The third installment in our Profiles in Convergence series, focusing on book people who are helping to create a happy convergence of the the print and digital worlds, features blogger Ron Hogan. Read on to find out how he won friends and influenced people with his blog Beatrice.com, how it led him to create an event series and writer’s conference, and why he dismisses the much-discussed distinction between first-wave vs. second wave book bloggers.
RON HOGAN began writing his blog Beatrice.com in the mid-1990s, helping to establish “online magazines” as a viable way for authors to reach potential readers, while working at the independent Los Angeles bookstore Dutton‘s. He maintained Beatrice.com during a stint at Amazon.com and after moving to New York, where he began to build a substantial following for the publishing blog Galley Cat, sponsored by MediaBistro, and to build a freelance writing career.
For its first decade, Beatrice.com was primarily a vehicle for interviewing authors, until Hogan’s paid writing work took more of his time, and he made Beatrice.com into a venue for shorter commentaries on book-related news. Most recently, Hogan has parlayed Beatrice.com into a platform for a reading series at New York City’s Mercantile Liberary, and an upcoming writer’s conference. Follow the Reader recently caught up with Hogan to discuss the launch of his new ventures.
Tell us a bit about the literary events that have grown out of your adventures in blogging.
I’ve been working on two types of events. First, there’s the free monthly author reading series I’ve been curating for the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction [in midtown Manhattan]. I also host a monthly celebration of romance fiction called Lady Jane’s Salon [in a downtown Manhattan lounge, with a $5 cover charge]. Lady Jane’s serves as a benefit for a non-profit group that donates romance novels to women’s shelters, and through my work on that series I’ve become interested in doing more literary events as fundraisers for different types of non-profit organizations.
How is your upcoming writer’s conference different than others?
My writer’s conference focuses less on questions like “how do I become a better writer?” or “how do I get an agent?” and more on “how can I publish my writing most effectively?” The focus is not just on selling your manuscript, but making sure it sells well enough that publishers will want to continue working with you. Some of that involves understanding what’s going on in the publishing industry, and some of that is about the proactive steps writers can take in pursuit of ongoing success. I’ve been planning one such conference with the Mercantile Library’s Center for Fiction for several months now–the current plan is to hold it in Manhattan in the late fall of 2009–and I have begun discussions about doing similar events in other cities.
What inspired you to specialize in these events?
The impulse behind my decision to launch a Beatrice.com reading series, and then to get involved with creating other events, was to take the enthusiasm for books and writers I’d been displaying online and bring it into the “real world” in ways that could inspire, entertain, and benefit others.
In my role as a senior editor at GalleyCat, I also came to realize that a significant segment of that blog’s audience consisted of writers who were hungry for information about how the publishing industry really works — the more practical and pragmatic, the better. I felt that workshops and conferences would be a good vehicle for that information, and if I could produce those events in such a way as to also nurture local literary cultures, such as non-profit organizations like the Center for Fiction, all the better.
When you created Beatrice.com, did you have any idea that it might lead to paying gigs?
I wasn’t thinking about that when I launched Beatrice in the ’90s, although I did start thinking about getting freelance jobs soon after, since the emergence of online magazines created opportunities for freelance writers. My original goal, when I began interviewing writers, was pretty much just to create an opportunity to talk to authors I admired about how they got to be so good, and to share my enjoyment of those writers with others. Along the way, as my relationships with publishing companies grew stronger, publicists would naturally try to pitch up and coming young writers to me, and those interviews proved to be just as rewarding as the ones with veteran writers.
How has Beatrice’s value to your career changed through the years? And what do you think is the next step for your blog?
Beatrice has always been “useful” to me professionally — it was on the strength of my first three years of interviews that I got a staff job at Amazon.com in 1998. It was on the strength of my first few months of blogging that I was invited to submit the book proposal that became The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane. And it was on the continued strength of the blog that mediabistro.com hired me to help relaunch GalleyCat after its first iteration had stumbled out of the gate.
Until GalleyCat came along, Beatrice was my public identity, so of course it shaped my professional identity (not least of all because it brought me into regular contact with the publishing industry). At the same time, it’s always been first and foremost an instrument for me to discuss some of my most enthusiastic passions, and whatever path my professional career takes, Beatrice will continue to be a place where I talk about what’s on my mind where books and publishing are concerned.
What do you think of the recent debate on the Book Publicity Blog and others over “first wave” bloggers vs. “second wave” bloggers? Do you think it’s true that “lit bloggers” typically write traditional newspaper-style reviews, and tend not to turn on the comments feature or invite conversation with their readers, while “book bloggers” tend to be more community- and conversation-driven and less inclined toward a professional reviewing style or getting paid to review books?
I find that debate incredibly tedious. But I would concede that, from the perspective of publishing industry professionals like Yodiwan (who writes the Book Publicity Blog), or for authors looking to promote their own books, it’s useful to know that there are different types of book bloggers, and that they have different approaches to writing about books — simply as a matter of efficiently matching the right books and the right promotional styles with the right outlets. That’s just the basic professional competence expected of any publicist or marketer.
Beyond that, I find attempts by book bloggers to distinguish themselves as part of a wave or a clique apart from other book bloggers self-serving. If you feel the need to identify yourself as being in the “first wave” of anything with two or more waves, you might as well just tell people that you’re afraid of becoming irrelevant. You’ll notice it’s never the so-called “second wave” bloggers who come out with sweeping statements about how different they are from the “first wave.” And you’ll notice certain “first wave” bloggers have nothing to say about the alleged dichotomy, because (I would imagine) to their mind every minute wasted on this non-issue would be a minute away from celebrating what they believe to be great writing. They don’t need to dramatically underline the stylistic differences between them and other bloggers in order to be successful. The work speaks for itself.
I say all that as somebody guilty of making several self-serving generalizations about blogging and bloggers over the last four years, especially about why many readers came to find book bloggers more relevant than book reviewers. And it would be disingenuous to imply that I don’t actively consider how Beatrice and GalleyCat shape my professional public identity, and vice versa. Ultimately, though, I am less worried about how my blog compares to anybody else’s, and more concerned with whether I’m doing the best job I can do to tell people about books and writers I find interesting.
Do you think bloggers will ever make up for the declining influence of traditional media?
“Make up” implies an emphasis on quantification that doesn’t particularly interest me, and sets up the false idea that all the influence moves in a big chunk from one place to another. Bloggers already influence readers, right now. Whether they’ll do so “as much” as traditional media is less important than the need for authors and publishing companies to recognize that there is no one sure-fire path to influencing readers, and that they’ll need to be prepared to reach out to readers wherever they may be found.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with Follow the Reader, Ron. Before I let you go - just a few quick trivia questions. What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I’ve read a lot of great debut novels for the Beatrice.com reading series, and I wouldn’t want to privilege any of them above the others, so I’ll mention two debut memoirs that’ve come out recently, Cheeni Rao’s In Hanuman’s Hands and Andy Raskin’s The Ramen King and I.
What book are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m in the middle of Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside, and I’m loving it so far, but I won’t get to pick it up again for a while, and that makes me sad.
What blog can’t you live without?
NOTE: If you liked this interview, you might want to check out the first interview in this series, with Bethanne Patrick, who runs the Book Studio at WETA.org. The second interview was with literary agent and blogger Colleen Lindsay. Watch this space for upcoming profiles of other bloggers who appeared at the blogger signing in the NetGalley booth at Book Expo 2009.