Monday, August 8, 2011

The Blogger/Novelist Relationship, with Alex Kudera (Part 2)

Last week in Part 1 of our discussion, Alex Kudera, author of Fight for Your Long Day, explained his take on blogger book reviews and the nature of the contact he's had with book bloggers. The conversation elicited a lot of great feedback, including a related strain of conversation at The Reading Ape's blog about what a "reader-centered review" really means. 

In today's installment, Kudera discusses the impact book bloggers have on the publishing industry. To me, this is one of the more interesting book blog-related topics. So, thanks again to Kudera for giving us his take. Here's what he had to say:

Greg: How do you think book bloggers have changed the way publishers promote and market novels? Are these changes good things for authors?

Alex: First, yes, absolutely, I do think book bloggers have changed the way publishers promote and market novels.

In fact, as stated, I’m a bit of a book blogger myself, well, truly, more of an “author interviewer” at When Falls The Coliseum, where I’ve spoken with established novelists like Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Dan Fante as well as young upstarts like Lee Konstantinou and Eleanor Henderson. Further, I’m not a “connected” person beyond a few mafia ties from my used-car-selling days, but a contact I have in PR at a major house told me that connecting with book bloggers and other reviewers is her best advice and exactly what she tells all of her authors (and yes, I probably should interrupt this interview to beg her to pick up my next novel, and then pray I can finish writing it).

As far as I can see, the right review at the right book blog can have even more impact than traditional press, and within the world of established media, it can often be better to get one’s review posted online than to have it only appear in a print version of the same publication.

I’m also seeing that tweets about the book, from an enthusiastic blogger, are extremely helpful, sometimes more than the review itself. The total number of book mentions, as long as the majority are positive, might be the most important thing.

So I’m led to wonder if this suggests that books are often an impulse purchase, and ironically, a message of 140 characters or less can drive us to buy a novel of 90,000 words or more? I do know that some of my favorite writers are ones I stumbled upon randomly in bookstores, on days when I walked into the store with no firm intention of buying anything, so perhaps it works this way online as well?

As for whether or not these changes are good for authors, I’m certain that they are good for authors willing to take the time to reach out to bloggers and other readers, but I also like to believe, perhaps too idealistically, that it is still possible for books to disappear from public view, but then to slowly resurface due to their originality, and eventually, like a Melville or Nietzsche, get recognized as an all-time great despite selling very few copies while the author was alive. The documentary The Stone Reader is one of my favorites and connects well to this theme.

If you would like to see Amazon sales for Fight for Your Long Day since December 2010, with paperback and e-book sales separated since February, here are the Novel Rank stats. The spike for my novel in early June was due to two blog mentions at The Chronicle of Higher Education, and so that would be strong evidence that blogs with visibility certainly sell books. These figures do not include sales of all the other “virtual bookstores” selling new and used copies on Amazon’s website, and I do notice that these disappear and reappear, too (a shrinking number of “new” and “used” means sales). I’ve heard that Amazon accounts for 1 in 2 books sold in the United States — yes, a scary thought — but I don’t think we can merely double amazon sales to get total sales for a specific book.

Greg: Do you think breaking down the line between reviewer/blogger and author is inherently a good thing? Why or why not?

Alex: I don’t see it as “inherently a good thing,” but I will say that the line is already broken; maybe it’s a dotted line indicating that passing is allowed? (For me, it has become exciting to see book bloggers become debut novelists.) In fact, novelists who also blog are the norm these days; if I’m not mistaken even big names like Rick Moody are blogging, and I believe that I’ve read it’s required by Moody’s publishing contract.

I see a lot of reciprocity within online writing communities, and there seems to be some sort of “you blog on me, I blog on you” expectation, and I’m very aware of a couple books I owe a read or blog to.  For most of my life, I’ve experienced writing as a solitary act, but in the past year, I’m learning how to be a supportive part of the Indy book community — from active blogger-novelists like Ben Tanzer, Charles Dodd White, Lavinia Ludlow, and Steve Himmer (his Bee Loud Glade is also from Atticus Books).

It’s important to remember that there has probably always been intense subjectivity within the writing and publishing process, so the idea that breaking down the barriers between bloggers and “authors” could corrupt a process that was previously an objective one is inaccurate; the idealized world never perfectly was. So to speak.

Indeed, Cyrus Duffleman’s (Eds note: Duffleman is the protagonist of Kudera's novel.) neurotic angst often twists and contorts around the less idealized and intensely subjective world, one full of dehumanizing inequalities and also the possibility that everything can be seen in more than one way. And the readers who “get” it, seem to find his antics and doubts laugh out loud funny and yet also meaningful.

With that in mind, buying the book is always appreciated, but if you’d like to sample my novel without committing to a purchase, three great ways to do so are 1) via interlibrary loan  or 2) by reading free preview pages of the google e-book or 3) by listening to the free first chapter as an audio book coming soon to ears near you.

Well, speaking of ears, I’m afraid that I’ve written a few off, so thanks again, and to everyone, happy reading!

(Again, if you missed it, Part 1 of the interview is here.)

So, what's your take on how bloggers are affecting, positively or negatively, the publishing industry? Are we strictly promotion machines, or are we adding something concrete to the discussion about books? If so, what? Is contact between reviewers/bloggers with authors a good thing or does it break an unwritten ethical rule?


  1. The majority of "book bloggers" I've seen do focus almost exclusively on the new, up and coming books, which I'm sure helps these books to sell or be read more often. To me, it's similar to reading books and discussing them with and recommending them to friends, except with blogging you can reach a larger audience. As the social media world is recognizing, word of mouth is a much stronger advertising tool than television/radio commercials or other forms of advertising. That's why the big companies want users on Facebook to "like" their page. That user's "friends" will see that he likes a certain company and be more likely to give it a try themselves. It's an interesting concept, and though I haven't formally studied advertising, it makes sense. I trust my friends more than I trust the propaganda companies try to sell me on TV.

  2. A lot of the blogs I follow and read review books that have just been published; and I can't afford these books now, but I will be able to afford them next year when the price of them comes down. So, I read them after the fan fair and excitement of them coming out; so I can see them for what they are and not what they were sold to be as (sometimes they are exactly what they were sold as in the first place; and that's fantastic; other times, it's different).
    So, if you've been to My Reading List, you'll find that occasionally, I'll review new books, but otherwise, I'll review books that have been out on the market for some years. It may seem like old hat, but really it's how I can afford to own books; by waiting until they're a lot cheaper and then reading them. This means, I have to be very patient until I can get my hands on them.
    To answer your question, I think that bloggers add onto the publicity that is badly needed in the publishing world of books. The more people know about a particular author's books, the better; and the more books that author will sell in the end because of the word of mouth way the internet works. Yes, I think it's a very positive thing to have bloggers talking books up as well as reviewers in newspapers talking about them. It reaches the public on two levels.

  3. I could go on and on about the subject of book bloggers and authors, but in a nutshell, the review industry is changing as everything becomes digital. Authors would be foolish not to acknowledge the importance and influence of book bloggers, especially those who have a large following and hits such as yourself.

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