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Sending review copies of books to bloggers, Part III

The proliferation of book blogs has been incredibly beneficial for the publishing industry, providing those of us in book publicity with a new tool to promote books at a time when print publications have been forced to slash their books and arts coverage and providing readers with a wealth of information about books.  But the evolution of the literary blogging community has raised a few issues that bear consideration.

In this recent Follow the Reader interview with reviewer Bethanne Patrick, who blogs at Still Life with The Book Maven and hosts The Book Studio, she explored the differences between what she defines as “professional” and “amateur” book bloggers.  Many others have noted that not all book blogs are created equal, that some bloggers spend a considerable amount of time and care on their sites and others … not so much.  I’ve never distinguished between “amateur” and “professional” in the past (although I do recognize “well written” and “not well written”!) but I imagine this will become a recurring issue as more people jump into the game.

Also, with a limited number of promotional copies of books at our disposal, the widening array of literary blogs means book publicists, now more than ever, must pick and choose who receives complimentary copies of books.  Recently, one publicist — the recipient of repeated requests from a blogger who asked for dozens of books (yet failed to share a website) — sent in the following suggestions.

***

First, reviewers — both for print and online outlets — are not guaranteed review copies.  Publicists receive a limited amount of promotional copies to mail out at their discretion.

Secondly, depending on the book and the department, publicists may select reviewers based on the circulation and the overall reach and prestige of the publication (online or off) or of broadcast outlet.  For online review sites we look for statistics including the following:

  • Number of unique hits/page views per month for the blog, NOT the host site (like Blogger or WordPress or Blog Talk Radio)
  • How often content is updated—daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
  • How many registered users are on the site’s mailing list
  • Alexa or Technorati ranking for the blog, NOT the host site
  • User comments, i.e., evidence of a vibrant, interactive online community

***

There’s very rarely any one magic number or cutoff for determining who receives books.  Most book publicists recognize there are any number of factors that must be examined to determine a blog’s popularity, several of which are listed above.  (It’s also important to note that book publicists hold print journalists to similar standards.  There are, for example, a number of print reporters — from large, prominent organizations — to whom I never send review copies because they have a habit of requesting virtually all titles in a catalog, yet repeated Google searches reveal no reviews or author features.)

Publicists — what else do you look at when determining whether to send a review copy to a blogger?  And bloggers — how do you toot your horn?

For more information about receiving review copies of books, you may want to check:

Sending review copies of books to bloggers

Sending review copies of books to bloggers, Part II

Media requesting review copies of books / trying to contact authors

Why haven’t I received my review copies yet?

Why haven’t I received my review copies yet? Part II

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May 14, 2009 - Posted by | Blogs, review copies | , ,

35 Comments »

  1. I have a contact page on my blog that lists all of those stats that you mentioned (except comment count – maybe I should figure out average # per post). So I’m off to a good start. This is a fantastic series. Not all blogs are created equal and it’s sometimes hard to sift through them to figure out where books can get the most bang for their book.

    Comment by Natasha @ Maw Books | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes — lots of good infomation here: http://blog.mawbooks.com/contact-me/. On behalf of all book publicists, thank you!

      I wouldn’t worry about including informtion about comments. That’s something that publicists can easily look up. I guess you could say that all the information could be easily looked up, but it still is incredibly useful for publicists to see it all in one place. (And from your end, I imagine that means that rather than having to reiterate all the basics time and again, you can simply provide a link to the page.)

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. I hope book publicists won’t get caught in the same mindset that led the industry to its current imperiled position: catering only to the Snoots. Yeah, a NYT Book Review placement is swell, but what about all the people who read but don’t read *that* supplement?

    By the same token, only going after “book blogs” will lead to a further ghettoization of book publicity. Lots of people out there who read but who don’t frequent *book* blogs.

    Comment by Mike Cane | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Good point — there are plenty of people who get information about books from sources that do not primarily cover books (or from blogs like Ed Champion’s that cover books but also movies or Largehearted Boy that covers books but also music).

      In this case I’m not really going into the definition of book blog or literary blog — but I do need a term to generally refer to blogs that cover books in some fashion and “book blog” is better than nothing.

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Mike, that’s the very reason I don’t focus primarily on books. There’s a ton of readers out there who aren’t as obsessed about books as I am, and I want to give them a reason to hang out at my blog. This way I attract avid readers and not-so-avid readers. But to each their own. Bloggers all have their own formula they swear by.

      Comment by trish | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. Interesting opinion piece – I agree that there are different kind of book review blogs but don’t agree with the ‘professional/amateur’ categories. I’m an academic, so could be professional but technically I flounder around in the virtual landscape of the blogosphere, so an amateur. I highlight the distinction between ‘personal opinion’ ( I liked that book so you will) and ‘impartial review’ (analysis of style, character, etc).
    I’ve published reviews in literary and mainstream review sections but I’ve been blogging about books for only around a month. I’ve received 7 review copies (unsolicited) so I must be doing something right.

