Larry, of OF Blog of the Fallen, sparked a bit of debate the other day when he grumbled about blogs trending towards promotional giveaways and other easy-way-out content that leads to pageviews, but not necessarily to intelligent content. In essence, Larry’s annoyed that more and more blogs seem to be losing their voice, and replacing it with that of the publishers who send them free books.

From his post, title When do you ever stop whoring yourself out?:

Lately, I’ve been a bit…disinterested…in following quite a few blogs. This isn’t about 1 or 2 or even a handful of blogs, but more about some that are in my blogroll, others that are not. At times, I find myself wanting to take on the role of the reader, of the person who receives book suggestions rather than providing all sorts of info on the books old and new worth reading. But too often, I’m not finding that when I’m browsing through a couple dozen blogs a day.

Instead, I’m finding more and more space devoted to this contest or that giveaway. For a few blogs, that is virtually all of their content. They don’t ever say much of anything about the books being pimped out. When a review is written, too often it feels rather vague and as if the punches were pulled back some. Just this sense of CYA, I guess.

Realistically, this is both a problem and, at the same time, not a problem. Sure, it sucks that some blogs are little more than extensions of the PR departments of various publishers, but at the same time, the beautiful thing about the web is that poor content is easy to ignore. Joe Sherry, in the first reply to Larry’s post, sums it up pretty well:

The promotional blog is something that is pretty well designed to make me stop following / reading it.

I use Google Reader to browse most of the blogs I read. It’s great, it syncs with my iPod and makes keeping up with near 100 blogs rather painless. It’s also great, because I can skip all the shit content that’s thrown at me, if I so desire. I’ve got a pretty good system worked out that invovles clicking through to the blogs that post good content and forgetting about the stuff I don’t care about. Rather than damning poor content, I prefer to reward good content.

All of this, however, isn’t what interested me about Larry’s post and the discussion that followed. Rather, it was my reflection on my own content that really got me thinking.

Early on, when I was just setting out to create A Dribble of Ink, I wanted to be a creator of content, rather than a puller of content. I was determined to get people to read my blog because they loved me and my take on the world of Speculative Fiction. It started off great, of course, but it quickly became clear that there was so much more out there that I was interested in, wanted to pass on to my readers, but didn’t really leave much room for my own personal interpretation. That’s where my ‘Asides’ first came into being, and from there they just took over the blog, eschewing their role as tangets from the true purpose of the blog (original content, created by me) to the bulk of the content.

Again, though, that’s not really the issue for me. I like how my blog was developed – I enjoy posting new cover art (that I feel strongly about), I appreciate posting news bits that interest me, and I appreciate the discussion it evokes in my readers. To me, this isn’t ‘whoring out’, as Larry puts it, but rather just creating a repository of information that I find interesting. I don’t run giveaways, not just because they annoy me, for the most part, but because they’re a pain in the ass and don’t interest me as a blogger.

Another commentor, Mark, makes a good point about blogs and their value to the reader and the author equally:

For starters, I’ll say that no blog or blogger is beholden to anyone. The time between posts should matter little so long as the content (and quality thereof) is always one’s first priority. Gawd knows the existence of one’s own blog can be attributed to any number of factors from the personal to the financial, so the type of blog kept is certainly one’s own business.

Occasional promotions can be a great way of exposing readers to new material, but again, is this a personal blog or a thoroughfare for publishers? Are you a gateway or a destination? I just don’t see the use in getting too big. What use is there in popularity if you’re left with little to say?

Which brings me to the heart of the matter that’s been running through my head lately. Since mid-May, A Dribble of Ink has seen a distinct lull in new posted content. Now, it’s easy enough to blame this on the fact that during that time I accepted two new jobs, a freelance contract for a website and moved houses, but Larry’s post, and the comments that followed, got me thinking a bit deeper about the situation and consider where I went astray as a blogger. The answer was pretty obvious, once I stumbled upon it.

I was feeling rather disenfranchised with the world of Speculative Fiction, books and blogging alike.

