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Getting the word out

As those who read and write books link up online, blogs become places of true literary discovery

M.J. Rose is concerned about the world of book publishing.

Space devoted to book reviews has shrunk dramatically in newspapers and magazines in the past five years, while the number of books published has increased 55 percent. Publishers focus nearly all of their attention on the surefire blockbusters. The result: many good books come and go unnoticed. The book-buying public, she says, has no idea what it's missing.

So she's doing something about it. Rose, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., launched two blogs last year to deal with what she believes is a book industry in crisis. On one, readers and authors exchange thoughts and frustrations about getting attention for deserving books. On the other, authors share the inspirations behind their work. (Link to both at mjrose.com.)

For Rose, literary blogs -- interactive Web pages with journal-like entries -- are a natural extension of what she's been practicing for years: finding effective ways for readers, authors, and books to link up. It's a mission that began for her in 1998 while she was struggling to get her own debut novel into readers' hands. Traditional editors had rejected her book. They liked the story, Rose says, but didn't know how to market it. Was it Mystery? Romance? Erotica?

Frustrated by their response and convinced that readers -- particularly female readers who felt good about their sexuality -- would want to buy her book, Rose set up a website where readers could download her novel for $9.95. Once she linked her website to others, the psychological thriller ''Lip Service" took off, selling 2,500 copies in electronic form and, eventually, trade paperback: ''Lip Service" became the first e-book chosen by the Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club as a featured alternate selection, and it became the first e-book to get picked up by a mainstream publisher, Pocket Books.

The experience established her as an innovator in virtual bookselling. ''Basic advertising teaches to buy broad and hopes to reach a lot of people," says Rose, a former advertising executive in New York. ''But on the Internet you can go tiny and narrow and reach people who are really interested in your product."

Though she has published four more novels by traditional publishers -- ''In Fidelity" (2001, Pocket Books), ''Flesh Tones" (2002, Ballantine Books), ''Sheet Music" (2003, Ballantine Books), and ''The Halo Effect" (2004, Mira Books), as well as two nonfiction books, ''How to Publish and Promote Online" and ''Buzz Your Book" -- she worries about today's publishing environment.

The posts on her blogs attract boisterous discussions among literary bloggers such as ''Mad Max Perkins," the anonymous senior executive of a major New York publisher who started blogging (bookangst.blogspot.com) in October because he was ''tired of being frustrated and depressed about the business of publishing," according to one of his posts.

Increasingly, bloggers from all walks of literary life are joining the conversation. Published and unpublished writers, booksellers and book reviewers, librarians, publishers, editors, agents, book designers, and readers are blogging from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and beyond.

POD-dy Mouth (girlondemand.blogspot.com), an anonymous published writer from Washington, D.C., recently set a goal to read 50 Print On Demand (POD) self-published novels over the next year. Why? To unearth talented writers buried in the stacks.

At the heart of this imaginative explosion is Rose, who sees more joint blogs happening as blogs evolve -- bringing the public something traditional media can't offer. For instance, in 2004, she signed up for one of Kevin Smokler's Virtual Book Tours, which she described as ''one of the smartest and innovative marketing tools of the last five years."

Smokler, who is based in San Francisco, created Virtual Book Tours because he, too, saw a growing need to connect authors to readers (www.kevinsmokler.com). His tours tune in to a book's specific subject matter, style, and interest, and target readers looking for the same. ''Reading is incredibly subjective," says Smokler. ''The tour is based on that degree of subjectivity."

Typically, VBT authors will log onto a dozen websites over the course of a day. Authors may answer questions from readers, or from the blog host, and they may have their books reviewed as well.

In another group effort to reach readers, an assembly of 20 lit bloggers joined together last month to promote select literary titles deserving of greater attention. The group, which calls itself the Litblog Co-Op, plans to choose four titles per year and hopes the online attention will advance the titles' overall media coverage. The Litblog Co-Op (www.lbc.typepad.com) will announce its first selection May 15.

Another lit blogger, Bob Gray, started a blog called Fresh Eyes: a Bookseller's Journal (www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/shire15). Gray, who used to review books for Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine for the publishing industry, is a bookseller and buyer at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt.

Often Gray will cyber sell a book he's fallen in love with. And in the blogosphere the reverberations travel fast and far. For instance, Gray's website is linked to Michael Cader's PublishersMarketplace.com, the book industry's megastation that registers between 25,000 and 30,000 page views a day.

''The blogging world of literature is incredibly civilized," says Gray, who is also an aspiring novelist. ''I've gotten hundreds of e-mails, either comments to my blog or complimentary messages."

Gray says he checks about 15 blogs every morning, ''like opening the newspaper and having coffee."

''You can read something a week later in a trade magazine that I'm already reading here in the blogs," says Gray. ''It's a very intellectual conversation."

Rose urges readers to view literary blogs like newspaper columns. ''Readers can find their own little Oprahs," she says. Find a few blogs run by people whose taste you like. That's the best way to find a new book, she says.

In essence, there's a book for every reader and the trick is helping the reader find that book.

''Don't get me wrong," Rose says. ''I love bookstores and I'm in no way saying that blogs will and should replace bookstores, but they offer an exciting alternative."

Meanwhile, Rose is working on another book in a series featuring sex therapist Dr. Morgan Snow, of which ''The Halo Effect" is the first. ''Delilia Complex" will follow in January 2006, and ''The Venus Fix" in July 2006. Her publisher is launching a mass-market version of ''The Halo Effect" in July. Readers can look for her novels in bookstores -- and look for Rose online.

Jessica Brilliant Keener is a fiction editor for Agni, a literary magazine published at Boston University.

Literary blogs for book lovers

Backstory
Authors share secrets and truths about their writing (mjroseblog.typepad.com/backstory).

Beatrice.com
Salient author interviews, reviews, and more.

BookMuse.com
In-depth notes for readers of all ages: questions to spark discussion, thoughtful commentaries, author bios, leader's tips, suggestions for further reading.

Bookreporter.com
Hundreds of features, reviews, and author interviews.

Readerville.com
Discussions and book groups for any genre.

Bookninja.com
A Canada-based blog.

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Sarah Weinman, crime fiction columnist for The Baltimore Sun, blogs for mystery and suspense lovers (sarahweinman.blogspot.com).

Girlfriend Cyber Circuit
Features exceptional female authors. Once a month, several authors tour at 18 blog sites (gcc.blog-city.com).

Grumpy Old Bookman
Michael Allen of the United Kingdom blogs about books and publishing (grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com).

JanuaryMagazine.com
Author interviews, profiles, book reviews, publishing news.

Maud Newton
For literary tastes (maudnewton.com/blog).

Mobylives.com
News and commentary about books and writers.

Moorishgirl.com
Literary news, commentary, book reviews, author interviews.

The Elegant Variation
Mark Sarvas's Los Angeles-based blog for the literary (marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar).

JESSICA BRILLIANT KEENER


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