May 29, 2010

On Friday I attended the first ever Book Blogger Convention here in New York. It was pretty nifty. A lot of the material was sort of irrelevant to me — I mean, I don’t communicate with publishers because most of the books I read are out of print. I don’t interact with the authors of books I review because they are dead. Re: dead authors, I gather many book bloggers wish they were in a similar situation.

Anyway, I feel like a learned a lot. I came away with all kinds of worried about the deficiencies in my blog, and all kinds of ideas about how to remedy them. I plan to blurt those out in one highly disorganized paragraph full of questions at the end of this post. Also I may do a poll.

I went to the convention with Aja from Bookshop, who writes incredibly insightful posts about YA fiction when she’s not busy with fandom, but also is partially to blame for my Nero Wolfe-induced hiatus earlier this year. We were the most unprofessional bloggers at the convention — having left business cards until the last possible moment, we ended up making some by hand over breakfast. And, when we came close to running out, we made some more during lunch.

Everyone was super nice, but also a bit intimidating. Their world of book blogging looks very different from mine, and I began to wonder whether that might be a bad thing.

I love this blog so much. I’m prouder of it than anything else I’ve done in my life. And that’s probably why I’m always wanting to do more with it. Should I have content other than book reviews? Should I review books that are in print? Penguin has just come out with an extremely attractive reissue of The Leavenworth Case, and I’ve really been wanting to take a look at it. Should I be talking about other books I’m reading, ones that don’t fall within the usual purview of this blog? Should I be talking more about myself? I’ve always kept my format pretty rigid, and this isn’t the first time I’ve wondered whether that was a good thing.

I’ve made a few minor changes already: Redeeming Qualities now has its own email address, and I’ve updated my sidebar with a link to my RSS feed and my most recent Twitter updates.

Things I have thought about doing:

  1. Making posts on subjects, as well as on books. Like, I don’t know, face-offs between similar books or authors, or trends from particular eras. I’ve also always wanted to someday do a post about inexplicably evil younger brothers.
  2. Guest posts, which could come from readers, other bloggers, or just…people I know.
  3. Weekly updates on what I’m reading.

I’m also open to suggestions.


  1. I really like your blog the way it is, although your three ideas are good, too. I like the idea of trends from particular eras. Would your post about inexplicably evil younger brothers be about literary younger brothers or your own?

    I like that the books you review are NOT in print, because then I can immediately download them from Gutenberg or Internet Archives and don’t have to buy them or wait for the library to get them.

    I’m sure we would all like to hear more about yourself and the other books you read, but if you don’t change a thing, your blog is still great. In fact, it’s the only one I follow on a regular basis.

    • I love the blog the way it is, but I’d also be interested in posts on specific topics like the evil younger brothers. So do whatever you’re happy with yourself: it really comes across as a labour of love, so don’t let any misplaced sense of obligation push you into territory you’re not comfortable with.

      And remember, when it comes to all those other intimidating bloggers, people like me are reading your blog and not theirs!

      • Thank you so much. I really do love doing this, and if I do add new stuff, it will be stuff that I’m excited to talk about.

        Things like BookBloggerCon are probably kind of bad for me — I am easily intimidated, and I do tend to want to bite off more than I can chew. I’m working on paring down the new ideas to find the things that will really work for me, and make the blog better.

    • The inexplicably evil younger brothers are all from adventure novels, where they seem to pop up much more often than they should. My own younger brother is a little annoying sometimes, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t sell me into slavery or help someone kidnap me.

      The free etext thing has always been pretty important to me, so I will definitely continue to focus on those books — it’s just that there;s a certain appeal to the idea of review copies. And also introductory essays.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for commenting on a regular basis. I would happily continue blogging with no response from readers — and I did, for a while — but knowing that you and a few others are regularly finding reading material here makes it even better.

  2. Hi, I heard you ask a question at BookBloggerCon and so here I am for the first time. I have been blogging over 5 years and my Site Meter has over a half million visitors and I’ve still not designed a business card, so does that make me less professional at the convention?

    I’m a homeschool mom and lots of homeschoolers use OOP books and even 100 year old book for homeschool lessons. There is a Charlotte Mason method group called Ambleside Online who uses lots of Project Gutenberg books for their course material.

    I have not yet blogged my impressions of the BBC.

    I’ll say now I felt it was being used by publicists and publishers to get access to bloggers so they can be free advertising for their businesses, by way of having bloggers review or buzz about their books.

    My own blog started as a place to put my book reviews I did for La Leche League’s print publications and books I read for my volunteer work with them and my Amazon customer reviews. I blog about parenting topics and homeschooling not just book reviews. Since the beginning I allowed myself to not just blog a single topic because I felt constrained by online discussions on either bulletin boards or YahooGroups whose owners wanted to limit discussion to the ‘on topic’ post. I learned a lot about good ‘off topic’ stuff from people I trusted and wanted a blog to have publishing freedom.

    My readers often tell me they came to my blog for certain content and came to trust me or like my insight, but when I blog something off-topic they say they learned something or do the same thing. Such as talking about edible gardening or herbs or knitting or something I cooked or baked.

    My blog has main focuses and book reviews and talking about books is one thing. I allow myself freedom to be who I am in my spot on cyberspace. (I used to have an art/creative projects blog that was just that for the cyberfriends I had who only cared about that content but it is inactive now.) To confine myself to a narrow topic would feel like being trapped in a box which is not what I want for MYSELF.