On the book front, I have no one but myself to blame. I read slowly, review rarely and made a couple of bad decisions in a rown when it came what book to read next. Rather than putting these books down, and moving onto something more interesting, the blogger in me told me to push through to the end, to persevere in the name of hard-nosed journalism. In hindsight, this is obviously ludicrous. A literary blog should be an extension of the blogger’s love for reading, not a guiding force. Most recently, I read James Enge‘s Blood of Ambrose, a novel I was sent by its publisher, Pyr Books, that I never would have read if I had not recieved it for free. It was a shot in the dark, and it missed completely – I thought the book was rubbish, and looked back on the two weeks it took me to read it and felt a little sad about that.

This is a problem rather intrinsic to bloggers, who recieve these free books, and are perhaps a bit less careful in their consideration of what they’re going to read next, considering it’s no skin off their back, or money out of their pocket, if they don’t like it. The problem for me, however, comes in the opportunity cost. In that time, I have many books on my shelf (much of which were purchased by me) that could have been read in place of Blood of Ambrose, but instead I pushed through to the end, simply so I could write a damn review for my blog. I had a two new John Scalzi novels, a couple of the Dresden File books, Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson and, most importantly, The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a prequel to my favourite novel of all time. And yet I was reading a novel I was growing to despise more and more.

There are two problems here. The first is to wonder how this experience might colour my review – would I have enjoyed the novel more had I not been sitting on a pile of great books? The second was some of that anti-enthusiasm was ekeing its way into my consistency as a blogger.

Now, I’m not blaming Mr. Enge or his novel (which many people have greatly enjoyed, despite my reservations), but rather myself, for letting some sort of percieved duty to my blog keep me from falling back on being a simple lover of literature. Back before A Dribble of Ink, I would have dropped Blood of Ambrose without second thought, and moved onto something else. Now, though, it’s not so easy.

In any case, I’ve since moved on and cracked open The Angel’s Game and all of a sudden my eyes opened to all of this. I realized what I was missing, I remembered what is was like to love reading and, damnit if my interest in blogging hasn’t suddenly come back full force as well.

Now all I need to do is remember how to keep A Dribble of Ink as a pure reflection of who I am as a reader, and as a writer. Rather than bend to any sort of percieved rules about how a blog should be run, I need to remember to have fun, and to push the boundaries of myself and the books I read, and even those I decide to put down, because they just ain’t that good. I might not be the blogger I set out to be, but I think the important thing is to find the blogger I am.

  • Gabriel Novo June 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Fantastic post. Trying to find your vision and voice in blogging is difficult in general, but I’m glad to see you’re re-discovering what truly makes you passionate.

    Life is too short to waste on bad books. If the majority of the reading public can put a book down after 25 pages, then why should we be forced to muscle through it out of some obscure sense of duty? As writers we need to evaluate books just as a reader should, for the enjoyment. Just because something is published does not mean it should be read.

  • edifanob June 22, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Aidan, I read and appreciate your self-reflection. This is the way to go.
    I think first of all it is YOUR blog. You are responsible for the content and of course you are responsible for your own expectations and ambitions.
    And I’m convinced that finally every blog get the readers which the blog deserves.

  • […] link: A Dribble of Ink » Blog Archive » Article | Where’d the Enthusiasm Go? […]

  • SQT June 22, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Excellent post Aiden– and points well taken.

  • Dark Wolf June 23, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Very interesting article, Aidan. You know, Larry’s article put me well on thoughts too. But also you hit a spot, I usually chose what to read with care, but I ended up with some readings I didn’t find very good and I could have read something else. Consider that my Malazan Empire novels are sitting unread on my library.
    But, I love blogging too and I pretty satisfied with what I did with my blog (I hope that my readers are too :)). What I want to do is change a little my approach on review copies and maybe filter them a bit more. My blog might turn out with only positive content but as long as are lovely readings why not?

  • thrinidir June 23, 2009 at 2:08 am

    You couldn’t voice my thoughts, thoughts I haven’t even thought out fully, better.

    Thank you Aidan.

  • PeterWilliam June 23, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Most interesting thoughts I’ve read on the issue since Larry first submitted his post. Hope you’ll be okay if I use your post to link to on this one.

  • Michael June 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    I like your perspective and reasoning. As someone just taking up a blog, I understand a few of the issues involved with maintaining the balance between personal responsibility to one’s own blog and crap luck when it comes to quality content.

    I think a number of blog owners have taken the ‘superstore’ approach to blog content, gathering all the news reported elsewhere. This can be wearying to read, but I understand some sites trying to maintain a Lit. vibe without reducing their content to “Dear Diary…” It’s a trade-off.

