Does Book Blog Buzz Sell Books?

…that’s the question posed by an article in the Christian Science Monitor, which focuses a lot of its attention on Mark Sarvas’ blog The Elegant Variation.

Although no one’s exactly sure how influential they are, bloggers like Sarvas
have become the new darlings of the publishing industry. They’re getting free
review copies, landing interviews with prestigious authors, and trying to boost
obscure writers – especially writers in the literary fiction world where John
Irving is a bigger name than John Grisham. Still, plenty of sophisticated readers don’t know a blog from a podcast…

…In years past, literary discussions were largely limited to academia and the
occasional book club, says Sarvas of The Elegant Variation. "What the blogs have
really done is encourage inclusion, encourage people from all walks of life to
join the conversation."

But is anyone listening? Many book bloggers seem to be talking only to
themselves, judging by the dearth of postings by outsiders on their sites. And
it’s hard to tell if bloggers’ mash notes translate into sales at Barnes &

What do you think? Are blogs changing the way you pick the books you’re going to buy?

41 thoughts on “Does Book Blog Buzz Sell Books?”

  1. I’ve recently bought 2 books by authors I discovered through their blogs, so I’d have to say yes. And if a blogger whose opinions I respect recommends a book, I’ll definitely take a look at it.

  2. I don’t think enough people are online, not enough common folk at least. If they have internet connection they still don’t use it much. Until the masses of people actually live online, I can’t see this happening very much. We’re humans and there are better things to stimulate us away from the dry internet life. Now if we can somehow mix instant messaging with blogging we have something. Imagine a small screen with buttons that can blow up blurbs and ads (if we choose) while we are talking to a friend or someone we found in a chat room.

  3. I buy 95% of my books online–I never realized I was a minority. I thought Amazon was selling tons of books until I started reading author blogs.
    So yes, I have found authors via blogs. Most of my to buy list is generated from the blogs I read. On the flip side, there are books I won’t buy because of the author’s blog.
    What online booksellers need to do is start linking to author blogs/websites so interested readers can find them. I wonder how that would drive books sales?

  4. I’ve bought books by writers I’ve met online, but I’m far more likely to subscribe to blogs because of books I’ve bought. I do it the opposite way.

  5. Well, I read Fake Liar Cheat, Beyond the Beyond, and Old Man’s War because I read the weblogs of those writers.
    Oh, and also Successful Television Writing.
    But because of a critical blog? No.

  6. I think it’s too early to tell how effective blogs can be on the reading public. Blogs are a relatively new thing, and it takes awhile for people to catch up. I mean, some folks are just now getting rid of their VHS tapes and replacing them with DVDs.
    As for me, I didn’t become truly interested in writing/author blogs until I got a two book deal myself. Now that I’ve jumped into the mix, I find myself discovering new authors and spending more money than I can afford on new books.
    So, for a certain audience, blogs definitely work. And I think it’s only a matter of time before that audience expands, and blogs, combined with word of mouth, become extremely powerful promotional tools.
    Then again, I could be wrong. I am, after all, the new kid in town.

  7. I think a writer needs a blog (assuming he or she can do it. A horrible blog is almost as bad as consistently bad reviews.) But crit blogs?
    Well, Sarah Weinman has steered me toward some things, but not too many others have. I’ll echo what’s said here: I usually buy from writers I’ve either met or have read on line. OLD MAN’S WAR is a great example.
    Re: Internet connections. There are more with than without, and many who don’t have make judicious use of the library. It’s safe to say most people are wired somehow.

  8. I have a habit of waiting to read reviews until after I’ve seen/read something. I think of reviews as just another form of entertainment, with few exceptions. Those exceptions just get lumped in with general word-of-mouth.
    The situation I can’t quite wrap my mind around is the reader-of-opportunity who picks up a book on the way to the Walmart checkout or sticks to whatever is on the shelves in the library. I know there are a lot of people like that, who can’t/won’t be impacted too much by any other factor but availability.

  9. I’ve got twin 8-month-olds, so what time I have goes to writing, and any reading I can manage is research for the current book. However, this lengthy blip on the calendar aside: Yes; I buy books that people I respect like, and blogs are an easy way to find out what those are.

  10. I’ve discovered a few new authors through postings or links on this blog: Lee Child, Victor Gischler and others who had not broken big in Canada. With publicity budgets dwon, if not out, word of mouth sells books, whether it’s in person or on a blog.

  11. Personally, I buy most of my books online, but it probably helps that I’m constantly in front of my computer with work anyway, so I can.
    Although, just recently Brenda Coulter (inspirational romance author, how’s that for a plug Bren?) blogged that she didn’t think it was necessary for a writer to have a blog or a website. Maybe it’s not necessary to have a blog, but to not have a website? WTF?
    Of course I disagreed with her. You can still be successful without either, but in this day and age…?
    Even my ancient Granny would be more forward thinking than that. Sheesh.

