’m not convinced it would be better.

      I think that RTing posts more than once makes total sense because Twitter is ephemeral and people aren’t all on at the same time. An author told me once that the advice is to RT something 3x over the day, to hit all the timezones.

  5. I love the multi-blog events that are theme-oriented. TBR Challenge is great, as were the Great Western Drive and Save the Contemporary. There have been some good steampunk events involving multiple blogs, too, and last year there was a science-fiction and fantasy event called A More Diverse Universe that gave me lots of new reading ideas and food for thought. But these all have something in common: an idea about reading a particular kind of book, so reading all the different posts is interesting. Where different bloggers read the same book, it’s fascinating to see the different takes and reactions — that happens sometimes with new releases, but I love seeing it happen with lesser-known or even older titles. The thing is, it’s all about the books and the reading experience, not about driving traffic or whatever.

    Giveaways clearly have their place, but as Wendy says, they don’t necessarily bring in any new voices to the community. And they are as likely to be won by random one-timers as by regular participants, especially if there’s a big prize. And OMG, yes, the Twitter traffic those generate makes me want to scream!

    My tiny, neglected blog suits me fine; I don’t look at the numbers very often, and when I do, it’s always humbling to realize that my vacation photos get more hits than anything I write about books. I don’t blame people for wanting more than that, but I think going about it by copying other people or endlessly RTing is not the best strategy. Or so I hope, because if it doesn’t work, maybe it will eventually go away.

    • Here at VM, the posts with the most hits are the kerfuffle posts. Some of them still get hits almost every day. When my Goodreads posts got picked up, I had this sudden worry that I should somehow respond to the increased traffic. But then I realized I had no idea how, and besides it would drive me crazy to think about it. So I just went back to my normal posts. It’s humbling in some ways, but you are like me, I think; you write primarily to work things out and to have a record. The traffic is a by-product.

      • I’ve only joined kerfuffles a couple of times. My bullying post still gets hits, I notice. When I wanted to escalate a kerfuffle over NetGalley, Jessica hosted it at RRR so that people would actually read it and we’d get some comments. I’ve yet to have a lengthy discussion on my blog, and I’m not really sure I want to.

  6. I find the same sort of behavior on many of the quilting blogs I read. Of course there it’s fabric give-aways instead of books, but the nuts and bolts are the same. There are designer tours when a new fabric line is introduced, link parties where everyone makes the same quilt, flickr groups to show off your stuff, etc. The point is, if I spend all my time joining in all the link-ups or reading an ARC I’m not terribly interested in, I don’t spend enough time making MY stuff or reading MY books. Sure, I’d love to have more people reading my blog, but I’ve come to realize that sticking to my extremely small corner of the internet gives me way more freedom to just be me.

    • Yes! Knitting blogs are all that and more. The fangirls are kind of scary to me, to be honest.

      I’ve come to realize that sticking to my extremely small corner of the internet gives me way more freedom to just be me.

      EXACTLY.

      • Oddly, I have never followed knitting blogs. I do have a couple of quilt blogs I look at and can confirm that they are exactly like book blogs in the squee and promo and memes and all the rest. Which I don’t mind a little bit of in the distance, but I certainly don’t want it to be the main content.

  7. Yes, to everything you said Sunita. :)

    I’ve had 3 giveaways on my blog, in the 3 years it’s been going. The first was my “20 follower extravaganza” and my tongue was so firmly in my cheek with it people thought I had a goiter.. Giveaways are actually a fair bit of effort and mostly the traffic isn’t going to stay.

    I get a lot of requests for book tours but I don’t have the time and I’m concerned about it because I’ve heard that to participate (in at least some of them) the review has to be positive and that’s just not me. I’ve made it pretty clear that while I don’t strive to be snarky, what I think is what will be in the review and whether or not I paid for the book will have no bearing on it.

