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Hold on tight folks - this will get a bit bumpy....

Yesterday at Read Roger, Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book, published a post suggesting that literary bloggers - specifically kidlit bloggers - should not be reviewing books or interviewing authors. There are several things about this post that frustrated me, not the least of which is that perhaps because Roger is with such a respected publication his words seem to carry an extra grain of truth to many of the commenters to the post. Many bloggers have responded already (See Jen, Liz, Betsy and Finding Wonderland) and they all have very thoughtful and measured things to say. But what really makes me angry about Roger's assertion is that a blogger's opinion can be bought by a free book, a promotion party, an author visit or even a few postive comments at their site. It is entirely possible that this is going on somewhere in the blogosphere at some tiny little blog but it sure as shit is not happening here, and not at any of the sites I regularly visit either.

No way, no how and not ever. And to suggest otherwise discredits us all in a way I do not appreciate and certainly will not support.

I can not be bought with books or a free t-shirt or even a cupcake. If he knew me personally, if he knew how I lived, what I do for living and then took the time to ask why I blog about books in the first place then Roger Sutton would know this. If he took the time to find out any of these things from Jen, Kelly, Liz, Gwenda, Tanita, Sarah, Betsy, Leila, Jules, Eisha and on and on and on than he would know how frustrating it is to have our opinons and thoughtful consideration of books dismissed by the mere idea that we will say anything in exchange for a book.

The assumption seems to be that because we are not paid to blog about books then we must be for sale to any publisher or author willing to offer us a prize. In my case I have to wonder if when I'm reviewing for Booklist I'm assumed to be a fair, honest and responsible reviewer but when I write about a book at Chasing Ray I lose all control. When Gwenda has a review in a newspaper is she telling the truth but at her site is she lying? Am I to believe that authors and publishers and print reviewers believe bloggers are all irresponsible, greedy child-like adults who chose to write about books solely in the hopes of gaining attention from people they will never meet? (Except of course when we are employed as print reviewers ourselves - then apparently everything changes.)

As it happens, I am in the midst of organizing an 18 blog author tour for the month of June that involves multiple interviews with over 25 different authors. (We are calling it the "Summer Blog Blast Tour".) It includes many different YA writers and not one of them was selected because they had a book coming out that needed to be reviewed. I know this because I was the final word on which authors were chosen and my choices were made for very different reasons. I looked for authors who write books for boys and those who write books for girls. I looked for authors who direct their attention to the GBLT teen audience. I looked for authors who write graphic novels, historical fiction, fantasy, romance, SF and mystery. I consulted with the other bloggers and we have set our net as far and wide as we can with the sole purpose of showing the lit blogosphere the very diverse and rich nature of current YA literature. Some of the writers are well known, others hardly at all. What they have in common is only one thing - they write good books. That is the one ideal I wanted to organize the tour around and I feel very confident that we have put something together that will make thousands of readers aware of books they should be reading.

And that's the point Roger - it's always and only about books I think more people should be reading.

I love books; I have always loved books, but I have gone toe to toe over objects and ideas far larger than the latest release from RH or Candlewick and if I didn't sell out then what possibly makes anyone think I would sell out for an ARC? It is an insult to make such sweeping generalizations about bloggers who review books and it is personally insulting to suggest that I can be bought so cheaply.

The bottom line is that Roger Sutton does not know me or most of the rest of us. I have to wonder then, why he felt so comfortable writing the things that he did. Would he suggest that reviewers for The Horn Book can be bought with an ARC? Or those with Kirkus or Booklist or the NYT or LAT? Why is it that those of us who do it for love rather than money must have our motives questioned?

I have three college degrees, I'm a published author, I have written a book, I have a well respected literary agent shopping said book and my husband and I own an aircraft leasing business that we started from nothing. I'm way past needing to beg for respect at any party I attend. I'm here, in the literary blogosphere, because I have something valuable to offer - it's called my opinion, and it is always and only, my own.

I don't think Roger meant to anger or frustrate bloggers with his post but I hope he understand why I feel the way I do, and maybe he will think a little bit more about us all before he makes such broad statements again.

