Book Reviews, Revamped: Bloggers’ Frustrations

This article is part of our series on how book reviews are changing. Introduction | The New Review | $$$ | Credibility and the Blog Blurb Question | Bloggers’ Frustrations | Meanwhile, in Consumer Book Reviews

Despite the advantages of reviewing online, serious book bloggers have to battle through a mass of flimsy and badly written book coverage—plus all those Amazon customer recommendations—to rise to the top of a book review Google search. Searching for “online book reviews” pulls up, on the first page, many customer recommendation sites but no serious book blogs (although the Barnes & Noble Book Review is there). If you don’t know exactly which site you’re looking for, you may never stumble across it. “The internet, with its seemingly infinite space, allows for more variability and unpredictability, which is why people are freaked out,” says Sarah Weinman, who blogs at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and is an online mystery and suspense columnist for the Los Angeles Times Book Review . “Instead of trusting newspapers and magazines to curate, now it’s the reader’s responsibility to do so, and some flock to such active management while others are scared off. There are wonderful sites that deliver consistently high quality review coverage, and there are some sites and blogs that happily produce crap and don’t care a whit about being criticized.” Few book bloggers are recognized by name (though group review sites like The Second Pass, The Millions, and the Barnes & Noble Book Review are increasingly recognizable).

“I sort of recoil from the notion of ‘branding,’ says Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation. “[But] bloggers, like reviewers, who have an identifiable voice, a consistent and articulated critical approach will, I think, draw audiences over time. As for the role of the book critic in the public eyes, sadly, I doubt we even register anymore. And that’s a shame. In the end, my role is to try to get people thinking thoughtfully about books they might not have otherwise considered. That I’m sort of preaching to the choir with a literary blog—my readership has an existing interest in this material—is one of my frustrations.”

Another frustration is money. Most book bloggers have full-time day jobs. “This is a LOT of work,” says Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. “I’m one of the few bloggers who does have a revenue stream, but that goes for postage and my hosting fees and my domain name and any travel I do to conferences. This website does not generate a salary for me. When someone runs a book blog, whether they do or do not accept advertisements, it’s an enormous amount of work that’s entirely a labor of passion. We’re not doing this to be rich—the days of being rich purely from a blog, I think, are done.”