    I enjoy playing in my little corner of the sandpit and I get a huge kick out of traffic and comments but I read what I want to and I review what I read and if I can think of something that *might* be an interesting opinion type piece, I’ll give that a go too, But that’s about it.

    I have joined a couple of book challenges this year for a bit of fun more than anything and i joined the Book Depository affiliate programme a while back. It would probably help if I put buy links on my posts! LOL. I make no money and don’t try to – too much work. Good on those bloggers who make something out of their affiliate links – that’s something I *may* get to eventually but for now, I’m not terribly interested in making the extra effort (and I don’t have the traffic to make it worthwhile anyway). Pretty much, I’m happy I get to play and the rest is a bonus.

    • OK, I totally want to steal the 20 follower extravaganza idea. ;)

      I’ve organized a handful of giveaways at DA and done a couple of anonymous book giveaways on other blogs. In every case, I was constantly stressed about making sure I got the prizes to the winners, etc. I don’t know how Jane and the other major and responsible bloggers do it.

      • And the commenters don’t follow the rules! I make the rules simple but they don’t leave an email address, don’t answer the question etc. I don’t make them follow or tweet because that seems silly to me but leave an email address so I can find you!! LOL!:

        I’m still at the stage where I’m happy to be on someone’s blogroll. (Although I notice I’m not on yours *cough cough* – just as well I’m not sensitive about such things :D)

  8. Is my blog idiosyncratic? It certainly feels kind of idiotic sometimes… :P I’ve noticed since I split my reading to the WordPress site and the more personal stuff to LJ that I blog less about reading or books than I realized. When I first started blogging, I didn’t mean to let any of my real life leak online, but the seepage has been gradual to the point that sometimes I post more frequently to LJ than WP.

    Early on I tried a couple of memes, like Thursday Thirteen, but it required too much effort. I’m pretty lazy, and the give aways and memes that seem popular are just too much work.

    There are a few blogs that I used to read regularly that tipped into too much promo for my taste. They may have balanced the content, but now that I’m a little more separated from the romance blog community I’m not likely to return them to my feed reader. Same with Twitter, although I don’t follow many authors.

    • Definitely idiosyncratic but never idiotic. ;) When I first started reading m/m I went to your blog, followed it, and then started combing your back posts for suggestions. We have very similar tastes, so it was a gold mine for me. I rarely commented, so you had no idea I was there, but your blog was (and is) a must-read. I think small bloggers tend to have a core of faithful readers, whether they realize it or not. And they’re not all friends and relatives. ;)

  9. In My Mailbox Monday sounds sickening. I’m glad I haven’t encountered it much. I rather like Waiting on Wednesday memes though, if they come with an explanation of why the blogger is interested in that particular book, a la Book Smugglers or Gossamer Obsessions. I think Wendy is right that the voice of a blogger is a big factor in a reader’s enjoyment. I too have a reverse barometer for what catches readers’ attention most, so I am grateful that Jane invited me to ride on her coattails.

  10. Thanks for the mention, Sunita. As for me, I don’t promo. I prefer people to find my blog through word of mouth or from a Google search. Have never felt confident in pushing anything that I write. I tried it a few times last year and didn’t feel encouraged to continue. In the realm of promo, one hand washes the other and I’m not much in the mood for that. I promo strictly what I like and what I find informative.

    I don’t do it often but I do get a kick out of covers from time to time. I think promo is about balance. I tend to ignore about 99% of it so I feel it’s not worth it since I’m not much of a team player. Great post. Sorry for being so dour.

    • You definitely do not do promo. The rest of us RT your blog posts whether you like it or not!

      I think you had a post comparing US and European/UK covers once or twice. I find those kinds of posts and discussions really interesting because they’re about how marketing varies in different settings. But again, that’s about a substantive topic, so it never feels like promo even if it works that way.

