Blogging and Reaching Out

How much effect or influence can our blogs ever hope to have? We talk a lot about doing this for ourselves, and about the importance of writing what we want to, regardless of how many people are reading. And yet it would be a superhuman blogger indeed who did not obsessively check stats, at least in the early stages, and gain a potent little thrill whenever a post attracts substantial traffic. So what if you wanted to reach out to find a specific audience or actively influence public opinion? What chances would there be of that happening?

What’s brought this to my mind is a very intriguing post over at Novel Readings, in which Rohan quotes from three lit-bloggers who are expressing a certain amount of regret, or what I might suspect to be hurt (they are male bloggers and would probably prefer a different choice of verb) that careful, lengthy, studied posts about less mainstream writers gain so little internet attention. My sense is that an audience always exists for such writing, but the real difficulty lies in finding it. In the comments, Rohan told an interesting anecdote to illuminate one part of the problem:

Recently an essay I wrote for Open Letters Monthly was linked to by Arts & Letters Daily (which was, of course, pretty exciting for me). The essay got a lot of hits–around 5000 the first day or so. In my by-line there’s a link to this blog, which got more hits than usual that first day, but nothing like 5000 (not even double its usual average of 100-ish). And I did not gain one subscriber on Google Reader. In other words, as far as I can tell, most of the people who read the article were simply not interested in looking at my blog writing.’

Rohan’s concern here is that readers who turn to Arts and Letters may have a certain prejudice against the very idea of the blog, having heard that we are shallow, solipsistic types who write two line reviews with pretty pictures. And this fear may well be justified; an internet apartheid seems to be rapidly developing, whereby writers who get paid for their work, some of which must needs be displayed online, are deeply hostile (inevitably) towards those who do it for free. Blogging has not always received good publicity from the online publications that might otherwise have sent traffic our way, even though – especially though – some of it is more than equal in quality.

But I also feel that the vastness of the web is producing its own issues now. When there are millions of blogs that could possibly be read out there, the inevitable consequence is a dissolution into insularity. When I first started writing and reading blogs, I had the impression of a huge virtual city, teeming with life. Now, four years later and several thousand book blogs richer, it feels more like I live in a blog village that is part of a network of other villages – all of which I could visit if I could follow the right pathways, except of course no signposts exist. It’s hard to track down blogs I really appreciate. I can arduously work my way through the blogrolls of others, I can google for reviews of the kinds of books I like and hope that produces good results (not just a bunch of blogs that no longer update). But what attracts one blogger to another is profoundly subjective and often unquantifiable, a matter of style, a question of voice. There’s no other way of tracking blogs down than individually, by trial and error and hours of visiting.

So, supposing I wanted to promote the study of the arts in these troubled times, and here I am with a book blog, all ready to use. How best to use it? Of course I can just keep writing and hoping that people ‘stumble upon’ me, in that most apt name. But what if I want to find other like-minded souls? I’ve been considering the possibility of running an online class through the blog, but my regular readers are all too smart to need any such thing. How to find people who might appreciate it, who do not read this blog already? I can’t put posters up in the internet, or put my name down on any sort of calendar of events.

Which brings me to the (still) depressing thought that the rules of marketing dominate here as elsewhere. That if I want to attract attention, I have to produce something high-concept and on-trend (I put my rubber gloves on to type those words, ugh!) so that search engines can bring traffic my way. But once again, I’m preaching to the converted, I’m only attracting an audience who already possess a degree of knowledge – how to reach those who don’t know that there is something out there to know?

All of which leads me to ask this: is the internet (and by extension blogging) destined only ever to be a popular medium? Which is to say, obsessed with the products, people and issues that are already popular? How are we to promote the eccentric, the obscure, the thing that no one is talking about? It strikes me as very necessary, but is this possible any more?

42 thoughts on “Blogging and Reaching Out

  1. Interesting points, LL. I was thinking about your post on the cuts in Arts Funding and wondering whether there wasn’t a way to protest and highlight these issues. But where to start? I can read a few news articles but then what? And as you say, the non-profit and almost random ways of blogging make it difficult to find like-minded people. But I’ve also noticed a shift in my thinking about book blogs. Any way of promoting books (and non-mainstream books almost especially) seems almost like a political act now.

  2. I know what you mean about the blogging village. Sometimes I feel as if the path from my village to other interesting ones is obscured by jungle plants that I have to hack down. I recently found a new group of writers to follow, but I found even their voices dissonant to my own (they’re all about ‘joining’ and ‘following’). Joining Litopia made very little difference to my blog’s growth too – it seems even writers don’t follow other writers.

    I think you’re right that the blogging world has been overtaken by people obsessed with marketing, leaving little space for the obscure and the eccentric. However, I do believe that the Internet caters for all interest groups: it’s just a matter of finding them or helping them to find you. The question is how? If anyone has the answer to that, I’d like to know.

  3. I completely agree with you. Finding blogs that match an individual’s reading taste is very hard. It is an art that takes a lot of time – it took me over a year to find a group of blogs that I really connect with. I can’t imagine the average member of the public making that prolonged effort.

