Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I'm Not a Marketing Tool

The Fine Line (credit of the name goes to Val) is a feature created by my friends Val @ The Innocent Smiley, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight, Amber @ YA Indulgences, and I. It's a discussion feature we'll share equally, one where we talk about our thoughts on controversial topics, parts of the community that we don't like or have mixed feelings about. And we want to know if others feel the same as well! But it's okay if you don't. This feature is about discussion, so chat away!


Today I want to talk about being a marketing tool versus blogging for yourself. 

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When I first started my blog, I was doing it for ME. I was doing it because I wanted a space that was all mine, where I could write about anything I wanted. And when it turned into a book blog, it was because I wanted to talk about my favorite hobby with other people who understood, and who “got” it. But over the years, I feel like I kinda lost that. I started catering my blog to book pressure, started requesting ARCs and reading them because everyone else was and because I got caught up in the hype. I started caring more about what others thought of my blog than about what *I* did. It’s sometimes easy to forget why you started in the first place when you feel like you’re no longer blogging for yourself.

And I wasn’t. I let what others were doing and writing and reading about dictate what *I* did. And I started to care more about how publishers and authors looked at my blog than my readers did. Why did I do that? Because I thought if I did what *I* wanted, talked about whatever *I* wanted, that publishers wouldn’t like it? But why did their opinion matter so much to me? Because I wanted them to think I was professional so they would send me an ARC? Sure, ARCs are great and fun, and it IS special to be thought of so highly by a pub that they want to give you a not-yet-published book for free. It’s one of the ways of measuring success on your blog. But somehow, I let that success be measured on how much attention I was gaining from publishers, and even authors. That isn’t to say that it’s ALL bad. But when you start blogging as a hobby, as a passion, you should only ever strive to make YOURSELF happy. And I wasn’t happy with it.

I think when you start to care more about what publishers (and authors) think and want from you, you make yourself an easy target to become their own special marketing tool. Now, some people don’t see anything wrong with this, and all the more power to them. What sparked this post was a discussion with two other bloggers during the #BookBloggerChat, after someone asked what publishers would think if we started reviewing in nonconventional ways. And I was like: but we’re not blogging for them, you know, so why does it matter? But to some people, it really does matter. That’s just not something I understand. Someone brought up a good point, though, that we should be honoring commitments, especially if we request something. And I SO agree there. You should not be taking on anything if you’re not 100% committed to doing it. You have to be professional in that regard! But in all other aspects, your blog is your own space and it’s yours to do with as you wish.

I don’t blog for publishers and authors. First and foremost, I do not. I love working with them, but they are not why I blog. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really great to receive ARC approvals, be invited to participate in a fun promotion for a book or series I love, to even get a simple RT from a publisher or author regarding my review. But at the end of the day, this is all for me. And my followers, the people whom I constantly keep in mind when thinking about new content and creativity. But, you know, there are days where I don’t feel like anything more than a marketing tool. There are days where I feel like I do so much, and no one appreciates it. There are days where I feel like just one of many hundreds who are nothing more but a promotional space for authors. And I think that there are times when publishers and authors forget that there is a PERSON behind the blog.

I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding some of this already, especially from older bloggers. I’ve gotten cookie-cutter emails from publishers who you can tell are just emailing anyone they know of to promote a certain book or author. They probably don’t even know my name, or my blog’s name. It doesn’t even seem like they care that much about who you are, but about what you can do FOR THEM. Now, this isn’t EVERY publisher. But there are a few in particular who have really made me feel like I’m just being used as a promotional gimmick. And the thing is that they can get another blogger to step into my place if I say no, because there are hundreds out there who would say yes without a second thought. And hundreds more who would do whatever type of post a publisher asks for, because they want to get “in” with them.

And maybe that’s okay with those hundreds of bloggers, that’s enough for them. I don’t know. But, for me, I don’t want to put so much stock into what a publisher thinks when my efforts feel so underappreciated anyway. I’ve heard that it used to be that you would be lucky if you received an RT or an acknowledgement from a publisher? That they weren’t very involved with bloggers that much, even when sending ARCs? I’m not actually sure about that, so I can only look at the last 3 years. And the lines have blurred so much between bloggers and publishers that I can’t tell who’s being genuine anymore and who’s only doing these things for the popularity and attention that they could bring. But that’s something for a different day.

