Reading and reviewing, then and now

Robin’s op ed post this week has generated a lot of conversation, more than any of us expected. She asked if reviewing in romanceland was still fun. There was a torrent of response, and a lot of the response from readers and reviewers centered around their increased apprehension in posting critical reviews (which is anything that results in a rating under 4 stars). Some authors who commented expressed resentment at getting lumped in with the badly behaving ones, and some were taken aback by the level of frustration and even animosity readers showed in the thread.

It’s a topic that gets discussed a lot these days, but one thing that struck me about this thread, which was reinforced in private discussions, was the sense among those who’ve been in traditional romancelandia for a decade or more that the climate is worse today than it’s ever been. Not everyone feels this way, of course; some long-time residents basically said “eh, same old, same old.” But a lot didn’t, and I agree with the people who think it’s really bad these days.

First, the required caveat: there have always been terrible reviewers and there have always been speshul snowflake authors. And there have always been fangirls. The earliest days of The Romance Reader and All About Romance are replete with incidents of authors and their loyal followers going after critical reviews of books, reviews that were labeled unfair, biased, etc. But over the years, say the early to mid-2000s, this kind of behavior slowly became considered inappropriate. Authors reined in their fans, or the fans kept their ranting against reviewers confined to author boards. You could have huge debates (remember Alyssa Tracy and whoever she wound up with instead of the guy she was supposed to wind up with in that Brockmann book?), but it wasn’t just fangirls v. everyone else, it was also reader v. reader. As it should be.

Then the KDP Doctrine was announced and the Manifest Destiny of everyone’s ability and to publish their Great American Novel came into being, and the expanding frontier led to the Wild Indie West we live in now. (Sorry. Horrible metaphor is over, you can stop wincing.)

And now we have a situation where, as Noelle Adams put it in the pithiest and most accurate summary I’ve seen anywhere,

There has always been an elusive factor in publishing success, but it’s never been as elusive as it is now. I shopped romances with publishers for fifteen years without success, and I was convinced (and still am) that it wasn’t a quality issue that was holding me back. I did, however, have some sort of an explanation for it–my writing didn’t fit the established patterns and expectations publishers were looking for. I really think the market was more knowable back then. But, more and more, it defies explanation for why some books are successes and some aren’t, and I think this just feeds writers’ desperation, which in turn leads to fewer boundaries on behavior, which in turn leads to a difficult climate for book lovers.

In the bad old days, when no agent would sign you and The Man in New York City refused to publish your quality novel, an author knew who to blame. Now, when you publish your own work and it sinks like a stone, the only person to blame is the one uploading the ebook to Amazon, so authors do everything they can to find ways to increase their book’s discoverability and they become desperate if they see something that they think will hurt it. And they believe a lot of what other authors tell them, because no one has good, reliable data that explains success and failure.

And that’s where reader reviews come in. Epinions has a lot to answer for, because now leaving a rating, review, or other type of evaluation is second-nature to a lot of consumers. Every online retail portal I can think of encourages it and it takes work to avoid rating things you use, from apps to vacuum cleaners to books.

But some authors have been told that anything that isn’t an outright rave rating tanks their sales prospects. So in addition to reciprocal positive reviewing and even buying reviews, they take issue with reviews they think will hurt them. Obviously not every author does this. But enough do it that reviewers are skittish.

I’ve reviewed at Dear Author for four years, which isn’t that long, but it’s during the rise of the self-publishing juggernaut, and over that time I have seen the change in the balance between authors who grit their teeth and complain in private, and those who sail into reader conversations to tell them what they screwed up. And more and more readers argue with reviews as well. The overall effect, for me, is exhaustion. Why am I doing this again?

Reviewing is now fraught with potential unpleasantness in a quite different way than it was before. Before, readers might disagree with me and tell me I was wrong, but the pushback was about the book. Now I worry about friends of the author, people with a vested interest in self-publishing, and a more general circle of authors and fans who see any critical (in the critique sense) of reviewing as counter-productive to the Great Goals of Discoverability and Sales Success.

And this affects blogging as well. When there was the uproar around Dear Author’s rules for commenting last year, a number of regular commenters left. I remarked to friends that I hoped someone would start up a blog that would compete with DA and SB, that they had been major players for a long time in internet terms and it was time for a challenge. After all, that’s how DA and SB started, because readers were dissatisfied with the main venues then. But it didn’t happen. Love in the Margins is a valuable addition to the blogosphere, but it is by design a more narrowly focused blog. I subscribe to it and you should too, but it isn’t intended to be a general-interest romance blog.

What we’ve seen come up are blogs like LITM, with a specific purpose, or blogs that are personal and more idiosyncratic (like Jessica’s blog or Liz’s blog or Brie’s blog or a dozen other excellent ones I’ve linked to in my blogroll). I love those blogs. I subscribe to many of them. But where are the general blogs? Where is the m/m blog to replace Jessewave? Where do we have the spirited 100+ comment conversations that have characterized romland discourse for so long, and that many of us value a lot?

I worry that general interest review sites just aren’t worth the trouble anymore. However much bloggers have ambitions to be “influencers,” as the horrible online vocabulary terms them, blogs are still a lot of work.* The newer blogs I’ve seen that aren’t intentionally limited in their scope tend to be cheerleading blogs. I find this intensely depressing.

To me, the fact that the hole Wave left hasn’t been filled, and the fact that DA and SB (and others such as Bookpushers and SmexyBooks) are still the main players speaks to the change many of us are afraid is happening. There has been churn and movement in romance reviewing for nearly two decades that I know of. Now many of the new blogs are tied to publishers or function as venues for author publicity. Those aren’t the same kind of public good providers. And yes, blogs do provide public goods. You don’t pay to access the content and you don’t have to be anyone in particular to lurk or comment. You don’t even have to give your real name and email at DA.

Whatever you think of the big blogs of today, whether you love them or hate them, they have always provided their content for free (unlike authors, who might provide limited free content to spur sales). And they’re not being sufficiently challenged by like-minded newcomers in today’s online market. We should all worry about that.


*I don’t provide nearly as much content and infrastructural support as Jane, Jayne, and Robin do at DA. But based on the number of posts I wrote last year and behind the scenes tasks, I’d estimate I spent somewhere between 170 and 200 hours directly on DA-related work (I’m not counting the reading time for most of the book reviews). That’s more than a month of full-time employment. J, J, and R put it orders of magnitude more time than I do.

82 thoughts on “Reading and reviewing, then and now

  1. I know I’ve said this about several Romland issues, but the root cause of the problem is the author-blogger relationships that have formed over the years. I found it a bit disingenuous for Robin to point the finger at BBAs and their fangirls when, A)they’ve always existed and were easy enough to ignore (or have entertaining flame wars with) in the past and B)there’s a lot that DA (and SB) has done over the years to create this environment. Open Thread for Authors, First Page Saturday, etc.; there was comment thread Jane started a couple of years ago asking readers for their most hated tropes, and the next day she started one for most loved tropes because authors had emailed her to complain. And while none of those things are bad (okay, that trope thing got major side-eye but I know I’m cynical about these things), let’s not pretend that the current environment isn’t the inevitable result of all that mingling and catering. Add in twitter, with everyone interacting with authors as fellow readers and not just fans looking for updates; consider how some bloggers have their unchecked fangirls that they occasionally call to arms just like authors do, and we’ve long passed the stage where there is any turning back.

