ETA: This post should in no way be taken as a criticism of the first panel at the conference. I loved the panel, I thought everyone did a great job. The panel and the discussions that followed just made me think about this subject and that is what my post is about.
The first panel at the conference included author Kirby Larson, LB publicist Zoe Luderitz and blogger/reviewers Liz Burns and Pam Coughlin. We wanted to open with this panel so we could get everyone talking about the elephant that is forever in the room when we talk about about online reviewing, authors and publishers. What quickly became clear from both the panel discussion and audience questions is that authors and publishers don't know how to interact with bloggers and that no one knows what to do about this.
The problem is pretty basic: publishers are used to dealing with the traditional reviewing system where galleys are sent to editors who assign them for review and reviews run (good or bad) in a predictable and timely fashion. This still happens at the NYT and Booklist and PW and Kirkus and many others we are all familiar with. But blogs are not predictable and they don't have editors and they most certainly do not write to any set of established rules or traditions. To be frank you never know what you're going to get from many blogs which is a source of frustration for many publishers (not to mention authors). Blogs come and go, reviews appear or don't, and just when a publisher starts to get a handle on things a hundred new blogs appear with bloggers wanting the same thing everyone before them has gotten only they tend to want publisher attention a lot faster and with a lot more ARCs.
In a way, publishers have created a monster and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger with each passing month.
Typically, panels present either the blogger side (publishers are impossible to get ahold of, won't send you want you request but rather dozens of books you don't want, won't let you request anything but insist upon sending everyone the same titles resulting in oversaturation for some books and awesome neglect of others) or the publisher side (bloggers bombard them with requests, fail to post reviews, fail to notify when they do post reviews, do sloppy work, then make more demands). It was refreshing to open the dialog with all sides at the table (and it was an exceedingly cordial dialog) but the end result was still enormously frustrating. As it turns out, even though everyone was at the table, it was still impossible to come to any answers because publishers can't seem to either control what they do (this is true of the majors) or figure out how to do what they want (true of the smaller indys) and because bloggers can't provide the answers publishers want (how to determine what blogs matter and who those blogs are).
It's a pickle, that's for sure.
We talked about this topic a lot at the Con after the panel - we talked about it constantly in fact. Because I am on the receiving end of a lot of publisher madness (boxes and boxes and boxes of books I do not want but can not prevent from coming my way), it is something I think about pretty much every day. But this panel and conversations that followed sparked some other thoughts. Mostly, while I will never understand why publishers like Random House can not run an efficient database or Harper Collins will not send out a pdf of its catalog so we can make simple requests, I can see how the inability to quantify blog effectiveness in a useful matter must be incredibly difficult for publishers. But visitor numbers really mean nothing because they do not include so many other factors (like all those folks who follow you on google or any one of a number of other feeds) and more than anything else statistics will not tell you a thing about influence and that is what publishers are seeking more than anything - what bloggers have influence.
And the really big problem there is that some bloggers influence some folks while others influence entirely different folks. Who in all this has the power to influence actual folks who buy books is hard (impossible?) to know. But publishers keep thinking (apparently) if they just throw enough books out there then they will hit the bloggers that matter and word of mouth will begin and magic will happen.
Seriously, that is what they want.
The one thing that bothered me the most was the notion that bloggers are all the same, that finding the key to one is the same as that of the next as if all bloggers agree on some collective set of guidelines. This is, of course, completely untrue but it seems almost cruel to point it out as I think that if publishers were forced to wrap their heads around how it really is it might drive them over a cliff in abject despair. As long as they think there's a shot at figuring out "bloggers" then they are hopeful but once that dream dies they will have to deal with the slog of working through the sites one by one by one and that could take, well, at the rate blogs are being added it will take forever. Maybe the sooner everyone accepts that reality though the faster we can get around to accepting what is and dealing with it. For publishers this is all a very daunting task but only if they insist on trying to be everywhere which is perhaps the biggest mistake they are making of all.
There are just too many blogs and publishers are going to have to pick and choose, period.
I don't have all the answers to this one but I'm finally get a grasp on the questions and that is more than half the battle especially as I grapple with my own book's upcoming release. And on that note - more on authors and bloggers in the next day or two.