Big Box Book Blogs: Do You Read Them?

Barnes&Noble and Borders both have book blogs dedicated to the romance genre. B&N’s launched in July 2009, and Borders’ launched a month later. I can understand why B&N and Borders established their own blogs.  If you can create a community right at your store, meaning that folks like me visit your store even when we aren’t planning to shop, that’s great for business. It also creates positive feelings towards the store, probably good for customer loyalty. It’s why brick and mortar Borders host French language clubs and seniors’ reading groups and open mike nights.

Barnes&Noble’s romance blog is called “HEart to Heart”, and Michelle Buonfiglio and Melanie Murray write for it. I know Buonfiglio only from the dustup over her comments about bloggers at last spring’s Princeton romance conference. She has her own blog called Romance B(u)y The Book. Murray, an author, is also a blogger for RBTB and a moderator for the romance forums at Barnes and Noble. Heart to Heart (or H2H) is a daily blog with descriptions of romance novels. You have to be registered and logged in to comment, which is a major annoyance. Neither H2H nor the forums appear to be especially active except when there is a free book involved.

Borders.com’s romance section, Borders True Romance has a blog, as you all know, run by Borders romance buyer Sue Grimshaw, with bloggers Jane of Dear Author and Sarah Wendell. Sarah and Jane do a Sunday post, often a mix of video and text, guest readers post on Fridays, and Sue Grimshaw does a regular “Must Reads” video post. On the other days, authors contribute posts, and there are also high quality video interviews with bestselling authors like Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Jill Shalvis, Carly Phillips, J.R. Ward and others on the site. You do not need to be registered to comment. There are no forums as yet at Borders True Romance (or I couldn’t find them if they exist).

Both sites offer giveaways and exclusives of various kinds.

One thing I find kind of odd is that you wouldn’t know these blogs were there unless you were specifically seeking them out.  Unlike at a brick and mortar store, I don’t go to the Amazon or Borders or B&N homepage and “browse”.  My online shopping starts out much more directed and targeted. I might type in “Linda Howard Ice” and then things happen from there.

H2H is not hard to find, but you have to be looking for it. And who would be looking for it? I didn’t know it existed until I read a Tweet today that led me to RBTB, which led me to B&N. You go to the B&N website. “Book clubs” is a tab at the top. Not too difficult. (As an aside, another B&N book club is “Unbound”, which is about ebooks, although you wouldn’t know that from its name. Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James wrote for that one.)

But at Borders.com, for example, I have to know in advance to click on “Borders Media” to find the Borders True Romance blog. Why would someone shopping for a romance novel hit a button called “Borders Media”? I think it’s just odd that as a semi-regular online customer of both outlets, nothing in my regular shopping experience would bring me to their blogs.

I compare this unfavorably to Amazon.com, which generates links to often quite active (not to say hysterical) discussions that relate to the books you are shopping for right on the same page. (As another aside, why doesn’t Amazon have a blog? Is that in the works?)

Between the two, Borders has the edge in terms of quality and comprehensiveness. If number of comments is any measure, neither seem as active yet as the blogs run by Buonfiglio, Litte, or Wendell.

Perhaps these blogs are a way to get at that large percentage of romance readers who are online but are not denizens of Romanceland?

What do you think? Are you enjoying this new kind of blog in Romanceland? Is “new” even appropriate in that sentence?

Are they a daily “must visit”, just another feed in your Google reader you click when interested in post titles, or not really on your radar?

37 responses

  1. No/yes. No I checked out the B&N one once: don’t care for its tone. I don’t like RBTB or the whole “We are all Bellas” thing.

    Yes for Book Chat — yes for the authors they choose, the fabulous way everyone seems to enjoy diving into books, for Sarah and Jane’s blogs — like the one last week (verra bright heroines and the men who love them) … and I liked the guest bloggers from RomLand too altho is that still a feature? Most especially, I like Sue Grimshaw who is doing a great job of hosting the site. I agree with your point about the navigation could be better but other than that, carry on :) Timing: I check once a day or so and often link it to people when their fave authors are on board.