    Comment by BookRmbler | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • I’d be interested in hearing whether other book publicists care about the professional / amateur distinction. Like I mentioned,it hasn’t made a difference to me in the past, but who knows — maybe it will in the future? After all, the number of book blogs is increasing, but we still have the same number of review copies to give out. Then again, the online world is an entirely different medium from print, so you could argue that different rules apply and that terms “professional” and “amateur” don’t mean much (or at least not as much as other terms like traffic and ranking!)

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  4. Again, another great post — it’s nice to hear your perspective. We’ve followed your advice and have had great experiences with the publicists we’ve worked with so far.

    Comment by Kat | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Glad to hear things have worked out — that’s the goal of these posts!

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  5. Keep in mind that “professionals” get paid and book bloggers don’t.

    Reading and reviewing takes a lot of time and a lot of book bloggers burn out because they simply can’t keep devoting the enormous amount of time it takes to do detailed reviews regularly enough to build the kind of readership publicists are looking for (also the reason why many book bloggers eventually stop–or never start–asking for review copies).

    I’ve seen a lot of book blogs essentially become surrogate marketing sites for authors and publishers. Sure they have a lot of content, but I can read that on a publisher’s site. That may mean that blogs that don’t focus on reviews (as Mike Cane mentioned) may end up being the only ones that satisfy publicists requirements in the long run.

    As the saying goes you can have fast, cheap, or quality. Pick two.

    Cheap is a given since there is no model to compensate book bloggers for their time and even most newspapers can’t afford to pay anyone to review books anymore (or they end up running reviews from blogs). So do publicists want fast or quality?

    I’ve had publicists insist on all three with the explicitly stated view that they are doing me a favour by sending me “leftover” review copies. I see this attitude from more publicists all the time, maybe because of the number of requests they get. I choose not to deal with these particular publicists and I see other book bloggers doing the same.

    I don’t think this model of book reviewing is sustainable in the long run, at least not for new releases.

    Comment by Ann (Booklorn on Twitter) | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • I can so relate to the burnout you mentioned, Ann. Our site has been open for about two years now, and I’m receiving more requests than one person can handle while also juggling a full-time job and a household. I’ve had to stop accepting new requests just to catch up. I love what I do, so I don’t want to stop, but I need to figure out just how many I can do each month not to burn out.

      Comment by Alice Berger | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • We take care of the fast,cheap,quality issue by dealing with only one niche (fantasy) and having a team (14 regulars, a few guests) of reviewers who are invited or who apply to join us. Because we view it as a hobby, and the review copies as our only “compensation”, it works well.

      For me, as the site owner and administrator, the actual upkeep of the website takes an enormous amount of time. My team of reviewers gets to read much more than I do.

      So, I think the model is sustainable for teams, but maybe not for individual bloggers. In fact, I know of a few who have recently burned out.

      Comment by Kat at Fantasy Literature | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. Hi Paula,

    I enjoyed your article. I recently sent some of my ideas on how to choose the good from the not so good to Penguin. I did mention that in the web community Google Page Rank and Alexa are becoming a bit obsolete for the following reasons.

    1. In my own personal case the server I am on with my hosting had a spam site so no one on that server even who didn’t participate in the spam has a page rank until this is all cleared up. This has so far taken months and I site I had with a page rank of 6 is now 0.
    2. Alexa only counts in abouts and only deals with Internet Explorer data. How many of us use Mac, and Firefox, and Safari?

    I did however give my ideas on things that make a great blogger and examples of sites I thought were optimum (maw books and heylady.net). Access to my stats is available by password and since I have experience in internet marketing and other sites to forward traffic to my sites, and some pretty good ideas that worked out I get a great amount of traffic. I surprised myself that it went so fast.

    I am by no means a pro blogger but I do implement strategies that work to bring traffic and I do care about every review copy sent to me. I know they could have been sent to someone else.

    Pam

    Comment by Pam | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • I’ve been hearing about problems with Alexa and Technorati, but do you have suggestions for other ways that book publicists can get concrete information about blog traffic? Most publicists do realize that there’s no one way to determine the popularity of a blog — which is why we do look at things like comments and incoming links — but it still is useful to have numbers like those that Alexa or Technorati provide.

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Yen, you asked how bloggers toot their horn. That’s something I’m having a hard time with, because while I might not have the most traffic of all book bloggers, my blog gets a lot of comments and prompts a lot of discussion within the comments. It’s not unusual to have a book review garner 20-30 comments, and discussion posts to have 50 to 100 comments. Was it you, Yen, that I tooted my own horn to recently? I felt weird! But I don’t think anyone else is going to do it, so I might as well.

