Friday, December 23, 2016

On Blogging and Relevancy

Good morning everyone, and happy almost-Christmas! I hope my fellow students are enjoying a relaxing winter break.

Now, after that cheery introduction, I want to change the tone of this post and talk about something that’s been on my mind lately: is book blogging still relevant in the YA community?

There’s no clear, all-or-nothing answer to this question. Of course bloggers are important. I know from personal experience that they can deeply inform book-reading and book-buying choices—both for individual readers and for heavy hitters like librarians.

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling less fulfilled with blogging. And not only that; blog posts, particularly full-length reviews, seem to be slipping in terms of popularity and importance.

For me, part of the problem stems from changes in my own life. I started college in August, and ever since, I’ve felt disconnected from the world of book blogging. While I’ve mostly managed to keep my own content consistent, I’ve barely been reading and commenting on other bloggers’ posts, which leaves me feeling less fulfilled.

Stacked on top of personal busyness is the constant stream of horrifying, heartbreaking news that bombards us daily. I know the world’s lack of empathy isn’t a reason to stop producing or promoting art—in fact, it’s a reminder of why we so desperately need to do both. And I know it’s now more important than ever to use my platform to promote diverse and inclusive books. But I can’t shake the feeling that every post I write, every tweet I compose is meaningless and irrelevant in the face of the literal fascism and genocide happening in my country and around the globe.

The YA books I love so much taught me that when your world is in peril, you fight. You overthrow your dystopian government alongside the love of your life. You leave school and put your future on hold to hunt down horcruxes. I know real-life fighting isn’t as glory-filled or climactic—it’s protesting, it’s calling your representatives, it’s donating your time and money, it’s listening and sharing stories. And I know that writing is political and art is a form of resistance. But no matter what I do and what kind of content I create, it doesn’t feel like enough.

The biggest issues facing blogging, though, seem to be structural changes within the YA community and the publishing industry at large. Lately, I’ve felt less of an emphasis on blog posts and more of an emphasis on other mediums of communication: Twitter threads and popular Bookstagram accounts or BookTubers. Maybe it’s just my own college-induced lack of time and mental energy, but these days, I’m more likely to read and share a series of tweets than I am to share a blog post. I’m more likely to take a recommendation made on Twitter or Instagram than I am to read a full-length review.

And Book Expo’s recent decision to increase entry fees and ramp up the screening process for bloggers seems to solidify the message that bloggers aren’t as relevant and influential as I once hoped. It feels like the industry views our contributions as less important in terms of measurable economic return than the contributions of other book community members. That makes sense, and it’s probably true.

But that doesn’t mean bloggers aren’t important; like I said before, bloggers are a vital part of the publishing ecosystem. So here’s my hypothesis: maybe the relevancy of blogging isn’t changing. Maybe it’s just that the nature of what we do and what we’re expected to do is changing.

The emphasis is switching more toward microblogging, which is quicker to digest and better suited for conversation. And as Book Expo’s recent decisions show, we aren’t expected to produce direct sales on a large-scale level in the way booksellers and librarians do. (Despite being disappointed by Book Expo’s new regulations as I discussed in this Twitter thread, I completely understand their desire to shift the focus of the convention toward those who generate high-volume sales.)

So perhaps we need to reframe how we view our roles as bloggers. As an independent book reviewer, I’m probably not going to directly convince as many people to buy a book as I would if I were a bookseller. That’s the case for most bloggers aside from the massively popular ones. Instead, our role is publicity.

We spread the word about new books, and we have the power to revive interest in backlist titles. We get people excited about reading in general. And we do it all on our own time, for free. These roles may be hard to translate into precise sales numbers, they may make our presence at industry conventions less vital, and they may be difficult to perform in times of personal stress and worldwide disaster. But that doesn’t make them any less important. And if the best way to spread the love for literature is switching to new mediums, I’m going to embrace that change wholeheartedly.

So what am I going to do with these thoughts? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I’m not going to stop blogging. But in 2017, I don’t think I’ll hold myself to the same strict at-least-once-per-week posting schedule I’ve tried to maintain in the past. I’ll give myself more flexibility to try new things and capitalize on new trends.

I want to revive and revamp my podcast, which went on hiatus due to college starting for me and my co-hosts. (Aneeqah, Willa, and I are currently talking about our plans for the project.) I want to write more helpful and entertaining lists and discussion posts rather than defaulting to reviews. I want to experiment with new mediums of communication and support blogger conventions that could very well become popular alternatives to Book Expo. I’m also thinking about trying to publish my work on platforms other than Forever Literary, so stay tuned!

I know I want to keep promoting books, creating online content I’m proud of, using my voice to encourage change, and interacting with members of the YA community. 

I’m not yet sure how best to go about it, but I’m working on it. YA is innovative. The YA community is innovative. And in 2017, I’m going to be more innovative too.

What do you think – does blogging feel less relevant to you these days? Or is it just our role that’s being re-evaluated? I don’t have any data on this subject (this post is simply anecdotal), so I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories!

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