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  2. The only one I read was the Borders True Romance blog – and after a few days I decided it wasn’t my thing. I haven’t chanced across the others, but I’m not in the US, so I wouldn’t buy from US chains anyway.

    In general, I’m not very bothered about book promotion – I won’t read the ‘100 great titles for this Christmas’ pamphlets that the shops put out at this time of year. In my imagination I’d lump a bookshop site into that category – that it wouldn’t be likely to tell me anything about the books, because it’s function is to sell me stuff. That is, I wouldn’t expect a post that says:’The Last Symbol – don’t bother.’ (Haven’t read it, it might be terrific.)
    The Amazon.co.uk forums I do use, because you do get exactly that kind of thread there. (Not much sense of community, but I’m there to find book suggestions.)

    I’ve nothing against book promotion – it’s important for publishers to make people aware what’s available. But I wouldn’t read it myself. If Amazon blogged, I wouldn’t read that.
    And, needless to say, as I haven’t visited these sites, I may be entirely wrong. They might be fantastic places to find new books.

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  3. I’m aware of them, but don’t find them compelling. Perhaps if they had distinct voices I didn’t hear elsewhere? Or perhaps their broad-audience nature just doesn’t grab me.

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  4. I sometimes visit the B&N forums, usually the mystery and sf/f ones, to get recs for things to read! And to give recs when people ask for them. More rarely, I visit the romance and paranormal/urban fantasy forums there. I don’t do much discussion there other than that. Some of the B&N forums are very busy- maybe that’s where the action is, instead of the blogs?

    I’ve visited the Borders blog a couple of times. I’m not that into video posts, so that features is not a huge attractor for me. The “guest readers” thing did sound interesting, maybe I’ll check that out.

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  5. I started reading the Borders blog, because it was announced at SBTB and DA. I wasn’t aware of the other one. The former lost my interest after a couple of weeks, because it’s purely a marketing device, i.e. affirmative and promotional. It might be only me, but I didn’t expect it to be so obviously like that after they invited bloggers who write from a critical reader’s point of view. Because of its lack of critical voices both in book recommendations and in comments, it’s just not my cup of tea.

    And I was a little annoyed by what I perceived as a strange blend of book promotion and – more or less opinionated – book blogging. However, from a marketing perspective, this still might have been a clever move, it “lured” readers to the blog in the beginning (but I, too, have had the impression of decreasing activity), and if I ever visited the US and had to choose a book store, I would go into a Borders store, as they are now inscribed in my mind as romance friendly book sellers.

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  6. @Victoria Janssen:

    Some of the B&N forums are very busy- maybe that’s where the action is, instead of the blogs?

    I wondered that, too. I saw a thread at the romance forum that had been visited 7000 times. But then I realized the thread had been open for 10 months. I don’t think the romance forums are active, unless I just clicked on the wrong places.

    @Janet W: Thanks Janet. I am really interested in these kinds of comments — I’m sort of trying to check my surfing habits against all of yours.

    @RfP: Well, this sort of question actually promoted the post. I read both DA and SBTB much more regularly than I read Jane and Sarah’s Sunday posts. But wouldn’t logic say that I should be doubly interested in a jointly authored post?

    Marianne mentioned promotion — I expect upfront promotion at Borders and B&N, and have absolutely no problem with it. But maybe the more formal setting does take unique voices and homogenize them a bit, kind of like being at work. I think multi author blogs like RtB do that as well. I know I sound different at RtB than I do here.

