Gig Review: Headline’s 2017 Blogger Night

c4stqk2wiaaxfuf

(photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

Yesterday I travelled up to London, always a major undertaking for me, to attend a gathering of authors, publicists, bloggers and other book people, organised and hosted by Headline Publishing. It was held on the top floor of their riverside headquarters, Carmelite House, and was my second visit to the building. On this occasion the bitterly cold weather kept everyone inside enjoying the warmth and ambience rather than braving the views from the rooftop terrace.

I had taken my daughter, Robyn (@LeFailFish), as social events can make me anxious and I valued her support. Having collected our name stickers from Jenny (@jrharlow) in the foyer we made our way up to the sixth floor.

hachette-02

The always lovely Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) ensured throughout the evening that everyone felt welcome and included. She introduced us to several of the authors whose books we were able to take away.

I chatted to Alison Weir (@AlisonWeirBooks) about her fascination with the Tudors and the medieval period and now look forward to reading my proof of her latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anne Boleyn, due out in May. New insights and secrets are promised although Alison ensured that only teasers, not spoilers, were shared last night.

I had a lovely conversation with Gemma Todd (@GemTodd) before realising that this personable librarian is also the author of Defender, which I had spotted early on the book table and eagerly popped into my bag for future reading. This was a popular choice for many attendees.

defender

Felicia Yap (@FeliciaMYap) and I discussed our love of Belfast where I was raised and now enjoy returning to as a tourist. Visit Belfast (@VisitBelfast) should totally get Felicia to write a piece for them as her enthusism for the city was infectious. Felicia’s debut, Yesterday, is due out in August and I will be hoping for a proof when available.

Copies of Pendulum were also tempting readers on the book table and I had been advising everyone to pick up this taut thriller, a proof of which I read last summer. I was therefore delighted to meet the author, Adam Hamdy (@adamhamdy) and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was chatting to a group of bloggers about setting and how he visits each place featured in his story rather than relying on long distance research.

pendulum

Meeting other bloggers is always fascinating as we all write for the love of books but often have different perspectives on what we do and how we are recieved. I was particularly pleased to meet Linda (@Lindahill50Hill), Tina (@TripFiction) and John (@Thelastword1962) all of whose reviews are worth checking out.

c4swld3wqaaohf0

Adam, John, Linda and Tina (photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

There were many other authors, bloggers, publicists, librarians and book sellers enjoying the company and the freely flowing wine. I could have stayed on to pick up writing tips and share book recommendations but, as ever with my trips to the capital, I had a train to catch if I was to make it home. The roads around our village are very dark at midnight – perhaps I read too many thrillers…

Thank you to the team at Headline for inviting me and for organising such a friendly, welcoming event. Also for my goody bag and the opportunity to add even more titles to my tottering TBR pile. Book people are the best.

img_20170210_091030994

Note: hen is my own. In discussing recognition from Twitter pictures I had told John I would bring it to the evening. Next time he wants a live one.

 

Not a Million Dollar Blog

This post was written to share my experiences of blogging as part of the blog tour for Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s latest book, ‘The Million Dollar Blog’. I review the book here.

P1010079

The photo I attached to my first ever blog post.

When I started blogging I was writing posts for myself. This is probably just as well as few other people read them. As I learned to navigate my way around the blogosphere I came across others who produced similar content – thoughts on their lives, their children, their everyday experiences interacting with the world face to face. Some of these bloggers hoped to make money from their writing. Perhaps they harboured dreams of creating a million dollar blog. I had no such ambitions. That said, I did watch my stats with interest. Each new follower, each like or comment left beneath a post, gave me a warm, fuzzy glow. My words were being well received even if my readership remained small.

I started to post book reviews and realised that this was the niche I felt most comfortable in. With that realisation, my priorities changed. Now the numbers mattered more. If I was to ask publishers to send me books to review then I needed to attain a certain reach. I became more active on social media, mainly Twitter, and developed daily habits that enabled me to promote my work. I contacted a wide range of people within the book industry and noted those who were willing to offer support.