    Comment by trish | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, it was me! Comments are one way of assessing a blog’s community which is why book publicists pay attention to this. (We just need to keep in mind that not all comments are posted — some people email the blogger directly or respond via Twitter.) In a case like yours where you’re receiving upwards of 20 comments / post — and 100 in some cases — toot away.

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. Like Natasha, I have a seperate page on my blog that give information on the type of books I read, how long it generally takes me to read a book and where they can contact me. I also list my stats, so authors and publishers can decide whether or not their book is a good fit for my blog.

    Comment by Stephanie | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  9. The “pro-am” distinction may not be the best one to use, but a discussion Ed and I have had a lot over the last few years is how there are at least two, possibly more, waves of bloggers who focus primarily on books.

    Wave one are the “litblogs”, the ones who are cited most often in mainstream media. The original bloggers who fit this bill include the Literary Saloon, Bookslut, Maud Newton, MobyLives (which has had several incarnations since), Moorish Girl and LitKicks. By the end of 2003 Ed re-started his blog as Return of the Reluctant, I joined the fray, as did Old Hag, the Elegant Variation, Beatrice.com, The Millions, Conversational Reading, The Reading Experience, Bookninja et al. Many of us were either contacted by or solicited book review editors to write for their newspaper sections. There was a journalistic feel to many of the posts on said blogs, and a sense that the blogs were, and still are, a jumping-off point to professional writing.

    Wave two are the book blogs. Unfortunately I can’t cite chapter and verse examples, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples. The emphasis is less on “blog-as-professional vehicle” and more on community, on having conversations about books, often active ones, with a small but devoted following of readers. There’s less interest in journalism or deep critical analysis or writing for pay and more on expressing opinions and insights from a reader’s standpoint. Wave two may not know about, or care, about wave one, and as I admit, vice versa is in effect as well – another example was Bud Parr’s recent tweet that he’d never heard of any of the bloggers on the BEA bookblog panel, which certainly suggest there’s a new tier getting attention.

    I should note that the litblog/bookblog separation is not time-dependent. Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes, which isn’t even 2 years old, definitely counts as wave one, but then that makes sense since he comes from alt-weekly/professional critic background. And the forefather (foremother?) of wave two was MaryDell’s bookblog.net, which hasn’t been updated since early 2008 but really had the reader community concept down cold and maintained it in an amazing manner for years.

    Ultimately, both waves of book-centric blogs serve different purposes, but I also wish there was more convergence from either side. The early years of “litblogs” were great and at least presented some degree of enthusiasm and unified ability to support books even in a limited way (think Sam Lipsyte’s HOME LAND and how a bunch of the blogs got behind that book, and of course, the Litblog Co-Op.) But it’s a different, more fragmented world now and moving more towards passionate micro-literary communities instead of macro ones. All stuff to keep in mind whether your a blogger wanting books to review or a publicist trying to figure out who to send to and how many books they need.

    Comment by Sarah | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • So, so true! As a stay at home who considers this a fun, but serious hobby. I’m definitely in wave two.

      Comment by Natasha @ Maw Books | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • This is a great analysis, Sarah. I agree that both types of book-centric blogs servce a purpose, and I have finally started finding more litblogs and subscribing to them. What would it take for us to work together? Will bloggers being on a panel at BEA be the impetus litblogs need to check out the book blogs? Or, as you point out, is the type of world we live in not conducive to the type of community that litblogs may have seen/felt 5 years ago?

      Great things to think about. :)

      And thanks for mentioning some blogs I hadn’t heard of!

      Comment by trish | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • Very interesting. As a publicist,I am aware of the blogs in the first and second waves that you mention, although I’ve never thought of them that way!

      For anyone planning to attend BEA, there is a “Book Bloggers — Today’s Buzz Builders” panel Saturday at 2 p.m., Room 1E15. Not open to the public, but you can bet people will be tweeting the information.

      Comment by Yen | May 14, 2009 | Reply

    • To jump off from Sarah’s comments (since I have indeed been discussing this with her!), I should also note that the communal spirit of the first wave of litblogs is pretty much dead. It lives on to some extent through Twitter. But the punk-like ethos that was previously a credo — the sense that we were a true alternative to print journalism — is at an end, destroyed by egos, needless competition, and, one might argue, the economy. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still some good stuff. But it’s not what it was. The Litblog Co-Op’s end brought a finality to our ability to bring people together. You might call 2004 in litblogs the 1977 of New York punk. Five years later, and it’s 1982. While I don’t know of any litblogger with a heroin addition, some of us have been taken in by the mainstream and seen our voices corrupted. Some of us have given up and moved on. Some of us carry on in spite of ourselves. That’s why you see a Book Blogs panel instead of a Litblogs panel. Litblogs are dead. Long live litblogs.