    I’m lucky in that I blog about quite popular books and so the search engines are good to me, but I know that my blog is of no interest to a lot of people – especially those who like a more detailed analysis of books. I agree that those who write detailed, intelligent posts in niche areas are very hard to find. I hope that popular blogs manage to highlight the obscure sometimes, but also that more members of the public discover blogs so that those in niche areas get the recognition they deserve.

  4. Very interesting questions, Litlove. I like your description of the vaguely connected villages…it does feel like that.

    I have the sense that some people attempt to build up little networks, or co-ops of bloggers, give themselves a name and start to function more like a lit magazine in the hopes of broadening readership. I admit I^ve been tempted to organize something similar in a vain attempt to avoid the “blogger” label. And then I fight myself against that because I shouldn’t have to want to avoid the blogger label.

  5. I agree that it’s difficult to find a place for blogs on the internet. It’s also really dishearting, when you spend so much time crafting a blog post, only for a few people to read it. I have a small group of dedicated readers, so I shouldn’t complain as my blog is being read by people, but it would be nice for numbers to increase.

    Also like you, I want to read other blogs about the things I enjoy, i.e reading and writing fiction, but find that I can only find these sorts of blogs by luck. There are a few blog directories that you can join, but it’s difficult to find/join them.

    The problem I find with those blogs who market products etc, is that most of the time they compromise the quality of their posts, in favour of product placement. So how do you promote your blog, without compromising on quality? I’m not sure.

  6. Before blogs there were… what is the name for them? Contributor web sites, some open, some closely edited. Think, Salon before it went for the money. They had to deal with the problem of sinking to the level of the lowest contributors–low brow ressentiment and animus was a killer. Then everyone scurried off to do their own thing. A blog for everyone on earth.

    An idea that seemed attractive… but given a little thought, and a few years blogging, and I begin to wonder if blogs, literary and intellectual blogs, haven’t way overreached their best function.

    Imagine trying to interest readers in a magazine with a single author writing all the articles and features? … with letters to the ed for comments. Now, an authors web page makes sense–but that’s not a blog, no what a blog is structured to do, and the hard reality here is that very very few individuals can keep the good stuff coming over a long stretch as one-peep shows. Ron Silliman can do it–but he draws on the help of a lot of other people to send him links and news, so it’s not just Silliman, but the clearing house role his blog plays. It’s Ron’s blog, with Ron very much at the wheel (no more comments), but it serves a particular community, with significant input from that community, even without the comments.

    Then there’s the wonderful science blogs–like Cosmic Variance (which has been absorbed by the on-line zine, Discover Magazine), which works with a kind of membership idea–several scientists in related fields contributing freely as they have time and interest. Levi Bryant at Larval Subjects has been quite successful because he’s created a space where the comments have become as important as his posts: where readers can watch a whole exciting new field of intellectual ideas developing through the exchanges between posts and comments.

    Leads me to the question: what and who does it serve (for book and literary blogs), for every man woman and their dogs with one-peep blogs? Isn’t the very essence of literature the infusion of ideas and imagination into a community, as vehicles for conversation, exchange, mutual inspiration and nodes of affinity? I’d like to see more collaborative ventures, where the blog can be a platform for several writers, critics and reviewers–thrashing it out and discovering together what they have in common–and what they don’t. Can’t imagine that this wouldn’t kick up the importance of the comments.

    There are zillions of blogs that are like virtual one person or one family billboards. Here’s little Joey at his birthday party! Oh look–see how the dog ate the Christmas turkey! That is absolutely the wrong model for a lit blog! And yet, it’s pretty much how most of us do it. With reviews, essays, our own creative efforts: a highway billboard… on-line. Where peeps can add Post-its in the Comment section. Only there are thousands of billboards now and eyes grow weary and the mind grows numb watching them flash by as we speed along the digital highways.

    What we crave, what we need, perhaps… is not drive-by mental jags, but places to stop, spend a little time, place where we can expect to find conversation and challenge–EXCHANGE of ideas.

  7. It really is odd how the more things change, the more they stay the same … promotion and popularity are still necessary for certain ventures, whether that means maximizing search engines, or knocking on doors. Either way, it’s no fun, and contrary to the type of working and thinking that most of us would rather be doing.

  8. Litlove, you’ve put your finger on the problem–how to connect people who write with people who read when there is an unfiltered mass of material. I’ve had the same experience as you in looking for book blogs I want to read and the same frustrations.

    You asked “is the internet (and by extension blogging) destined only ever to be a popular medium? Which is to say, obsessed with the products, people and issues that are already popular?”

    Not if you look at science writing and the reason, I think, is that there are science websites which host the blogs. They draw more traffic and provide the filters. In science writing there is the same kind of hostility between paid and unpaid writing, which is really sad, but what I’ve observed is that there are stepping stones from the independent science blogger to the host sites, to the online science magazines that pay their writers. There’s the Nature Network, Science Blogs, and Discover Magazine as examples. I’ve looked for something similar for book blogs and author blogs, but haven’t found any. I think that’s what we need.