I am now at a stage where I could ask for more books than it would be possible to read. I can be choosey about the titles I accept which offers two main advantages:

  • I only ask for books I expect to enjoy, so reading remains a pleasure;
  • the reviews I write are likely to be positive which is ever so much better for me, author and publisher.

I refuse to accept ebooks, most self published works and certain genres. This is not due to snobbery. I firmly believe that every reader should be reading whatever type of book they enjoy. As my personal experience of reading these books has not been positive I avoid them. There is no pleasure in writing a negative review, even if it may be useful to other readers. I review every book I read and will always be honest in sharing my thoughts.

Much of my time on social media is now spent promoting books, although I retain a personal edge. Feeds that are little more than advertising are not interesting. I only follow those who appear real and are willing to interact.

I will share my views, and those of others, on books I have read. I am grateful to everyone who shares my posts and aim to reciprocate when they review books I have been sent. I value my place in the friendly, welcoming and generous community of book bloggers, but feel I can only offer backing for books I know personally.

As in any group of people, there is a hierarchy among book bloggers. The cool kids will be woo’d, especially by the big publishers. The mystical definition of cool is hard to define, but everyone knows who they are. Several of these people have gone on to find paid work as a result of the exposure provided by their blogs. Their trajectory is a pleasure to follow.

And I too have stepped outside the blogosphere. I have started attending more book events – readings, launches and, this year, my first literary festival. As well as being enjoyable in themselves, they give me additional material to write about, thereby keeping the content on my blog more varied and interesting.

I do need to remember though that just because an author has been lovely to me on Twitter it doesn’t mean they know who I am. That said, when I introduce myself to them at a book event and they recognise my name, I feel that I have arrived.

The Million Dollar Blog is a guide for those who wish to monetise their blog. I have no such aspirations. I write because I love books and have learned, through creating my own fiction – a useful exercise but not one I plan to pursue – how skilled the authors whose words enrich my life are. I want to support them, and those who publish their work. Blogging is how I choose to do this. By not asking for payment, other than a copy of their book, I feel able to retain my impartiality. My readers know that what I write is how I feel.

Of course, I still want my words to be read. There are many people publishing advice on line about how to attract readers; I wonder what their readership is.

New followers, days when my stats spike, these continue to give me those warm fuzzy feels. Perhaps if the slow but steady growth I enjoy stalled I would wonder why but I have no higher expectations. I suspect that book blogging is not the ideal route for those who aspire to create a million dollar blog. How lovely it would be if I were mistaken.

Do check out the other stops on this tour, detailed below.

blog-tour     milliondollarblog

‘The Million Dollar Blog’ will be published by Piatkus on 29th September 2016

 

Ten Random Book Blogger Dilemmas

A ramble through the crowded mind of a book blogger…

1. Book post arrives

bookpost

Hark! Is that the thud of a parcel landing on my doormat? Rushes excitedly to door and spots book shaped padded envelope. Does joyful dance. Rips open parcel in eager anticipation.

Looks at shiny new book. Strokes cover of shiny new book. Feels ecstatic about receiving this beautiful creation. Publishers love me. Can’t wait to read.

Realisation that am going to have to wait. Have publication dates approaching for many books on my TBR mountain. Have had some of those must read books on my TBR mountain for months.

Rearranges TBR mountain. Adds new book. Wonders how many books can read this week. Cancels all social plans.

.

2. No book post arrives

emptymailbox

Hears postman at door. No satisfying thud on doormat. Stares diconsolately at non book post. Feels dark, empty sadness.

Publishers hate me. My reviews are no good.

Distracts self by browsing twitter. Wonders why have not been sent book everyone I follow is tweeting about receiving.

Brief moment of relief that my TBR mountain has not grown. Determines to read faster. Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews.

Wonders if publisher would send book if asked. Stalks publicist on twitter.

.

3. Publishes new book review

review-md

Wonders if review does book justice. Agonises over star rating on popular sites. Wonders if review explains star rating. Hates star rating system.

Worries about tagging author in tweet. Wonders if author will read review and consider point of book missed.

Why has author not retweeted review? Author hates review.

