The Future of Collected Miscellany

Once more into the breach…

As the one or two people who read this blog with any regularity know, I have been struggling with whether to keep going. Traffic has gone down year by year. No one leaves a comment or links to this blog. On occasion a publisher might retweet or tweet a review or an author might say thank you for a review, but for the most part this site is visited by those led here from Google searches with a small trickle from social media.

My motivation and energy for posting, let alone quality posting, had all but disappeared. Largely because of the above. I admit, I struggle when I get no feedback or interaction; when it seems like no one is listening. I was hanging on mostly because I still like getting books from publishers and having a website where you post reviews helps with that.

As the end of 2020 approached, I thought it presented a good opportunity to make a clean break one way or the other. So I began to think about what I wanted to do.

The biggest motivation for me to keep this site going is the realization that social media and other distractions had undermined my ability to concentrate and focus on writing. And in 2021 I want to prove to myself that I can do the hard work necessary to write engaging and thought provoking book reviews and cultural criticism.

I also felt frustrated that I had read a great many books without coming away with much insight, opinion, or reaction. I was too passive. Writing is one way to force yourself to pay attention and get more out of reading.

The question was then whether I had the time and energy to make it work and how I would go about setting myself up to succeed. I decided that I owed it to myself to try. I didn’t want all the years CM has been around to simply disappear with a whimper.

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The slow death of a blog

Sorry for the melodramatic title but it feels accurate somehow.

But I have to admit I am just not feeling it these days. I haven’t posted a review in nearly three weeks and only six times this year.

I don’t know if it’s being busy at work, my kids getting older, or what but I have seemingly lost the motivation or desire to post book reviews or blog posts.  I haven’t stopped reading, as you can see from my Goodreads feed, but I am having a hard time writing reviews.

I also don’t know if this is just a phase that will pass or if this is truly the slow death of this blog.  But at some point you have to ask yourself is this really worth it anymore.

And to be brutally honest, the one remaining motivation to keep this site alive is the access to book and authors.  I had a moment of nostalgia recently when I recalled the heady days when I would interview authors, receive advance reader copies (aka ARCs) of hot forthcoming books, and enter into the latest debates ranging across the lit blogosphere.

Lately, however, it won’t surprise you to know I do none of these things. Some of my favorite author’s, authors I have covered extensively in this space, release books and not so much as a how do you do from publicists. As the kids say these days, this briefly gave me the sads.

Now to be fair, as hard as it may be to believe, I still do receive review copies and emails from publicists.  And recently, I have received a couple of books from favorite authors and have  not reviewed them in a timely manner. So the blame is all mine.

The fact of the matter is that keeping a blog going is hard work.  It takes energy, focus and time. I just don’t have much of any of those things right now.

So, what does all this mean? Heck if I know. I just felt like putting some thoughts into pixels and figured I would ruminate on how this blog has kind of gotten away from me.

I am going to try and post some reviews of the books I have read. Maybe, I will shake it up and post a video review or a podcast or something. Perhaps a change like that might break the slump.  Stay tuned … or not.

The Joy and Burden of Free Books

The question of ethics and blogging has been around since the medium (no, not that Medium) took off and it comes up periodically.  Since I am not very active in the blog world these days (I am lucky to post my reviews on a semi-regular basis let alone read and comment on other blogs) I am not real plugged into the day-to-day debates and discussions.

But I did stumble on a post from Bookish Girl on Tumblr that I thought worth commenting on.  Annie jumps off a post at A Reader’s Respite, among others, to discuss why she reviews books or why she will continue to “Blog for Books.”

At issue are programs like the recently revamped Blogging for Books that offer review copies but have very specific rules and restrictions.

This discussion prompted a manifesto/review policy from Bookish and an outraged rant from Michele Jacobsen. You can read their posts and judge their reactions for yourself.

But allow me to give you my take. I get to some degree why these things can be prickly.  Most book bloggers take pride in their independence and the time and energy the put into reviews.  Jumping through a bunch of hoops in order to acquire review copies feels demeaning; like you have been co-opted into a company’s marketing campaign rather than being given the chance to offer your honest opinion.

And I get that. No one wants to feel like they are being manipulated or not taken seriously. Blogging is hard work and publicists asking you to post a review on a blog or review site but also to Amazon AND on social media AND have a certain Klout score feels like overkill. Again, less like a review program and more like a marketing campaign.

But to me this is all very easily solved by not joining such programs. I guess I don’t understand the level of outrage. I understand the frustration of some but not the affront and anger.

If you want free books no strings attached then you must have a platform that publishers want access to and are willing to supply free books in order to gain it. On the other hand, if you want to get free books from Blogging for Books you have to follow their rules and procedures. Seems simple to me.