      I’ve attempted to restore some of the cooperative impulses through the roundtable discussions I’ve had over at my blog. I’m pleased, however, to see the book blogs are carrying on. And I shall be popping by the Book Blogs panel to say hello to the second wave. May they learn from the first wave’s hard lessons and maintain their sense of community.

      Comment by ed | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  10. I started book blogging because I wished there was a website or blog providing the information I give. I try my best to make my blog attractive and easy-to-use, and the reviews useful and well-written. I consider myself a ‘professional’ even if I’m not getting paid in money.

    I’m not such a big catch that people are throwing books at me in the hopes I’ll review them, so maybe that helps. I’ll request a book, write in on my calendar which Sunday I’ll review it, and make sure never to request more books that I have room for. This is working quite well. Also, I only review books that I buy, request, or agree to review before they’re shipped. Thus, I can promise to review every book I request.

    When requesting a book from a publicist for the first time, I give them my URL and tell them how often I review books and the range of unique hits per week/review. I also tell them what type of books I review, where I post my reviews (on my blog, Amazon, and Goodreads), and I often tell them how quickly I can post the review. I try to be professional when dealing with the publicist and accommodate their requests on when I post a review (if they give a certain time).

    Don’t get many comments on my reviews on my blog, but I do get them over Twitter.

    So far, the above system is working out quite well for me.

    Comment by Debbie | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  11. Interesting discussion. I don’t have many comments on my media blog (books, movies, TV shows, my publication news, etc.), which I have to admit bothers me.

    Joy at Joy’s Live Journal and Joy’s Galaxy

    Comment by Joy V. Smith | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  12. Lots of good information. Glad to have found your blog.
    –cynthia

    Catching Days Blog

    http://catchingdays.cynthianewberrymartin.com/

    Comment by cynthia | May 16, 2009 | Reply

  13. Yen — how do you count actual visitors to blogs hosted on Blogger, WordPress, etc? I use Compete but it doesn’t work on those.

    Comment by Cynthia | June 2, 2009 | Reply

  14. [...] and new waves and what you need to know about both A few weeks ago, I posted some tips about how book bloggers can work with publishers to get review copies.  Although the post itself was fairly straightforward, an interesting discussion emerged in the [...]

    Pingback by Book bloggers — the old and new waves and what you need to know about both « The Book Publicity Blog | June 4, 2009 | Reply

  15. Don’t bloggers make distinctions between “professional” and “amateur” book publishers as well? It seems this discussion about review copies is really only about the books published by the New York trade houses and the larger indie publishers who get reviewed in The New York Times Book Review anyway. There are hundreds of small presses out there who would love to send out review copies. I know quite a few bloggers who are not interested in getting any more review copies than they’re already getting. Or am I just badly informed?

    Comment by Richard | June 8, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, we make distinctions between publishers. I will review small publishers, but not self- or vanity-published novels. You are probably right that some bloggers have a glut of books and aren’t interested in more. Since I have a team of reviewers, we don’t always have that problem, but a small publisher usually still needs to persuade us to look at their books. There are so many being published by big houses and readers are looking for those reviews, so if we have a glut, unfortunately, the small publishers will probably be overlooked.

      Comment by Kat at Fantasy Literature | June 8, 2009 | Reply

  16. [...] Cheong, Yen. “Sending review copies of books to bloggers, Part III.” 14 May 2009. The Book Publicity Blog. http://yodiwan.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/sending-review-copies-of-books-to-bloggers-part-iii/ [...]

    Pingback by Blogs and blogging « Brambletye Publishing Blog | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  17. If you have time I have a few questions. I’ve been writing reviews for a few months, but I’m new to a lot of the aspects of blogging. Any advise or information will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

    1. A Publisher recently asked “What is the size of your audience?” I hate to sound so ignorant, but to be honest I have no idea what the size of my blog’s audience is. How does one go about finding out the size of a blogs audience?

    2. How many hits per month is a good number for a fairly new blog? I’ve been tracking my blog hits with sitemeter.com since April. These are the numbers June 09: 166 May 09: 353 April 09: 195 But to be honest these numbers don’t really tell me much.

    3. Is my blog’s Alexa rank really important to publishers? I have the rank posted on my blog, but once again I’m not sure what the numbers really show, from the best I can tell they tell me nothing useful? Rank: 14,356,089 Links in 430,981

    4. I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to have a blog post for Publishers/Authors with my contact information. I’m not really sure what type of contact information publishers are looking for. Would information such as an E-mail form or my cell phone number be appropriate? I Wouldn’t feel comfortable posting my home address or phone number publicly

    Comment by Dina | June 12, 2009 | Reply

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