I'm the EasyJet or Southwest Airlines of SFF book reviewing!;-)

In recent days I've received two interesting messages. This one showed up in my giveaway inbox last night, coming from someone who was wondering why I had not offered any response to Larry's (Dylanfanatic) post regarding poor reviews. Here's an excerpt:

Why can't this guy understand that not everyone is looking for essays? We've seen him whining on a couple of message boards and he doesn't seem to get that few readers seem interested in that sort of thing.

With all the copycats that have sprung up in the last year or so and copying what you've been doing with your blog, I'm curious to see if you believe that you are doing the "right" thing as far as reviews are concerned. I guess you must be frustrated that they're sort of riding your coat tails, no?

The second one came in my Facebook inbox and brought a smile on my face:

You know what the difference between you and [name withheld] is? You don't come across as a pretentious, obnoxious git in almost everything you post online. (I'm sure there are many other differences... ;) )

I'm not going to dump uninvited rant on you about a fellow reviewer, although this IS a bit random. But that observation made me think this:

An element of your success/popularity is surely that you always come across online as affable, friendly and non-judgmental of other peoples tastes. And that makes perfect sense to me in terms of generating an audience. Sure, people can behave any way they want and there's no rule book for it, but I just wanted to say that you set the standard in terms of how a 'professional' reviewer/critic should conduct themselves online. How a person treats others is fundamental to my opinion of that person - you're way over on the 'good' side of the line. :)

Sorry, if you find this offensive, it's not intended to provoke any argument. I just saw that there was a compliment lurking in my observations and I think compliments should be given away, not hoarded.

First of all, let me begin by saying that I wasn't even aware of Larry's post and his thoughts about my "no-frills approach" to reviewing. It might not speak well of me, but the proliferation of SFF blogs has made it well nigh impossible for anyone to keep track of everything that's going on out there. I have nothing against Larry, a reader and reviewer I've respected for longer than I've been blogging. If you hang out on any of the major SFF message boards, you are aware that we don't necessarily see eye to eye where book reviews are concerned. Larry has never been the same since he fell in with that VanderMeer and M. John Harrison crowd. See how a good kid can go bad!:p I must say he dug up that one from the mothballs. And it wasn't a veritable review, for I had not been able to finish the novel. Hence, to write a review of a work I had not even finished would have been seriously unfair. Which is why Frost's Shadowbridge received the same treatment. . .

I don't have the pretention of being a particularly good book reviewer. I would like to think that I don't suck, but that's for you guys to decide. The Hotlist will receive its 500,000th visitor this week, and its 1,000,000th page will be viewed later this spring. So I guess I must be doing something right!;-) As to what it might be, you'll have to tell me. You are the ones showing up here every day, so there has to be a reason for that!

In a nutshell, I write the sort of reviews I would like to read. That's as far as it goes. There was no other objective in my mind when I created this blog in 2005. Back then, I would never have thought that the Hotlist would become such a popular SFF site. But somehow, it did. How did it come to pass? To put it simply, I haven't the faintest idea. I guess that most of you like my "casual" approach to reviewing. I don't know. . .

Way back when, SFF book reviews meant high brow, intellectual, pretentious, I-have-a-pole-up-my-ass kind of thing. Most of the time, it wasn't even about the novel or work being put under the microscope. Nope, it felt more like it was about the reviewer himself, pontificating and showing how much he enjoyed hearing themselves talk. Yes, I guess we're back to the mental masturbation argument once again. . .

Then the internet changed everything. All of a sudden, websites such as www.sffworld.com saw the light and offered an alternative to SFF fans looking for good reads. It took a long time, yet publishers now realize the importance of online reviewers. While many do suck, a growing number of avid readers of the genre have now become respected reviewers and they deserve the kudos.

After going through a lot of shit early on as I and others helped pave the way for the new generation of bloggers, I have received my share of accolades. Although absurdly cool, I try not to think too much about that stuff. After all, doing my own thing in my "little" virtual sandbox led me here, so I would be crazy to change anything. But you might end up on the Hugo ballot, some have been saying. Surely you'll have to be a lot more serious from now on. And why is that??? Being myself brought me here, so I'm not going to start acting differently.

I've told every blogger who has asked me for advice the same thing: Be yourself. You must have your own voice and not try to do what everyone is doing. Sadly, not everyone took this counsel to heart. The problem with a lot of the newer SFF bloggers out there is that they have no voice. You read their stuff, and it feels as though they are afraid to offer their honest opinion. It seems that they don't want their personality to shine through their words, as if afraid that the supply of ARCs and review copies will dwindle and die if they say anything wrong. Gabe Chouinard had a voice. Jay Tomio has a voice. William Lexner has a voice. Rob Bedford and Mark (Hobbit) from sffworld.com have a voice. The same can be said of all of those who helped start the Blogosphere phenomenon which took the genre by storm a while back. We didn't give a damn and we could be brutally honest. Passion for the genre was what fuelled us, not any promises for rewards. After all, publishers saw us as little more than turds back then.

But I digress, for I have expounded on all this last July before going to New York City when I was debating cutting down on the giveaways. Go read that post if you are interested in learning more. . .

As I mentioned, from the beginning I wanted the Hotlist to be a place where I would post the kind of reviews I would like to read. Worldbuilding, characterization, pace, storylines, etc. That's the sort of thing I wanted to read about. Essay-like reviews exploring every underlying theme of the novel while not really telling me anything about the damn book make me want to open my veins. Which is why you won't find anything of the kind here. I'm not saying that it's stupid and insipid; I'm just not interested in that sort of thing.

