I’m not quite sure why it happened or precisely what set it off (I could hazard a guess, but I wouldn’t do so in public), but a few weeks ago, I was merrily checking my e-mail, peeking at the Twitter, looking at some blogs, and I just got enraged. I was done with all the book talk. Done. Done. Done. No more. Shut Up, Interwebs. No more book talk. STOP IT. RIGHT NOW. (There were expletives involved, but we try to keep it PG-13 around here.)
Some people get blogging malaise. Apparently I get blogging rage.
It took me a little time to realize that it wasn’t book talk per se that I was tired of; it was just the incessant nature of it, or—to be more specific—it was the incessant nature of a certain type of book talk. And some of the problem is my own fault.
I have said many times that one of my favorite things about the book blogging world is its infinite variety. There’s variety in the types of books covered, in writing style, in frequency and types of posts. So many possibilities, and the possibilities grow every day. With so many blogs out there, it’s impossible to follow them all. I have, over the last three years, worked out a pretty good system for closely following the blogs I love the most and keeping an eye on others that I find interesting. (Like others, I use folders in my Google Reader, with some Twitter mixed in. If you’re looking for a system and want to know how I do it, feel free to e-mail me.) So my book talk rage was barely related to the blogs I read. It was another thing entirely.
Besides reading blogs, I get a lot of bookish e-mail newsletters and follow a lot of publishers and book-related news sites on Twitter. I think, in the end, this is where my rage came from. You see, book bloggers—at least the ones that I follow most closely—usually write about what they’re reading, whether they’re loving or hating it, what they’re hoping to read soon, what they’re thinking about as they read. This is what I like. What I don’t like is constant marketing and promotion.
Now before all the great PR professionals put me on their hate lists or come after me with brickbats, let me explain a bit, which includes explaining how my rage is my own fault. I don’t think marketing and promotions are bad things at all. Getting the word out about an exciting new release or an up-and-coming author is important work to do, and it’s hard work when there are so many voices out there clamoring for a minute in the spotlight. So good professionals in the business must beat the drum frequently and in many different venues. Some do go overboard and pin a lot of publicity on mediocre books that are selected less for merit and more for their marketability, but it’s not a perfect science. (And, to be honest, I imagine that working hard to appeal to readers just like persnickety, slightly irascible me is neither productive nor profitable, so many of the books that get pushed the hardest are probably not pushed with me in mind.)
But while I’m on the subject of marketing gone overboard, I will say that I’m not a fan at all of viral marketing. If buzz goes viral, it should be because disinterested outsiders have seen the product and loved it and are sharing the love, not because someone affiliated with it told them it’s TEH AWESOMENESS!!!1! or offered them a prize for retweeting it, blogging about it, or liking it on Facebook. I cannot express my dislike of using social media in this way strongly enough. Show me the thing you’re pushing and then I will decide whether it’s worth telling others about, on my own, without a bribe or even a push from you. I might now and then mention that I’m excited about some upcoming book from a trusted source or reliable author, but that’s the best you’re likely to get from me. (Again, not all marketers engage in these tactics, but those that do, grrrr… )
So with that said, let’s get back to how the recent book-talk rage is partly my own fault. I love knowing what’s going on, so I’ve subscribed to lots of publishers’ newsletters, as well as lots of publishers’ Twitter feeds. Then there are the general-interest bookish e-newsletters, news media with strong book coverage, and blogs that offer as much news as they do reviews. The best marketing professionals have a few eggs in each of these baskets. And because I follow so many of them, I end up getting deluged with book news, often multiple mentions of the same few books, few of which are actual reviews (and thoughts from disinterested readers are what I want). So I asked for the deluge by signing up for all these newsletters, liking so many Facebook pages, following so many Twitter feeds, and so on. I did it to myself. And I can undo it.
This week, I’ve been methodically unsubscribing from most publishers’ newsletters. These can be a good source of information, but they’re the opposite of disinterested. I’m also unsubscribing from most other e-newsletters about books on the grounds that it’s just too much. I’m also rethinking how I access book news from my favorite sources.
Before I started blogging, I got virtually all my book news from National Public Radio and the Washington Post. And you know what? I never felt out of the loop—and that was before NPR and WaPo had good ways of pushing news to me on my schedule and without piling my house with mostly unread papers. Now I can subscribe to NPR’s book news on Twitter, on Facebook, in my Google Reader, and through their books podcast. I’ve realized that I rarely use the Google links (they, like most of the major news sources, have an abbreviated feed), so I’m going to rely on Facebook and Twitter, as well as my regular NPR listening, for NPR book news.
For WaPo, I’ll continue to use Google Reader, but I’m experimenting with a custom e-newsletter for Book news and all Michael Dirda’s columns. (They don’t have a Books e-newsletter, like the New York Times does, but they should. WaPo are you listening?) As for why the Washington Post and not the esteemed New York Times, it’s mostly because the WaPo is my local paper, they have Michael Dirda, Ron Charles’s “Totally Hip” Book Review videos made me laugh, and the NYT seems, I dunno, snobby and predictable? Actually, I haven’t unsubscribed from the NYT e-newsletter yet, so maybe I’ll take a little time to compare. Now that I’ve winnowed the subscriptions down, I might have time to read the linked reviews in the newsletter. Imagine that.
Twitter will be my avenue for most other book news. The nice thing about following publishers, newspapers, magazines, and the like on Twitter is that I can see their tweets when I’m online and then decide whether to click the link. The professionals there are mostly not annoying or in my face (and I work during the day so can’t check in all that much anyway). If something is really interesting, it’s likely to be retweeted throughout the day, so I’ll see it eventually. And if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. (Must remember to tell myself that frequently. I don’t need to know everything that’s going on. Really. Ignorance is fine in this case.)
So am I alone in this? Anyone else feel book news overload? How do you get your book news? Any sources you find particularly helpful—or not?