    As I said in response to Larry’s blog (you misattributed it to “Mark”, no big deal though), we’re all free to post and host the content we deem worth having. Sometimes the blogger just needs to find their own The Angel’s Game to reinspire them.

    Oh well, keep up the good work.

  • James June 25, 2009 at 4:03 am

    The Angel’s Game seems to be a sort of miracle worker of a novel. While I do not blog, I do write quite a bit. In the past couple months I have not been able to write much of anything, a few hundred words here a few hundred there, a situation that is rather frustrating. I started to read The Angel’s Game (which is very good thus far) and last night I managed to sit down and wrote for several very enjoyable hours.

    Your post actually made me smile. While there seems to be more than enough negativity born from Larry’s post, it is nice to see positive things come about.

  • Shane June 26, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    This is exactly how I’ve been feeling about Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist lately. That was the blog that actually got me to start searching out other blogs because, for me, it legitimized bloggers as a whole.
    But lately, there is less and less content I actually care about and more and more of what feels to me like advertising.

  • Adam June 27, 2009 at 6:45 am

    I agree with Shane’s sentiments regarding Pat’s blog. I don’t know if he’s just really busy, he’s sold out or even just gotten lazy. But whatever it is, his content has suffered and I find myself visiting other blogs before the Hotlist (which used to always be the first I’d crank up whenever I was blogsurfing).

  • TheDude June 27, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Sold out? What, his views, his principles, his friends?
    They’re not overthrowing a government here, they’re blogging.

    I still really enjoy the Hotlist and don’t find that the content has suffered that much when compared to other blogs.

  • Larry June 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I sometimes find myself wondering if it’s more fun just working my day job than it is to write down thoughts that might be easily misinterpreted ;) Of the few posts based off of my musing almost a week ago, I think yours gets closest to what I was experiencing when I wrote that little piece.

    I especially liked your part at the end about how sometimes it just takes discovering that one precious read to make the bad thoughts go away. Incidentally, have a little post that might interest you in regards to the Zafón book and its translation. Hopefully, there won’t be any who’ll take that the wrong way! :P

  • Kat @ Fantasy Literature June 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I really related to this post. When reviewing becomes a job rather than an enjoyment of good literature, we’ve lost the point.

  • Tia June 28, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Nice post. For a while last year, I wasn’t taking any review copies at all. I was mostly reading books I purchased myself, library books or used bookstore books. I enjoyed myself more, and perhaps not coincidentally, I had a very steady increase in my readership during that time. But then I got hit with a deluge of review copies in the spring, and I’m still trying to work my way through them.

    We’ve been running our blogs for about the same period of time. I think maybe bloggers go through a phase of burnout, where they’ve established their niche but miss all that excitement that came with doing something new.

    To keep our blogs fresh, we must keep reinventing ourselves. Lately, I’ve tried contests. While they resulted in some increase in readership, the difference has not been dramatic. I did three contests in one week for my blog anniversary. In the future, that number per month will probably be my maximum.

  • Texcap June 29, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Really appreciated the article Aidan. I’m still finding my own style and voice at my own blog, as you know, and it’s thanks in some respect to articles like this that I continue to reflect and refine what kind of place I want it to become, and how to best get it there.

    All the best as you decide how to best move forward, but for my part, its one of my favorite blogs to visit so keep up the great work. That said, I have to admit that I’m hoping to enjoy Enge’s ‘Blood of Ambrose’ a little more than it seems you did (ha).

  • aidan June 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I’m glad to see so many people were able to eke some value out of my rambling. I wrote it mostly for myself, to straighten out my thoughts after Larry’s article, but it’s nice to know it has worth to people other than myself.

    Larry – It saddened me a little to see the direction the discussion took after your article (though I was admittedly a part of it), and wish people would have taken a look at it from the same angle I did. I certainly think there was a much more positive message to be gleaned.

    There have been a few times, lately, when I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be best to just forgo reviewing, and get back to a place where I read books for enjoyment, and only enjoyment. But I just have to remind myself why I wanted to start reviewing in the first place. Reviewing, to me, is a way to sort my thoughts, to articulate those opinions and feelings I have while reading, as much to myself as to others. I also enjoy having a diary of sorts, that tracks what I’ve been reading and how I felt about it. It’s always interesting to go back and see how time and maturity has altered my perceptions of a novel.