  11. I just read a post from a blogger talking about her struggle with what she calls blogger jealousy. It was very honest and somewhat (a lot!) whiny, but what surprised me was that that she kept talking about not having enough money to pay for conventions or to do more giveaways and how she didn’t know what else to do to drive traffic or to get more attention from publishers. But she never mentions the quality of the content or her quest to write better reviews or interesting posts. At one point she even says that no one really cares about reviews, which I doubt she really means it because her blog is informative, funny and good, otherwise it would be just promo after promo. Everyone on the comments seemed to agree and share her feelings.

    When I started blogging I was very concerned with blog traffic and numbers. I wanted to establish an audience and I felt like memes, blog hops, generic blog tours and other promotional content was the best way to get some attention (I still do the occasional giveaway when someone offers a book I think people will like, and I’ve had great guest post and interviews, but I always put thought behind those). But it gets old so fast, because who wants empty numbers when the readers aren’t there? So I get the jealousy, and some days I see a fellow blogger talking about getting a coveted ARC, and I feel the envy coming. Then I take a look at my angry TBR pile and it usually brings me back from the darkness, but still, I understand the feelings, at least to a point. What I don’t understand is people who blog for something else than themselves and those who read their blogs. I see people feeling so much pressure, and most of the time it’s all about having followers so they can get ARCs. Are people seriously getting stomach ulcers and plagiarizing so that they can get free books? Those are the bloggers who abuse the promotional content. There’s certainly a huge audience for that type of blogs, but it’s not the audience I’m interested in.

    • I don’t get very much traffic at all and I already have more ARC’s than I know what do to with and my TBR is pretty angry too. I suppose it would be nice to get the “coveted” ARC’s sometimes but the amount of effort it must take to get them boggles my mind. Getting 3 or 4 posts up a week is about my limit and I don’t have to work very hard at the moment. If I was working full time I’m not sure where I would pull the space from and still get any sleep!

      • What really annoys me is the Goodreads review that isn’t a review but rather an announcement of ARC received. A starred or unstarred shelving with “review to come” in the review space, well before the book comes out. There is NO reason to do that unless you feel the need to make sure people you have something they don’t.

        • I do that! Sorry Sunita. :D

          But it’s not for promo reasons. It’s because I use GR mainly to catalogue and keep track of my reading. So where I got it (NetGalley, ARC from author, prize, etc) are things I need to remember so I can disclose in my reviews. I’d forget if I didn’t note it at GR.

          I put my blog posts on GR after the post goes live but not before but I star rate and note the date read when I actually read the books so that I can keep track. I try and write the reviews straight away and that’s not always the case so going back to GR to check my star rating is often a prompt for me as to whether it was a B or a B- for example.

          And the “review to come” bit is part reminder to me to put it in there and part for any of my GR friends to know that there will be more coming in due course, it’s not just a star rating with no explanation.

          Because I do it for me, I’m going to keep doing it. I suppose this means I’m off the blogroll now? /jk :P

    • I read that blog post too. What also struck me about it was that after writing quite eloquently about her flaws, she ended by essentially saying, that’s who I am, take it or leave it. Really? You don’t consider behavior that is unhealthy for you and unpleasant for others to be something to work on and improve?

      And yes, the complaining about not having enough money to buy books was a bit much. I know in YA it’s harder because the books are more expensive, but I do think some of the attitude comes from the sense that bloggers *shouldn’t* have to spend money because the ARCs are out there, if only they could get on the list! Whereas if she bought two books a month and wrote really good reviews of them, people would love it. Or backlist reviews of older books that deserve attention but aren’t getting it.

      It’s human nature to want to have people read what you write, but in all the time I’ve been following you, I’ve never interpreted your tweets as trying to increase traffic or self-promo. You’re just fun to read. ;)

      • It’s very easy to get YA novels out of the library, and there are also options like paperbackswap. I’ve been blogging for six and a half years and I well remember the days when I bought all the books I reviewed. Sometimes I even miss them, because there was less pressure to review any specific book than there is when I request an ARC.

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