My Two Cents…Well, More Like Five Bucks.

By now you will probably have heard just about all you can take in response to the thought-provoking (and comment-provoking) post at Roger Sutton’s blog. His post contributes to a discussion on, essentially, the value of blogs in general, kidlit blogs in particular, and informal review blogs in especial particular. Fuse #8’s comments on the subject seemed to fire up the discussion, and soon Read Roger was host to some strong words on various sides of the issue (yes, I think there are more than two sides to this, and I think that some of the commenters made largely inaccurate generalizations about the community of kidlit review bloggers). There were some excellently worded responses from some members of the blogging community, and thoughtful posts from Jen Robinson, Liz B, and others.
As it turns out, I couldn’t just leave this alone. I kept thinking about it all day, and what I kept returning to was the simple–or not-so-simple–question of why I blog. Why I review. Why TadMack and I are doing this, and what motivated us to start in the first place. Warning: This is LONG. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Then I wrote notes in a notebook. I e-mailed back and forth with TadMack. And she’s the one who inspired my jumping-off point when she told me:
Our readers know what our standards are, or are not by reading what we write. We are not held accountable to anyone but ourselves; that’s part of the beauty of the blog world, in that we’re pointedly not doing this for money….

Mr. Sutton gets paid for his work [at Horn Book], does he not? … So…he’s accountable. We are not. This doesn’t mean that we are any less qualified – through our opinions or degrees which many of us have – but that is not the point, nor has it ever been. ANYONE who reads a book has the right to review it, say whether or not they liked it, and why. Whether or not they are paid, accountable seasoned professionals does not matter, nor does it mean that our reviews are worthless.
I completely agree. I feel accountable to myself–my conscience, my commitment to our goals for this project; to my co-blogger, because this is a joint venture; and to the community of kidlit bloggers of which we are proud to be a part. We all share a common passion, regardless of our profession or educational background, and I have a lot of respect and awe for the people who devote so many hours of spare time to spreading information and sharing their thoughts and opinions simply because they love the books, and they hope the act of sharing their words will be helpful and meaningful.
We inform each other and learn from one another, and so yes, I do feel responsible for the quality of what appears here–I want it to be informative, or useful, or entertaining. Clearly this is more important than I’d thought, since it seems so easy to lose credibility. After all, who are we–us bloggers, that is? We aren’t all librarians, or parents, or teachers. Some wear multiple hats. What we do share is a love of literature and writing–and an interest in the process of creation, the craft; an interest in those who practice that craft and have grasped that elusive merry-go-round ring that is not merely publishing success but achievement of a creative work that affects readers’ hearts, minds, funny bones, or whatever.
TadMack and I blog as writers. We created our blog as a way to establish our own small community–within our writing group–for sharing ideas and information. But we soon discovered an enthusiastic and welcoming community “out there,” as it were; a community where the ground is leveled and writers, publishers, agents, librarians, and fans alike interact–responsibly–in a way that never used to be possible. It’s been an eye-opening experience.
There are times when I think I can see the point of those who aren’t favorably disposed toward blogging; when I’m burned out by the whole thing; when the mere thought of posting something exhausts me; when I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to say; when the process of blogging seems like just a race to post links or, as one commenter on Read Roger put it, a desperate attempt to compete in some bizarre online popularity contest. Sometimes I feel a little ornery about it, as the individualist in me kicks in and says a loud “So what? Everyone’s got a blog now. It’s no longer exciting or unusual. Let’s go dye our hair green instead.” (Note: my hair is not currently green.)
That’s why I am ultimately thankful for this discussion, because it’s made me really consider and articulate my reasons for doing this. One of those reasons is that it revitalizes me as a writer to say connected with other writers and people in the literary community. It also benefits me professionally to stay abreast of news and events in the YA writing world, and to make connections with others who share my interests. I do that via other means as well, but blogging affords an interactivity and dialogue that other media don’t. I also blog to practice writing, crafting words on a regular basis; words that articulate my thoughts about writing, creativity, etc. I blog to share thoughts, information, and interesting reading material.
I do NOT blog for the free review copies. I don’t feel obliged to plug a book any more fawningly simply because a publisher sent me a copy, although I AM less likely to do a half-assed job if I know that a publisher might go back and read it. (That’s a joke.) The material benefits of our blogging are negligible. But there are tangible benefits in terms of the support and vibrancy of the community that exists. I don’t expect to become famous on the basis of my blog. I don’t even make assumptions about how many or how few are actually reading it, or how much traffic we’re getting, as long as those who ARE reading it are getting something out of it–a great link, a deep thought, a laugh.
And speaking of laughs, expect a less reverent revisitation of this topic on Toon Thursday…Oh yeah, it’s coming…

About the author

Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a writer, artist, editor, graphic designer, professor of humanities, and localization QA tester, so she wears a teetering pile of hats. On any given day, she is very tired. She is the author of the middle grade graphic novel Alexis vs. Summer Vacation, and three YA novels, including the award-winning The Latte Rebellion.


  1. Great post! I like how you address the blogging ambivalence, too. There are days I wanna give it all up, but then you really connect with a reader or some such thing . . . and it’s all worth it again.

  2. I work as a teacher in an urban school in Salt Lake City. After working all day, I come home to be with my three recently adopted daughters who are still mastering English and who are still becoming passionate readers. My first steps into the kidlitosphere were through Esme Codell’s blog. I gradually expanded the blogs I read, and have often added and often pruned my personal blog roll.

    I am very grateful for the constant flow of thoughtful recommendations provided by bloggers in kidlit land. Due to time constraints, and my reasons for being here in the first place, I often lurk, but rarely post. This discussion, however, merits the input of folks like me. To all the blog naysayers, I’d reply: give me some credit. I don’t rush out and buy every book I see recommended. I don’t read every blog with the same level of trust. Bloggers have to earn my trust to keep my attention. I have a nifty link to my local library in order to quickly request books I see recommended. But I only request a small fraction of all the books I read about, and I only share with my daughters and students the best of the books I check-out. But after these several levels of discrimination, my students and my girls end up with plenty of excellent books. Please know that the work that you do is well appreciated. My list of great books I first heard about on a kid lit blog (in the year I’ve been hanging around reading them) would likely include about 250 titles. That’s a lot of books, which are now part of my teaching repitoire, books I can match and share with lots of great kids.

  3. We inform each other and learn from one another, and so yes, I do feel responsible for the quality of what appears here–I want it to be informative, or useful, or entertaining.

    Yes! Well said! I’m with you.

  4. AF, quoting makes me sound so intelligent!

    I was entirely inarticulate on this subject, but you’ve done a great job with this. And thank you, Jackie, Jules, Erin Amy, Hip Mama and Clouds for speaking up. We wouldn’t be us without you…

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