Perhaps I’m putting too much on publishers? This isn’t ONLY about them, though. There are AUTHORS who see bloggers as only marketing tools to give them free promotion. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received that were CC’d to hundreds of others in a long chain, asking for us, no TELLING US, to promote a book that probably isn’t anything we normally review. We don’t even get names, then. And I can’t tell you how many have subscribed me to their newsletters without my permission. It’s hard to feel appreciated about ANYTHING you do when you’re being looked at as only something that will further someone else’s gain. Sure, we ARE, in some way, a marketing tool. We promote books we loved or rant about ones we hated. We take on more than we can handle all of the time because we want to do everything we can to support our favorite books and authors. But that’s something that we do on our own time because we WANT to. Not because we’re a professional promotional outlet.

I never became a book blogger to cater to publishers and authors. And perhaps others really love doing that, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’m so tired of putting so much work and effort into something when it’s not even acknowledged (which happened once before, when I did a publisher-oriented post). I know they don’t owe me anything, not even an RT, just as I don’t owe them a “yes” or a review (my policy is for review consideration for a reason). But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a small part of me that feels super underappreciated for everything I do, especially when a publicist specifically asks me if I want to do a fun post for them, and afterward I feel like just one of another dozen bloggers who did the promotional gimmick. I love working with people on unique posts and events, but I’m not blogging for anyone else but myself. And I refuse to become just another marketing tool when *I’m* the one who owns this space and writes this content because it’s what I want and what makes ME happy.

BUT I do think if you find a good balance between doing what excites you and what publishers and authors ask of you, then it makes it worth it! Like I really do enjoy working with them, especially if I love the book or series. And I do not mind at all promoting it if it's something I think deserves the attention. But personally I need to find a better balance. And I do believe that sometimes we put too much stock into what others think of our blog than what *we* do. If you wanna review in nonconventional ways, then go for it! If you want to talk about content not related to books, then that's your decision! It's your blog!

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So do you ever feel like just a marketing tool? Do you think publishers and authors sometimes forget that we're not their own promotional outlets? Obviously we ARE here to promote books and authors, but when does it become less about ourselves and more about what everyone else wants? OR do you think it's not as big a deal as people make it out to be? Let's talk! :)

7 comments:

  1. I think there is a fine line as well. I am obviously going to talk more about the books I like/love or am really excited about, but I feel as thought sometimes publishers and authors try to take advantage of bloggers in general. I understand that different bloggers will have different reach and audiences and it is important to find a way to tap into that, but I think the unsolicited review books or the "post this on your blog!" things are a little much sometimes. My general rule is if I didn't read the book or haven't talked about it before, I won't post anything about it on my blog. I don't recommend books I haven't read before.

    Great post Holly!

    Jamie @ Books and Ladders

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  2. I have lost the connection between myself and why I started my book blog. I've become so worried about what publishers or authors think when they see it that I've become almost completely insecure about my blog. I know why I started my blog and why I continue to run it but I'm often insecure about it that I sometimes wonder if I should shut it down. I don't feel like pubs and authors forget that we aren't their own promotional tool but it still makes me worry about my blogs content etc. I hope you've had a good day I wish you the best.
    (A Books Eternal Glory)

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  3. The balance between blogging for yourself and blogging to spread the word? It really sucks!
    And you can really expand this discussion to include a desire to reach a wider audience. Not only do you want to keep the blog in your own voice, regardless of what you're discussing, but you also want people to visit the blog and to read its content. There's always some part of you that wants a readership, a fanbase, someone to read, someone to care.
    I have experienced similar ambivalence about substance in my music blog (currently on hiatus), especially since one purpose of my blog was to promote indie and lesser-known artists. No matter what I did, though, I always kept coming back to major-label artists for the sake of readership, and whatever balance I tried to strike seemed to lean in favor of the major-label artists, the excellence of their music notwithstanding.
    One axiom I can take away from this discussion is that a blog represents the personality and online presence of the blogger, and as such, the blogger ought to strive for maintaining her/his voice when writing, staying true to her or himself, regardless of what she/he blogs about or why.
    The right audience--one who is as much a fan of the blogger as it is of the blog--will come along sooner or later.