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  7. @Jessica: Now that you mention it, perhaps the group blog setting is part of what’s turning me off. I don’t read DA at all any more–or only every few months–and just skim the post titles at SBTB. Much of my waning interest dates to the increasing cross-talk between the two sites; they seemed to be echoing each other instead of providing the counterpoint I’d enjoyed. I also felt both were in different ways losing their original voices. RtB has always been a many-indistinct-voices blog for me, with occasional gems. I’m not sure how to categorize the Readers Gab blog that I participate in, because the frequency is lower than the other sites’. I do like the AAR blog; it’s smart and doesn’t feel diffuse. But overall, now that you’ve pointed it out, I’m moving away from group blogs, and not only in romance. E.g. Publishers Weekly Genreville added an interesting blogger but I’m not sure of its focus; it’s still in my RSS feeds, but may be demoted to the “infrequent” folder.

    I don’t read conversational reviews either. I’d rather engage with a complete thought from each reviewer than simply go along for the ride while the reviewers engage each other. So perhaps another tricky element in a group blog or tight-knit community is a sense of bloggers talking to each other rather than to me, the reader.

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  8. -Re: Borders
    ..Not really, sometimes, & sorta. I just don’t find getting punched in the face with author promotion entertaining. I could care less about author interviews, contest squeeing, & book trailers, etc. I expect it from book chain sites, but I still avoid it like the plague.

    On the flip side, I enjoy the hell out of some of Sarah & Jane’s posts and some of friday’s guest blogger posts. But having to to wade through all the promotion muckity muck and weird navigation; thoroughly discourages me from making a regular habit of it.

    – re:B&N
    No, suffice to say I’m not a fan of the “Bellas”.

    Though on a side note: one of the few exceptions to my Author promotions aversion is B&N’s Para/UF bookclub.

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  9. I have the Borders blog in my Google Reader, so I see what’s posted and I stop to read posts by authors who interest me, but I literally never watch the videos. Generally, I like the Sarah and Jane hosted blog on Saturday morning, but it’s almost always topics that have been done to death IMO. Of course, I cruise a ton of romance blogs, and I understand that I’m probably not the target audience for Borders, so I’m not bothered by topics that I’ve seen over and over again. Then again, half of blogging seems to be organic, with ideas coming from someone else’s blog.

    I’m not a fan of RBTB. I was a long time Bella, but the tone over there just got to be too much for me. So I stopped going. Plus, honestly, most of what she features doesn’t interest me, it’s not to my taste.

    Thing is, I applaud both big box stores for having romance blogs. I’d imagine if I were someone who really didn’t spend much time online and wanted to get a taste of what romance blogs are about, the Borders blog in particular would be a decent place to start. But for those of us who cruise a lot of romance-related blogs, I’m just not sure we’re the intended audience.

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  10. I prefer the Boarder’s True Romance blog because you don’t have to register and it seems friendlier. The B&N boards confuse me and i just don’t have the time to learn how everything is done over there.

    I am more interested in commenting on blogs over the boards because of the ease and feeling of community. On the boards you don’t really find that.

    If I had to decide between say here or B&N or Borders, you would be first Jessica.

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  11. similar to other commenters i heard about Border’s True Romance on DA and SBTB and clicked over. i skimmed the weekly posts, but now only visit when someone i “know” (like Smexybooks, katiebabs, etc) is guest posting, and i’ll almost always comment on those. i’ll see tweets about a post on Border’s True Romance and feel compelled and interested to click it and read it as i do like the tone of the site and Sue Grimshaw is likeable too. Some of her response comments have been toughtful and it’s nice to see her active on the site.

    i never ever watch the videos and the sight is not in my reader or blogs i check in with regularly.

    ive never visited B&N’s blog and don’t remember ever hearing about them before.

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  12. I don’t read either of them. I subscribe to both of them but for the most part, I browse the posts. I don’t really read them, mostly because my attention is usually snared by another blog post on another blog or something on Twitter or well, you know what I mean.

    I really like your blog though, I don’t often comment on here but you always have such insightful and well written posts. I read you all the time.

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  13. I like Sue Grimshaw, and I certainly enjoyed being a guest author at True Romance. As a reader, I’m more interested in reviews and critical discussion than promo or soft topics. It’s difficult to come up with a post that hasn’t been done before–I’ve already chimed in on HEA vs. HFN and etc etc. So I salute the bloggers who keep it fresh. Jessica.