    I can’t imagine there ever being a general romance blog that can compete with DA and SB unless they close up shop first. They’re essentially too big to fail at the point. You can’t reach their numbers without publisher, author, and fangirl support anymore. You’d have to cater to the masses, which means keeping things as pleasant (i.e. none thought provoking) as possible. That DA and SB can still get away with anything interesting these days is because they’ve been around so long.

    • I’m not going to argue with your perception of the author-blogger relationships, although on the DA side I can personally attest that there are plenty of authors (including authors that DA contributors review) who loathe DA and think we’re unfair to authors generally. Just as there are plenty of readers like you who think DA caters to authors and functions as an author-promotion site.

      I will say, however, that the author-blogger relationship predates SB and DA. Some of AAR’s earliest reviewers, including its founder, have had strong ties (including offline friendships) with authors they’ve reviewed and featured at the site. They also regularly had author interviews, promotions of books, and the like, and I’m reliably informed that there have been authors who have reviewed there under pen names. None of this kind of author-blogger interaction started with DA/SB. It is probably endemic to the operation of a general-interest blog, although I’d love to be proved wrong about that. I’d be thrilled to see a blog that publishes a lot of reviews without taking ARCs or having any author-focused content. It would be a great experiment and it might help us get a sense of how many “pure readers” (i.e., readers who don’t aspire to publish) are actually out there. I think there are not many of us, to be honest.

      I disagree that DA or SB are too big to fail. When institutions are “too big to fail” it’s because they’re being propped up for someone else’s benefit (I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know). I do not know of a single institution, now or historically, that was truly “too big to fail.” In the end, publishers and authors can’t prop DA/SB up if readers don’t want to go there. They are not monopolies or a monopsony, and I can tell you without hesitation that there are plenty of publishers and authors who would flock to an alternative if one was presented which they thought they could help build into a legitimate rival.

    • Rereading your comment, I realize I didn’t respond to something in your last paragraph that I wanted to. You say that you can’t reach the size DA and SB are without author, publisher, and fangirl support. I don’t think that’s true, unless there are so few readers who don’t want to read about industry/author stuff that they can’t support anything big. That’s entirely possible, but it’s an empirical question we don’t have the data to answer.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “anymore,” though. Are you saying there was a time when this was possible? Because the big blogs of yesteryear had author/publisher support (in terms of ARCs, author content contribution, and the like). When DA and SB started they didn’t have publisher/author support, or not much, and they grew without it. It was their popularity that brought the publishers/big authors, not vice versa, at least it was in the formative years.

      • You can’t compete with DA/SBTB without industry support unless you’re independently wealthy. Hosting costs $$$ and how would you pay for it without advertising? How will you get advertising without industry connections? How do you keep those connections *and* challenge the status quo to establish yourself as some sort of alternative?

        • You can’t start at that level without $$$ money, but those blogs didn’t start there either. And you could accept non-publisher, non-author advertising (readers of rom blogs buy stuff other than romance) if you wanted to. There are ways for dedicated, ambitious people to create new platforms. We see it in other online areas of interest.

          You can’t do any of it overnight. I didn’t mean that I expected giant blogs to pop up over the last year. I am just surprised, and have been surprised for a while, that independent blogs that aim for a bigger reach haven’t emerged, while industry-supporting blogs have. Maybe blogs per se are less important to pure readers, I don’t know. But lots of smaller blogs popped up from the mid-2000s on, including group blogs that mimicked DA/SB/AAR.

        • Jane started Dear Author with her own $$$. At first we didn’t get ARCS– Netgalley and Edelweiss didn’t exist back then, so when we started getting paper ARCs, the cost of mailing them to us came out of Jane and Jayne’s pockets (and occasionally when something was mistakenly went to the wrong person, another reviewer’s) too.

          But for the most part we reviewed books we purchased ourselves, on our own dime. We operated in the red and actually I think even with the current advertising, some of us might still be doing so, certainly we ALL do so if you count our time as having a value equivalent to the US minimum wage.

          To this day, most of the books I review come from personal purchases, and not from Netgalley or Edelweiss. Partly because I don’t want my reading to be limited to what they offer, and partly because I hate feeling absolutely committed to reviewing a specific book, and to doing so by a specific date. When I do request books from a publisher, it’s usually on the rare occasion that I’m so eager to read them that I can’t wait three months for their publication date.

          Reviewing is a hobby, and an expensive one. I do it because I love it and because I see it as a contribution to the genre’s development and to the reviewing community that helped me find great books when purchasing at random wasn’t helping me find what I wanted.. As someone who does aspire to publish a novel, I take some personal risks by doing it, too, At one point my husband was out of work for over a year, and maybe I should have quit DA and spent the time I put into it during that period job hunting, but I couldn’t bring myself to.

          With all that said, it is getting to be less fun and if the market for lemons Sunita posted about arrives, I may have to quit. I’m one of the least adventurous reviewers at DA, and that is all the more true when it comes to self-published books. Some are good but a high percentage of the ones I’ve tried have disappointed me. The idea of slogging through what is essentially a self-published slush pile for no compensation and a lot of anger from authors and their fans doesn’t appeal to me.

          • I’m only speaking for myself, and you’ve been reviewing at DA for years longer than I have. But the benefits of being a DA contributor far outweigh the drawbacks for me. And not just public-goods benefits. Sure, I like reviewing and telling readers about great books that they might not otherwise know about. But there are benefits that are entirely selfish and personal.

            First, DA provides a node through which I’m part of a community of women. Romland is one of the most vibrant and interesting female groups I’ve ever participated in, and DA makes it easy. For a variety of reasons my daily and professional life don’t provide that.

            Second, writing reviews and op ed pieces makes all my writing better. When I started reviewing it was during a time when I had trouble writing easily. Reviewing requires me to communicate complex ideas, both fact and opinion, clearly and succinctly. And I have to defend those ideas. In some ways that goes double for op ed pieces. DA’s readership is huge and varied and SMART. Engaging with them has made me better as an academic, at peer review, critiquing, and writing my own work. I intuitively know what 1000, 2000, etc. words looks like in a way I didn’t before. I have confidence that if I have to write something, I can. That’s been invaluable for me.

            Finally, I do buy a lot of books, and I buy books I wind up reviewing. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I love knowing that I can get just about any book (with a romantic storyline that I can credibly review at DA) from a publisher. I don’t exercise that privilege that often, but it’s how I got a copy of The Charioteer, and right now I have an advance copy of a new historical novel written by a favorite author, Michael Nava. I’ve been waiting for it for months, and when I emailed the U of Wisconsin Press and asked for a review copy they agreed immediately. That’s all DA.

            Janine, I understand that there are drawbacks to being an aspiring author and reviewing for DA. But surely it has helped you build name recognition and a profile in romland that would have been hard to do otherwise?

            • Oh yes absolutely. Those are all benefits for me! Like I said in the DA discussion, reviewing is a labor of love for me. Like you, I also love being part of DA for social reasons. I think highly of my fellow reviewers and many of the commenters.

              And as a fiction writer, not only has reviewing made my writing better, but, through the fact that it keeps my writing juices flowing, it has also helped me keep at my fiction writing when I might otherwise have given up. And I love that I get to interact with readers of my reviews at DA. It’s sometimes more enticing than my fiction writing for that reason.

              And yes, it’s absolutely helped with the name recognition and romland profile. Since I haven’t published any fiction under the name Janine Ballard, that hasn’t been something I’ve taken full advantage of yet, but I do plan to publish under that name if the right opportunity arrives.