  9. Oh, and here’s something else I’ve noticed. Traffic is dependent on how many posts I write. I can easily double my traffic by posting every day. But…here’s something else. I average about one click a day through my blog to my books or my website. That is pretty consistent and doesn’t relate to how many hits my blog gets. I find this surprising; it’s counter-intuitive. But that’s how it’s been over the last 2 years since I started blogging.

  10. I think like so many things with the internet it’s a matter of timing. I actually don’t think the internet is destined only to be a popular mechanism but so much has happened so fast in the last fifteen years that it has been absolutely impossible for those of us who don’t make a living from the internet to keep up.
    I know when I started blogging I made sure I wouldn’t wrap up my feelings of self worth…as a person or as a writer…with my blog…I had to check my think skin at the door and not let my value be determined by number of hits, comments, etc – it had to be purely pleasure for me. And I can understand how “real” writers are frustrated with those of us who do it for “free” – it’s disturbing how undervalued the written word is these days in the market place. I don’t know…I think this is a wonderful debate and one I look forward to seeing progress. I do have confidence that overtime we will be less saturated with promotions/marketing blogs but it’s all going to take some time to sort out.

  11. How much does an ad in the back of the TLS or LRB cost? Have any book bloggers tried that?

    By the way, why do you think Esposito sounds hurt? He seems happy. Maybe too happy. “Blogs and emergent web magazines are great, and I think they’ve done a huge amount in a very short time.”

  12. Pingback: Go Read This | Blogging and Reaching Out « Tales from the Reading Room | Eoin Purcell's Blog

  13. If the internet were a book, it would have a really great index at the back. Unfortunately there is no way to go and look up books as a subject and all the subcategories and find just what you’re looking for here. Google is great but you’ll only find the most popular at the top and maybe not the most relevant or the most interesting. On my campus there has been talk of using social media in the classroom, since that is where so many people are at already–I’m not into social media (other than blogs, of course), but it did make me wonder if it would make a difference in traffic to utilize it in some way. It just seems like so much time needs to be spent on this sort of promotional business when I think I’d rather be reading. Interesting conversation, though, maybe you’ll find some solutions or ideas. (And personally I’d sign up for your online class, but I suspect my reading background is spottier than your average reader here…).

  14. Great post Litlove and I liked Rohan’s too. I don’t think the internet currently is or is destined to be for only popular media. I do think, however, that the obscure and eccentric and the truly thoughtful is but a small niche and will probably only ever be a small niche. I don’t think the majority of people who gobble down the bestsellers and nothing else are all that interested in thoughtful literary reflections on authors or books that fall outside the popular mainstream. I don’t think that means that thoughtful blogs of the Litlove variety can’t be influential in some way, only that their audience tends to be smaller. But the thing about a networked environment is that different people read different blogs and if you post something on your blog that I link to on mine and talk up, someone who reads my blog but not yours might take it to her blog and then people who read that blog but not yours or mine might take it to their blog and so on and so on; your reach may be farther than you know.

  15. Thanks for picking up this thread, litlove. I like Stefanie’s point that it’s actually hard to measure the extent of a conversation once something gets picked up and carried abroad. I suppose as far as filtering goes, a lot of us have come to depend on serendipity: we read a post with a link or reference that catches our eye so we follow it, or we drift into someone’s blogroll and see who they follow, and happen across what seems a like-minded soul out there. There’s something nice about that drift, in a way, despite (or even maybe because of) its inefficiency. But it does get frustrating to see the continuing depreciation of blogging as if its form determines its value rather than its content…which is not to say that most blog posts of mine, for instance, have been laboured over the way I laboured over the essay for Open Letters I mentioned in that comment. But some of them have certainly been carefully considered and crafted! It does seem too soon, or wrongheaded, though, to talk as if the Great Blog Experiment is somehow proving a failure, as Dan Green does, because ‘success’ depends so much on what one’s hopes were for it in the first place.

  16. Thought-provoking post, litlove. I will go and read Rohan’s post in a minute, but before I go: If I were to characterize the internet, I would think of its vastness, variety, searchability, connectivity via social media and relative lack of censorship in most countries. Because of these qualities, I don’t think that the internet is only a medium for what is already popular. There _is_ a lot of that, but if content on the internet is searchable, then it follows that people who are looking for a certain voice are apt to converge to a website, blog, newspaper, etc which will provide it. If they don’t find it, then some of them (fortunately) are creative enough to create it and inspire others to do so as well. This has been my experience.

    Having said that, your point (and Stefanie’s in the above comment) still remains – litblogs, bikeblogs, hobbyblogs etc. will remain niches and will probably never command huge traffic like political blogs, or sports forums or facebook pages. Given that we don’t make money from our writing, I would be very interested in knowing what you (and your readers) think about “strategizing” for blog traffic. When I started my blog, every one and their grandma advised me to have technorati links, an “About” page, tags and things of that sort. With every passing month, however, I feel that I don’t want to seek attention – indeed, I have come to disagree with advice that I had received earlier. I’ve reached the conclusion that, if there was only one reason for blogging, it is because I feel compelled to write. And if there was one reason for reading specific personal blogs, it is because I feel compelled to do so. I appreciate receiving comments, but don’t find myself needing them; the act of having gotten something out of the brain and onto (electronic) paper is enough of a catharsis. Everything else – number of blog visits, number of incoming links, page rank, tags, categories, social media integration, Web 2.0 – is noise. It is a strange asocial thing to say, especially about something so connected as the internet, but that is what I feel about my blog.