Author tweets thanks for review. Joy! Realises author says same lovely thing to every reviewer.

Why has publisher not retweeted my link? Publisher hates review. Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

So many people have retweeted my link! Feels love for the book blogging community. Feels guilt for not personally thanking everyone. Wonders if will ever be retweeted again.

Rereads review. Spots error / clunky phrase / repeated words. Wonders why considers self writer.

.

4. Reads review of  book by other blogger

girl-on-laptop-clipart-1

Did we read the same book? Wishes I had thought of that turn of phrase. Spots publisher retweeting and quoting review. Worries my reviews are no good.

Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews. Retweets other blogger’s review.

.

5. Asked to take part in blog tour

book-tour-image-copy

Requests guest post. Asked for ideas for guest post. Active and imaginative mind goes entirely blank.

Submits idea for guest post. Worries that author will hate idea. Worries that readers will not see funny / perceptive / thought-provoking side of author because of dull idea.

Reads other guest posts on blog tour. Why did I not think of that idea?

Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

.

6. Visits bookshop

bookshop_cartoon_royston

Shiny new books! Selects a dozen must reads. Reminds self of size of TBR mountain. Reminds self that haven’t read last dozen books bought. Puts all books back. Feels sad.

Selects just one book to buy and feels virtuous. Adds book to TBR mountain, non priority pile. Wonders if life will be long enough to find time to read new book.

.

7. Friend asks for book recommendation

bookpile

Momentarily speechless with excitement. Provides list of awesome, must read books that would last slow reading friend a decade.

Remembers to ask what sort of books previously enjoyed. Offers smaller selection.

Feels guilty for not including amazing book from indie press / lesser known author / publisher who sends me all the best books.

Wonders why friend not telling me how much they enjoyed books recommended. Discovers they have not yet got around to buying them all. Tries to understand.

.

8. Choosing a birthday present for a friend

wrappedbooks

Has excuse to buy books! Spends hours checking back on every book read in past year. Selects a dozen that friend will absolutely adore.

Checks bank balance. Removes most of the books. Feels sad.

Spends next year wondering why friend is not raving about awesome books received. Remembers not everyone wants to talk books at every opportunity.

.

9. Asked to produce Christmas gift list

christmaslist

Sits down with favourite pen and notebook bought at great expense from lovely bookshop. Writes down titles of all books not received in book post. Adds all books recommended by friends. Adds book leant to former friend and never returned.

Ignores pointed comments from nearest and dearest on already tottering TBR mountain. Ignores request for non book related items.

Tries to be stoical about books not received.

.

10. Runs out of bookshelf space

Overflowing-Bookcases

Decides to cull books. Looks at titles where multiple copies owned. Recognises importance of keeping both ARCs and final copies. Admires paperback edition containing quote from my review.

Gives away books didn’t enjoy or am never likely to read again.

Thinks of books given away and regrets loss.

Comforts self by buying more books. Feels happy with no furniture in house other than bed, bookshelves, and chair in which to read.

Book publicists and bloggers

chicken

My relationship with book publicists presents a bit of a conundrum. For an awkward, anxious, introvert like me their infectious enthusiasm can sometimes make them appear like my next best friend. Of course, they are not. They are looking at how best to promote their books and do their job. As a book blogger I can play a small part in this, but I will not necessarily be at the top of their list for ARCs. Sure, they want review quotes they can use in promotions, but ideally they want these quotes to come from widely recognised sources. What they look for from me is that I talk about their books on social media and elsewhere, post reviews on public sites, spread the word along with others to generate a buzz. If I like a book then I am happy to comply.

So, where is the conundrum? Most of the books I receive have been sent at my request. I approach many publicists accepting that my request may be ignored, particularly by the bigger houses. This is fine, they are busy people and need to get their books in front of those with the most influence. Naturally I am cheered by those who respond positively to my requests. Who doesn’t wish to feel valued?

Recently though I have found myself in a troubling place. Publicists promise me books which do not arrive. Requests placed via Bookbridgr go unfulfilled. I know that there are a limited number of review copies available so assume that my potential contribution is not regarded highly enough. This makes me sad. I see the buzz around the book and feel that I have not been invited to the party.