              My profile is not the reason I started reviewing for DA though, or the reason I acknowledged publicly that I was an aspiring novelist. At the time I did those things, they took courage for me to do. Back then, these choices felt like ones that had more drawbacks for my writing career than benefits. Authors came out of the woodwork to tell me they didn’t approve of it when I posted that I was also a romance writer.

              Since then DA has gotten big enough that I know there are some benefits to my career from being part of it. as well. I hate thinking of it in those terms though because i want to continue reviewing for fun and not for self-promotion. When things start becoming things I have to do, I can lose my ability to enjoy them (another reason I don’t request ARCs that often). I don’t want that to happen with reviewing for DA and thankfully it hasn’t yet. I’m also less scared of being blackballed by the author community than I once was. I’ve pretty much accepted that I will get the cold shoulder from some but not from everyone.

              Anyway, I didn’t mean to make DA sound like all drawbacks and no benefits, that is so far from the truth it’s laughable. I was just intent on contesting Ridley’s assertion that you it’s hard to start a big blog today because it is expensive. Blogging was expensive when we started and it’s expensive today. But a lot of hobbies are expensive.

              I knew a guy with a huge toy train collection that he spent a bundle on. I have a family member who raises dogs she tries to train to win dog competitions. It’s a hugely expensive hobby–far more than blogging. I know people who have spent a portion of their retirement savings or, in one case, all of the rent money on their hobbies because they like them so much.

              Most hobbies cost money, and those of us who have them do it out of passionate love for that activity. It sucks that not everyone can afford them–I myself used to play Magic the Gathering in the 1990s but quit because I couldn’t afford to continue. But this is not something that has changed. This is something that has always been the case.

      • “It was their popularity that brought the publishers/big authors, not vice versa, at least it was in the formative years.”
        That’s what I think can’t happen anymore. I don’t think any blog will be able to gain popularity without that industry support from the very beginning. IF it were to happen, it’d take a lot of dedication in addition to that elulsive “cult of personality” Evangeline mentioned, and I don’t see many talented people with that level of interest in blogging who’s ultimate goal isn’t a career in publishing, which means they’re going to seek out those connections. I really want to be proven wrong about that.

        And I don’t think DA /SB is exclusively or even predominantly an author-promo site, but it’s certainly a large part of those blogs. If not, then the powers that be should change something so as not to foster that perception, because it’s not coming from nowhere and it’s really frustrating when bloggers completely ignore that elephant in the room and act like it’s in all readers’ heads.

        • You may well be right about that. It’s not so much the inability to gain popularity without industry support that worries me, I think that is difficult but possible if you have dedicated people who are also willing to devote serious time and effort to it (which is what happened at AAR, DA, SB, and other places). It’s that everything gets swallowed by the industry. Look at the new blogs that have arisen in the last few years: Heroes & Heartbreakers, USA Today, Wonkomance, and various other collective blogs that are either completely author-driven or publisher financed. Most of those do not have vibrant, diverse commenting cultures and they have a poster-commenter interaction that is different from reader-to-reader blogs.

          That’s really why I singled out LITM. I gave the wrong impression with my word choice, but I value a blog that has a mission, and while the writers there have every right to widen the scope of the books they review and the topics they engage, I think its original stated mission of choosing to write about underrepresented books and authors (whether as a reader of those books or a writer of those books or both) gives it a coherence and strength that set it apart, and it feels like primarily a reader blog.

          I also just don’t think there are that many pure readers around, at least not in the communities I frequent. I’d sure like to find more of them. But in my years reading m/m I came to realize that the majority of readers who were active online were also aspiring authors or interested in publishing jobs, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s true of romance more generally as well.

          • Reader focused is definitely the LITM mission. I think part of the issue with Reader to Reader communication is what we saw at GoodReads and at Dear Author. Things become about how the authors are affected, what the authors think, then the authors weigh in from an author standpoint instead of their reader standpoint (Milan, Snyder and Carr are really good at separating the two) and suddenly reader speech gets…. well… shushed. It can be GoodReads letting authors drive the train or DA (effectively) saying racial / class dynamics are verboten but the reader gets told to shut it. Then we say we aren’t hearing from readers.

            It’s all pretty chicken and egg to me. I think many readers just disengage. Anu had some good comments about what she saw happening in the one DA thread and it became about if she was whitewashing DA’s POC writers or placing black issues above Asian ones and she shut it down. There’s no one to support her position, because the readers that discussed those things were already told to stop. It frustrates me to see these situations develop and then also see people wonder why readers aren’t engaging as enthusiastically.

            I’m not sure I have a point, unless it’s that the community we say we want has existed repeatedly, and it is always dismantled in favor of the community we say we don’t want. So obviously, the subsection of vocal voices that do want reader to reader to dominate is smaller than the subsection that does not.

            • “the community we say we want has existed repeatedly, and it is always dismantled in favor of the community we say we don’t want.”

              I just want to cosign the hell out of this. Every single platform eventually caves to the lowest common denominator, and then the very people who enable and even push for that change want to know how to get back to the way things were? Sure, okay.

            • I don’t agree that those authors separate, at least I do not read their interactions the way you do. I never forget in my dealings with them that they are authors, because their perspectives always reflect that for me. Everyone has their own take, though, and if your discussions with them work that way, then that’s great. I actually can’t think of authors where author-ness isn’t always present, it’s just that the way that it is present varies for me. With some authors it’s actually a plus because I gain insight into their creative and business perspectives and those help me understand both them and the world they live in, while with others it’s something I wish I could escape.

              I also don’t think the community has existed in the past in some way I’m trying to recapture. I sure don’t want to go back to the days of AAR; however much the conversations were reader-to-reader, they were also stifling in a way that made me embrace DA and SB. What I want is to be able to carve out non-commercial spaces more effectively than the platforms I’m using right now allow, and for those platforms to have a more vibrant conversation than they currently do.

    • I agree with you that the mingling is a problem — I certainly feel it as a reviewer — but I’m not sure how you think it follows that it’s created the issue we’re talking about.

      • I don’t think you can have all the mingling and industry relationship and not have it result in authors and publishers and fangirls thinking we’re all one big happy family and getting upset when reviews don’t go there way. Because new blood is coming in all the time and at a glance it’s fair to assume that DA/SB aren’t “reader first” places.

    • I think what you’ve noticed is the “cult of personality” (and I don’t mean this in a pejorative manner at all), more so than publishers and authors building up a blog (because AAR editors had firm connections in the industry as well–you just didn’t see it every day on Twitter or Facebook). A website or blog or any media hub thrives when its possesses a strong, unmistakable, and recognizable “voice.” And a voice is built on something new and exciting.

      When I look back at the rise of blogs separate from major Romancelandia sites like AAR, it occurred during a schism in Romland readership–not simply the whole hullabaloo about “academic” discussions, but more as readers shifted to erotic romance, e-books in general, M/M romance, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy/Paranormal. Also, the immediacy of blogs made it easier to be on the cutting edge of changes in the genre and in the industry. I’d also posit that Dear Author and SBTB built their platform as out-and-out champions and advocates for the romance genre, as opposed to just being a book review site (as you can see with SB Sarah writing NF and speaking about the genre in major venues). I’m sure that if LLB were still at AAR, and a lot of the fantastic features that haven’t been updated in years returned, the site would be just as prominent as major blogs.

      That said, I think there is plenty of room for more blogs on DA or SBTB level. They just aren’t going to mushroom overnight and there also has to be something a large group of readers and blog contributors are excited and passionate about–isn’t that how Jessewave, an M/M romance site, came about? Or what supported New Adult long before the publishing industry hopped onto the bandwagon?