    That turned out longer than I thought. I hope it made sense🙂. Maybe, I should write a post about it.

    • “the act of having gotten something out of the brain and onto (electronic) paper is enough of a catharsis.” I wonder then… why write on a blog? Rather than a journal? Off line? To do this private act of writing in a virtual public space–what does that change?

      This is question I frequently ask myself, but then, I don’t think of writing as a private act. Intensely personal, yes, but not private. The answer that comes to me now, is that it is the creation of public space, of a particular order of public space–one where I am able to participate without reserve, and in good conscience… which makes writing for me, political–in the most elemental sense, as Hannah Arendt understood it–a space between individual and familial private domains where, a space where community is created with others.

  17. Excellent observations. The process of finding blogs that match one’s taste and temperament is a slow one. I’ve found a few, all by following signposts left by other bloggers or through friends who share common interests.

    What keeps someone coming back to a blog are a voice you like to hear and a style that is pleasing to the mind. These are, as you observed, utterly subjective.

    I’ve been blogging for about a year at http://writersrest.wordpress.com

    Lindsay

  18. I was hopeful for a while there that Twitter and Facebook would distract all the superficial bloggers, clearing out the blogosphere and leaving it with nothing but the sorts of thoughtful and well-written blogs I like to read. It didn’t happen, and now so many businesses have grabbed on to blogs and blogging, that it’s become even more difficult to find new blogs I like. Mostly, it seems, I just keep reading the ones I’be always read. I still love them, but it’s a little like going to the library and never browsing, just checking out the same books and authors over and over, isn’t it? You raise good questions. Wish I had good answers…


  19. I wonder then… why write on a blog? Rather than a journal? Off line? To do this private act of writing in a virtual public space–what does that change?

    Jacob, that is a good question. Actually, that is what has ended up happening – the blog has become a journal of sorts, something that is updated only when I want to, never touched out of obligation. I’ve thought really hard about making the blog completely private – and accessible only to close family (because they read everything on it) – not because there is any private material in it but because, owing to its increasingly inward nature, the info on it seems to be of diminishing utility to visitors.

  20. Great questions, indeed, LL.
    The only way to promote the obscure, the special, the “unfound,” is, I think, to work up from working locally. You find it, you write it. So much patience and so much time. Were any one of us purely blog writers, approaching it as a full time job, it might amp up the blog to the far reaching blog level intimated in this entry.
    To catch the wave and ride it, yeah, takes so much marketing. Pheh.
    And in conversation, I will mention a blog “friend” and things learned, shared, discovered in reading blogs and will mention comments on books that I read in Blog World and I get the doe-eyed look that means: what do you mean blog friends, what are you talking about, Blog World?

    sigh.

    And you are right: To find others of the same ilk (books,reading, writing, paper) takes tons of sifting through a beach full of bloggers, each a grain upon it.

    I so hear what you’re saying. Perhaps weekly I ask myself why I take the time (when I do take the time, because confessedly, I’m a bit sporadic) to blog at all.

    I have no overarching solutions/ideas but will ponder this more as I head outdoors, again, to rake leaves.

    In terms of taking small steps, I have just added you to my blog list. A very tiny step to take, and I don’t know why I didn’t do it ages ago.
    If nothing else, it’s about connectedness, looping us around the globe to other places, other views of the same seas, the same sky, the same stars.

  21. The first blogs I read I came across accidentally, while looking for information about topics I was interested in. When Google’s blogsearch came along I got quite excited because it narrowed my search down to blogs; I didn’t have to add the term “blog” to my search anymore, in the hope that bloggers used that word on their site. The trouble is it doesn’t really matter how clever I am with my search strings, there’s not really any way of saying I want to read a blogger’s review of Witi Ihaemera’s Matriarch AND I want the reviewer to be thoughtful and witty and maybe share an interesting personal story; I don’t know what the story will be about, but it’ll make me sad or laugh or think “yes!” Eventually, I worked out the best way to find bloggers I wanted to read was by looking in the blogrolls of blogs I already liked, but like you say it’s arduous. Lately I’ve discovered twitter is a really good way to find people who are interesting and who tweet links to blog posts they like. It’s not perfect, and it’s arbitrary, but the odds are usually better than blogsearch. I think it’s really hard to attract people to eccentric and obscure blog posts because people need to know about those subjects already to be able to search for information/blog posts about them. If people are to read those sorts of posts, they need to be able to come across your blog via something they already know about, or already be reading your blog. Of course I’m coming at this from a librarian’s point of view rather than a marketer’s point of view.