I recently read about how many SFF reviewers felt that fandom had become fragmented to a degree which was alarming. From where I'm sitting, that couldn't be further from the truth. For the first time in the history of the genre, people have a choice as to where they want to go for reviews, articles, and related material. Which, in the end, explains the proliferation of blogs and websites everywhere. And that's as it should be. Instead of being forced to read John Clute and his ilk (which we had no choice to do for years and years and years), fans now have the luxury to go where they please. Some come here, while many others visit a panoply of blogs, websites, fanzines, etc. Fandom is driven by the same passion for SFF; the last couple of years have presented them with alternatives regarding where they can now get their information.

Coverage in print media is on the decline, and I am aware that many of the better known and older book reviewers feel that people like me are responsible for pulling the carpet from under them. If you ask me, their "high brow" approach is the reason why. Provided with a more "user friendly" alternative, fans have left them to follow other reviewers who are as passionate as they are, and who don't talk down to them. I may be wrong, of course, but I feel that the explosion of online book review sites and blogs is a demonstration that readers have "chosen" which path they will henceforth follow. . .

As to my "no-frills" approach, I guess that depends on who you ask. An editor recently emailed me to say that my site was one of the only places where she could read intelligent and in-depth SFF book reviews. On the downside, let's not forget that the pathetic drivel I post was atrocious enough that it inspired Gabe Chouinard and his cohort to create the now defunct Scalpel.

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has reached proportions that I never even dreamed of. I feel extremely flattered that so many people drop by every day, but I never let it go to my head. As I said before, I don't believe I'm such a talented reviewer. In any event, the sole point of my reviews is to intrigue people enough that they'll give the work I'm reviewing a shot. Or that they'll think twice about buying something I found not to my liking. The relationship between a reviewer and a reader is based on trust. I think that most people who trust my judgement as a book reviewers have discovered that we have similar tastes in novels.

I really don't want people to read my reviews and then shake their heads in amazement, wondering how I could write something so eloquent, so profound. I'm just the middle man, like a pimp (don't mention that word in an interview with Erikson!) or a pusher. It's all about the authors and their books. I'm just a beacon stearing you, hopefully, in the right direction. While it's fun to be told to keep up the good work and to have someone like GRRM nominate me for a Hugo Award, I always get that warm feeling inside when I receive a random email from readers thanking me for helping them discover writers like Scott Lynch, R. Scott Bakker, Patrick Rothfuss, or Guy Gavriel Kay.

And since this blog's mission has always been to spread the word about all that's good in the genre, that's what I intend to continue doing. With the same blend of news, interviews, giveaways, and no-frills book reviews!:-)

Okay, this post is way too long and I have a lot to do. I sincerely hope that I managed to make sense, though I am conscious of the fact that such might not be the case. I guess that what I'm trying to say is that there is now a possibility for SFF readers to visit sites/blogs/yada yada yada which strike their fancy, and methinks it's great for the genre.

If you are a Hotlist "regular" and love it here, then good for you. If not, well I'm persuaded that there is something for you out there!

42 commentaires:

Ron said...

I've been a regular since early 2006. I come here because you mention so many different authors and types of work (I tend to be into epic fantasy myself) that I feel it is worth my while to come here. You also write about the issues I care about in a book: characterization and world building. Let's be honest, there are no new plots under the sun (if I might be forgiven for stealing from Solomon's wisdom), so it is more about the world and the people than it is about the plot itself.

That said, I also enjoy how you write since you write as a fan instead of being above the fan.

In addition, if a book sucks you say the books sucks, you do not feel the need to play nice. As an academic, I review books for various professional journals, and we really do not see enough of the "this book is a waste of time" variety of reviews.

Neth said...

hmm...I was wondering if you had just chosen to ignore that post. You know Larry well enough to know that it wasn't a personal attack (heck, I don't even think it was an attack). He moved on pretty quickly from you basically because his main beef was elsewhere. I'm still waiting to see what he has to say about positive reviews.

I'd sure like to see who the withheld name is ;)

As for the rest, all I can do is basically agree. You and I have similar review style's (though I hope to think distinct voices). This sort of discussion comes up rather routinely and somehow I find myself writing comments or posts just about everytime it does. When my blog was pretty new (what seems like ages ago, but in reality was only a little over 2 years ago) I posted this explaination on my reviews, really it says all I ever need to say.

Keep doing what you do, just like I'll keeping doing what I'll do and just like Larry will keep doing what he does. It all makes for a more vibrant blogosphere and only helps people to find what they are looking for (or something they weren't looking for) and have some fun along the way.

Larry said...

Ken, you're right - it wasn't an attack at all, but rather just an example of something greater (if I hadn't remembered my very old disagreement with Pat on that book, I likely would have gone with another blog review elsewhere for that) that I had noticed in a few places. I too just chalked it up for Pat recognizing that it wasn't anything but a little nitpick, something that most certainly can be applied to my own comments from time to time! As for the positive review bit, in a week or two - I was sick this weekend and I'm sicker now. Damn stomach virus!

And Pat, I'll comment on the rest later. No offense taken, even if you're under the evil influence of a Giants fan ;)

Patrick said...

Just to make it clear: I did not perceive Larry's comment as a personal attack.

We're just two fans looking for widely different things when it comes to book reviews.

Nothing wrong with that!;-)

As for my taking this long for responding, well I guess I suck for not visiting the OF Blog more often! As I said, there are so many blogs nowadays... A few months back, I could check out all my blogs of interest and message board before I finished my breakfast every morning.