      • Thanks, Evangeline, for reminding us of the original DA/SB focus. They were very much built out of a dissatisfaction with the way AAR and other sites were neglecting everything from Harlequin categories to Erotica to ebooks (and of course the “stop talking academic-speak” arguments on the reader boards. I still remember when SB started, I was hesitant to comment but thrilled that things I wanted to talk about were finally being aired somewhere. I had felt so stifled at AAR. And that had nothing to do with a reader-author split, it was a subgenre and topic split. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said.

        I think the fragmentation to Twitter and author-operated blogs and presumably Facebook too makes the role of blogs different and makes it harder to create a new conversational space.

        • Your point about social media raises my antennae! It has made commerce overlap with hobby, and author overlap with reader–and agent and editor, because I see squeeing and friendship happening on that level as well–, and has also led to a decrease in connections and conversations. Rather than leave a comment on a blog, responses will be tweeted to the author or left on the FB status (and I admit that I am very guilty of doing this as well). Now conversations are less weighty, less able to branch off into related tangents, and less accessible to someone who logs onto Twitter two hours after the conversation ends or even to someone who isn’t on Twitter or Facebook. Social media is also very author centric–we’re the ones told to list our social media links prominently on websites, newsletters, etc, and readers sign up to talk with their favorite authors, once again making the conversation begin with us instead of with readers.

          • Yes, agree. I used to look at all the posts with “no comments” under the header and cringe but I’ve got used to the idea that people are going to engage in different ways. I have many of my conversations on Twitter or other blogs not my own. Twitter can be a challenge because of the 140 character limit. I would love to have more of the lengthy ones. I tend to come here for that :)

  2. While I hope we at LITM are never forced to make the advertising choice, and I absolutely appreciate the kind words – I do wonder why you see us as a niche blog? I am the mainstreamest of mainstream romance readers. My intention with LITM is to open my horizons to even more books, to make my romance tent bigger. It bemuses me to see that defined as a blog with a more narrow focus.

    We haven’t had many interested in guest blogging so naturally the number of reviews we offer is limited to the time we can devote to reading, but what about us strikes you as narrow? I’m not here to be The
    Big Blog On The Block, you’re right. When I returned to blog reviewing with It’s My Genre,
    Baby I made deliberate choices to keep things manageable and hobby-ist. But Love In
    The Margins is aimed at the lane between industry and obscure, a lane that GoodReads claimed to want before they threw in with commercial shipping.

    Again, I do appreciate that we’re offering content you find valuable, that’s the goal.

    • I was referring to the focus of the blog and what I took to be Ridley’s interest when she and you and your colleagues put it together. The title conveys a particular focus, that’s all I meant. I don’t mean “narrow” as a pejorative and I’m sorry that it came across that way. I think that having a focus is a really good idea, especially when you are starting out and coordinating several different reviewers.

      For me, knowing that you select content on a particular spectrum (social justice, underrepresented topics and characters and settings, POC authors) makes it more valuable, not less. I look forward to seeing what you have chosen to review and talk about.

      • Interesting, both here and on twitter the name has been cited. I didn’t take it as a pejorative, which is why. I made sure to say thanks, etc. I did (do?) find it an unexpected perception. Thanks for the additional info.

  3. Las mentioned twitter, and I do wonder if that’s where quite a lot of energy/discussion is going. I’m not sure, though, because I’m not on twitter.

    The Popular Romance Project has funding but it’s obviously not striking the right note with most romance readers. At least, I assume not, since there aren’t many comments left there. I assume it’s aiming for the mainstream but an academic approach to romance doesn’t generally seem to appeal to many readers (although Jackie Horne’s Romance Novels for Feminists does seem to get people commenting).

    • As a long time (but sporadic) reader of your blog, I’d offer that Horne ticks people off and annoyance feeds comments. Also, I wish you did have an automated Twitter feed because. I get busy and forget to check my blogs. Those of us that don’t use RSS readers tend to follow Twitter prompts.

      • I’ve not been posting much, recently, because we were moving house and I was too disorganised. But since I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things, you’ve convinced me I ought to at least try Twitter. Getting it to connect to my blog might take a bit longer, though.

    • The problem for me with the Popular Romance project is that when I’ve visited it, it feels didactic without being interactive, and it feels more author-centric than reader-centric. That’s probably a misperception on my part, but I think the fact that the Twitter account operator and the people who run the site aren’t that active in the parts of romland I inhabit also means that I don’t have interactions with them that lead me to the site.

      I have your feed in my feed reader and always read what you post there, but I have to echo Meoskop’s observation because RNFF is a place that I disagree with more than nod my head at, and so I tend not to visit it much. It’s not the academic slant that I take issue with, it’s the way the academics are expressed. We just see the genre very differently and I argue with people about romance enough already.

      • I wonder if the PRP site feels author-centric and “didactic without being interactive” partly because it does feature a lot of interviews with authors and partly because of the video format: when someone’s talking in the video but the reader suspects they’ll not turn up to respond to comments, it maybe feels a bit like a non-interactive MOOC.

    • I would be infinitely more likely to engage with the Popular Romance Project if they had non-video content. I just don’t have the time for that. It doesn’t fit with how I use the internet.

      • There were some essays from romance scholars to start with but I wonder if the proportion has declined. When the PRP first started up I hadn’t known about it in advance and then, having seen the content they were posting at that time, I felt that maybe it wasn’t really worth blogging at Teach Me Tonight any more so I limited my posting there primarily to news items rather than discussion and took my discussion posts off to my own blog.

        The PRP does provide transcripts of the videos but obviously the format’s still quite different from that of a specially-written post.

        • You nailed it, Laura, it’s the format. Even more than the video aspect, it’s that they feel as if they’re there for reference, not for interaction. The MOOC comparison is apt, although in fairness to my colleagues who have been experimenting with them, some of those have considerable interaction built in.

          I’m really glad you’re still blogging, wherever it happens, and welcome to Twitter!

  4. This came out long and rambling but oh well.

    When I first found romance-reading and online Romanceland (looking for more to read), the big general-interest blogs were what I discovered. But as I’ve been around longer, they’ve become less important to me (I still value a lot of content at DA, but the reviewers I align with most review less often, and their review coverage has shifted more to subgenres I’m less interested in). I think that as my own taste in the genre has become more definite, and as I’ve now got ways other than blogs to find out about the “big” books I might be interested in, I’ve come to value the idiosyncratic voices and particular focuses more. And it’s also true that there is less likely to be craziness/super long threads that eat your day/flame wars on smaller blogs, more conversations between a small community of readers who really “know” each other. And I Iike that (although I did spend a good chunk of my day following and participating in the discussion on Robin’s post yesterday). I can see the value of big general-interest blogs that are not promo focused, though, if we want a community that is not entirely fragmented, which might have the potential for even more of a Wild West feeling, because a big site can help set norms/socialize members, I think.

    Like Las I do think that the . . . intimacy? . . . of reader-author interaction fostered by social media contributes to the issues, as well as the fact that so many romance readers are aspiring authors. How do I go from interacting with a fellow reader to cheering on her first book sale to not really liking her book? What if I like someone on Twitter at first, but then not so much, perhaps because promo becomes more of what she does? These kinds of experiences have made me retreat from much interaction with authors. Separating out roles is hard. Wouldn’t a “friend” want to promote your work? But I don’t. I do see authors comment on smaller blogs, but it is generally much more as part of the community/with their reader hat on.