  22. Dear blogging friends – I’ll reply to you all individually in a moment. But I wanted to say that the one idea that had occurred to me concerned ‘blogging profiles’ or the possibility that we might be able to describe, categorise or relate our blogs in ways that allowed the host site, wordpress or whoever, to link us to other, similar blogs. There was the option of having our individual posts linked to similar posts (not that that always went well). Why not do the same thing but with the whole blog? It would be good to have a system of classification that was independent but to which we could all contribute, ticking boxes to describe the salient features of our blogs, a bit like a match dot com site.

    For a while a few years ago, I also ran The Best of New Writing on the Web blog, which promoted just that. I loved doing it and found good blogs that way, but it was time-consuming. I’d asked other bloggers to email me with suggestions for blogs they liked, but that lasted about a fortnight! After that it was just me searching, and so eventually I ran out of time for it. But to have a group blog that did something similar, one with lots of members, that might work out well.

    Just my thoughts on the matter. Now, on to replies….

  23. Pete – what an interesting comment, and if you have a moment perhaps you’d say more about the idea of the political act? I’m intrigued by that. But it is difficult to know what to do, isn’t it? I feel a great loyalty to arts and humanities and would dearly like to help, but have yet to put my finger on how. We just have to keep talking about it, I think, and ideas will develop.

    Charlotte – ah my friend, we have to keep looking. But it can become discouraging, particularly after a few missed attempts. I think there is a real danger that we become all transmit and no receive. Well, not you and me, probably, as we’ve already shown that we do a lot of listening too. But finding like-minded souls shining through their blogs… it is just like finding real friends, ie, rare and precious. I think we were lucky to find a group of friends when we started and perhaps that has provoked my belief that it should be easier than this to connect?

    Jackie – well it’s reassuring to hear you say it took a while to find your own place in the blogging sun. I remember spending the first few months trawling through a sea of techie blogs, barely finding one that dealt with books at all! But you also remind me it’s really nice to promote other blogs once we find them. I’ve fallen out of the habit of blog awards and so on, but they have a useful role to play, I see.

    verbivore – I think you are spot on with the lit magazine idea. It adds authority, doesn’t it, to a practice that could be purely subjective and navel gazing. But at best it offers a good quality of posts without too much onus on any one individual to keep churning out material. I think we will probably see more collectives in time.

    Spangle – you detail out the problems very neatly there (and welcome, by the way! I have been under the weather this week, or I would have visited you already. I will come by soon). I think it’s perfectly natural to want to increase your audience, and it shouldn’t indicate any insufficiency in the current readership, just the normal desire to grow. Blog directories I’ve given up on, though, as I have such trouble navigating around them and so few computer skills I can never put the html code where I should… and marketing products fills me unease, too.

    Jacob – that’s really interesting, what you say about a magazine being filled by the writing of one person. And of course it amuses me that Ron Silliman doesn’t really appeal to my personal taste… I’m sure he’s marvellous, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I think you have hit the nail on the head when you talk about discussion, interaction, community. The post on a blog is only half the story – it’s the comments that make it. And so surely there must be a way to conduct a discussion on a blog that really works, that isn’t just a thread in a huge off-putting forum, that is well moderated to keep out the trolls, that offers a place for invention and thought and considered opinion. I’d be all for that, and hope that it materializes on the web very soon.

    David – absolutely. I gave up working in an office once I realised it would entail cold calling (and sometimes in foreign languages) and it feels odd when exploring the blog world gives me a frisson of the same sort of awkward, artificial meet and greet. I love writing for the blog, but feeling I have to promote it sucks.

    Lilian – now that is a brilliant idea. I love it. A website that has its own content but which also promotes blogs. That is just great and surely it has all sorts of possibilities for book bloggers? You’ve certainly got me thinking now….

    Courtney – you’re quite right. It’s the speed of growth of the internet that obscures things. We barely have time to consider what is happening, compelled as usual, into issues of competition and promotion and how best to place ourselves in the evolving madness. You are also right that it really doesn’t work to wrap one’s self-esteem up in anything as fickle and changing as the internet. Or indeed in any one role or one project. But I really would like to see writing gain in value here, rather than become even more undermined.

    • Sorry am late replying to your question. What I meant was along the lines of “the personal is political” that every choice we make is a political one. Just as the government cuts the Arts budget and perhaps increases Defence, we contribute in our own small way through our spending habits (and that is money and time). But all this is meaningless I guess unless it becomes more of a movement?

  24. amateur reader – I have no idea how much that would cost. And it would feel a bit like manic self-promotion, wouldn’t it? Come and read ME! I’m not sure I’d be able to put my money where my first-drafted, often unedited words were. As for Scott Esposito not being hurt, no he corresponds less readily than the other two to the use of the verb on the basis of the quotations in Rohan’s post. But I added my caveat in brackets because describing the bloggers as ‘hurt’ was a deduction I made more on the terms of human nature than on the words they were all using. If a person writes something meaningful and time-consuming and others don’t read it, I feel it may be a natural response to be hurt – but at the same time, that smacks of humiliation, and so simultaneously it is denied: it’s fine if no one reads what I write, I wrote it for myself in any case, there are few people who would fully appreciate what I do. One can equally be hurt because other people don’t value the same things. But this is my personal interpretation, and as I say, hurt may become too confused with keeping up an optimistic and undented facade for anyone to feel distinctly when it is their own writing or their own values in question. Hence I felt the need to draw attention to the possible unsuitability of the verb.