Still, as much as it blows, it doesn't suck as much as when I missed Ken becoming a new dad. Really felt bad about that one...:-(

Neth said...

Still, as much as it blows, it doesn't suck as much as when I missed Ken becoming a new dad. Really felt bad about that one...:-

No worries on that one - I didn't make a big deal about it then.

As for blogs - get yourself a nice google reader account and load up the RSS feeds. Depending on the number of interesting posts, I can get through the 74 blogs I follow in about 15 minutes a day.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have read half the books I've read in the last year if not for your blog, FantasyBookCritic, Bookgasm, etc.

You are definitely on my daily visit list and the only one I can reach from work.

Take care and keep up the good work,
Troy

Anonymous said...

"tolerant of other peoples taste"?

The rabid anti-goodkind spiels blacken what is mostly a good blog I'd say.
Theres a difference between dislike and hatred, and its almost scary how venomous you come across pat, its like your both archfoes or something lol

Amphibian said...

About three paragraphs after I thought "You know, this is slightly too long," you wrote that the post was too long.

I'm a once or twice a week visitor and I like the style and content. Keep it up, Pat.

Clute's Appleseed is one hell of one half a novel. It is gloriously well-written, the characters are great and the story is inventive.

The hyper-description was awesome and surprisingly lucid to me, yet it seemed to mask that the book apparently ended 200 pages before it should have.

Jebus said...

Growing up I never read Locus or those types of mags, all I ever did was search through the Fantasy section of the book store and grab what sounded cool. Only early last year was I directed to several review sites by friends and now read 3 or 4 regularly - and strangely enough they all have a similar review style to your own Pat.

I read fantasy & SF for entertainment's sake and I'll be buggered if I could be bothered reading an in-depth review or even discussion about any book I read. I read it for enjoyment and that's about it - your reviews, and succinct ones like it help me make better decisions as to where to spend my dosh. Simple as that.

Some people like in-depth and overly-critical of every little plot point, others like the broad brush strokes - I'm one of the latter types. Different horses for different courses.

Keep it up Pat, as well as keep up the irreverence and playful disgust for Terry Goodkind, if people don't like it they can bugger off.

SQT said...

I never knew there was such a controversy over others doing what you do. I had my sci-fi blog for a year before I made my review page separate. Like you, I don't think I'm a particularly great reviewer, I just offer an opinion and some silly asides. You do deserve credit for making publishers realize that blogs are a great way to market books. I didn't know anything about ARC's until publishers started contacting me to see if I would review books for them. Imagine that! But I doubt that would have happened if you hadn't shown how effect it is. So I owe you a big thanks.

Anonymous said...

I wished you were even more critical, there is too much drivel on the market.

SQT said...

One more thing, real quick.

In my defense (and in the defense of others who may have less professional sites) I didn't actually intend to imitate Pat initially. I started with a mixed-content sci-fi/fantasy blog and I started getting emails from book publishers to do reviews. When I realized I was going to get books for free, then I thought doing giveaways like Pat made sense. But it is his idea and I think we all know that.

Also, it's just a blog. I don't get paid other than in free books, which doesn't add up to a salary. I have a full time job raising two kids so I don't always have time to go into and in-depth dissertation on a book.

Because I'm a woman I also seem to attract a disproportional amount of chic-lit, which in turn means that my audience tends to be mostly women, which changes the direction the site goes whether I want it to or not. Odd, but that really is the case.

Personally, I read Pat, Robert at Fantasy Book Critic, The Book Swede, Greame and Neth.

Sorry. That wasn't real quick.

SQT said...

Oh, and here I go again. I never once solicited an interview. I was asked to do it by the publisher or the author every time.

ben1xy said...

Hi Pat! Just to let you know that i'm an avid fan of your reviews. Thanks to you, I rocked down to Borders to get myself a copy of The Blade Itself and Before They are Hanged.

Keep up the good work!

isis said...

You're not so bad, I suppose. ;)

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Once again, the wise grandfather of them all tells us newbies how review blogging should be done. Thanks Pat!

I enjoy writing what I feel are more in depth reviews, but I love reading others who do it differently. I have at least 20 reviewers in my RSS reader (no, I don't always read them all) and each one is different and loves a different part of SF. Such a broad spectrum of knowledge and insight means I never miss the truly great books. I hope others don't limit themselves to one reviewer or opinion, especially when there is such a wealth of them out there.

Robert said...

Yep, that was a long post ;)

Looking back, I have to say my early reviews really sucked! I tried to follow the same format that I used when I reviewed CDs, but eventually I realized that there's just so much more to talk about with a book. As a result, my reviews are like twice as long now :)

Regarding how many blogs there are nowadays, I hear what you're saying even though I've contributed to the problem ;) Used to be I would visit blogs and leave comments daily, but there's so many I read now that I can only do that maybe 2-3 times a week...

Adam Whitehead said...

One of the things that I think about whilst working on my own blog was if I was getting too close to treading on the same ground you are. Not in a deliberate, "Oh, Pat's done this so I'm not going to," kind of way, but more in that I don't necessarily see the point in going into areas that I know are already well-covered ;-) Hence my more frequent reviews of TV shows and DVDs (as my love is for the genre, not so much the form) and my decision not to (so far) engage in interviews and competitions.

OTOH, I have really enjoyed those three collaborative interviews we've done and look forward (hopefully) to more in the future :-)

cecrow said...

I used to write an occasional review on Amazon, but when I found myself dwelling on what perfect turn of phrase I would use to describe the book when I was only half done reading it, it was becoming distracting and annoying so I gave it up. I hope you don't go through that and are able to enjoy what you read and leave the reviewing until afterwards. Personally I like reviews that say "if you enjoyed that, you'll probably enjoy this"; that's the tone a friend would use to recommend something to me, and it makes the review work, imo.

Aidan Moher said...

Interesting take, Pat.

I'm also a fan of the less esoteric and more everyman style of review that yourself and several other reviewers put forth. I, like yourself, write the type of reviews that I want to read and that translates into something that tells me how the book succeeds/fails... not a rambling dissertation on the various philosophical merits that may or may not exist within the novel.

It's interesting that you mention Jay Tomio as one of the few lucky ones to have a voice, when I feel that his reviews are some of the most difficult to read and interpret out there. I suppose this does indeed he has a strong voice, and that's what makes me a fan of his blog, but sometimes it seems some bloggers try too hard to have a voice and let it get in the way of what they're trying to say.

It also always worries me whenever you write posts like this that you're more or less dismissive of all of us who have preceded yourself, Rob, Ken, etc.... Of course we have a lot to owe to you guys and all the hard work that you did that enabled us to succeed. We don't run the most popular blogs (holy shit at 1,000,000 page views! That's a mindboggling number. Congrats!), but it would be nice to see blogs like Grasping for the Wind, The Book Swede and Fantasy Book Critic get their due.

I'd be curious to know which of the newish blog you feel are holding their own, and also maybe a more concrete idea of what the others can do to improve themselves.

Thanks for the thoughts, Pat,

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick. I can't find your actual email address anywhere, so I'm leaving you a post. I work in marketing at Pocket Books and we have a new Fantasy author we're really excited about. His name is Chris Evans and his new book coming in July is IRON ELVES: A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE. I'd love to send you a galley so you can review it if you're interested. Could you get in touch? kerrie.loyd@simonandschuster.com

Larry said...

Well, I finally got around to writing a full response of sorts on my blog. I guess your anonymous letter-writer can write of my "whining" in whole new ways now :P

And Aidan, speaking as someone who's been online reviewing a bit longer than Pat (if more on wotmania than on the OF Blog until last year), I would say that if you're honest and explore books through your own world-view and you refuse to be satisfied with vague generalities that a Harriet Klausner-type could spout in his/her sleep, then you have "a voice." I suspect that's what Pat meant, but I think he got a bit carried away with the adulation he was receiving ;)

Patrick said...

It's nice to see various people chiming in!

Larry: I won't be caught sleeping at the wheel again! I'll go read that post later tonight!;-)

Aidan: I wish there could be more people like Jay Tomio. Then again, rarity makes him the special reviewer that he is. God knows we don't always see eye to eye. We actually "met" on a Donaldson MB in 2005, while we were disagreeing on something I can't quite remember. He later PMed me to apologize for sometimes being "bombastic." That's one way of putting it, I reckon!;-)

Jay is passionate and opinionated, and he has a "take no prisoner" style. Though we don't always agree on books (I know I've pissed him off a few times), I highly respect him for what he brings to the dance. He seems intent on resuming blogging a bit more regularly, and the Blogosphere will be a better place with him around more often.:-)

The same can be said about Larry. Although our tastes in novels have diverged of late, my respect for him has not. Just for turning me on to Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker, I will be eternally grateful to him. I may tease him about MJH every chance I get, and what we are looking for in terms of book reviews might not be the same, I feel that he's an important player in the SFF Blogosphere and message boards.

I don't think I'm dismissive toward bloggers who came after me and the other "old school" types. I lament about the lack of voice and personality, sure, but nothing else. If I had my way, Ken's The Neth Space would be a lot more popular than it is. The same can be said of Susi's Sandstorm Reviews and Adam's The Wertzone.

A blog is a very subjective and personal thing -- at least to me it is. Which is why it irks me when I read blogs where the personality of its creator doesn't shine through. But that's just me.

As far as people getting their "due," I fear that bloggers are not due anything. Respect is never "deserved." Respect is earned. And the readers get to decide, not us. As for me, I can only hope that I'll keep up the "good" work and that people will continue to show up. What many bloggers appear to fail to understand is the simple fact that it takes a long time to build an audience that will keep coming back. It's easier for some than others, but that's the way love goes. Time was (not so long ago), publicists would laugh in my face when I would request a review copy...

Since I've worked hard to help SFF blogs achieve a little respectability, it's not for me to say which blogs I think are good and which ones suck. That would be counter-productive. Also, never forget that what one loves, another will hate. I'd bet some good money that my favorite blogs are despised by a great many people and vice versa...

I like bloggers who have a strong "voice," an assertive personality. People like Jay Tomio, William Lexner, Larry, Rob Bedford, and others. Most of them are "old school," from that time when we were doing it just for the love of the genre, with no rewards up ahead but share our passion with kindred spirits. They're not afraid to be negative if the work sucks.

Though we don't always agree, all of them have done good by me over the years, and that's why I trust their judgement. I mean, take William Lexner (Stego): I've never met a guy more passionate about scifi. For fuck's sake, the guy has forgotten more about science fiction than most of us have ever known! When he gets excited about something, I know I want to read it!

Those online reviewers -- be they old, not so new, or new -- have earned my trust. I can only hope that I've earned the trust of the readers who stop by on the Hotlist. I try to be honest and fair, and that's all there is to it.

In the end, it's the readers that decide when you get your "due." Some never will. Not as long as they keep posting shining reviews of subpar works and act as if we're one big, happy-go-lucky SFF family.

There's a lot of shit out there. And our responsibility as reviewers is to warn readers of those less-than-stellar SFF books. There's a way to do it, of course, but an online reviewer who begins to show reticence to write a negative review for fear of seeing that supply of ARCs and other perks go down shouldn't be reviewing in the first place.

My two cents!;-)

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry said...

So nice that you had to say it again, huh, Pat? :P

Yeah, the feeling's mutual, as you have your own interest and style and I have mine and they diverge in places. What I'm doing with the OF Blog isn't going to appeal to many readers here and on the boards we frequent, but I don't worry about that. I'm getting all the publicity that I need now, as witnessed by my translation of the news release on Carlos Ruiz Zafón's sequel to The Shadow of the Wind being noticed by VanderMeer, who then posted a link to it on Amazon's Omnivoracious page (and which later was picked up by Publishers Lunch Deluxe - heard of those guys?)

That's cool, but as you said above Pat, that's just due to being committed to what I've chosen to do and drawing the attention of those who like the work I've done. I know there aren't many review blogs that cover quite the ground that I do and I suspect that's why I've been getting certain review copies that aren't exactly multivolume fantasy efforts anymore. Niches are great things to carve out, no? :D

So Aidan, just remember what "keeping it real" can mean and go from there. That and "sapere aude" and all that :P

Aidan Moher said...

Larry, Pat, thanks to each of you for taking the time to respond at length, it's always appreciated.

I'm not terribly worried for A Dribble of Ink in particular, my views are fine and I feel like I'm able to clearly convey my thoughts on the novels I review. But as a member of the newer bloggers, I can't help but feel a little put off when the newer bloggers are cast in a somewhat negative light.

You always seem to bring up people like Jay Tomio, William Lexner and Gabe Chouinard whenever topics like this come up and I find that worrisome. It worries me because, as terrific as their blogs were, they become less and less relevant with each passing day that they don't blog (with the exception of Jay, of course, who is still somewhat active). I think a more productive and dynamic way to move forward is to instead, as a group, try to understand what made those folk good bloggers and try to learn how to adopt that success into our own blogs.

From one hockey fan to another: we don't sit around lamenting the loss of Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. Instead we laud and allow ourselves to be bedazzled by the new generation who are playing the game such Alex Ovechkin, Roberto Luongo, Dion Phaneuf. Howe, Gretzky and Orr were incredible players, the likes of which perhaps haven't been matched since, but that shouldn't take away from the new generation.

I worry sometimes that people mistake age with quality in the blogosphere. That's not to say that the old crew are poor bloggers, quite the opposite in fact; none of you guys would still be here, impacting the SFF publishing world, if not for perseverance, character and the understand of how to run a good blog. But rather we must put aside anything but the content of the blogs to truly consider their worth.

You speak of respect being earned rather than deserved and that it's all in the hands on the reader. This is something I agree with wholeheartedly and is something I try to bring to A Dribble of Ink. I take the time to promote the bloggers, the authors and the novels that I feel deserve attention.

I think what's most representative of a good blogger, as you yourself mentioned, is when you can read one of their reviews, disagree completely, but still leave their site with a level of respect for the writer. For someone to truly communicate a point so eloquently obviously indicates what we keep referring to as "voice".

It's a struggle for anyone to find this voice. I'm sure that yourself, even after all these years of successfully blogging are still looking for ways to improve the Hotlist and help it stand out from the crowd. I know that I'm constantly looking to other blogs for inspiration and motivation to keep A Dribble of Ink going strong and always evolving.

I'm not sure that I agree with your assessment that it's our responsibility to warn other readers about all the shit that's floating around story shelves. I much prefer to spend my time promoting novels worth reading and leaving the rest in the dust where they belong. As someone who only reviews a novel every four weeks or so, I don't really have time for shitty novels.

Damn, this is getting long (and ramblesome). I'll wrap this up with another nod of appreciation for everything you and all the other bloggers out there have done for the genre. Maybe if you don't end up on the Hugo ballot we could convince folks next year just to include the blogosphere as a whole. We'll all keep doin' what we're doin' and maybe, just maybe, one day we'll see the next William Lexner pop up with a shiny new blog, just ready to take the world by storm.

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Neth said...

hmm...I seem to have missed the part where 'newer' bloggers got portrayed in a negative light. Pat mentioned a few (active or not) that have influenced him and that he respects - does ommission of every other blogger mean he's portraying them in negative light? I think not.

I'm also not sure what a blog 'getting its due' really means. Did anyone of us set out gain attention and respect? Really, I think we all just wanted to find a voice, and most of us were more suprised than anything to find that people were 'listening'. Sure, perhaps some got into it for little more than a chance to get free books, but I'm willing believe that very few people had that as a main goal with it being more of an aspiration that they were not sure would ever be achieved. I just don't think it's the place of any blogger to see that other bloggers get 'their due' - our place is to say what is on our minds and express our opinions (and if yours is about getting other blogs their due, then go for it - that sort of thing is always appreciated). Agree with him or not (and I'm not suggesting that anyone is disagreeing here), but Pat has done more for us than anyone else (at least I know Pat has done loads for me, and I suspect that it's same for many others).

For me, it's not about age or anything, but time - my time. Like most of us, I carry a full-time job, have a family and a social life outside of blogging and discussion books on the internet (not to mention finding time to read). This limits my time severely. Sure, I follow around 80 blogs on my RSS reader, and many of them are newer bloggers, but I don't have the time to follow closely (and Pat has indicated as much for himself). For me, I need to 'know' a reviewer and understand them enough to judge my tastes versus theirs - for lack of a better term, I consider this the 'trust' that is often spoken of. There are a number or reviewers out there that fit this for me - Jay, Pat, Larry, Rob, and a few others. In all honesty, I just don't have the time to develop that with other bloggers. Maybe in the future sometime, or maybe as time goes on it'll develope anyway as 'newer' bloggers continue to develop their voice and their niche.

As has been mentioned at length here, a blogger's individual voice and integrity are very important. However, I don't think it's a complete package - I believe that an extra 'something' is needed to truly succeed. With Pat it was being in relatvely close to the beginning and his making the book giveaway wildly successful (he wasn't the first, but he was one of the first to make it work over and over again). With Rob, it's his involvement with the large and influenctial site SFFWorld. With Larry it's a pure stubborness and 'mission' to show what's possilbe in SFF beyond the typical and beyond English. Even newer bloggers have figured it out - for example, Tia's Fantasy Debut is a perfect example.

Too often all of us suffer from the alure of ARCs. For most of us, we are getting the same books, and it doesn't take long for in this relatively small community for things to get way too repetitve, even with a diversity of voice (I suspect to a good number of people, all our blogs look like little more than clones of others). Believe me, I understand the temptation of ARCs (and even the feeling of obligation) to 'rush' to read and review books that have been provided. It can get tiresome and we all risk becoming little more that cheap marketing tools spouting some form of publishing propaganda or another. Perhaps even more of a danger is the ego (even id) of having a blog and self-promotion at the expense of the reasons we claim brought us to blogging in the first place (something I've been guitly of on numerous occasions). My shit still stinks as bad as the next - even on a day whan I get half a dozen ARCs and multiple emails from publishers.

Wow, I've gotten more that a bit off track, but to attempt to wrap it all together, my own observations are that it generally takes a blogger a year or so to absorb it all and settle down into their true comfort area. Though I often wonder, just how long will the blogging-ride last?

SQT said...

Neth

You bring up an excellent point about the ARC's. I do feel rushed to get the books out even though Robert or Pat may have already done it. I send out tons of books to be read/reviewed by guest bloggers because I just can't get to them all.

And the blogs can get terribly repetetive. I've been getting lots of "chic-lit" and I've tried to fight it. But I seem to attract a blog audience that likes it, so I may just have to go with the flow on that....

It lives a life of it's own.

Aidan Moher said...

Neth,
Well now that you put it that way...
Thanks for dropping in with your thoughts. Taking another look at what Pat, Larry said, and your novel length response, I think I'm beginning to understand a bit better what is trying to be put across and realizing I might have been jumping the gun a bit.
I wasn't really considering the fact that it does take some time to build that trust with certain reviewers and learn where their tastes lay in correlation with your own. It's fine and dandy if someone writes a terrific reviews, but without knowing how they tend in their tastes, it's hard to judge whether you'll feel the same way. Unless a blogger manages to pump out a review a week (which I certainly don't!), it'll take some time to understand whether you generally agree with them or not.
It helps, obviously, if you set out to cover a specific topic with a blog - Tia's blog is an excellent example of a blog that knows it's purpose and succeeds in spades - and that's something that I'm still working on with A Dribble of Ink. I do like to get other people (bloggers and authors alike) involved in my blog, but I also want to make sure that enough of me, my opnions and my interests to shine through and differentiate me from your blog, from Chris's blog, from the Hotlist, from Robert's blog, etc....
It would be worrisome to find out that anyone got into blogging just for the free books. Hell, in some ways its more of a curse than a boon - my house is absolutely flooded with new novels and there's certainly no way I could ever keep up with it all. Early on in the life of A Dribble of Ink I tried to keep up with the flow, making sure to read and review the "big books" because I figured that that was what readers wanted, but then I would look around and see similar reviews of similar books and it dawned on me that most of us were looking at the same novels and giving, more or less, the same opinions of those novels. That's when I made a conscious shift to begin looking at, and reviewing, novels that appealed to me as a reader, regardless of whether it's the "hot book of the season". Of course, they sometimes overlap (Last Argument of Kings being a good example), but I don't think reviewers should be afraid to go out and spend their own cash on novels for review, even if they have a pile of free (but maybe uninteresting) ARCs sitting on their floor.
Like I said earlier (and similar to George R.R. Martin's sentiments in regards to the bet between he and Pat), I feel it's more important to let folk know about the good, quality novels out there rather than warning them about the poor ones. You mentioned how valuable our time is (as I'm sure there's little in any of our lives) and it is much better spent reading and promoting good novels, rather than detracting from the Terry Goodkinds of the world.
Also, don't get me wrong about the Hotlist, I, and pretty much every small SFF related blog, owe alot to Pat (and Lexner, Bedford and Chouinard, etc...) for the ground they tread, and the respect they gained early on. Without them, surely many of my other favourite blogs wouldn't exist. Pat personally was a big help in getting A Dribble of Ink off the ground, offering advice and guidence where and when needed, and I'll always appreciate that.

In anycase, thanks for the good debate guys. I always know that, even if I disagree, I'll at least find an intelligent, well articulated response about why I'm wrong! And that's something I'll always appreciate and is one of the main reasons I'm so fond of the community we're creating.