    I was struck by the fact that Robin’s title posed a question TO REVIEWERS but author voices or people speaking as potential authors were very prominent in the comments. This to me is part of the issue. Even when authors see themselves as “not badly behaved,” they are likely to step in to spaces that to me are marked out as “for readers.” (I don’t mean that DA is–although, it does say that in its tagline!–but the industry focus invites authors to participate too). On a recent DNF post I did, the author commented and offered me a copy of another of her books? WHY? She was perfectly polite, but when did we get the idea that this sort of thing would be welcome (to me, it is not)? For many authors, and I think Noelle’s post says why, everything is a marketing opportunity, every space is a promo space. I get why, but it makes it hard to have readerly conversations, unless we do so in purely private spaces, which would be a shame. But like others, I find myself dubious about whether, in the current climate, a purely reader-focused blog could grow to challenge DA or SBTB in size and readership. I think pure readers are doing their book-talk on Twitter and forums at Amazon/Goodreads, mostly. Which is too bad–I love the longer, more in-depth discussions of blogging and don’t want to lose that.

    • Sadly, you guys are convincing me that the time when a blog that can occupy the same space as DA/SB/AAR/etc. can grow and thrive may be gone. I think both you and Las are making versions of the same point, which is that reader-to-reader morphs into reader-author-industry in a different way than happened a decade ago. The monetization of the internet means that anyone who is successful is going to be courted bigtime, and the costs of running a heavily-trafficked blog make it hard to do that without a huge time and energy commitment. Also, why take on the headache of running a major site when you can contribute to places like H&H and USA Today? Especially if you’re an aspiring author or publishing person, because they offer you network opportunities.

      I really want a reader-centric space that doesn’t have authors talking about their author issues (not to exclude authors but to have them interacting primarily as readers). I get that sometimes in the review comment threads, or some of the op ed posts, but the review threads are less active than they used to be too, and that’s true everywhere. I’m not going to Goodreads, I don’t trust them at all and won’t provide them with content, and Twitter is not a reader space.

      For me, as a reader/reviewer, the value of contributing to DA is getting to talk about books and share them with other readers, but I also enjoy thinking about industry stuff that isn’t author-centric but about publishing as a dynamic institution. There is so much going on right now that is shaping our literary culture, both commercial and artistic, and the view from DA is one that provides a fascinating perspective.

    • How do I go from interacting with a fellow reader to cheering on her first book sale to not really liking her book?

      Yikes! This is a major reason why I’ve grappled with my internet presence. Like I said in the Dear Author thread, I’ve always been out of sync with what I was supposed to do as An Author. How I am online is how I am in real life–chill, reserved, valuing genuine and enriching connections over schmoozing, etc. So when this author-reader schism began to rear its head, it pained me because I began to second guess my every interaction online: am I supposed to be squeeing, or tweeting the right people, or talking about my writing? Am I allowed to say I didn’t like a particular book? Am I intruding? Am I supposed to behave a certain way once I have a book or two for sale?

      I often have the perception that mega-best-sellers like Nora Roberts or J.K. Rowling have it easier than we plebeian authors (tongue in cheek) because they’re so successful, they can relax in author-reader and author-author interactions. Because, as Noelle Adams mentioned so succinctly, it’s the fear–evoked by the pub industry–of being at the bottom of the heap that has created so much anxiety and strife within the community.

    • On a recent DNF post I did, the author commented and offered me a copy of another of her books? WHY? She was perfectly polite, but when did we get the idea that this sort of thing would be welcome (to me, it is not)?

      Actually, this happened to me a couple of times in the early days of DA, around about 2007. And once more recently that I recall. Things have changed, I don’t deny that, but I don’t think you can extrapolate that from a one time incident on your blog.

      • Oh no, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest this one incident was proof of anything! There has always been some interaction and this kind of comment on reviews. That was just an example, for me, of how the review/reader blog post space is often seen as a promotional space. (And remember that author who was *advocating* this kind of “customer service”?)

  5. Great discussion. I agree with much of what has been said. I wanted to add something about my own experience blogging, and an observation about the readers who are now online. I think there are a lot more readers online than there once were, and they bring their own interests. One of the things that depressed me about blogging was analyzing which posts on RRR got the most hits and comments. It would always be the kerfuffles, the links, the lists, or the posts about sex. I got kind of depressed about that, because those were the posts it took no time to write, and that didn’t reflect any of the, I don’t know, unique contributions I thought my blog could make to romanceland.

    To have a really popular blog, you have to do deals posts, contests, cover reveals, blog tours, newsy links posts, and you have to chase trends and focus on new releases, and that’s what all of them do. I really admire blogs that are able to continue to publish quality content while giving ’em what they want. I think some book blogs have managed this better than others.

    But my point is that the changes in blogs have to do with all of the things mentioned already, but also to do with what readers are looking for when they visit.

    • I remember you telling me that about blog traffic years ago, and I have a feeling it has not only not changed but become even more true. And I agree that readers are to a great extent getting what they are interested in. Readers say they don’t like cover reveals, but I remember last year when Nalini Singh’s cover reveal generated a huge flurry of tweets, and this year when she had one at DA (something DA rarely does), there were hundreds of responses to the giveaway. Who knew so many people had thought about what kind of wings they wanted?

    • To have a really popular blog, you have to do deals posts, contests, cover reveals, blog tours, newsy links posts, and you have to chase trends and focus on new releases, and that’s what all of them do.

      When the DA daily deal posts started, I told Jane that I didn’t like them–they felt to me too much like I was being marketed to. Jane responded by putting the question of whether we should continue having the daily deal posts to readers, and readers overwhelmingly responded in the affirmative. I wonder where the voices of those who dislike them were at the time? Even though I frequently purchase from the daily deal links, I still miss the atmosphere we had at DA before this feature’s inception. And I know it’s a an effort and timesuck for Jane. But the readers have spoken.

      Besides this, I disagree with your premise. I think a blog with no deal posts, contests, cover reveals, blog tours, and even newsy links posts (the feature I like best of the ones you listed) could totally take off today if someone was willing to start it. It would be a breath of fresh air and that would attract readers. I for one would be drawn to such a blog– provided the reviews were well written. I really wish it would emerge.

      • As a reader, I love the daily deals post and, honestly, it is the ONLY post I check daily at DA. I would not check a site that only posts reviews daily.

        • I like the deal posts mainly because Jane’s comments are fun to read. The actual deal info I can get elsewhere. They don’t feel market-y to me, because Jane is always quite blunt about the books.

      • Feel free to disagree, but as long as there are no such large blogs any of us can point to, I rest my case.

        I was speaking from my experience as someone who felt that to grow my readership I needed to add those things. Since I didn’t personally enjoy posting them, it was a conflict for me. I didn’t say, and certainly didn’t mean to imply, that I think those things are bad. My own attitude, as a blog reader, to the list in my original comment ranges from very positive to neutral to negative, depending on which item we are talking about.

      • I agree with Jessica. I think the comment thread makes a persuasive argument that it would be very difficult today to have a purely reader-oriented, industry-aloof general interest romance blog that had high traffic in the range of DA/SB/AAR. It’s not just the money, it’s also the difficulty of not engaging in the activities that so many readers enjoy and so many authors and publishers encourage. And anyone who was good at it would have a hard time not being coopted by big-pocketed players. Look at how many people write for H&H and other industry-sponsored or friendly blogs. It’s hard to resist.