    Danielle – that’s exactly it: we need an index, and a really good one. If only! And I think of you as a naturally gifted reader. Where a course would be helpful would be in reassuring you that your innate instincts are functioning extremely well! It would be interesting to see social media in the classroom, but so much of what is written here is unchecked and unreferenced, which would cause problems, perhaps, unless the material was used purely for discussion…? But I do agree – I would so much rather read than promote my blog!🙂

    Stefanie – yes, you’re right of course, niche is niche for a reason. And yet, I do feel that even genre readers might be interested at times in some of the cool theory and interpretations that spawn around romance and crime and questions of plot. The thing is, how to get people interested in stuff that they didn’t know they might be interested in? You are so sweet to reassure me, but I think there’s a lot of university profs out there right now, scratching their heads and wondering how to remind people that reading outside the comfort zone, and thinking more deeply about reading can be interesting and productive. I think the problem is one of attitude, really, and whether we desire to stretch ourselves or not (and probably there has always only ever been a percentage of the population interested in that, too!)🙂

    polaris – you’re quite right – content is searchable. But quality isn’t. I’ve had a lot of frustrating moments looking for stuff online and finding content that’s relevant but not interesting, stretching, informative or provocative. If I could put that request in a search engine, I would! I think probably a fair percentage of bloggers end up where you are: pleased to have a space to write and no need to ask more of it. But for those of us who want to promote not ourselves, but an idea, a field of study, and to encourage others to risk themselves in different ways, the problem still remains of how to do that. I don’t need people to pay attention to me, but I do feel the need to promote the study of the arts and humanities in an age where it is not receiving good PR. The problem is if I can only promote that idea by promoting myself, which all becomes a bit awkward and burdensome, I think.

    Lindsay – thank you, and I’ll certainly come and visit you. In the old-fashioned way of checking out one blog at a time, it’s great when people leave comments that mean I can follow them back to a new blog.

    pvreader (is that you, Emily?) – oh if only twitter had scooped up and distracted a whole bunch of bloggers. I marvel constantly at the way people manage to juggle blogging and tweeting and facebooking… when do they ever get anything done? I am in awe… But yes, I’m thoroughly glad to have the old friends online, but your library book analogy is very apt!

  25. oh – I am the worst blog housekeeper in the world, so do not worry for a second. Once every two years I tidy up my blogroll, feeling hugely guilty that I haven’t done it before!! And yes, you highlight another point – which is to wonder how to encourage people who never read blogs to try them out? The internet is a self-selecting community, which is why I take all articles about ebooks on it with a pinch of salt. If you blog, you’re inclined towards techie things, and accustomed to reading online, naturally you’ll be more open to ereaders and all. But there’s a vast population of readers out there who would never dream of blogging or reading blogs at all. I guess one blog at a time is all we have available to us at present, as a means of seeking out new online enlightenment. But we can at least keep chatting about what we’d like to see out there to help improve matters. Just keeping that ball up in the air is valuable in its way, I hope!🙂

    apiece – I feel that we are all closer to being librarians than we are to being marketeers! I haven’t ever tried to find blogs via twitter, but I can see why that might be useful. I’ll give it a go. I did laugh when I read your comments about searching for blogs with the kind of characteristics that don’t sit well in search engines! lol! That’s exactly how I feel. I do also feel that introduction to the obscure ought to be everyone’s duty once they are well known – you know, a sort of twenty-first century version of patronage. But I’m not sure it will catch on…🙂

  26. I am a first time visitor so forgive me for not being familiar with the surroundings🙂

    Litlove wrote “Which brings me to the (still) depressing thought that the rules of marketing dominate here as elsewhere. That if I want to attract attention, I have to produce something high-concept and on-trend (I put my rubber gloves on to type those words, ugh!) so that search engines can bring traffic my way. But once again, I’m preaching to the converted, I’m only attracting an audience who already possess a degree of knowledge – how to reach those who don’t know that there is something out there to know?”

    I think Litlove needs a little more imagination than that and it is unfortunate to see him finding it so difficult to think outside the box.

    Yes marketing rules dominate, as in so many situations in life where we want to reach larger numbers of people. “something high-concept and on-trend” is not the only way. Search engines is a highly passive way to expect people to visit a blog.

    For a start he needs to get out and post to other blogs of interest to him and also to blogs where the kinds of people he wants to attract also visit. He then needs to post useful posts on those blogs and include his own blog link. All readers share the same challenge. They are looking for interesting blogs to follow and one way they find them is to read posts on their favourite blogs and follow the poster. This is how I came to visit Eoin Purcell’s blog on a regular basis recently.

