Confessions of the Book Bloggers

Book bloggers
Top Row (L to R): Sara Nelson (moderator), Sarah Weinman;  Middle Row: Richard Nash, Sarah Wendell, Candy Tan;  Bottom Row: Sarah Burningham, Ron Hogan, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo
    What happens when eight book bloggers, (four of whom happen to be named Sarah or Sara) get together? They lament, critique, praise, exult, protest, and exclaim. In sum, they act like, well, bloggers. That’s what happened during the “Everybody’s Talking Books” panel at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. Naturally, we decided to blog about the day the Blogosphere came to SPI.

Some highlights include: 

On What They Do

  • Sarah Weinman, freelance writer of “Dark Passages,” a monthly online mystery and suspense column for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and creator of the blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, a respected resource for commentary on crime and mystery fiction quipped: “I was supposed to be a forensic scientist.  I’m still not sure how I became a full time blogger.  At the time, no one was blogging about crime the way I wanted to talk about it; so I thought, ‘I’ll do it’.”  Weinman received her M.S. in Forensic Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of New York in February 2004, and according to her blog, “still harbors faint hopes of actually making use of her degree someday.”
  • Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Events & Publicity Coordinator of McNally Jackson Books and writer for their blog, The Common Reader, defined herself as a ‘cockeyed optimist”, believing that people still do, and will continue to, read books.  To her, a blog is an extension of doing what the booksellers already do well — create a community to discuss the books they love.  This is just what she accomplishes in her personal blog, The Written Nerd: Confessions of an Independent Bookseller and Unrepentant Book Nerd.  Bagnulo recently won a $15,000 grant from the Brooklyn Public Library to open a bookshop, and will be opening Greenlight Bookstore in Ft. Green, Brooklyn this fall.
  • According to her blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books,By day Sarah Wendell is mild mannered and heavily caffeinated.  By evening she dons her cranky costume, consumes yet more caffeine, and becomes Smart Bitch Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.”   Smart Bitches started in 2005 when, as Wendell confessed, she just sort of stumbled into something worth paying attention to. Wendell and colleague Candy Tan (also on the SPI panel) describe themselves as “a couple of smart bitches who will always give it to you straight.”  With most of their reviewed books earning only a C at best, the blog doesn’t pull any punches, something their readers seem to appreciate.  Wendell and Tan just released a book based on their blog, Beyond Heaping Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels, which promises to offer readers “foul language and bitchery of the highest order”.

On Blogging and the Future of Publishing

  • When asked about the future of publishing. Sara Nelson, critic for the Daily Best and former editor in chief of Publisher’s Weekly chimed in, “People don’t read any more, except that they read all the time.”  As more and more books are out there, she believes that readers will increasingly need some sort of filter, a concierge, if you will, to point them toward the books they really want to read.  This, Nelson believes, is a role bloggers are increasingly taking on as they become ‘vertical curators’ or mini-experts with their own unique interests, style, and voices.
  • Sarah Burningham, associate director of marketing at Harper Studio, noted that there are many different roads you can take as a blogger.  “If you’re looking for a more traditional publishing job, knowing blogging and Twitter can definitely help set you apart”.  Burningham just wrote her second book, Boyology: A Teen Girl’s Crash Course in All Things Boy, and, in her spare time, she maintains her personal blog, Sarah Burningham: Straight Talk about Teen Life.
  • Richard Nash ran Soft Skull Press, now an imprint of Counterpoint, from 2001 to 2009. He recently left this position to begin consulting for authors and publishers on how to reach readers.  Nash writes in, his blog about the present and future of publishing: “For me, my departure is actually about my passionate belief in the future of publishing, in the future of community built around long-form edited narrative texts; in the future of connecting writers and readers; in a Web 3.0 that’s about the filters.”  In his opinion, there’s a shift occurring from books as product to books as conversation, and blogs are one way to take advantage of this shift.
  • Ron Hogan, creator and editor of the blog (one of the oldest continuously running literary websites on the Internet) and Senior Editor for Media Bistro’s Galley Cat, agreed with Nash adding, “There is a dramatic shift taking place between the reader, the writer, and the reviewer, and who gets to do what.  A few years ago, if The Times didn’t like your book, it was all over.  Now, there are readers online who are able to explain why that review is full of shit.”

On Tips for Future Bloggers

  • “You have to remember that you are in a conversation, and speaking your mind has consequences.  This shouldn’t deter you from being frank, but you have to respect your reader,” noted Ron Hogan.
  • When asked what those who don’t have the benefit of a traditional background in publishing can do, Sarah Wendell quipped, “I’m a reader.  I just spent $9 on your book, and I have an opinion.” If you have curiosity, generosity and authenticity, she says, these will go a long way toward helping you succeed.
  • Candy Tan echoed Wendell’s thoughts: “Sometimes all it takes is Google and curiosity.”

Whether you’re interested in traditional publishing, you’re currently working in the bookselling industry, or you’re simply a true book fan, our panelists demonstrated that blogging may just be the gateway you’re looking for.  Perhaps Sarah Weinman put it best: “If you have something to say that no one else does, or if you do it differently than anyone else, people will pay attention.”

by Sarah Cobb


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s