When I started blogging last year I was amazed when publishers and those in marketing were paying attention to my posts. I would write a book review or offer a book for giveaway and I'd get an email offering an author to interview or another book for a contest. I started noticing that I was on industry emailing lists for online promotion, and it was happening for a lot of other book blogs, that I could see.
I think it's fascinating, the role that bloggers are playing in the publishing industry. As reviewers and "industry bigmouths" (a positive term for bloggers and online promoters within the publishing industry), book bloggers have changed the way books are promoted and popularized.
And I wanted to know more, so I turned to a fantastically smart and insightful lady who not only maintains her own book blog, A Certain Bent Appeal, she was also recently promoted to Online Marketing Coordinator at Penguin Canada. Her name is Bronwyn Kienapple and I couldn't wait to chat with her about the world of book blogs and publishing!
***Mandy: You are the online marketing coordinator at Penguin Canada. 1) Holy Cow and 2) what do you do in a day?
Bronwyn: :) 1) It's pretty much my dream job. I started as the publicity assistant here two years ago but eventually began adding tasks to my job description that looked a lot more like online marketing. These included helping to build Penguin's Bloggers & Books Network. And I also started infiltrating online communities like LibraryThing, the Ning Book Bloggers page, and also contributing to the corporate twitter account @penguincanada. Now I get to do all of this full-time, which is amazing.
2) I do social media marketing. And I do Penguin.ca updates, and update our microsites such as hamishhamilton.ca, penguinbookclub.ca etc. I also write the business to business newsletter, among other duties.
Mandy: And what is the Bloggers and Books Network? I've checked it out, but what is its function on the publishing end? Did you help develop it?
Bronwyn: Our former online marketing manager, Christina Ponte, built the concept. The Bloggers & Books Network is a network of top Canadian book bloggers. Interested bloggers can fill out the questionnaire at penguin.ca/bloggernetwork. The results come back to me and I enter that person into our database. They are then eligible to receive advance review copies of Penguin books. Myself, or one of our publicists, will email select bloggers based on their interests and they have a chance to receive a copy to review. So on my end, what I did was build relationships with these bloggers, find out their specific interests/reading preferences, and get books out to them that they'd enjoy reading/talking about.
The function of the Bloggers & Books Network is to get top Canadian bloggers talking about Penguin books. But selfishly, it's allowed me to meet some really cool Canadian book people too.
Mandy: Yeah I bet you've met some great bloggers via the network. I love the level of community online with book bloggers in particular. I'm fascinated by the rise in blogging and how popular it's become to the publishing industry. You must have seen this rise? How did it start, what were the signs? How do publishers see book blogs?
Bronwyn: When I first joined Penguin in 2008 our involvement with bloggers was minimal. This has only really exploded in the past year. People were interested in talking to bloggers but they needed to be educated on the purpose of blogs, the impact these blogs had on consumer purchasing habits etc. Now there is much more acceptance as to the role blog reviews have in getting the word out about our titles. I noticed in the US this year a lot of bloggers participated in Book Expo America and also that they had their own specific networking events. I see major publishers talking up bloggers all the time on twitter. Publishers have really caught on to how powerful some of these bloggers can be. A good example is Tricia Woods' Hey Lady blog. She has a lot of followers. She influences a lot of people.
This is a major sign that publishers take bloggers seriously. I think publishers see bloggers the way they see independent booksellers. In that they are hand-selling books to the consumer. It is one thing to run ads, to have a print review run in the Globe, to buy placement at Indigo. But a recommendation from a trusted bookseller has a higher likelihood of influencing a sale. It's a much more genuine, trusted interaction…
Mandy: you're awesome.
Bronwyn: Same thing with bloggers - they build a readership. The readers come to know the blogger and feel as if they are a trusted source, if they come to agree with that bloggers' book choices. Thus, any recommendation they make is much more likely to affect purchasing habits than most anything else.
*whew* typing at warp speed here!