  12. Isn’t it a case of no matter how much publicity you have, the better off you are? I don’t know how big an impact they make, but some mention would be better then no mention at all, especially if it’s a book that would interest the readers of a certain blog.
    Beside, would publishers be willing to give free copies to bloggers if they felt they didn’t get results?

  13. I have read several books based solely on reccomendations from blogs. Books I never would have heard of otherwise.
    I didn’t BUY them, I checked them out from the library. But hey.

  14. I think blogs are another tool in a writer’s arsenal to market themselves and their work. I’ve received several inquiries regarding my availability for work, because of my blogging.
    Criticism blogs are like all review columns – the good reviews, that is the cogent, critical reviews – are read. The scattered reviews aren’t.
    With authors lamenting the downturn of the advertising and marketing of their books, what else are they to do? I keep telling indie filmmakers that they cannot rely on the distributor to do all the publicity and marketing needed to get their film into the hands and hearts of its audience. Authors have to be the same way and stump for their work. Blogging accomplishes this. Especially “good” blogging.

  15. Blogging is still very much a fringe endeavor in the business of media but it’s gaining repectability. I’m hoping to get a copy to review on my blog, but we’ll see how the publisher plays it. Do they demand a print reviewer history? That’s what real credentials are based on.

  16. Sarah Weinman’s rave tipped the scales on my decision to pick up THE HISTORIAN. Grrrrr.
    But she did also recommend Sara Grant’s COME CLOSER, which I got from the library and thoroughly enjoyed.

  17. Blogging is still very much a fringe endeavor in the business of media but it’s gaining repectability. I’m hoping to get a copy to review on my blog, but we’ll see how the publisher plays it. Do they demand a print reviewer history? That’s what real credentials are based on.

  18. Educators & Reviewers
    Review Copy Requests
    We are unable to respond to requests for review copies via e-mail. Reviewers must submit their request on the letterhead of their review publication via fax or mail.
    St. Martin’s Press; Publicity Department
    175 5th Avenue NY, NY 10010
    Fax: 212-674-6132
    Minotaur Books; Publicity Department
    175 5th Avenue NY, NY 10010
    Fax: 212-674-6132
    Picador USA; Publicity Department
    175 5th Avenue NY, NY 10010
    Fax: 212-253-9627
    This is strictly an off-line business as this illustrates. Letterhead of a blog? I doubt a blogger could pass muster, but it’s possible as a rare exception.

  19. I think what one of the best things a blog can do is increase the ‘oh, I’ve heard of him/her factor’. It’s probably pretty rare that a person reads about a book on a blog and then rushes out to pick it up (heck, you could say the same about print reviews and TV appearances, for that matter) but it might be that if it comes up often enough, the next time that person sees the book in a store he might pick it up and take a look at it.

  20. I agree with the comment that blogging builds name recognition. It also allows an opportunity to create a communication connection to your market. I believe a blog and a website will reach more people than the old venue of booksignings and a 5-minute radio interview.

  21. I still think that reviews by respected reviewers who have some idea what they are doing sell more books and carry more clout.
    Now if I could just figure how get the attention of one or two of those. Some people — like Lee — have a gift that way.

  22. Back when I was an online-only reviewer I was able to get the books I wanted most of the time. It’s definitely easier being a print reviewer, but even then publishers always seemed eager to send me books. I still get books sent to me based solely on the periodic Amazon reviews I post and I’m not even that high up in the rankings anymore.
    Publishers are looking for visibility and credibility. If you’ve got those, I don’t think they care where you are.

  23. Well I’m gaining more all the time based on my sitemeter stats, and today a potential job offer, that may be trollery, but it doesn’t sound like it. One never knows, I send my blog to editors all the time; I have Journalism degree visible on the blog by a click. I intend to send the letter to St. Martin’s and see what happens. I’m not attempting to review as a trade.

  24. David,
    You get offers to review based on Amazon reviews? I only get offers for self-published books that are obviously not my interest (non-fiction, thrillers, romance). I’ve only taken two books to review over there, and they were both by authors I already knew and liked. The others I’ve been offered were obviously not something I was interested in.

  25. David that’s because of your print work. Why would Mark C. expect they same level of response? Does he review books for mainstream papers the way you do? I think not and therin lies the difference in amateur reviews and real ones.

  26. As I said, though, these offers are based on my Amazon reviews, not my print work. That’s what’s funny about it — they don’t know that I’m a print reviewer and that I could give them a lot more publicity elsewhere.
    At least a couple of the publishers routinely solicit Amazon reviews based solely on past Amazon reviews. (You can tell due to the format and content of the approach). I wouldn’t think that would be a terribly effective form of marketing, but then again it’s usually targeted at a particular book, presumably one the publisher is trying to give a big push to.
    I can generally tell why I’m being solicited for reviews, based on which email address they come to, what they say, and from which department in the publisher they come. (Many publishers have separate divisions for print publicity and online publicity.)
    I was an amateur reviewer for 2 years before I ever got into print and got plenty of review copies back then. It’s all about establishing credibility and visibility.