Check back here in the coming weeks for updates on the blog tour - and yes, all the bloggers I mentioned above (most especially Betsy at Fuse #8) will be participating.

comments

I think you've really mischaracterized my post here. I never suggested any of the things you're accusing me of; I instead said that I thought the state of children's book blog reviewing was too soft-centered and speculated as to why that might be. I don't think anyone is being bought; I think the problem is more one of too much cyber mingling.

As far as blog tours go, my essential beef with them is that I don't think interviews with authors are a particularly enlightening form of book journalism (this goes for print as well as electronic forums), and while readers certainly like them, they are no substitute for critical discussion of a book, a discussion in which the author has already had his or her say. If you want to expose new or under-attended books to the world, telling us why they are great is more effective than sponsoring a parade of their authors.

Wow. I'm glad you told me to hang on.

I guess where I come down on this "issue," is that I don't think it is much different from professional reviewers. If Roger thinks the problem is too much cyber mingling, then why isn't all this other real life mingling suspect? Professional reviewers go to publisher lunches and ALA and conferences and meet authors, but somehow they're immune and bloggers are not?

And I think author blog tours are a great way for blog readers - who may be librarians, mothers, writers, and more - to get to know the authors and more about the writing process. More power to you.

I agree with Roger about interviews. I'd rather read one rigorous piece of criticism by, say Daniel Mendelsohn or James Wood or Colm Toibin, than 20 author interviews. The book is central, not what the author eats for breakfast or whether he writes everything out longhand in his purple-spotted underwear. Nor do I think authors are necessarily the best persons to pronounce any further on their own work.

Roger: I know this came across hard but I'm sure as you have read the comments to your post you can see how I am not the only one surprised by your post. Here are a couple of quoted comments from your post that directly sparked my response:

Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention.

And this (The Fuse #8 post you referred to here as a "promotion" was actually a book release party where Betsy wrote about upcoming books, food and authors):

I watch with a sinking heart the "blog tours" of writers; recalling my favorite Law & Order mantra, any subsequent review from any of these blogs becomes "fruit from the poisoned tree." (Likewise, Fuse, with that Little, Brown promotion.)

And then this:

But it's a reviewer's job to ignore the publisher and the author, and to instead focus on the book and its potential audience. Coziness has its price.

When I read the comments to your post the issue of Betsy and the LB promotion comes up more than once and while you may not have intended it, the possibility that bloggers are most susceptible to "swag" comes through loud and clear to the post's readers. You do say directly bloggers are more likely to give friendly reviews to authors who visit their sites, that we are creating a "cozy" environment for authors on the blogosphere, serve primarily as a marketing tool for publishers and that after interviewing an author any future reviews of that author's books are "from a poison tree".

I'm sorry Roger - the way I read this you don't seem to think that bloggers are capable of being open-minded and critical. And that suggests our opinion can be bought, either with cupcakes, visits or comments.

Again, maybe you never ever intended to convey this, but perhaps in rereading your post and looking at from a different perspective, you will see what I (and others) see.

Lee it is perfectly fine that you don't like author interviews - just don't read them. As a reader I have long enjoyed author interviews, especially when the writers talk about the reasons behind their work and how they conducted their research. Two of the authors I am interviewing for the blog tour are Tom & Dorothy Hoobler who write a series of mysteries about an early 18th century teenager who assists a famous (and real) Japanese Judge/Samurai. I want to know - as a reader - how they first found out about Judge Ooka, and how they continue to develop storylines in this setting. I think that for teen readers in particular an author interview can supplement the reading process - we study famous authors 100 different ways in school, and it is nice to include real information on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, etc. when reading their books. I see an opportunity to pick the brains of current authors and perhaps expand the horizons of readers in a whole new way.

But don't read them if you don't like them - it's that simple. Just don't suggest that because I've asked a few questions about a book, I'm going to give positive reviews to every other book that author writes. That's what frustrates me here.

I enjoy author interviews. It's why I read them; why, when I have time and make the contact I do them. (And sometimes they contact me...and sometimes I contact them.)

If you don't like them, fine. But I do have a problem with the logic: "if I don't like them and get nothing out of them, they aren't valid, so people should not be conducting them."