Mandy: There is something about a personal recommendation made available by an actual reading blogger. Does it help that the blogger is seen as unbiased? I mean, Penguin sends ARCs out, but that never means a blogger has to say anything good about the book or even post about it?
Bronwyn: Absolutely. Some bloggers are clearly biased in that they are looking to receive products and thus don't want to print anything negative. But the same can happen with print journalists. Readers will sniff out this tendency. The bloggers we want to deal with are ones who are unbiased, who will tell their readers exactly what they think of a book, while still being fair. When I send out a book for review there is the understanding that the blogger will review it but I'd rather they posted their honest opinion than one that is skewed towards the positive. If their readers don't trust the blogger to be honest, then there is less of a chance they will jump to purchase a book if a good review is printed. We want this to happen.
Mandy: So there is no worry about posting a negative review? By that I mean an honest opinion that says "Hey, I just didn't like this book and here's why..."
Bronwyn: If it's searingly bad then obviously I would prefer they not post it but who am I to say? It's their blog so they call the shots. The only thing I dislike is when a blogger cuts down a book "just for the fun of it." But that very rarely happens.
Mandy: Your own personal blog, A Certain Bent Appeal, must give you a great perspective. You're a blogger AND you work within the industry. Is there any trend in blogger-ville that is on the way to happening? Something you see in the near future that will affect the blogging world, or some way the blogs are changing the publishing world?
Bronwyn: Book blogs are becoming much more savvy about marketing themselves, both to their readers and to publishers. As there are many more book bloggers now, they are able to share knowledge and drive traffic to each others' sites etc. This makes them much more powerful. They can also teach each other about how to interact with publishers - who to contact to get review copies, how to format their posts, what extra content they can add (which they can partner with publishers to get - like excerpts, photos, giveaways etc.). Dealing with publishers likely seems overwhelming but book bloggers are now as numerous as soldiers in an army and they have more collective bartering power.
Blogs are changing the publishing world in that the focus is shifting away from traditional print, radio and TV media. These avenues are still extremely important as they attract a large number of readers/listeners/viewers but at the same time, there is not as much book coverage to be had as there used to be. Online is expanding at a rapid rate and so publishers' focus is naturally shifting in that direction.
Of course, this takes a degree of savviness in terms of the online world so there is a bit of a learning curve. But not an insurmountable one.
Mandy: It also means that bloggers are coming out of the initial stigma of "anyone can start a blog; who says they are experts in their chosen field?"
Bronwyn: Well that stigma still exists. And to be honest with you, it exists for a reason. It takes a lot of time and hard work for a blogger to build his/her writing skills, readership, design skills etc. to a point where their blog has impact. But this still doesn't discount the casual blogger who has a dedicated (but possibly small) readership. As long as they influence some people (genuinely), then they have a place in the blogging world.
Mandy: Absolutely. The "voice" of a blog always keeps my attention. I love the header for your blog by the way!
Bronwyn: Thank you! I found the image (and used with permission) on deviantart.
Mandy: Oh really? I love how much free stuff there is online to help bloggers out. Content and programs and widgets and such.
Bronwyn: Yes, there is a lot of content and support that can be found online for free. It's just getting the knowledge to use those things that's the hard part!
Mandy: It does take a long time to develop. In your opinion, both as a blogger (and blog reader) and industry person, what are the indicators of a successful book blog? Why do you go back to the blogs you read regularly?
Bronwyn: A successful blog to me as a publishing person is one with strong metrics. And that have a large number of subscribers, either through Google Reader or what have you. Also a high number of comments. And that the blogger takes the time to really market themselves via Facebook, Twitter, online communities, Amazon reviews etc. This means translates as "hugely influential" to me. It's pretty bald, but it's what I look for. But as a blog reader, I look for more subtle things like design, in-depth coverage, writing style, passion etc.
I love a passionate reader who takes the time to really review the book, not just rehash the plot. I love depth of involvement with a text.