And this concludes the latest edition of "Bored Aidan Rambles from Work!"

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Great thoughts, it really makes a guy think.

I never felt that as a newer blogger I wasn't getting my due. I write because I want to, its fun, and I feel productive when I do it. If people like it, that's great. If they don't, then they won't read it.

Unlike Aidan I'm willing to read bad books so that readers know what to steer away from. That is my choice, and sometimes I have to hurl a book across a room, then think and then write. But it is worth it for the occasional gems I find that no one else is talking about.

Too many of us reviewers are getting into a tiff over Larry's comments, then Pat's response. That is sad. Blogging is an odd duck in that it is both extremely personal and strangely communal, and I think we all need to be aware of that.

So be yourself, but remember that people are every day coming by to look at your thoughts who will most likely disagree. Don't sacrifice your thoughts, just remember civility.

As my father says "there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's" just different ones. But either way, you get to enjoy that chocolate/peanut butter goodness.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks Ken and Aidan. I read somewhere once that the way to succeed on the web is to find a microcosm of a subject and cover it thoroughly. So that's what I do. It's been fun.

Hate to say it, but I never heard of any of you before I started my blog. I sort of jumped in with my eyes closed. I had to do a google search on "fantasy review blog" before I found Pat's.

ARCs are nice, but I was actually rather surprised that bloggers get any at all. I guess I never expected to be noticed by publishers. (None of my blogs were particularly noticed before.) To us it's fun, but to them it's business and I try to respect that.

Larry said...

I decided to be all self-ironic and I wrote a post about people being so self-conscious about this. But it really can be summed up like this: Dare to explore and to challenge yourself. Don't read just a set number of blogs each week or so. Read new ones. Read author blogs and if you post in them, have fun (that's what I do with a few, as that keeps my sanity level high when I view this weird online world after work). Don't take whatever I say personally, as I'm tougher on myself than I'll ever be on anybody online. But do take my words as a challenge. Get out of that damn comfort zone, since so much of spec fic writing deals with breaking people from those zones. And certainly stop worrying about "respect." I have had polite exchanges with people who disagree vehemently with my takes on matters, but at least both sides dared to explore the other's point of view.

Or if you just simply want to have a "great" blog, just keep Thomas Edison's maxim on the inspiration/perspiration divide in mind.

Joe Sherry said...

Innnnteresting thread of comments here.

I dunno, I just write because I enjoy writing about SFF. Books in general, but I loves me some SFF. I don't know a thing about bloggers getting their due, though I'll admit getting a cheap thrill seeing my blog linked somewhere else and a thrillier thrill when something specific I wrote gets mentioned. That'll be as much due as I think I need, certainly more than I deserve, if anything is due.

But, what I do like is that there is a sense of community amongst the SFF bloggers. Yeah, we all link each other because we're what we've found and think there is something interesting to read. Maybe discover a new book, or just a new perspective.

What I don't quite understand Pat, is this comment of yours:

Most of them are "old school," from that time when we were doing it just for the love of the genre, with no rewards up ahead but share our passion with kindred spirits.

Isn't that why we're all writing? These are free blogs after all and if we get anything, it's a free book out of the deal. And yeah, getting stuff from the smaller presses is awesome, and I've both praised and utterly ripped on those books, but I don't write for free books. I'd be surprised if anyone really does. We have to be fans first, otherwise it'll come across as the bullshit it is. I don't think that's what we have here.

We've got people who are doing it for the love of the genre. What else are doing it for? Fame? Fortune? The lamentation of the women?

Aidan Moher said...

Well put, Larry.

I appreciate the fact that you so often challenge novels, authors, readers and other bloggers. Without such challenge - both produced externally and internally - we as bloggers, as readers and as writers would never grow and never reach for new heights.

I'm always on the lookout for new blogs, adding new ones to my RSS reader each and every day. I think it's important to see not only what other folk are doing, but also what they're not doing, which can help find the holes in the 'net that need to be filled.

I often aggressively jump into these debates, but never do I mean for my comments to be taken personally. I certainly don't take counter-arguments personally, but I feel that we do indeed need to question eachother when we think that we're lagging and holding ourselves back as bloggers.

It worries me sometimes that it seems as though some people think that there are too many blogs out there now - too many new ones popping up each week. This is a sentiment I couldn't disagree with more and I welcome each and every new blogger who approaches me for a link exchange or just advice because we never know when the next great blogger will come along. I suppose I worry that sometimes it's becoming more and more intimidating for new bloggers to jump into the mix of things.

Well, now to dig into that big, meaty post over at OF Blog!

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Now to go dig into that

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Hi Pat! How does one get a book into your hands for review?

J.G. Thomas said...

This has been a really interesting discussion.

As a "new blogger" I'd like to just point out that I've received a really warm response from the majority of the genre bloggers that I've introduced myself to (apologies, I've not got round to saying hello to everyone yet!)

I don't believe there is going to be a problem with too many blogs popping up; ultimately the readers will decide which they want to read. The genre is huge, with plenty of scope for blogs to expand into different territory.

Personally, I started Speculative Horizons simply because I love the genre and want to give something back. I'm not in it to become popular or well-known, or to get free books. I just enjoy writing about the genre and meeting new people. If other readers enjoy reading my reviews and articles (and a growing number seem to) then that's brilliant.

I've not started blogging to imitate the blogs already there, or to provide competition. I blog because I enjoy it, and I think that should be a large factor behind any new blog.

I ought to also say to you all, please do keep up the great work; many of your blogs have been a constant source of enjoyment for me.