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  14. Reading this made me wonder why Amazon doesn’t have one, either.
    As for Borders and B&N, I stop by every once in a while… they’re on my google reader.
    I don’t always comment on the blogs I visit, but I do enjoy reading them when I can.

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  15. I didn’t realize B&N had a romance forum/blog/whatever until recently, and like you I found the sheer task of finding it so annoying that I haven’t spent any time there. Also I loathe with every fiber of my being having to “register” to participate. It’s the sole reason why I’ve kept my blog open to anonymous comments, even if I do get the occasional troll (which I never feed – making me no fun at all).

    I am not a fan of Romance B(u)y The Book, and I’ll just leave it at that. Which is another reason why I’ve never sought out the B&N “stuff.” But to each her own. Other people like it, and the more the merrier – says me.

    I have the Borders blog on my free reader – mostly because of the blogger guest posts. Otherwise, I mainly just skim it. I tend to only read promo-type stuff when the author already interests me, or there is something in said promo that catches my eye. Like some unique research the author may have done etc. Otherwise? Meh.

    But I do think it’s great that these big box stores are trying new ways to reach genre fiction readers. I just wish they promoted these social networking features more prominently and didn’t make readers who are interested hunt and peck for them.

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  16. I knew about the Borders blog because I’m a Borders Rewards member; I get monthly email from them about what’s new and interesting in the genres I read. I have enjoyed some of the author self-promos there — it’s not critically engaging, but then it’s not meant to be. It’s obviously meant to sell books, and as a marketing tool for spotlighting authors or a quick, fun look at trends or conventions of the genre, I think it works well. I don’t think it’s aimed at romance readers who already follow critique blogs so much; I get the sense that it is for readers who buy romance but don’t have a place online where they talk about it. Those of us who’ve been thinking and talking critically about the genre for a while are likely to find some of the discussions pretty basic. I think it’s more likely that Borders blog readers will gravitate over to Jane & Sarah’s sites than vice-versa.

    I appreciate Borders making the effort to connect with readers and help them connect with each other, as well as with authors and bloggers. I’d like to think that this could be a tool for bringing some excellent books by lesser-known authors to the attention of a wider readership. I know there are readers who are reluctant to take a chance on a new-to-them author, and maybe this is a way to expand their range a bit.

    I’ve never read the B&N site. Our local B&N is not conveniently located for me, and I’ve never liked their membership plan, so they really aren’t on my radar.

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  17. @RfP: this is really helpful. I think there is something about a group blog. Maybe it’s because I engage with several of the DA bloggers here and on twitter that when I read their posts on DA I do feel like I am reading the voice of a discrete person.

    But I think I need to say outright that I don’t enjoy blogging at RtB or in a group setting much at all. It feels like a chore.

    @Kati: You and others make a good point about the positive nature of big stores reaching out to lil old bloggers. It’s a nice recognition, I think, not just of one or two bloggers, but of book blogging per se.

    @Jill Sorenson: I get the feeling I could sit down one on one with Grimshaw for hours on end and be fascinated, but I don’t find her persona that riveting on the Borders blog.

    @Wendy: I got out of bed to edit this post at 1:00am. I had a whole paragraph on the B&N blog. But best not to go there, as you say.

    I don’t have trolls yet. Another mark of my immaturity as a blogger.

    @SonomaLass: I love what you have to say in this comment. This is really helpful, a theory I kind of suggested in a vague way in the post, but now I am committed to: yes, there’s the multiauthor issue, and the promo issue, but the main thing is really that they seem to be geared towards that set of readers who are not already engaged like we are.

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  18. I find myself echoing much of what has already been said. I gave True Romance a go because of its promo over at DA but I don’t go at all now. The video posts did nothing for me.