Over the summer I had some amazing books to read for which I am very grateful. These came from a number of sources, but I noted that books from the smaller publishing houses reminded me in particular of why I am such an avid reader. The variety of subject matter and quality of prose were unfailingly exceptional. With the big push towards Christmas approaching, and my feelings of dejection growing, I decided that I would see how I got on reading only books from these smaller presses.

As with any rules I set myself when reading, I will break them if it suits. Thus, when I had the opportunity to attend an event where Hilary Mantel was to speak I diverged from my plans to read Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. These were such great works I am glad I did. I would not wish to rule out any source.

Otherwise though, I have given this month to books from Orenda, Urbane, Salt, Galley Beggars and Arcadia. Had I been more organised I would have made requests to Cutting Edge, Cargo and Influx whose books I enjoyed so much earlier in the year. I decided that, as part of this series, I would also read a self published book or two. In the past I have accepted a few of these with mixed success. Whilst I do not doubt that there are many high quality, self published books out there, the pool is so much bigger and it can be hard to find those I will enjoy. We will see what I think of the two that I have added to my pile.

The quality of the books read to date has encouraged me to seek out other small publishers and I have been promised more titles which I hope will arrive in due course. I am still likely to request certain books from the bigger houses. ‘A Little Life’ came from Picador and was an incredible read. I would not have wished to miss ‘Purity’ which came from 4th Estate, the same press as the Mantel books.

Being sent any book to review is a privilege, especially when I am sent an advance copy and may join in the publication buzz. If I put the time and effort into reading and reviewing though, it is good to have my efforts appreciated.

What are other book bloggers recent experiences? Would anyone else care to share their thoughts?

 

 

Random Musings: Book blogging

stack-of-books-images-di7j6RneT

As a book blogger I wish to champion books and authors. I love books. I find it gratifying to promote a book that I have enjoyed, to tell others about it in order that they too may gain pleasure from reading. It takes time to absorb all those magical words but it is time well spent when a book has left me sated.

Naturally I do not enjoy every book that I select. I will not choose to invest the hours it takes to read a book if I expect to dislike it, but neither am I likely to enjoy every book that I pick up. Until it is opened I cannot be sure what is between the covers.

A good review is more than simply a judgement on whether a book is a good example of its type. Of course this matters. If a book presents itself as a thriller or a romance then it should be judged against other thrillers or romances; the expectations of the reader must be considered. However, genres are fluid and the best books cross boundaries and offer more depth.

I see my reviews as part of a conversation. I have read a book and I wish to talk about it, to share my thoughts with those who may be interested. My reviews are always my honest opinion which means that they will not always be positive. I wish that they could be. It is more fulfilling to recommend a book than to attempt to thoughtfully articulate why I disliked it, especially knowing that the author may read what I write. Often my reasons are nebulous, a reflection of my experiences. Every reader comes to a book weighed down by their own, personal baggage.

I am a writer but not an author. I write my book reviews for this blog, Amazon and Goodreads. I write opinion pieces such as this one. Occasionally I create some flash or micro fiction which I publish on my sister blog, Dreams and Demons. This work, alongside conversations I have had with author friends, has provided me with some small insight into the sheer graft required to produce a novel. Every book I pick up deserves respect for that effort.

In my reviews I try to offer recommendations. As well as a brief, spoiler free description of the plot alongside my opinion on the quality of the writing (which will take into account the expectations of the target audience from the blurb), I will comment on whether or not I enjoyed reading the book. I will also try to explain why. If I dislike a book because it contains a large number of graphic sex scenes then it may well appeal to a reader who wishes to read about such things.

There are many different types of reader which is why we have so many different types of books. Whilst I try to read eclectically, so as not to dismiss an entire canon of literature of which I have no knowledge, I see no point in selecting a book that I am unlikely to be able to recommend. I feel guilt when I cannot go back to the author full of praise for their work. I feel bad if a publisher has provided me with a book that I cannot then eagerly promote.