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick said...

Larry: As I said many times, my respect for you has not diminished, even if what we're looking for has more or less changed over the years. As long as we can agree on the Yeard, I'm satisfied!:p

Aidan: You wrote, «You always seem to bring up people like Jay Tomio, William Lexner and Gabe Chouinard whenever topics like this come up and I find that worrisome. It worries me because, as terrific as their blogs were, they become less and less relevant with each passing day that they don't blog (with the exception of Jay, of course, who is still somewhat active). I think a more productive and dynamic way to move forward is to instead, as a group, try to understand what made those folk good bloggers and try to learn how to adopt that success into our own blogs.»

As I mentioned, a blog is a very personal thing. What makes -- not made -- these bloggers so good is who they are and how they choose to present themselves. Love them or hate them, there's only one Jay, only one Gabe, and only one Stego.

«But rather we must put aside anything but the content of the blogs to truly consider their worth.»

I agree wholeheartedly. But many of the "new generation" of bloggers, with their tendency to review positively works that elsewhere get savaged, and with their visceral fear to say anything bad or wrong, end up with less than trustworthy content as far as reviews are concerned...

«It's a struggle for anyone to find this voice.»

Why should that be??? One must only be himself, after all.

Ken: «Agree with him or not (and I'm not suggesting that anyone is disagreeing here), but Pat has done more for us than anyone else (at least I know Pat has done loads for me, and I suspect that it's same for many others).»

All I did was get the word out that the Hotlist wasn't the only good blog out there. The rest, well you guys had to do it on your own. I can only hope that my pimpin' has earned me at least one drink if we ever meet in person!;-)

John: «As my father says "there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's" just different ones. But either way, you get to enjoy that chocolate/peanut butter goodness.»

Wise words!:-)

Joe: Sure, the very same passion drives us all, both the "old school" and the new bloggers. Nobody would create a blog like ours otherwise.

But too many newbies seem to be concerned about the possibility to lose their access to review copies and ARCs if the publishers aren't happy with their review. I've been reading some blogs for months, and I have yet to see a single negative word in any of their reviews. Either I'm extremely unlucky and I've had to read quite a few subpar books and stinkers, or they are simply not being honest...

Howard: Well, they just have to ask me... They can send an email using the giveaway address.

J. G.: I think you have the right attitude.:-)

Well, as Ken pointed out, this debate resurfaces every couple of months or so, and I guess it's time to lay it down to rest once more.

For those of you who seem to think that the SFF world worships the ground I walk on, know that a fair share of people hate my guts!:p Check out Ninebelow and James Nicoll on LJ. They didn't like me then, and this latest post of mine insures that they don't like me now.

In the end, the only point I was trying to make when I initially sat down to write this post was that there is something out there for every SFF fan, whatever it is you are looking for. Enjoy the books, continue to love the genre, regardless of where you go to read reviews, interviews, articles, etc.

Speculative fiction is looked down with disdain by enough people in this world. It makes no sense to shoot ourselves in the foot by bickering among ourselves...

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist was simply my answer when I grew tired of not finding the sort of reviews I wanted to read. It's by no means the "right" way to blog -- just my way. I'll never consider myself anything more than a punk with a blog. Whether you consider me a brilliant fan reviewer or a complete dumbass, I'm fine with both!;-)

Jeff C said...

Wow, an excellent discussion on this topic. I am actually surprised it took this long to come up. There are more and more of us blogging, and it is hard not to be another "me too" blog even if you don't do it on purpose.

I have struggled mightily trying to find a "voice"/format for my reviews. I think i have tried 5 or 6 different types of reviews..its pretty comical yet pathetic. At first I was trying to compete with all the great indepth reviews out there, but thats just not my style. Then I tried to come up with a format that was different, just to be different. I finally settled on the Things I Liked/Things I Disliked format because its quick, informal, and feels less like work to write up.

I can say that following Pat's blog was what got me to finally start my own...so thanks Pat :)

Jonathan said...

Hi Pat --

Oh so now I'm a "cohort"? fucking charming! ;-)

Scalpel wasn't really a reaction to you Pat or to "people like you". It was an expression of Gabe's philosophy of "street level criticism".

At heart, that philosophy was about taking good writing and insightful analysis out of the traditional critical infrastructure (such as NYRSF and the journals) and giving it to SFF fans who don't necessarily have access to that infrastructure or any interest in learning its codes and jargon.

So it was about creating a demand in SFF fans for reviews that were not just "hey, it's cool... you should buy it" or "this is totally bogus, they killed off Thorin the Dwarf! Set phasers to ass-rape!" or even simplistic quantification such as "three and a half flaming broadswords out of five".

What faith I had in the project was stomped out of me by George Martin's fans but I don't think you're doing yourself justice if you think that Scalpel was created to save people from the likes of you :-)

Joe Sherry said...

Jonathan,

Count me in on the group that thought Scalpel was a great idea (though questionable on the money side).

I'd have been completely sold, however, if any one of the reviews did, in fact, include the phrase "set phasers to ass-rape". I wouldn't have been able to tell my co-workers why I was laughing, but it would have been worth it.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Joe, I'm always glad to amuse ;-)

I totally agree with you about the fact that Scalpel should have been a paying market.

When I was kicking ideas around about setting up a successor to Scalpel, the very first decision I made was that I was going to pay reviewers for their time and work. However, this is also why a son of Scalpel never appeared; I simply can't afford to spend the $500-$600 dollars a year that such a project would require in order to be sustainable.