        I’m surprised you single out the deals posts, Janine, because even though I rarely buy the books, I enjoy Jane’s annotations on each book and they generate some great comments about well-loved books, or non-romance books that people enjoyed or that might appeal to rom readers. And there are a lot of readers who really appreciate the heads-up on savings.

        • I enjoy Jane’s annotations too — often they are hilarious. And I buy from the daily deals, but what can I say– the covers and the blurbs feel like marketing, and I end up reading a lot of them to see if the deal would interest me, or to have context for Jane’s annotations. I also skip the Open Thread for Authors sometimes. I don’t think these are bad features. I know a lot of readers like them. They just aren’t my cuppa.

          DA has never been industry aloof — I remember Jane posting on issues like ereading, intellectual property law and authors behaving badly (who could forget her post on Dara Joy’s bilking readers of their money) in the early days. And DA has been a smorgasboard from early on too– we had book reviews, op-eds, tech posts, movie reviews, author interviews, animated reviews (I adored those) and more.

          I think the variety, and Jane’s voice, including her industry savvy, are the biggest reasons for its popularity. I’m not sure I would want to follow a big blog that was nothing but book reviews, nor do I think such a blog could take off big. But I’m also not sure cover reveals, deal posts, giveaways and blog tours specifically are such big draws that they are absolutely needed for success. Then again, I’ve never had my finger on the pulse of what’s popular, so I could be wrong.

      • I don’t mind the daily deals post at all. I did feel that when DA started hosting giveaways that signalled a change in focus. I was surprised that Jane wanted to do them, to be honest.

        • But DA has been doing giveaways for many years, since well before I started reviewing. And I’ve initiated giveaways attached to reviews myself, because I wanted to get the books more exposure (the Ginn Hale series, a couple of Susanna Kearsley’s books, and I think others).

          To be honest, giveaways are a pain for me because I monitor the comment thread from the back end (to watch for spam, mostly, which usually comes in single spies but sometimes in battalions). But they bring out lurkers and sometimes those lurkers then go on to become commenters, so I figure it’s a good thing. But maybe not?

          • That’s odd. Maybe I just didn’t notice them before. Or maybe there was a gap? Dunno. I’m sure you’re right, I just remember being surprised when there was a big giveaway sometime last year and then they seem to have happened fairly regularly since. I’m not talking about the things which Jane has given away (like the ereaders to random commenters) but things which are clearly funded by the publishers/authors.

            That’s a good point about lurkers and I’m all in favour of expanding the community of commenters.

            • Wasn’t there a post Jane did a while back asking what DA visitors wanted to see more of and what they liked and didn’t like about the content? I’m pretty sure that one of the things visitors wanted was more giveaways and that’s why they’re a little more common now. At least, that’s my understanding.

  6. Thank you for your insightful post (which I’ve come to expect from you, and I’m pleased you’re back blogging). I think this signal to noise ratio is frustrating, on many levels, not least of which is the fact that with rank newbies putting out badly-written self-pubbed stuff and getting angry with critiques it dilutes the market for everyone. I don’t see a way around it, though, because the market is demanding more and more content. It’s going to be interesting to see who the new gatekeepers become, especially in light of the Diesel situation; I suspect a further consolidation among digital pubs is coming. It wasn’t all that long ago that B&N tried to buy Ingram, despite the fact that the “trending consciousness” memory is short; we will see a further contraction of that pipe as publishers scramble to preserve what marketshare they can. With increasing pressure from On Demand cable and satellite, and the migration to special-interest stations of much of what used to be on network, causing publishing to become even smaller, I don’t know where this will take us.

    I also think that good criticism, by which I mean intelligent dialog about what’s available to be read, has been dwindling along with mainstream good print journalism. The Chicago Sun Times famously fired all their photographers, saying that the reporters could use their camera phones to take pictures. The Tribune, after they acquired LA Times, fired a bunch of their news staff. When asked where the hell they were supposed to get the news, the answer was, “the internet.” This erosion of the fourth estate, and not just books but in media, is deeply troubling.

    I want to go take a nap now. :)

    • I agree with you that it’s happening more generally online, and thank you for reminding me about the way journalism and media are getting hit. Sometimes I open the NY Times homepage during the day, when new stories are being posted, and two or three of the articles look like they’ve been imported straight from Buzzfeed. The viral click world is doing a number of more than just romland. I have hopes that it’s a phase, and there are still great outlets that produce quality stories that are NOT stuck in the 20thC. The Awl’s article on the barista economy stands out as a recent example. I need to keep looking and bear in mind that they’re out there. And thanks, nice to see you back!

  7. I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion. I’m kind of watching the whole thing and feeling wide-eyed and naive. I haven’t been blogging or engaging in Romancelandia long enough to see the bigger picture. For me, there has always been DA, SB, Twitter. That’s how I got into Romland in the first place.

    I am fascinated by the discussions and I enjoy posts like this because it often takes someone to point things out before they become obvious to me and also, because I haven’t been around the place long enough to have a wider context for what I’m seeing.

    • I don’t think you’re being wide-eyed or naive. There are always newer and older people in any community and I sound awfully get-off-my-lawn these days even to myself. So I appreciate the reminder that it can be fun and enjoyable.

      • I’m still at the stage where I’m just grateful to be allowed to play with the big kids frankly – that doesn’t sound very evolved or mature but there you have it! LOL

        • @kaetrin That’s kind of how I feel… it really tickles me when someone I’ve been following (lurkily) for a long time (a big kid) reads or comments on something I’ve said or written. But I guess I have been following romanceland online for a pretty long time.

          @Sunita I am so pleased you’re back! (I’ve actually been reading my BFB, but that’s another topic.)

          This is a wonderful and exciting post to read, and I have more rapid-firing half-thought responses than I can capture here now. But will just say that as I reached the end of my first year blogging about romance, and spending serious amounts of time on twitter and in romancelandia, I tried to articulate how I see things like PRP in relation to new blogs, big blogs, this blog (among others) and my blog – it was a long post but the gist of it (well, one of the gists) was that I think “academic-speak” is actually on the rise and part of the reason for the shifting/fragmentation in the online romance community — which I see as neither a bad thing nor a good thing, but something that’s interesting to think and talk about, along with thinking and talking about the genre and the books we so enjoy.

          • Meant to add that I see where there is a further loss of “pure” readers as academia creates the space for people to pursue popular romance studies as career focus.

            • As Sunita said, some years ago those of us who like to analyse romance did feel that it wasn’t particularly welcome at AAR. I still get the feeling that many readers (and some authors) think that analysing “escapist” fiction spoils the fun of it. That said, there aren’t really all that many “romance scholars” and of those there are, some rarely if ever comment on the “big” blogs/sites so if we are spoiling the fun by pointing out things like classicism, racism, etc then we must have a rather disproportionate effect relative to our numbers.

              I suspect that “pure readers” like Sunita, Liz McC, Jessica RRR, and others who are academically trained but not working on romance in an academic way, have had more of an impact. And then there’s SB Sarah, whose books have been cited by “romance scholars,” and Robin/Janet, who’s a somewhat complicated case since she’s written academically about romance but mostly reviews and also edits romances. I also think that analysis like the kind done by Meoskop and Ridley, and Monica Jackson’s long campaign to raise the issue of racism in romance, while not strictly “academic,” has a similar effect, and probably has a bigger impact than anything written by most of the “romance scholars.”

            • You underrate your contribution, Laura. If it weren’t for Teach Me Tonight and your years of posts on academic issues in romance fiction (and your interest in hearing other people’s views), I doubt many of us would have written and blogged as we have.

