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

by Sunita

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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