  27. Well, if it’s all the same to you my hypothesis is they see your Amazon reviews, click around and find the other print stuff, not to mention a blog dedicated to reviewing a certain genre of books. That’s why they were sent.
    It will be possible to get review copies by request and I intend to do so myself. They won’t come from anything I review on Amazon I’m sure of that. Take the credit when it’s given David.

  28. “This is strictly an off-line business as this illustrates. Letterhead of a blog? I doubt a blogger could pass muster, but it’s possible as a rare exception.”
    Actually, I have to turn down review requests, and 2/3 of the time, it’s been prompted by my blog or an online pub I’ve worked with. SMP is a biggie, and they’ve never once refused a request for an ARC. (Thriling Detective, Plots With Guns, and Futures before they imploded, all were pubs cited when asking.) And Simon & Schuster is actively seeking bloggers to review books. Again, I had to turn them down due to time constraints.
    No, I would never cite an Amazon review. My name is not Harriett. I don’t read book jackets.

  29. So what’s the difference between you guys with your blogs where you aren’t paid and me with my reviews at Amazon. I’m not Harriett (who I’ve reported for spoilers on more then one occasions, so at least sometimes she reads the entire thing). I take my reviewing over there seriously.
    Granted, I’ve realized in the last week how informal my reviewing style is. Nobody’s going to take my reviews as are and put them somewhere else.
    But there seems to be a trend of looking down your nose at reviews on Amazon because they’re amatuer. Now will it be any different if you review them on your blog FOR FREE?
    As I’ve said before, others take my reviews over there seriously. I’ve had authors thank me for reviews. I’ve had authors ask me to rething negative reviews. Heck, Lee posted part of my review praising his recent DM book on this site last week, which was a huge ego boost.
    So, if you think you can ask for a free book to review on your blog, why are you looking down your nose at what I do?

  30. “You’ve turned down S&S? We’ll see how it goes with my request with a letterhead. It went in the mail today.”
    I’ve curtailed my reviewing considerably in the last year, and if I start reviewing for one print mag (I’ll reveal that if it flies as it’s a paying gig.), it will be because the editor for reviews and the editor-in-chief dole out the assignments.
    I’d have loved to take the S&S offer, and I did go back and say I could do one every other month, but the fact remains I’m a novelist. I need to finish out my current contract and work on two new ones for New York.
    Anyway, I suggest networking. You meet the right people in person or online, and usually you find out who to ask. SMP, for instance, is usually open because I review for the PWA and I know a few of their authors. It’s a famine getting started, but an avalanche once they know you review books.

  31. Mark C., I certainly don’t look down my nose at Amazon reviewers. (Well, some of them I do… I heap scorn upon Harriet.) It’s a tough place to get much notice, though, as there are so many reviews and most of them are amateurish at best.
    When I started out, I created a website for my reviews (Mystery Ink) and also cross-posted to Amazon. (There weren’t blogs yet, or else I’m sure I’d have had one of those, too.) I mainly used Amazon to help gain additional exposure and drive traffic to my website.
    I had no problem getting recognition once I established myself. I had pretty much all the free books I wanted; I was able to interview prominent authors (Lee Child, Michael Connelly, etc.); my reviews were blurbed in books, etc. (This is before I moved into print reviewing.)
    As I said before, publishers are looking for exposure for their books. If you’re in the position to give that (and have at least a modest amount of credibility), they will be interested in you.
    Realistically, a few so-so Amazon reviews aren’t going to attract anyone’s attention. But even there, frequent, high quality and high profile reviews will get noticed. (For example, most of the reviews I used to submit would be highlighted as one of the “Spotlight Reviews.” This increases both credibility and exposure.)
    If anyone is interested in becoming a reviewer, I would recommend Amazon as a back-up, but I would also suggest creating your own primary home for your work, whether a blog or a website. Take the time to make the site look professional. Make sure the content is high quality, professional, edited and useful — and then update it frequently.
    It’s a lot of work just to get some free books, but it certainly can be done.

  32. What David is describing Mark is a literary journaism career path. What you do is just what every scmuck does for free. It’s fanfare only. The blog is a sideline for print work. That’s the difference.

  33. “And Jim to recap so you did turn down S&S? Reviewing is only a career track if you want it.”
    I probably could make a decent living reviewing books. But then I wouldn’t have time to write. I’m primarily a novelist, and reviewing, like short stories, is only a side job I do either to get exposure or a little extra cash. I’d have to chuck the day job to do it full time, and then it would still cut into time spent writing books. Not a good idea when you’re after that next (and bigger) contract.


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