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  4. Excellent topic/post, Holly. As a fairly new blogger (about 9 months) I have not gone that route but it is something I try to remain conscious of. Because I *don't* want to go there. I think most bloggers all start blogging for a common reason: we love books and reading and want to share that and connect with others who feel the same way. But I think it's easy to get caught up in the allure of connecting with authors and publishers and getting all the ARCs and being among the chosen few who have that contact, that access. It's a slippery slope. I make a conscious effort to strike a balance. Yes I review ARCs here and there but prefer to mainly read what *I* want to read. Yes I take part in blog tours here and there but they are few and far between and only for books that I am actually interested in/excited about. The rest of the time - the vast majority of the time! - I read what I want to read and blog what I want to blog. If that means my blog stays small, that I don't get the big, highly anticipated ARCs, that I'm not reading what everyone else is reading... so be it. I'm really okay with that. This is my hobby and my passion, this is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. And it's never been about keeping up with everyone else, garnering the attention of "the industry" or anything else like that. I guess it all comes down to for every blogger is: why are you blogging and what are you hoping to get from it?

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

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  5. YES HOLLY YESSSSSSS. SO ACCURATE. "This needs to be said more" - Shannon from her blogging desk.

    I started my blog to blog about my love of books. It wasn't because of ARCs or getting to know publishers, but just to GUSH about BOOKS. And talk to people about them, because I KNOW NO ONE WHO LOVES THEM AS MUCH AS ME. Other than you guys of course. But I'm talking about BEFORE you and Amber and Shannon.

    So yeah. I don't like being viewed as only a marketing tool. And I only do it for authors that I like and know, and of course books that I have requested. But other than that, nahhh I don't have time for that.

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  6. I totally agree that many bloggers are treated as a marketing tool in order to promote publishers, authors and books for free. However, when someone first creates a blog, it's a creative outlet for that person. I always think of a blog being a more polished version of a diary or a journal but for the public to read. I know some people get caught up with the ARC frenzy and when that happens, you need to question yourself about why you are blogging in the first place. I mean it's great to get ARCs to read before the pub date and to review them but sometimes you don't want that pressure to have to read an ARC. Sometimes you want to read what you want to read. Sometimes you want to blog whatever you want to blog. Everyone should blog for themselves first and everyone second.

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  7. Glad that Val jumped in with my comment, since it took me two additional days to do so ;) But YES. I do think this is true. I think that obviously, publishers have a job to do, and a product to sell, and we ARE a tool for them. But what I think probably never even crosses their mind (because I don't think they are like, bad people or anything, just trying to get their job done as best they can) is that we are unpaid randos doing this for funsies. Sure, some of the biggest of blogs may get some advertising income or whatever, but 99.9999% of us spend SO MUCH money on blogging, and get zero dollars coming in, so we're already at a deficit. Another thing we are lacking? TIME. Again, since ZERO of us do this as a career, we have something else to do too, whether it be school, work, a family, whatever.

    And it's kind of like when you are in school and 5 teachers have papers due on the same day, because they think that THEIR class is the most important. But you have FOUR OTHER PAPERS. Same with publishers. Their book agenda is not the only one you're dealing with!

    That said? I am TERRIBLE at balancing it all. I want to make EVERYONE happy- all publishers, all authors, all readers, all other bloggers. And I come in somewhere around last. The thing is, I do all this stuff BECAUSE I want to. So it's weird. I'd say first and foremost for me is the readers/bloggers. Because they're the audience I am talking to. So my own integrity and honesty has to be number one also. Which means publishers and such come in a VERY distant third, just based on that alone. Because I will be honest every time, even if that upsets some author or publisher. (Sorry, everyone involved with Seeker.)

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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Comments always make me smile. :) Seriously. Even if you comment on the post weeks or months later, it makes my day! So don't hesitate to leave your thoughts even if it's been a long time since the post was published. I'll try to reply to you, especially if you ask a question, but sometimes life happens. But I do read and appreciate every single one of them because I know how hard it can be to find the time or energy to comment. So a heartfelt THANK YOU for brightening my day when you do. <3