For the record, I am a member of Blogging for Books (and I think they even run ads here) but haven’t been active for years for the very reason that I requested a few books that I haven’t read and reviewed.  Plus, I was less interested in the books they were offering at the time (pre-Crown publishing revamp).  Am I outraged about the fact they won’t send me more books? No, they set up the process and I follow them or don’t participate.

Does the Klout thing seem silly? Sure, but publishers are looking for some way to measure reach in today’s metrics driven world.  They have every right to seek out the best strategy for getting publicity, yes? You can argue that Klout is a deeply flawed way to do that but the idea is perfectly understandable.  Unique visits arguably wouldn’t be any easier to measure and interpret.

Likewise, you have every right to see your book blogging as something you do out of the love of literature or other pure motives.  It might seem like bringing online booksellers and social media requirements into it injects filthy lucre into the equation.  But publishers are trying to sell books, authors are trying to make a living, etc.  Money and sales comes into it. That is just reality.

So what is my policy about reviews? Some thoughts:

– I make no promises about books that are simply sent to me. If I happen to pick it up great, if I don’t get to it, fine.

– I try to only requests books I want to read. And when I request a book I feel an extra sense of duty to read and review it if I possibly can. This seems like common courtesy.

– Alas, sometimes I request a book and don’t end up reading or finishing it. It happens. Sometimes I over-estimate what and how much I can read. Sometimes my mood and/or interests shift and what seemed like the perfect read suddenly seems less interesting. Sometimes I read a few chapters and the book just fails to grab me.

– I don’t blame publishers who are leery of sending me books if in their minds I don’t review enough of the books they send to me, or if my traffic too low, or “reach” too limited. They must make their life choices just like me. Given it is their job and my hobby, I give them a decent amount of leeway.

– I track what I read on Goodreads and post reviews here. Both auto post to Twitter and Facebook. Whether that has a particular value to publishers I don’t know but, again, I can see why they might factor that in.

– As to reviews, I write what I think. I don’t spin or sugar coat anything for the sake of greater access to books or authors. I do try to get a sense of who might like the book and why; or what the author was attempting and what might have gone wrong; or even why it didn’t work for me but might for others.

In the end what I post here is just my opinion and reactions on the books I read. And yes, access to free books plays an important role. I love reading and frankly can’t afford to buy the number of books I read.

And the fact that I still get access to free books brings a smile to my face to this day.  And talking to authors is always cool. But it is a fact that the more books you review, the bigger the audience you have, and the more books you want access to the more book blogging can feel like a job.

Most publishers are not going to willy-nilly send out books to anyone no matter what the request, platform, audience, etc. You have to make choices about which books you are going to review, what audience you want to attract, and what publishers and authors are gong to be attracted to that model.

These choices have consequences. I have an interest in theology but rarely write about it here.  Does it sting when I get turned down on NetGalley for a theology book I would really like to read? Sure, but that is the publisher’s call. I can see why they might look at this blog and decline to give me access.

And access to a great many books bring pressure too. When it comes to the point where it feel like you have more books than you can possibly read, a certain amount of joy is lost in buying or getting books. There is a pressure, and a healthy one for the most part, that you really should make a dent in the books you have before you go out and get more.

This is part of life and growing up I am afraid.  Tradeoffs and priorities are not fun and sexy but they are a reality. We all have choices to make.

Speaking of choices, I think I should bring this rambling post to a close.  What do you think? Should book blogging be pure love of reading or corrupted by financial motives? Or is it maybe some place awkwardly in between?

Lev Grossman explains bad reviews

Tongue planted  firmly in cheek, Lev Grossman offers this enlightening explanation for bad reviews of The Magicians:

Sometimes people point out to me that although The Magicians gets some good reviews, it also gets its share of hate as well, and what’s up with that? I’ve looked into this, and I think I’ve figured it out. See, sometimes demons ascend from a lower realm to this one, possess a human and devour him or her from within, like some hideous larval parasite, leaving behind a hollow, ambulatory man-rind in that person’s place, a humanoid mockery of all that is good and true. Those demons then head straight for a keyboard and review The Magicians online. And some of those demons have really crap taste in books. So I hope that clears that up.

Lev Grossman explains bad reviews

Tongue planted  firmly in cheek, Lev Grossman offers this enlightening explanation for bad reviews of The Magicians:

Sometimes people point out to me that although The Magicians gets some good reviews, it also gets its share of hate as well, and what’s up with that? I’ve looked into this, and I think I’ve figured it out. See, sometimes demons ascend from a lower realm to this one, possess a human and devour him or her from within, like some hideous larval parasite, leaving behind a hollow, ambulatory man-rind in that person’s place, a humanoid mockery of all that is good and true. Those demons then head straight for a keyboard and review The Magicians online. And some of those demons have really crap taste in books. So I hope that clears that up.