10/25/10

Blogging the Backlist --a recap of what I said at Kidlit Con

At Kidlit Con I found myself on a panel about blogging the backlist, with two Holiday Inn post it notes clutched in my hot little hand. Fortunately, I was flanked by three other eloquent speakers (Melissa, Jen, and Carol), and it’s hard to be nervous when talking about books to kidlit bloggers (because you know they care too). My two post it notes are long gone, but here’s my effort to recapture my scattered thoughts.

Our panel’s structure was based on a framework developed by Jen, who posed the following questions about why one might blog about out of print or backlisted books.

  1. What’s in it for me?
  2. What’s in it for my blog?
  3. What’s in it for my readers?
  4. What’s in it for the greater good?
And so these are the points that I address, starting, as comes so naturally, with Me.

Sometimes, I think I want mine to be a cutting edge blog--one of the beautiful blogs whose template is never wrinkled, who talk about the latest new releases, and who always seem to know what is New and Hot. But I have decided that is simply not who I am. Sure, I like getting ARCs in general, and Love getting ARCs of Megan Whalen Turner books, in particular, and it’s lots of fun to write excitedly about new books. I will never not want to review new books. In fact, I just wrote to HarperCollins requesting one today (Invisible Things, the sequel to The Explosionist, by Jenny Davidson, which I loved).


But there’s a downside to blogging about what’s current and accepting lots of review copies—it’s stressful. The beady eyes of all the review copies accumulating on every flat surface of your house, watching as you read a library book, or, heaven forbid, a book off your own shelves, make for nervous pleasure reading. And there’s no time for re-reading at all. It's considerably more relaxing to write about an old favorite that one loves--there are no deadlines for sharing old favorites, and there they all are, in my own case, on the shelves closest to my bed, just peacefully waiting.


Another reason there's less stress is that when one writes about a backlist or out of print book, the audience is simply people who love books. When posting about a new book I received for review, I'm writing for the gatekeepers. I feel that I should be thinking Critically, making clear arguments about the book's strengths and weaknesses. I enjoy doing that (otherwise I would do it), but it still takes a bit of effort. When writing about a book I just happen to love, I don't feel compelled to do that as much (which is good, because it's hard to think critically about a book you've practically memorized). If I want to write about the loveliness of the heroine's room, or her charming boots, I can gush at will. And boy, is it gratifying when some one reads a review of a childhood favorite, and shares their own love for it! Or rushes out to hunt for a copy of their own.


I've done both of those things when reading reviews of out of print books at other blogs. And one reason I like such posts is not just for the books, but because of the insight they give me into the character of the blogger. For one thing, the choice of which books to talk about is much wider--not just what is new, but what is loved--so you can learn about the blogger. When some one posts a review of a D.E. Stevenson book, for instance, I think "This person could be a friend," and I want to keep reading their blog. It's not just the choices that express a blogger's character, it's the writing as well-- when I posted my review of Valley of Song, by Elizabeth Goudge, for instance, I was writing much more as me, Charlotte, than is the case when I review a new book, with the gatekeepers in my mind. And so maybe my readers know me a bit better.


It doesn't hurt one's blog stats, either, to include older books. My look at The Green Book, by Jill Patton Walsh, is my fourth most googled post. If you want comments, write about an old favorite.


There are some blogs whose have made a clear choice to focus on backlist or out of print books, or at least to include lots of them. This gives them a lovely clear point, that greatly benefits readers. The Children's War, for instance, is a place where you'll find exclusively books about kids in WW II; lots of them are old, but that doesn't make them less wonderful, and it is a great resource. I include a lot of backlist/out of print titles in my two thematic lists--Time Travel Books and Multicultural sci fi/fantasy, and I think this makes them a much more useful place for people to come. (And, as an INFP, I am apparently focused on making the world a better place, seeking to serve humanity as best I can (pats self on back). I don't think I'd want to blog if my blog wasn't Useful to someone).


Finally, thinking now of the greater good--blogging the backlist gives historical depth to issues still very contentious today. It puts things in context. It brings to readers books that might not be on bookstore shelves, that still have the power to wake people up, shattering bubbles of naivete. And I think it's incredibly important to go back, as Debbie Reese does at Native Americans in Children's Literature, to re-examine old books with insights that expose their weaknesses, so that we don't just blindly accept the printed pages of yester year, with all their ignorance and prejudice. I'm looking forward lots to participating in Mitali's upcoming feature--community re-reads of children's classics, looking at them with fresh eyes (up first, on November 1-5, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace).


And those are the reasons why, amongst my of new books, there are lots of reviews of old ones! So join Angie for her Retro Friday feature, if you want some structure to your backlist blogging, or simply share an old favorite...Rediscovering what lurks on your own shelves, or in the public library, can be just as rewarding as a full mailbox of new books. (But I really hope HarperCollins sends me Invisible Things).


I wish I could remember the insightful things my co-panelists said, but sadly I can't remember much. I'm pretty sure that the comments I've just made above were shaped very much by what they said too (if not lifted directly from something they said first)--so thanks to Jen and Melissa and Carol!


I do remember one specific point-that blogging the backlist can be instrumental in bringing beloved books back into print--with the Betsy-Tacy books being a shining example (although this hasn't helped Betsy Bird's Winged Girl of Knossos yet...every year she mentions it, to no avail). And I'm sure the others said many more wonderful things--I do remember nodding lots and lots in agreement...

19 comments:

  1. I missed your workshop, so thanks for posting this! As a new blogger I hadn't thought about the issues you raise until now. But I know that I first started blogging around the time that Betsy Bird was presenting her poll of the 100 best children's novels, and they were practically all old books, and it was fun remembering them. I just reread Tom's Midnight Garden, which was as good now as I remembered it.