              I do think Pamela has a point that the in-the-academy discussions of romance, especially the JPRS and Popular Romance ones, have the problem many academic discussions have, which is that they are often difficult for non-specialists to engage with, even academic non-specialists like me. Sometimes it’s because they’re a bit inward-looking (which is not a criticism but a description; my own academic work is sometimes like that), and sometimes it’s because the emphasis on text is different from the emphasis people who are interested in the social context are likely to have.

              Also, if I never see Jennifer Crusie and Judith Ivory used as examples again it will not be too soon. There are other good books out there!

            • A point that’s coming out quite strongly for me from this whole conversation is that self-perceptions may differ considerably from how others perceive us. I don’t see myself as having much influence, for example, and I don’t think of myself as having a career in romance since I don’t think I’ll ever get an academic job as a result of my research. So it’s really nice and rather surprising to me to find out that my writing has had a positive impact. Getting back to the wider discussion, I have the impression that the authors who see themselves as powerless victims think that reviewers have a lot of power. However, a reviewer who suddenly finds themselves being hounded by irate fans is going to have a rather different view. And readers with strong industry connections who’re used to getting ARCs and chatting with editors etc may feel a bit tired out by the demands of running their site and feel under pressure from authors/readers/publishers. To a newbie blogger, however, they might seem extremely well connected and resourced and like an unstoppable juggernaut.

              if I never see Jennifer Crusie and Judith Ivory used as examples again it will not be too soon. There are other good books out there!

              Waaaa! [Goes off to sulk for a bit] I think part of the problem is that if you write about someone like Mary Burchell, whom relatively few people have read, the audience is likely to be smaller. And then, if people are thinking about teaching the texts, they want to be sure they’re in print.

              I take your point about JPRS. I wonder if the trouble is that there are differing audiences, and differing goals, which are not entirely compatible. On the one hand, as Pamela says, some people have careers to advance and so they may feel a need to prove their academic credentials (especially since romance scholarship is seen as so trivial) by using specialist language. Work like that’s aimed at hiring committees and others with influence in the academic community.

              Then there’s the goal of consolidating the field of popular romance studies, building up a canon, contesting Radway etc and that’s aimed at other romance scholars and is no doubt inward-looking.

              And then there’s the aim of joining in the broader conversation about romance, both with other romance readers and also with the general public who have prejudices about popular romance. I have a feeling that the PRP was aiming at these audiences. It seems to me that there are a few pitfalls here: we may think our writing is more accessible than it really is, we may come across as didactic, and we may seem to be using the genre to carve out careers for ourselves and speak for other readers when we’re quoted in the media.

            • I’ve been trying to think of a way to frame “academic” blogging/writing about romance and it’s tough to come up with the right word or words that capture the range of ways that people are offering insights and ideas that might fall under this general umbrella term, but, as you note, aren’t always offering these insights from a position inside the academy. I sometimes just use a personal shorthand in thinking of my favorite “wonky” blogs. Some blogs may in fact be too wonky, even for me (I admire PRP, for example, but it’s not a favorite discussion space). I’ve been wondering about the extent to which “academic-speak” is or has been dissed by the romance community at large, so I’m interested in the choices you mention, about where and when to participate.

              I also think that although it’s true that romance scholarship is a small (but growing?) field, you have had tremendous positive impact. To my mind, the existence of serious literary and cultural scholarship on romance is a huge part of mainstream “highbrow” media outlets taking a more serious look at the genre. Yes, it’s partly because of the structure of the publishing industry and romance as the top seller, but the big pieces on NPR and in major national journals (however much ambivalence I may have about the details of what is being asked and how it’s framed) are also happening because of the relatively recent shift to thinking about popular romance as a phenomenon worthy of academic attention and exploration. I know longtime romance readers have a tradition of talking about how we don’t care if people diss what we read, but I actually do enjoy seeing romance receive thoughtful critical attention, and I think it spawns good discussion about insider/outsider status – both the genre itself, and who gets to talk about it.

              Also, and this is purely anecdotal, but it seems as if I keep “meeting” people on twitter who are working on theses or dissertations on romance-related topics — so this is another not-to-be-overlooked way in which your work, and that of others, at JSPR & PRP and elsewhere,has real and far-reaching impact.

            • I am really wildly thrilled in principle that the romance genre is attracting respectable academic discussion, but I have not managed to engage personally with most discussions.

          • Thanks! I’ve been swamped the last couple of weeks and not online much, but it’s nice to be back. I saw your anniversary post and really enjoyed reading it but didn’t get a chance to comment. I think you’re right that there are more academic-speak blogs, and while I think there’s a lot of good in that, I think we also have to be careful that we don’t blog outside our remit, so to speak. The thing about blogging is that it’s relatively off the cuff, and sometimes that leads to sloppy theorizing. Which is OK for some kinds of topics, and my commenters are good at correcting me and pointing me in the right direction. But on a more didactic or pedagogically oriented post it can be a real problem.

  8. So lots of comments and I’m late per usual. Evangeline hit it on the head for me with her “cult of personality” comment. Yes, there are still lots of blogs and plenty of new ones springing up – but we haven’t exactly been getting a flood of strong “voices.” There have been a few (Pamela and Miss Bates – I’d also include LITM, although they were “established voices” on other venues before starting the blog), but not quite as many as back in the “long, long ago time.” When it comes to blogging, the “voice” has always been primary for me, while the “content” is secondary.

    What I do miss, desperately, is Genuine Reader Enthusiasm. So much of the squee’ing seems canned to me now. I get annoyed by cover reveals, street teams, and squee’ing fangirls in general – but I’d probably be less of a cranky pants if I thought it was all coming from a genuine place – and frankly I’m such a jaded old fuddy-duddy, I’m not sure it is.

    But maybe that’s my own burn-out talking.

    This is pure speculation on my part – but I think there’s a natural competitive streak in most of us. I wonder if so much of the squee’ing and promo and general lack of reader spaces is this drive by some bloggers to “compete” with The Big Blogs? I made the conscious decision to keep my blog the way I wanted to keep it (hence being on Google Blogger since the dawn of time), and do what I want to do – and you know what? That does limit my “influence” as it were. It I threw some money around, monetized the blog, took on a staff to help me run the dang thing, then yeah. I would probably see the results in my comment threads, my site “hits” etc. etc. etc. But then it wouldn’t be MY blog anymore. Make no mistake, I’m not saying people who go this route are “bad” or “doing it wrong” – just that it’s not the only way to do things. I think that trips some bloggers up and sadly dilutes what could be very interesting voices if they would just “be themselves.”

    • You’re not late, Wendy, you’re just coming up to the plate lower in the order and hitting it out of the park. As usual. You and Evangeline are so right about “voice.” Everyone needs to find her own voice and blog with it. That’s what makes the blogs that are good, work, whether they are large or small.

      I think that with smaller blogs, readers realize that you don’t need to post every day or multiple times a week. If I go away for a couple of weeks, when I come back I still have readers. Maybe not huge numbers, but the ones I want to talk to. It’s immensely gratifying and it’s comforting to know that I can just do it the way I want. I stopped blogging for a while because I got tired and felt I was complaining too much. I still complain, but I mix in other stuff and I feel much better.

      Your blog, like the other ones on my blogroll, sounds like YOU. That’s what makes it so valuable. Well, that and the Tigers/Harlequin mashup, and Lemon Drop, obvs.

