There’s a quote from the Times on the cover of my début novel Precious Thing, but until now I haven’t thanked the journalist who wrote it (thank you). I didn’t enter into conversation with him, nor has he sent me a list of questions asking me everything from the genesis of the story to my favourite vegetable.
My vegetable preference (courgette) isn’t particularly significant, but it gives you an idea of the differing relationships authors have with book bloggers and journalists. The former is more direct and light-hearted—we have a laugh. Most importantly, we have a conversation.
I’m no expert on the power bloggers wield given that until last year I had no idea such a vibrant, noisy online community of book-lovers even existed. Nor would I claim they enable authors to connect with “real readers”, as opposed to journalists who are paid to review but are read by real people too.
If you are lucky, your book might get reviewed in a handful of newspapers and magazines in the weeks around publication. It’s a huge boost (if you get a good review) and then it all goes quiet. Bloggers, on the other hand, can be reading, tweeting and sharing reviews of your novel in the months before publication—and recommending it for years after. If a critical mass gets behind it, others listen. Something catches hold, an electric charge that turns a book into one that everyone’s talking about.
The blogosphere also gives authors the power to do more of their own publicity (should they want to). Offer to write a guest post for a blogger or run a competition. It’s hard to gauge what impact all this has, but you could argue it’s better than doing nothing.
That said, to see bloggers as a way of promoting your novel is to miss the point. It’s about connecting with people who share similar tastes in books, picking up recommendations and breaking the quiet of the writing day to have a conversation.
Which brings me to the downside; online talk requires a certain energy, which sometimes I just don’t have. I need peace to write—not an hour here and there, but often a complete removal from the virtual noise of reviews and tweets. Without it I can’t listen to my own characters, talk to them or even, if the mood takes me, ask them what their favourite vegetable is.
Colette McBeth is the author of Precious Thing (Headline)