However, if I invest the time in reading a tale which, from the blurb, sounded as though it would be my sort of thing then I will review it for the benefit of other readers. It is for them that I write. I am always aware that infrequent readers may be put off the pursuit by a book that disappoints.

It is hard to beat the feeling I get when I recommend a book and then hear back from a reader that they loved it as much as I did. This is, of course, a pale reflection of the satisfaction authors must gain from positive reviews. I am merely a conduit. However well received my reviews may be I never forget that it is the authors’ hard work that triggered my abiding love affair with books. It is that joy which I truly desire to share.

dont like to read

 

Authors and Book Bloggers

On Friday the author and blogger, Matt Haig, tweeted

There then followed a twitter storm that lasted several days.

Some agreed with the points he subsequently made, some disagreed. There was much vehemence and a fair few hurt feelings on show. From what Matt said he also received some disturbing private messages. We all know that social media can turn nasty.

I followed the debate with interest and felt personally affronted by two strands:

  1. There was a suggestion that some book bloggers simply wish to receive free books.
  2. There was a suggestion that bloggers promote books without discernment.

I put a lot of time and effort into reading and then writing honest reviews. I do it because I love books and I want to talk about them, to share my opinions with like minded others. When I enjoy a book I want to support that author in whatever way I can.

From the discussion there was a suggestion of disparagement.

It is obviously true that writing a book takes a great deal more effort than reading it and then writing a review, but that was not the main point of this discussion.

What really grabbed my attention was the original topic, that authors do not value reviews if they are always positive, that they want to see some negative reviews of their work.

This has not been my experience so I weighed in.

I started to follow this twitter storm because personally I provide my honest opinion of a book and sometimes that is negative. Negative reviews are much harder to constructively create than positive and that effort then gets ignored. Publicists and authors are not going to promote an opinion of their book that is less than enthusiastic.

Another author came back to me with this:

 

I rarely hate a book (such a strong word) but I did empathise with the hurt. I have been there, facing up to criticism of my carefully crafted words. It does not feel good.

It is understandable that authors want the fruits of their extensive labours to be well received. To try to argue that authors want to see negative reviews though? Hmm.

.

One of the books that I read recently did not impress me. The plot was compelling but a good book requires more: a captivating writing style, comprehensible structure, convincing character development, readability, realism. I gave my opinion and the review sank to the bottom of my blog.

The author subsequently released a sequel and, curious to know how the plot continued, I requested a copy for review. I was refused. Rather than ignore me the author was kind enough to explain that, as I had not appeared to enjoy the first book, she felt that I was unlikely to enjoy the second. She also provided some constructive criticism of my reviewing style which I have since taken on board.

This author saw no point in submitting a book for review if the review was likely to be negative. To me this made sense. Negative reviews are not going to be used by publicists so why provide a free book?

Another thread in the Matt Haig twitter storm discussed the fact that book bloggers only want to read books that they will enjoy.

Before reading a book a reviewer cannot know exactly what it will be like. However, from the blurb there are certain types of book that I will never request (for me these include light romance or erotica). There are plenty who choose to read these genres but I do not. Life is short. Why spend time reading a book that is unlikely to appeal in order to write a review that is likely to be negative and will therefore be ignored?

Another thread bemoaned the book bloggers who endlessly promote books. Guys, this is why we do it! If I love a book then I will shout it from the rooftops, again and again. I only truly love a handful of the dozens of books that I read but as I tend to review a lot of books by less well known authors I want to play whatever small part I can in getting them noticed by a wider audience.

.

Matt sounded a little down about many of the comments made in response to his tweets. He wrote this blog post to clarify his thoughts: A blog about blogging.

At the end of the day a book review is the opinion of one reader. Writers tend to be sensitive souls who want their creations to be loved. Not all books are good, and no book is going to be considered good by everyone.

Matt, I see what you were trying to say but there was too much in this discussion that I could not agree with. Authors may want to see more negative reviews, but not it would appear of their own books.

A well written review, positive or negative, can be useful and that is why they are read. As Joanne Harris tweeted: