Lately, I’ve been wondering what our responsibilities as book bloggers are. They go so much deeper than posting on time and blog hopping. Given that so many readers worldwide follow at least a handful of bloggers, our opinions and reviews end up swaying their book-buying habits. So how does that affect the way we read and talk about books?
I want to start this discussion post by thanking you for coming here today! Sometimes being a book blogger feels odd to me. I feel like I have so many opinions and am unsure of whether there’s anyone “on the other side” to listen to them.
But I have found such an amazing community that respects others’ opinions and makes space for those who are different. To me, that’s the beauty of book blogging. We’re all united by our love of books and support one another.
I’ve been interested for a long time in how book bloggers can improve the reading landscape. It can be hard to measure our impact in new releases. If only we could track how many copies we get our followers and friends to get—either from the library or from a bookstore!
Bloggers influence the books readers pick up
Given all that, we still have a massive influence on others’ reading habits. Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought or checked out from the library a book because of a book blogger’s recommendation.
There are so many personal examples I could give. Rachel made me read Sally Rooney’s books. Mel made me read The Kiss Quotient. Vicky made me pick up Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune. Rennie made me discover so many nonfiction books, from Dreyer’s English to Hillbilly Elegy. The whole of book Twitter made me read Red, White & Royal Blue.
In a nutshell, I have discovered so many of my favorite books because of amazing book bloggers. Thus, saying that book bloggers have no real sway over readers’ opinions is completely ludicrous to me.
Publishers trust bloggers to market books
Of course, as a result, publishers look to bloggers as ways to market their books. That’s why we have ARCs, sponsored giveaways, and other bookish events for bloggers. While it’s easy to forget, as international bloggers, that publishers do benefit from our work even if we’re not based in the United States, Canada, or United Kingdom, they do!
Moreover, the books we recommend—and the books readers buy send a message to publishers. If there’s a surge in sales of diverse books, publishers will take note and sign more marginalized #ownvoices authors. So, bloggers are at the forefront of publishing, even if we don’t realize it.
But ARC reviews can be hard to trust
It’s also true that it can be hard to trust ARC reviews. Even without meaning to, bloggers can hype up a book they felt “meh” about because they got it for free.
I don’t think they’re being deliberately deceptive. (I’m guilty of having done this, and I’m very sorry!). But the pressure to increase sales and overall awareness for a book can be too much, leading us to sugarcoat our reviews and not being as critical as we should be.
Regardless of all that, bloggers are still trustworthy sources. More often than not, they’re honest in their reviews and mentions of books. They bring up issues others may not have noticed before. They’re basically champions of new releases, and I hope authors and publishers never forget our role.
When a blogger reads and highlights a book, they’re promoting it
Going back to what I mentioned about being at the front of publishing, this can have a negative or a positive influence.
When we bloggers love a book, we’re telling readers “trust me, go buy this book and you won’t be disappointed.” This makes publishers (and authors!) happy, and it should also make readers happy if the blogger is being forthcoming in their review.
At the same time, when we tell our readers “I hated this book, you’re better off forgetting it even exists,” we’re also swaying their opinion. That book’s sales may not do as well, it may put the author in a tough spot, and it may might the relationship between a blogger and a publisher house more tense.
But that doesn’t matter—reviews are for readers, not for marketing alone, right? At least, that’s what I try to keep in mind when reading a review copy. My integrity as a blogger must stay intact no matter how badly I want to please a business partner (in this case, a publishing house).
Sometimes books can be enjoyable but “problematic”
So what happens when we tell readers “you will swoon for this book” and it ends up being a “problematic” read?
What happens when we say “I love this book even though it has some flaws”?
Or when we say “this is my guilty read. There are some blatant issues, but the characters are so soft!”?
In my opinion, we are still boosting that book, even if we mention in passing its flaws. The idea we’re conveying is that regardless of the problematic aspects of the novel, it is still well worth the read.
Is that okay? This is obviously a long discussion—and I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic!