    So there are many practical, cheap and effective ways of reaching people. Use the old noggin🙂

  27. Such good and wonderful points. I suppose I shouldn’t be responding to this while I am quite so depressed over the same problem. The issue rests, I think, in whether or not people WANT to expand their knowledge base, to read things off the beaten path of public opinion best sellers, and if they want a challenge, to think and to be unique. There are people out there who like all these things; they thrive upon the different and the intellectual stress that learning and analyzing one’s view points requires, but they are not the majority of people. The percentage of them, at least the ones I’ve come across on the internet, seems perilously small. Categorization and buzz words are where the mass appeal is as though conforming brings about some vital form of acceptance so many people need. At least that is what I see in abundance. The internet seems to be more a case of entertainment, another notion of “soma”, than a device used to encourage critical thought. Perhaps this is just my bitterness and frustration as a result of hearing too many people shouting the same things: “Look how witty I am! Look how witty I am! I’m special and different just like everybody else!” [There are exceptions, as you and your blog are, but not they’re the exception – not the rule (at least not in what I see).] If you have an ideal, however, it’s always worth pursuing and keeping a little flame of hope burning for.

  28. I have to admit, LL, I don’t really feel much concern about the state of the blogosphere – it’s been very good to me, has brought wonderful people like you into my life, and allows me to connect to a global community of readers and writers in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible without it. Its limitations don’t even begin to graze the edges of those presented to writers toiling in obscurity in the past. I think we’re well ahead. As for the knowledge drive, well, it was ever thus – you win some, you lose some. There is such high quality writing in the blogosphere, as we know, and I honestly could not care less if some people refuse to admit it or educate themselves about it. Those same people clearly don’t wish to be persuaded -the evidence is too abundant to be ignored or denied for long – so I’d rather focus on the people who, like me, wish to participate in all these conversations and bring our virtual villages closer.

  29. You can use google tools to find out what people are seaching for. Tweaking some titles to fit the search terms may help people find you.

    You can buy ads for these terms and maybe get some readers that way (though don’t bid the suggested amount – divide by ten would be my advice) if you have some money to spend.

    You are on the first page in Technorati for self developmnent so you aren’t doing too badly!

  30. Howard – so you are just suggesting commenting on other people’s sites, effectively? I do discuss this earlier in the post and point out how time consuming it is and how uncertain its results. I’ve been blogging for almost five years now and have certainly done my part in moving around the community. As I say earlier in the comments, I used to run a Best of New Writing on the Web blog, which you can still visit from the blogroll. What I’m looking for in this post are ways that will improve or speed-up our ability to connect with like-minded bloggers, to promote what is unusual, or get messages through the blogworld. If you’d read the comments, you would have seen that we are discussing blogging collectives, the possibility of blog profiles that could be used as the basis of searches and websites that feature a selection of blogs. I’m sorry if this sounds a little snippy, but honestly, being told to use my ‘noggin’ is a bit patronising, even if you mean well by it. Oh and by the way, I am a she, not a he (not that you could have guessed this, in all fairness).

    Kimberly – absolutely, I think you are quite right there, that the issue is one of mental attitude. I completely agree that the internet is not as yet encouraging critical thought because it is so easy to navigate away from something that you don’t want to hear, in search of reassurance and support. I’m wondering how much people challenge themselves once the classroom is left behind? I like your blog precisely because you never take on the easy topic, or approach it from a pedestrian angle. It really can be depressing to find out that others aren’t so willing to think differently about issues. But I’m right behind the idea that we have to persist. Meet you on the barricades, yes?

    Doctordi – indeed, and it’s lovely when people find their home in the internet. But there are a lot of profs out there, scratching their heads like me, and wondering how we can promote the arts and humanities in an age where it is very clear to us that they desperately need promotion (and we’re facing a real crisis of indifference and even dislike from the government at the moment). So here’s this tool that’s the internet, how can we use it? The real pain is that it seems like it can only ever be personal here. I don’t want to promote me, I want to promote my field, but one seems tied to the other, which is a bit of a nuisance, really.

    Evan – thanks for those suggestions. What strikes me as interesting is that it’s really hard to shift this discussion away from the personal. I use personal anecotes and questions in order to make the sorts of issues here clear. But I think the problem I want to circumscribe is one that affects all bloggers who want to promote something more unusual. Although I’m glad to hear I’m doing well on the self-development front! I do think that search engine technology is now looking quite a blunt instrument and is ripe for improvement. I can search for content, but I can’t search for quality – or indeed for qualities. Asking google to find only thoughful and well-written blog posts would be great if only I could do it.

  31. Just one more thing, litlove. Do you think that a writing community like the one that 9rules had (without its draconian participation requirement) would work? I had high hopes when I joined 9rules but it all got a little self-congratulatory in there.

    I really want to check out your Best of New Writing on the Web blog, having been negligent enough to have completely missed its presence. If the quality of the content is even close to this blog’s, then I’m going to be a frequent visitor. There used to be this site called Metaxucafe which featured content from litblogs, and I used to like the slightly disorderly but organic experience there. Unfortunately, the site no longer exists.

    Also, I don’t think that you need to bother about the fact that promoting the field requires a little bit of promoting yourself. For what it is worth, I’ve never felt that you are promoting yourself; this blog has remained an uncluttered, no-ads, no-frills, honest reading experience since its inception.

