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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.

comments

Oh! I have so many thoughts. But mostly I'm grateful for the way that you (as always) lay it all on the line. It is a pickle. It cannot, in the end, be quantified. But how in the world could word of mouth ever, really, be traced, databased, quantified?

It seems like you should have done this panel yourself since you were so directed as to what you wanted out of it. I wouldn't have expected to come to answers to these difficult questions in fifty minutes. Representatives of these different factions couldn't give a definitive answer on behalf of everyone involved in their "side" but hopefully could give us some framework to ask the right questions and see the others point of views.

For instance, I did not get a sense from the panel that publishers think all bloggers are alike or want a key to discover our magic influence. Thats your conclusion, not something that came from the panel specifically and it would help if you could be more clear.

Pam - I think you misunderstand how I conflated both the panel's remarks and the conversations that followed over the course of the conference. As I said above your panel brought up subjects that were continuously talked about over the next couple of days in several other panels and in casual conversations. My conclusions (and ruminations) here are based on the totality of the experience, not just the 50 minutes you guys were up there.

What I hoped from the panel was exactly what happened - you sparked a longer discussion. My blog post is about what I got out of that discussion (as it came to me) over the rest of Friday and Saturday.

The bit about bloggers as one single group actually came from talking to Zoe and Kallie (pub folk) and several authors at the con. So please - don't see this as some sort of critique of your panel (???) or even about your panel in particular. It's about what you guys sparked and then what I gathered from the discussions that followed.

I never expected you to come up with answers. What I found interesting was how big the questions are and how much pubs in particular keep hoping someone will give them answers.

Oh, how funny. I took this column to mean the panel was a perfect kickoff to great thinking all Con long. And from one who wasn't there, I can say that I see these very issues you both raise - no one can speak for "all" AND no one knows exactly what to do in this space (AND it's not about whose fault it is, but thinking how we can close the divide).

One challenge for everyone is how hard it is to measure influence. Services like Klout try, but I think at their best, services like that are only a place to start. A reviewer whose readers all love historical fiction probably has more influence in that space than I do, even if my blog has more readers (or not!). Etc. Also, even if we can measure influence, can we measure sales directly? I tweet, 20 folks retweet, we reach 10K possible people and... uh... some of them tell their friends who tell their grandparents, etc. This is a problem for which solutions are not going to be reached in a panel, in a con, or a blog post, that's for sure.

Anyway, it sounds like a great start to what I hear was an overall great event. And since you two are two of the people I'm most bummed about not seeing... "hi!!!!"

It was an excellent kick-off, Greg - the best sort of kick-off actually. And yes, influence is impossible to quantify which I think is something that publishers just might be...maybe....starting to realize. But it has to be miserable for them because then they just have to take a chance with their gut on who they think is the best source of influence for their books.

Numbers are so much easier to believe in than your gut, of course.

I am always sad to have to miss this event. I've never made it to even one. However, when I started my blog almost four years ago, I just wanted to ramble about kid lit. It was cool to get free books in advance of their publication, but I did it for the love of the reading experience.

Now, when I see posts about KidLit Con there seems to more of a 'work' edge to it. Blogger influence? Stats? Etc... Those things still mean nothing to me. I work as a reading and literacy coach in a large school district and I think my influence is much greater there. One school recently purchased $5000 worth of novels on my recommendation alone. I've ordered over $1000.00 of two titles that were sent to me since the new school year began. Over 100 kids will read Oragami Yoda in one classroom alone. Will they go out and buy its sequel?

How can a publisher measure my word-of-mouth to other coaches in my district? In other words, what is influence, really?

Cheryl - Please keep in mind that we are focusing a lot on conversations sparked by the panels but there is plenty of just sitting and talking about books we love that goes on at the conference. (I just feel like I already talk about books I love at this site, so I tend to focus more on the panel-related topics in my round-ups)

Plus, well, I do have a book coming out so that was weighing heavily on my mind throughout the weekend.

And yes, you are right - you can't really measure influence or where a person influences or the ramifications of that influence on sales, etc., but now that print reviewing is not as influential, publishers are scrambling a bit to figure out where to go next and so yes, that was a topic.

But please, do not think that we were sitting around the entire time trying to figure out who was most powerful online. The biggest thing we talked about was how we are all in this because we think books matter. The rest were digressions from there but books - and getting books into the hands of kids - was the biggest most significant part of the weekend.

Greg--wish you could have been there, too! And I wish I could have caught the first half of this panel. I'm not someone who usually thinks about how much influence our blog has in particular, but it's an interesting topic in general and I'll be fascinated to see where the discussion ends up.

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