    • I think your comment is brilliant, Wendy. Yes, enthusiastic voices are a huge part of what is missing and that has to do with how often we feel marketed to now. It’s hard not to become cynical when we feel that book discussions are mainly about finding ways to part us from our money.

      I also wonder though if the relative dearth of big new blogs is partly to do with a shift in platform formats. When I first joined the romance community in the late 1990s, most of the discussion was had on email lists and message boards. In the 2000’s, blogs emerged, not just in the romance community but also in other online communities. and WordPress took off while Yahoo Groups dropped in prominence.

      Nowadays, Twitter, Tublr, Pinterest etc. are the hot new things — and not even that new. I’m probably behind the times, as usual. But Twitter is where a lot of the conversation has moved to– and how in depth can you get in 140 characters?

      I think these trends are generational. A few years ago most young people didn’t want to be on message boards, because they seemed like places for old fogies afraid of new technologies to congregate. I wonder if blogs are starting to feel that way to some of today’s younger readers?

      • Janine: Oh, that’s definitely part of it re: platform changes. I love Twiiter, but yeah 140 characters? That has it’s limits (sometimes those limits can be a good thing – sometimes not!). I never got on board with Pinterest, but how much “discussion” happens there? And I’m a total Luddite with Tumblr. I feel like I should “get” it since so many librarians LOVE it, but….I don’t “get” it. Bad librarian Wendy, bad. No cookie or funny gif for you.

        But then I tell myself that people who loved listservs and message boards said the exact same thing about blogs: “How can you carry on a conversation in a comments thread?!?!” Which I guess means that I’ve now turned into my Mom. Oh well. I knew this day would come…..

    • This pretty much sums up my opinion exactly. I tend to drift off of blogs that get big, lose their voice, and start posting a high percent of memes, cover reveals, and posts that amount to reprinting the publisher’s blurb.

      But it shows in my numbers, which are very small indeed, and as fewer people comment and participate in my posts, I am less motivated to post more. And I am resolute that I am not after monetization and I am not going to post things that I don’t care about for the sake of driving SEO or hits.

      I’ve been blogging for about 6 years and on Twitter for just under 2, now, and it definitely changed the way I interacted with people that I had previously only known from blog discussions. For better or worse, I don’t know. It’s frequent and fun, but superficial, and somehow increases the inertia factor for getting involved in discussions of >140 character bites.

      • My numbers are small too. It’s just that the people who visit tend to comment. That’s why I know I need to comment more, because if I only lurk how do the bloggers know how much I admire their work? I have a bunch of blogs in my rss readers and I look forward to them and worry if they haven’t posted in a while, but they don’t know that.

        If I try to post more than I do right now it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. But we need a way to connect our various blogs to each other so that like-minded visitors and commenters know about the range that is out there. That’s one of my takeaways from this conversation, that there are a lot of good blogs out there and a non-trivial readership, but we don’t have a good way to make sure we visit each other.

    • Thank you so much for the compliment! And I do feel very fortunate to have Miss Bates as a fellow first-former in the Romancelandia Academy of Reading and Blogging.

  9. Pingback: Jennifer Lohmann – Reader conversation

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  12. Jeez, I feel as a Pure Reader I should comment, or someone as a pure reader should since we are your target audience. I have been reading romance blogs since TRR/AAR days and have read hundreds, maybe thousands, of romance novels. I have lurked on all the sites of the bloggers posting here, and many more, and posted a handful of times. Just a handful, and I wonder why that is. Comfort level, perhaps.

    Through all these various blogs I have been introduced to authors and genres that I ordinarily might not try. Isn’t that the point? And I will read anything, if it is well written. Most are just OK. Isn’t that the point?

    Authors take note: write a better book and your will earn better reviews. Readers, always, vote with their wallets. Earn it. It’s a business.

    There have been numerous kerfuffles throughout romance land over the years and I hope you bloggers will not give up. I missed you, Sunita and Jessica, when you took your hiatus. I do not know how much time and effort you give to your blogs, but you are, all of you, valued. Maybe I should start a blog entitled ‘Romance Blog Lurkers United’.

    As the newly appointed CEO of RBLU I have to say that as a reader of comments, giveaways, cover reveals, etc., I mostly just ignore it. We readers are not stupid. We get that there is a business side to running a blog. We recognize that ultra positive reviews for what they are, marketing.

    And, yes, I long for a forum to discuss the books I read. Genuine conversation, sure with differing opinions, but with respect that not all books are the same for every readers experience.

    Now, I linger over the ‘Post Comment’ button. Press it – or fade away to lurkdom again……hmmmm,,,,

    • Thank you so much for delurking and commenting! I really appreciate it, and not just because you said nice things about VM. ;)

      When I stopped worrying about publicizing the blog and thinking about how to make it consistent, I felt this enormous relief. Sometimes I post 2-3 times in a week, sometimes not at all. Maybe I’m just trusting my readers; I hadn’t thought about it that way.

      I do think we have a lively and valuable commenting/lurking community that is spread out across many smaller blogs. I’m going to see if I can figure out ways to facilitate our cross-blog traffic, so we have something like a progressive dinner, but with blog posts. They don’t have to be coordinated, we just need the readers of one blog to know about the other ones that they might enjoy. Like links posts, but more blog-centric.

      I’m so glad I wrote this post. I got a bunch of things wrong, I think, but the comments have corrected me in ways that make me feel much better about what we have. I’ve been looking for the wrong thing.

      • I don’t know about getting a lot of things wrong – you spurred a lively and thoughtful conversation. Kudos! I think what gets lost on this topic, in this vicious circle of reviewers/bloggers/authors/etc., is the reader. But, we are here. We are always here, we always will be. I look forward to reading these blogs, and love the idea of a ‘progressive dinner’.

  13. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Just another Linkity Friday (earworm, anyone?)

  14. Well. After a long and interesting Twitter conversation about romance books that spanned over 24 hours and picked up @ mentions as we went along, it occurred to me that while Twitter isn’t the best for engaging in long discussions, it IS where the discussions are happening. I have a post percolating.

  15. Pingback: Some (More) Scattered Thoughts About Romancelandia, Overthinking, and Balance | Badass Romance

  16. Coming into the conversation late, I started my blog, SOS Aloha, six months after moving to Hawaii. Although there was one romance book club on Oahu, the members did not welcome me for as a haole military spouse. So my blog became a means for me to stay connected to the romance industry while also sharing the Aloha Spirit. My blog also gave me the opportunity to promote support for military families as part of SOS America – a military charity sponsored by Kathryn Falk. The first few months were awkward but I found my voice. I found other readers who were curious about Hawaii, wanted to support military families, and simply enjoyed what I had to say about romance books.

    My blog probably falls into the category you mentioned, “The newer blogs I’ve seen that aren’t intentionally limited in their scope tend to be cheerleading blogs. I find this intensely depressing.” But that’s what I enjoy – cheerleading romance books, cheerleading military families, and cheerleading the Aloha Spirit. I do not generate revenue from advertisements or affiliates despite the costs associated with my giveaways – books I’ve reviewed, books I bring home from conventions, and tokens from my travels across the Pacific. This is a hobby that fulfils me outside my life as a military spouse and community volunteer. What works for me may not work for you but that doesn’t invalidate my voice, my effort, or my small slice of Romanceland.

    • Of course it doesn’t invalidate any of those things. It’s your choice and there is no Romland court that passes judgement on you, or me, or anyone else. Or if there is, I don’t subscribe to it.

      I find it depressing not because they (you) exist, but because the blogs I like to read are fewer and further between. Sorry I wasn’t clearer about that.

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