  32. Polaris – that is a very good point, to remember 9rules. Yes, absolutely, we need more virtual spaces like that one, where you’ve got a kind of sorting house as well as a place for discussion and debate. It was precisely that participation rule that scuppered me – anything I am obliged to do becomes a chore after a while, and that wasn’t what I wanted my blog experience to be. I loved editing the Best Of New Writing, but if you visit you’ll see I haven’t been there for a long while. But the material that was featured there was all great stuff. I’d love to do something like it again, something between it and 9rules, and am thinking about that and whether I could manage it. And thank you so much for your kihd words – I appreciate them so very much.

  33. It is hard to reach the right audience. As you say, the blogosphere is flooded with new blogs every day. I am not sure what different I make. Maybe not any. You’re right, commenting sometimes feels an ineffective way of finding connections. In some respects, I think blogging is all driven by marketing, popularity, etc. If I don’t do regular giveaways (which I don’t ever do), if I never comment on other blogs, if I don’t write about the most popular books, etc. then I’m not going to be most popular.

    But I’m actually okay with that. I like writing things of value to me, and slowly but surely, I’ve found my place int he blogopshere, even if the majority of the world doesn’t know I exist!

  34. This was an interesting post and I probably spent a half hour reading the comments, too. I wanted to reply as someone who worked in marketing and advertising for 15 years and then quit last year to write a novel (I have two kids… there was no other way… and many thanks to my husband for going along with the idea!) Anyway, the blogosphere is exciting to me as a marketer, but like any marketing, you can’t hit your target market over the head with it. Marketing (especially these days) needs to provide a unique value to people who want that value. The more your blog provides a value that can’t be easily found elsewhere, the more unique it will be and the more people will read and come back. Also, “customers” like to know what to expect (think about McDonalds, I hate to say, but it’s the same the world over and that’s part of its success), so branding your blog and making it easy for the visitor to immediately see what the blog is about is very helpful. I’ve been impressed at how well bloggers handle their branding. On yourself, when you comment on other people’s blogs, think about your own personal brand and what you want to be known for. Being consistent with your own brand will attract people to you. They’ll know what to expect from an “experience” visiting your blog, or reading your comments. There seem to be lots of blog guides and directories out there, not all of them easy to pick through, but they’ve helped me find some great blogs. Be part of the dialogue, always with your “brand” in mind. All this said, the above comments raise very real issues. The blogosphere is a sea of content. Branding is still hard in such a huge sea, but it’s a start to creating a “channel” people will want to tune into regularly. Eventually, my guess is that the well-branded blogs with a unique value to offer will be the survivors.

  35. Rebecca – I’m really glad to know you feel you’ve got your place. The Classics Circuit was a brilliant success and something I loved participating in. I think most book bloggers know who you are!

    Melissa – thank you for your comment which I found fascinating. It’s true that providing something unique is – must logically be – the way forward. And yet every blogger is both completely unique (due to their personality) and often quite similar (because we’re all talking about the same thing). When I was first blogging, there weren’t so many blogs like mine that combined quite an intellectual approach to books with a more personal slant; now there are hundreds of them. It’s getting harder and harder to make an impact, and commenting widely, belonging to all the community events, doing giveaways, getting your social profile up there, that seems to be very important. But it takes SO much time… I appreciate your insight here, though. Your comment made me think.

  36. I like a blog that focuses on the individual, the particular, the obscure, the local. Such an approach will not win popularity contests in the marketplace. But the best reason for blogging is to make your own voice heard and eventually find a tribe of like-minded people. Blogs are campfires in the forest.

  37. “… campfires in the forest” Yes. I want nothing to do with what works in the ‘market.’ The “market’ and ‘branding’ are part of the forces working to destroy the possibility of life on earth. “Branding” is absolutely antithetical to art and poetry–a monster to challenge and destroy.

  38. This is a really interesting post.
    I can’t believe I have only discovered your blog a week ago, although I have seen your name many times in the comments at So Many Books. So Many Books was the first blog I started reading and I did click on a few names in the blogroll, but it was very random. It’s with the Literary Blog Hop that I discovered your blog. Although I don’t go to see all the posts, I try to visit as many blogs as time will allow me, starting with the people who have commented on my post. And what a nice surprise I got when visiting your blog! I felt sorry I hadn’t discovered it before…
    Randomly looking for blogs takes time, a lot of time. I have found that the Canadian Book Challenge has also helped me to discover other blogs that interest me.
    There are so many blogs out there, and to be honest I don’t have time to read most of them, but I find that now I’m starting to discover “like-minded” blogs, which is nice!

    • Em – what a lovely comment, thank you. And I’m delighted we have found one another, no matter what the method involved! I am a big fan of So Many Books and have been visiting there for many years. But it’s true that even my favourite blogs, I don’t know all the other commenters. The blog world is SO huge now. I really hope I’ll be able to do this site or something like it, because finding a blog that really suits is a lovely experience. I do hope you’ll keep visiting and we’ll get to know one another better.

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