Friday, June 27, 2014

Fostering a Blogging and Reviewing Mindset in South Africa

So this article was published yesterday which references an article in the M&G and created a nice bit of discussion in Facebook which has prompted me to get my thoughts out and send them into the void. Basically, the debate revolves around the reviewing culture in South Africa and that there simply is not enough reviewing going on.

As others have pointed out, the writer of this article does raise some valid pints, but his point of view is very linear. Would my humble YA blog, for example, count? Should reviewers only promote local books or reading in general?

There are passionate book lovers in South Africa and many of them run blogs similar to this one. What they have observed is that the majority of hits come from outside our shores.

Here are the pageview stats of this blog in the past month:

United States
107
South Africa
54
Russia
13
Brazil
4
Ukraine
4
Romania
3
Australia
2
Germany
2
France
2
United Kingdom
2

It is clear that my audience from the US is nearly double that of my SA audience and I do very little marketing that side outside of Goodreads.

Why is this? Firstly, no one quite does fanaticism like the Americans. They live and breathe their passions and have a massive book blogging community. They shout their fandoms from the rooftops!

Plus they have midnight launches of popular titles, blog tours, cover reveals and are literally on the cutting edge of what is happening in the publishing world. They host tons of giveaways and have ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) coming out of their ears. In fact, many bloggers have so many books for review, they end up having giveaways simply to clear space on their shelves. Now that is a problem I would love to have.

The problem, I believe is not that we in South Africa are not reviewing books. Or that we simply do not have that mentality. I believe the problem lies deeper than that.

We need to address the matter from a grassroots level. I personally feel very disconnected from the international blogging scene. I have very little access to giveaways and am fortunate to get one ARC a year. Often, by the time a popular title comes out in SA, it has already been out for a month or more overseas, enough time for the international audience to latch on and review and do all the work in terms of generating public opinion.

Plus, new releases are usually in the trade paperback or hardcover formats. So if I was to keep up to date and post relevant reviews of bestsellers, I must brace myself for shelling out R250 plus for a title. This results in my blog always been a little behind the global trends. This is not a complaint, mind you. Simply an observation. Books have become somewhat of a luxury in this economic climate.

Having said that, I can look at a shining example of where getting ARC's and support from publishers have helped the blogging community. I was one of the proud folks to receive an ARC of The Three by Sarah Lotz. My review was up a week before the actual publication and also appeared on Women24. Not only was I rewteeted by the author, the INTERNATIONAL publisher retweeted me as well. This did wonders for my Twitter activity and blog traffic. Why? Because I was able to review something pre-publication when the public interest was hot.

But that is just one aspect. I do get review copies from publishers. In fact, they have been amazing lately in terms of supporting bloggers and reviewers! This is a very important part of creating interest in reviews and reading in general and I thank all the publishers for this! Thank you! Whenever I get new books from publishers for review, they are usually mentioned on twitter, on a blog post and I always take a photo of the books too as they always have such gorgeous covers. Thus, great exposure before I even crack open the spine.

But, how do we expand the reach of reviews we write? I have some ideas.
  1. Have a review board in every bookshop where reviews can be posted and swapped around each week. Not just reviews from the booksellers themselves, but from the reader on the street. Provide opportunties for readers to voice their opinions on an easy platform.
  2. Bookshops can have a WhatsApp / Twitter handle where people in the shop can send quick, 140 character reviews of a book referencing a specific code. "Like this book? Tweet us your thoughts with #codehere"
  3. Exclusive Books had the ingenious idea of getting teens to review books by offering them a monthly prize in the form of a voucher. Brilliant! This gets kids reviewing and generates reviews on their otherwise review-sparse website. Plus reviews from the target audience are a lot more relevant than some 30 year-old blogger's opinion. Yes, that would be me.
  4. Bring back newspaper reviews in all forms of publications. Not just what the editor thinks is good but what the reader loves! And not just bestsellers that anyone can find in the bookstore's Top 10. Think outside the scope of what everyone else says we should be reading.
  5. Bloggers with established audiences can get non-bloggers to try their hand at blogging by writing guest reviews on books they themselves either don't have time to read or are outside of their interests (hey, if you're willing, pop me a line!).
  6. Bloggers themselves should network more. Go to bookshops and drink coffee and talk raucously about their favorite books within earshot of others. Do non-bloggers actively read blogs? How else can we gather interest outside of our usual communities?
The responsibility is in the hands of the publisher, blogger, reviewer and reader.

There is a guy on the streets of Johannesburg who offers up reviews and sells his books for small change. I am sure you have heard of him. We need more people like that who are not afraid to wave the banner for books they love. And we need to stop looking down on people who do not read "acceptable" books with "real literary value". If you love Twilight, why should you not be proud? At least you are reading and that is more than a lot of the country is doing.

So, there is my two cents on the matter. Drop me comments with your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing from you!

2 comments:

  1. Amen to that Monique! Real Life has kicked me in the teeth recently, but I'm hoping to get back to regular blogging and such soon. And I'd love to keep this conversation going because I think that reviewers and books are horribly undervalued in this country.

    I must also agree with you that the local publishers have been great with their support and supplying books to review. Let me add my thanks!

    And a tip of the hat to you as well for all you do for the SA blogging community.

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  2. I agree with Shelagh above, local publishers have been getting better in terms of providing books for review, which is great and of course I am grateful for that, but…

    I also agree with her comment that reviewers are being undervalued. I think that’s some of the problems we have here. For example, they should use the book blogging community more effectively. Sending out books is one thing, but sharing that book reviews we do for them with their readers should be something that they should consider. I know some publishers are good with that, others not. That is one of the things where they differ from the international blogging scene. I’ve seen a publisher ask on their Facebook page what would readers like to see more of and a lot of the comments were about wanting to see more independent reviews. So the demand is out there.

    Like you said blog tours are great and it’s a good way for publishers to utilize us effectively. They can do this by providing the books 2 weeks prior to the SA release date in order to create a lot of buzz from actual READERS themselves and not what the editor thinks as you’ve stated. That way, once the books hit the stores, people have been seeing the reviews and thoughts of book bloggers and not just the synopsis of the publisher.

    ARCs are fantastic! I wish we had more of them here....

    In conclusion, we have a lot of potential and while we are working on creating a more tight-knit blogging community, I believe publishers and book bloggers should work together more closely to create a better reading/reviewing culture in SA.

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