    I plan to look around your blog some. Nice to cyber-meet you.

    • My initial worry about the BBC was that it was going to focus on how book blogging relates to the publishing industry, and…yeah, it pretty much did. My major regret is that I didn’t do more to point out that that isn’t all book blogging is.

      I did learn a lot, though, and I spoke to a few people about feeling a little bit marginalized.

      I think I fell into the trap of thinking of other book bloggers as my audience, while really it’s for me and the people who enjoy reading it.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. You’re absolutely right about a blog needing to be one’s own space.

  3. Try Survey Monkey for a simple survey.

  4. As others have said, the blog is fabulous as it is. I do enjoy the occasional meta posts about genres, or recent acquisitions, or whatever else is on your mind. It was kind of fun when the RSS feed started spitting out posts from several years ago — you weren’t quite so settled on a particular posting style at the beginning.

    Ultimately, it’s about the forgotten books that we all love, so as long as you keep that at the center, it’s hard to go wrong.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback. Probably not a lot is going to change, but I do love writing the blog, so I’m always looking for more to do with it.

      I enjoyed going back and looking at old entries, too. I don’t really feel like I’ve settled on one posting style since then, though. Every book calls for something a little bit different.

  5. I really enjoy the blog as it is, with its focus on older out of print texts – I owe you a great debt for introducing me to Patty Fairfield, Hildegard and Grace Harlowe! But as long as you still do that, the other ideas like the evil younger brothres sound like a lot of fun.

    • Thanks! The focus of the blog is definitely ot going to change, I just want to expand the content a little.

      What other girls series do you like?

  6. First, I like your blog just the way it is. Honestly. When you spoke up at the BBC I thought that a blog on out of print books was a great idea – one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. You’ve managed to find a unique niche in the book blogging community, which isn’t easy to do. And I loved your homemade cards. They stood out in the pile I brought home with me – and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

    Everyone I spoke to (of the first-timers) found BEA somewhat intimidating. Me included. I had that panic moment as well about whether or not I was doing enough with my blog. Should I be reviewing more ARC’s? Should I be contacting more publishers and publicists? Am I being too general – should I focus on a specific category of books? But, then, I like mixing in reviews of older books with newer ones, because that’s how I read. (Just letting you know you weren’t alone). In the end, I know I started my blog to recommend good books to complete strangers. No matter what someone’s reading taste is I want her/him to be able to find something on my blog that’s interesting. So I think that as long as you know why you started Redeeming Qualities – and stay true to that –you don’t have anything to worry about. (Wow, that was cheesy. But sincere).

    • Thanks for your feedback–especially about the cards ;). I think the BBC organizers were really focused on a particular image they had of book blogging, and I’m hoping that if they do this again next year, they’ll have built up a better picture of what’s actually going on, which is much more heterogeneous and interesting. That’s most of why I got up and asked that question — I felt like it was important to point out that not all book blogging was like what they were describing. I also spoke to one of the organizers about feeling a bit marginalized.

      I only read a few book blogs, but they’re mostly like you’ve described yours: old books and new books mixed together, because that’s what the blogger is reading. (Where is your blog, by the way? I don’t seem to have your card.)

      • My blog is BookSexyReview.com I actually came up to speak to you for a moment after you asked your question, but you were inundated. :) What type of content would you like to have seen that wasn’t represented? I agree with you, I think the organizers had a particular image they wanted to represent – and not necessarily a bad one – but not one that applies to everyone. But when I tried to think of what other content I’d have wanted to hear about, I kind of drew a blank. (Which is why I would never be good at organizing something like that!). :)

    • Ah. That would explain why you have my card and I don’t have yours :)

      I keep trying to think of what I would have liked to see at the come, and all I’m coming up with is stuff relevant to me. But I would have liked to hear more about all the different kinds of blogs people have, and how they occupy their niches. And it would have been nice to have some sort of breakout sessions, where there could have been more discussion, but I guess the event was too short for that, really.

  7. Your blog is the first one I ever started reading (looking for information on Patty Fairfield, and I still enjoy it because it’s obvious how much you love it. I know I’ll never have time to read all the books I want, and your amazing reviews give me a chance to read vicariously, as well as single out titles to pursue on my own. It makes me smile to think that you keep good books from being forgotten.

    More general posts on eras or trends, which you do often mention within specific reviews, would be fun. I would also love to know how you find the books-browsing titles? The biggest downfall with older books seems to be the lack of summary information available anywhere (again, another benefit of your blog).

    Thanks for all that you do!

    • Thanks! I do love doing this, and it makes me so happy to know that other people enjoy what I do. And it really is mostly about giving a little bit of attention to books that aren’t getting much anywhere else.

      As for how I find books, it varies. I sort of trace this whole venture back to Time and Again by Jack Finney, which I loved in high school. There was a reference to Horatio Alger, so I sought out one of his books, and that led indirectly to all the rest.

      More specifically: I do find a lot of books from references in other books. I browse titles on Project Gutenberg. I use online reference guides for some things, especially girls’ series books. People give me recommendations. Sometimes I spot things on the shelves in used book stores. And, not as often as I would like, I read scholarly articles on children’s literature and find more things than I’ll ever have time to read.

      If you like, you can ask me about a specific thing, and I’ll tell you how I found it. Really, each book is different.

  8. If your younger brother turns out to be evil just blame me:)

    • My younger brother is one of the reasons I find the evil ones so inexplicable.

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