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  2. That's so cool you went to the conference. I am always amazed at how dedicated to blogging book bloggers are. Besides turning me on to new books, you all do a service in promoting good books. I like the balance of your blog. Sometimes you remind me of a book I wanted to read that I forgot about.

    Sorry some of it is stressful. Like getting the advance copies from publishers.

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  3. you're welcome, Toby! And it was so nice to meet you!

    Thanks for your kind words, Natalie! I think I might have been exaggerating the stress part, just a bit, for effect...although I sure wish I had more time to read! I'm not sure where you're located, but next year the conference is in Seattle, and the year after in NY--maybe you could come to one of those? It's tons of fun!

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  4. Hear, hear! I love what you said about knowing a blogger more because of his/her reviews of backlist books. This is one of the reasons why I love doing Angie's Retro Friday feature. Also, I want to write reviews of all of my favorite books to encourage other people to read them.

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  5. It was a really interesting panel, and you were all interesting and articulate. I am glad you guys blog the backlist--we just want books to read, it doesn't matter when they are from!

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  6. Definitely bummed that I missed the whole thing, but I've seen a few pics. Your hair was quite gorgeous whilst you clutched your notes in your hot little hands!

    And I agree with you - I doubt I'll ever be a new book blogger anymore; I started doing that for The Edge of the Forest when it was running, but it really was stressful - especially when I worried that too many people would pick up a book based on my yea or nay review.

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  7. I used to blog more backlist, when I was reading my way through my library collection, but sadly, I have almost finished. Since I like to read books before I buy them, I do tend toward new books. Unfortunately, a lot of the older books no longer resonate with students-- The Green Book rarely circulates even when I recommend it. Interesting thought, though. One way I cut the stress of reviewing new books is by checking them out of the library. ARCs make me uncomfortable.

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  8. I'm curious though - do you feel differently about all new books or just those that come from a pub? For example, if you bought a copy of Jenny's book and reviewed it would you still feel like you were writing that review for the "gatekeepers"?

    I'm asking because I hear this a lot from bloggers and I'm wondering if it's newness or ARCness that is the issue.

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  9. I think that when I buy a new book, with my very own money, I feel more freedom in my posting, because there's no obligation to say anything at all. And having new books that I bought with my own money piling up unread around the house doesn't have quite the same quality of guilt that piles of arcs do.

    I just went back to see what I'd actually said about books I've bought with my own money, and I'm surprised at how few of them I actually say anyting about at all. I found that surprising. The two most recent self-bought books I wrote about (back in the spring) mainly concerned the hotness of the characters--shallow, but fun!

    I think I reveiw about half the library books I check out, and those tend to be the ones for Time Slip Tuesday or multicultural sci fi/fantasy, where I'm writing with a point, as opposed to sharing books I've enjoyed....

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  10. Excuse, the phrase is removed

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  11. Thank you for writing your thoughts about these issues. They are exactly the kinds of things I had considered before I began my blog and the reason I set it up as I did. Oddly enough, because I couldn't attent the KidLitCon, I began what I called That's The Way It Was Thursday for looking at books written during the Second World War, not knowing about Retro Friday. I'll have to think about this now.
    Thanks also for the mention. I have questioned the wisdom of a blog devoted exclusively to one topic.
    I wish I could have been there to hear the panel, but your post has helped.

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  12. I was at KidLitCon and had to be elsewhere during your talk, so thanks much for posting this. As a writer, I've been struggling with trying to figure out why I'm blogging and for whom. There are a lot of days when I wonder if a blog falls in the forest, does it make a sound? All your points apply equally well to someone like me, especially how stressful blogging can be. Blogging is a very different type of writing, using a very different part of my brain, than sitting down to write a novel.
    Anyway, thanks for highlighting aspects of blogging that aren't necessarily talked about out loud.

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  13. Hi Alex--I think your Thursday feature sounds great, and totally different from Retro Friday, in that it is Focused. So I say, please go for it!

    I'm glad this has been interesting to you all!

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  14. Wonderful post, Charlotte. I try to do a mix of old and new, but for purely selfish reasons--there's so much wonderful older stuff that I haven't read yet that I'm worried that I'll miss out!

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  15. Oh, beautifully, beautifully said Charlotte!
    Yes, guilty as charged! I have this monster pile of ARCs staring me in the face, and what do I read? Library books! I dunno... maybe something about knowing I have those overdue fees if I don't finish them in time motivates me. So, yeah, I've been on a reading tear and have raced through 5 novels in the last 2 days, all of them "backlist" titles.
    But, it's well worth it, I say! They were all wonderful books, and I don't regret a moment of it.

    Can I say how jealous I am of all you conference goers? It sounds like it was a terrific opportunity to recharge and reconnect.

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  16. Yes! Yes! Yes! To everything you said.

    And this: "Sure, I like getting ARCs in general, and Love getting ARCs of Megan Whalen Turner books, in particular" made me smile.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  17. You all are welcome--and thank you for commenting! It's nice to know I'm not the only one!

    Do try to make one of the future conferences, Madigan--there's a much greater community feel to the Kidlit Con that meeting other bloggers at other venues, like ALA!

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  18. what a lovely post, Charlotte - I wholeheartedly agree, especially love the image of the ARCs with their "beady little eyes" staring at you, waiting for review. And also, how you can get to know a reviewer by seeing what old favorites they review from the back list.

    I shared a poetry book last week that is out of print, but I just love it so much. I wonder how readers react - if any are moved by the review, or if any go search for the book at the library. But it meant a lot to me, and - you're right - I did get comments on it, in large part because the review came from my heart.

    many thanks for sharing your thoughts

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