10 Thoughts On Social Reading

It’s time to switch from ‘inside historical fiction‘ to ‘social reading‘, the second of two themes A Writer of History is exploring this year. Why am I interested? Because I want to be part of the conversation readers have with one another, with writers and with bloggers, and I want to embrace, not resist, the change that’s happening in the world of content creation.

Social Reading Landscape

To begin, I thought I would set out a few thoughts about social reading. The headline says 10, but you never know, I could come up with more.

  1. Social reading is about relationships. Readers with writers. Readers with readers. Readers with reviewers and bloggers. Writers with writers. Bloggers with bloggers. Well, you get my point.
  2. Readers expect writers to be social. As a writer, if readers want to hear from you, your books will sell. Achieving this objective requires an active, sincere, personal, content-rich social media presence.
  3. Ultimately, “the audience grows the audience”. I borrowed this line from Seth Godin who was commenting on his own digital media presence.
  4. Engagement is personal. Readers seek like-minded people. They enjoy the give and take of conversations that occur via social media and want to establish connections.
  5. Social reading is two-way not one way. Pure one-way broadcast is dead–one of the reasons why traditional book reviews are giving way to bloggers, Goodreads and other mechanisms that provide a forum for interaction.
  6. Social reading requires social listening. Readers value conversations. Good conversations involve active listening.
  7. Social reading facilitates discovery. For example, Goodreads recommendation engine suggests new books based on the books a reader has on their shelves. Data from 2013 indicates 11 million books discovered via Goodreads every month.
  8. Social reading is dynamic. It “will evolve in response to ever–changing hardware and software platforms”. Bob Stein, Institute for the Future of the Book. What works today will change tomorrow.
  9. Social reading requires trust. Trusted connections facilitate more open communications. Readers depend on trusting those who review and recommend books, with others involved in the conversations around books, with writers who participate.
  10. Social reading involves a new set of influencers. Goodreads, book bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Wattpad, Book Riot, Amazon, Fantastic Fiction, Paperback Swap, Book Bub are just a few of the players in the changing reading ecosystem.
  11. Social reading facilitates the shared experience of reading a book. Readers love to talk about a book they’ve read. Some do so in physical book clubs, others choose online book clubs. Such conversations enhance the book experience by bringing additional insights and varied opinions.
  12. Social reading can extend into the creation process itself. New sites like Wattpad allow readers to post suggestions chapter by chapter so writers can change what they’ve written or what they were planning to write. Some suggest that over time, the boundary between writing and reading will blur.

Twelve thoughts to start this topic off. What do you think?

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Critics in the Cloud

I’m taking the liberty of repeating parts of a post I did several months ago about favourite reading related sites. The reason – I just saw that the Miami Book Fair is offering a panel session called Critics in the Cloud: The State of Literary Criticism in the Age of the Internet.

Participants of the panel: Maddie Crum of Huffington Post, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut, Stephen Elliott of The Rumpus, Ron Hogan of Beatrice, William Johnson of Lambda Literary, Laura Miller of Salon, Bob Minzesheimer a book reviewer and reporter, Adam Plunkett of New Republic, Jenn Risko of Shelf-Awareness, Michael Slosek of Poetry Foundation, and Sarah Weinman of Publisher’s Lunch. The panel will be moderator by Doree Sharfrir of Buzzfeed. And the stated intent is to discuss the current state of book culture in the context of the collapse of local newspapers.

Interestingly, none of Buzzfeed, Publisher’s Lunch, Poetry Foundation, Salon, Lambda Literary, or Beatrice were mentioned in the list of favourite blogs and websites used by readers looking for book discussion and recommendations. Of the others, only Shelf Awareness had more than 4 votes as a favourite site by over 2400 readers. The Rumpus was mentioned once, Bookslut twice, and Huffington Post four times.

We might be justified in asking a question about the authority of these panel members. As well as a question about the phrase literary criticism. Is this an exalted calling accessible to only a few individuals? Is literary the more important word or criticism? Has anyone asked readers what they wish to see in book critiques? (I did.)

In the middle of February, I reported on favourite reading oriented sites. And in mid-March, I posted a list of sites by category: reading sites, social media, retailers, blogs dedicated to historical fiction, genre sites, general book review blogs, author sites, industry sites and so on. The variety of this ‘reading ecosystem’ is phenomenal.

Here’s a repeat of that post – have a look at the category I refer to as Traditional which includes sites like The Guardian, NY Times, London Review of Books, New Yorker magazine. 29 traditional sites were mentioned by 68 people. In other words, traditional sites are no longer drawing an audience.

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With my friend Excel at my side, I’ve gone through all named sites (696 in total) and classified them. Admittedly, this is my own classification scheme but I think it has merit.

As you can see in the All blogs category, blogs are a favourite vehicle to share book reviews and other book related information. Count refers to the number of different sites mentioned while Impact is the total mentions for that category. For example, a blog like Reading the Past is only counted once in the Count column, but given that 47 people included it as a favourite, 47 is added into the Impact total.

Note added, Nov 10, 2014: adding the first three categories together with genre blogs gives a total of 536 sites and an impact of 1418. Reading sites like Goodreads and Shelfari have an impact of 1054. The next biggest impact comes from social media at 714.

Favourite reading sites (1)

In the next group, we can see the role retailers play. Amazon accounts for 306 of the 419 Impact total.

Favourite sites (2)

A final group includes social media and reading sites like Goodreads. If we group reading sites with social media, the total impact score is 1768.

Favourite sites (3)

After cleansing the data as much as I could, 696 different sites remained of which 500 were mentioned by only one person. In 106 cases, the survey participant was insufficiently specific for me to categorize his or her entry.

What’s of most interest to me is YOUR thoughts on what all this means for readers and writers.