We cannot be bought. Well put. Makes me wonder what we would have to do to prove this to the skeptical. Tattoo it to our shoulders? Sign a petition? I never knew that children's books were such an addictive draw until this came up. You've put it quite nicely, and I thank you for it.

Very good post, you've said things quite nicely.

May I have permission to quote you in a post I'm doing on this?

Brava, Colleen!

I discovered your blog because you gave one of my books a favorable review. Now, I read (and occasionally comment on) your blog because I respect your opinions. Same goes for other kidlit bloggers. In no way do I expect you or anybody else to like or pretend to like my future books (if I ever finish them--grumble, grumble).

I also like author interviews. I think I'll always have something learn about this craft. Plus, I just think people, well, some people anyway, are interesting.

Sure Erin - if it's here on the site then it is always quotable.

Sara!!! Thanks for coming by and I do look forward to a Stella Brite sequel. I still think that was one of the smartest early reader books I've come across on astronomy and very very under appreciated.

To correct a misconception: I never said that I don't like author interviews (and in fact do read some) but merely that I PREFER a piece of good criticism, which serves a very different purpose. And the part of me that reads the interviews is the writer who is looking desperately for some form of guidance/comfort/validation, yet I am fully aware that this is illusory - each writer and each process is so very different. And I feel a certain irritation with myself if I end up poring over an interview, since I find it a bit voyeuristic. Our reality-TV society?

Please remember that I'm speaking solely about and for myself.

That said, I'm convinced that authors should not have to explain or illuminate their texts - they've already had their say. And they're not likely to be able to put their work into perspective.

I'm not looking for explanations in an author interview - not I think in the way you mean. Use Ray Bradbury as an example. You can read The Martian Chronicles and enjoy it just fine, but when you read his essay about how Winesburg, Ohio influenced the development of those stories then you see that much more how he wrote first about humanity, and then humanity in space.

Read Fitzgerald and love it - read The Crack-Up and understand better the motivations behind his writing.

Or how about Stephen King's explanations about Carrie? I love how he got the idea for the book from a casual conversation with his wife. Does it change what I think of the story? No - just what I think of the author and the process of creativity.

I'd love to know where Romeo and Juliet came from, for example. Wouldn't change how I feel about the play, but the inspiration would be cool to know.

I'm just curious about the history behind the stories, which might be due to my own experience as a former history student and teacher. Other readers might go to interviews for different reasons. As for the author blog tour, I'm just trying to show the different types of people who are found writing YA literature today. I'm doing it largely because I think YA lit continues to get less respect in publishing (and in the blogosphere). Yes JK Rowling makes money, but most YA writers are reminded constantly that they don't write "real" books. I want to see who the folks are who publish to this audience and why. We are reviewing their books already - this is just a chance to shine a light on their motivations for being in the genre.

It interests me, but I'm honestly just fine with it not interesting other folks. That's part of what does make the blogosphere so handy - it's very easy to go someplace else when you don't like what someone has posted.

Thanks for stopping by Lee!

Colleen, two of your examples - Bradbury and Fitzgerald - are not interviews, but preblogging essays.

I certainly wouldn't argue that background information, including letters, journals, and interviews, is useless. However, I understand Roger's point to be that, given contraints on space (especially in print) and time, more weight ought to be accorded to a crtical engagement with the texts than to interviews.

I think it's obvious that you give your best to kidlit blogging because of your love for the books and the readers. That high quality speaks for itself. It's not surprising that print reviewers would feel more than slightly challenged by the growing power of bloggers. Keep up the great work!

Okay lee - I know when F Scott Fitzgerald died and I know it was long before the internet.

And I have the Bradbury essay collections and I know he wrote about Chronicles in the 1950s.

I hereby promise never ever to use an example again that does not perfectly fit what I'm trying to explain.

I get that you don't like interviews, I get that Roger doesn't like them and I am now officially not going to try and explain my position anymore this way - maybe I'll post on it.

I like author interviews; but it's fine that part of the world wishes I was doing something else with my time rather than conducting them.

Colleen, I think that if F. Scott Fitzgerald were alive today, he'd participate in Brotherhood 2.0 - Agreed?

Now that is just too cool to even think about - awesome LW!

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