Vicky wrote an amazing, eloquent discussion post about “problematic faves” I highly recommend you read. It touches upon our inherent responsibility to only promote “good” (read: non-problematic) books and keep reading our problematic faves in private. She does this topic justice, despite it being so complex.
I have several books I love despite their issues. With most of them, I didn’t even notice the issues until they were brought to my attention many years after.
We may not see all issues with a book, especially if they’re tied to identity
Which brings me to this point. What if we don’t notice the problems with a book? It’s a lot easier than what you may think! Especially in this day and age, when identity politics are so frail and it’s easy to step in the wrong direction without even meaning it, it’s not easy knowing how someone may feel about representation.
As you know, I am a white, straight, cis, female book blogger. I’m of European descent, not part of any persecuted class, and surely never had to face prejudice for what I am.
Many readers aren’t as privileged as I am, and I try to keep that in mind when reviewing books, buying books, and boosting books. But no matter my efforts, I will never be able to completely see the world from their shoes. Thus, it’s hard for me to sometimes identify whether or not the representation in a book is accurate or if it’s harming.
I’ll give you one example: The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test. Both books have been written by a woman on the autism spectre. But in some aspects, parts of the representation rubbed me the wrong way, despite me not being on the spectrum or knowing a lot of people on the spectrum.
As an “outside reader,” you know of stereotypes associated with an identity, be it racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, disability-based, etc. So, when a portrayal lines up with the stereotypes, you’re on the fence of “is this real?” and “is this phobic?”
With Helen Hoang’s books, I felt that was a lot. I felt like they painted a two-dimensional picture of autism. But how can I know that I am right in thinking this? Am I merely reducing autistic experiences to the narrow view of the world I have? Am I denying these characters the freedom to be what they may be—even if it aligns with negative stereotypes?
Another good example is Eleanor & Park. In the last couple of weeks, it was brought to my attention that the Korean representation is highly problematic. Upon reading it, I had gotten the hint that it was fetishized, but I hadn’t heard anyone’s opinions that lined up with mine, so I chalked it up to me not being knowledgeable of Korean culture (which isn’t a lie).
But when I read Vicky’s twitter thread (yes, I am mentioning her again because she is a woke hero doing God’s work in the blogosphere), I couldn’t not see the problems.
Mind you, Eleanor & Park is one of my favorite books, so of course I was taken aback and somewhat resistant to the author being called out for her portrayal of Korean voices. I tried justifying the author’s choice in my head, which is a problem in of itself.
What I am trying to get at is that we can love a book and fail to see its problems, especially if we don’t identify with the problematic representation at hand. And still continue to promote it!
This is where #ownvoices bloggers come in
Cue #ownvoices readers and bloggers. There is no one better than them to discuss these issues. They feel them in their skin and are better attuned to point out blatant errors and nuanced issues.
When a diverse book comes out, I listen first and foremost to #ownvoices bloggers. Only after I’ve read their review do I feel confident in picking it up.
Obviously, not all experiences are the same and what one #ownvoices blogger loves may bring up an issue with another #ownvoices blogger. That’s why it’s important to promote a multiplicity of critical voices and not fall into the trap of “my Chinese friend read it and liked it, therefore it’s not problematic.”
But at the end of the day, #ownvoices readers and bloggers are still not getting the love and respect they deserve—especially because they play such an important and unique role in the book community.
So what gives? Does this mean we’re two people—”readers” and “bloggers”?
After writing almost 1,500 words and thinking of this issue for hours, I’m still not convinced of what way to go.
It’s undeniable that book bloggers have a massive influence on readers’ habits. So should they be responsible for the books they promote?
I believe that we should be held accountable for our boosting choices—within reason. I will not deny my love for Eleanor & Park despite all its issues, however, I will not promote it any longer. Instead, I’ll pick other books I loved just as much to talk about.
But is this the way to go? Does this mean we are bloggers first and readers second? Or, at the very least, two different personas: one who reviews and one who reads? I’d love to see what your thoughts on this are!