    RfP’s comments chime strongly with me re the group-blog thing too.

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  19. I went over to the B&N “Romantic Reads” forum this afternoon and there seem to be a number of different threads active at once; but it’s hard to tell because of the way the forums are set up. Unless it’s just my computer. Maneuvering the forums is slow and awkward for me, so I post less than I might if it were leaner, meaner software.

    The overall tone seems friendly to me, if not intimate. Perhaps that’s a difference between a personal blog and a commercial one as well.

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  20. I’m aware of both H2H (used to subscribe to the newsletter) and True Romance. I don’t find either particularly interesting. I think these big box blogs try to be all things to all people–which makes sense from the companies’ standpoint, I’m sure, but doesn’t make for a very interesting blog that keeps you coming back for a unique perspective.

    Amazon doesn’t have blogs, though they do have editors and editor picks. But like you said, why should they have blogs? They have people commenting about books very actively right on their purchase pages. Amazon doesn’t need to put effort into generating customer discussion–and they’re not a traditional brick & mortar store, either, so they don’t need to draw in that customer base.

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  21. I think the Borders blog does a lot of things right: Frequent updates, Sue Grimshaw, and engaging interesting bloggers to post. Of course there is a lot of promo there. I really feel that blog is aimed at less-experienced readers instead of us jaded old been-there- done-that types. If you think of who it’s aimed at, it’s a good effort.

    They do 2 things wrong though: Video posts, which are loathed by a great many people and cannot be watched while viewers are at work, and the godawful impossibleness of the average viewer to find the thing. Most of us went to the page because we saw it on a blog we already visit, or a tweet.

    If Borders aiming at casual readers, you’d think they would WANT that person to be able to find it from a casual browse of the front page. Why does it have a separate url? Why isn’t there a clear link on the front page, like on the Harlequin site when you want to find the Harlequin forums??

    As for the other one – never been there. But I’m not in the US, like Marianne, so can’t shop at either store anyway.

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  22. Jessica :

    Heh. I’ve been blogging for almost 7 years and I’ve really only attracted trolls to a handful of posts. The reason I suspect they don’t regularly comment is that I do not, and will not, feed them. They’re being asshats for a reason – they want attention – and I refuse to engage them. Which means they quickly get bored with me (I’m no fun) and return to blogs where they do get fed – either by blog owners or other visitors to said blog.

    Further proof of how boring I am :)

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  23. I’ve got both in my GReader, but I’m not sure why. I used to skim posts, then titles, but now more often than not I just hit “mark all as read” and move on.

    Personally I find the tone of most posts at Borders to be rather dry, including the ones from Jane and Sarah. Like many others, I think these are aimed more at romance readers who aren’t part of the online community.

    As for the B&N thing..well, like many others here I’m morally opposed to registering, so that pretty much nixes that. Add to it that I dislike MB’s “voice” and her general attitude and well..that pretty much sealed the deal for me there.

    Chances are the next time I do a big sweep of my GReader both blogs will be cut.

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  24. I think I went to the True Romance blog once, when it was announced on SB and DA. When I realized it was videos, I ran away. I can’t stand watching people talk at me on the computer, I get enough of that in RL, and the affect people have on video can seem a bit odd to me. Since I almost never click through on embedded videos, it took me forever to get rickrolled.

    My first and last exposure to Michelle Buonfiglio was reading her comments at the Princeton conference. As someone who has organized any number of academic and mixed-use conferences over the years, I felt so bad for the organizers. Enough said.

    I have a slightly less benign view of why bookstores are reaching out to bloggers; blogging is one of the few successful ways of building word-of-mouth that doesn’t seem manufactured, and with the way publishing is going, they need every chance they can get. I also think it’s great that surfers who don’t know about blogs find out about bloggers and authors through the Borders one. It’s just not something I enjoy.

    On group blogs: the ones in which there is a clear thematic link between the participants, or where the contributors are clearly friends, work really well for me, because I feel as if I’m getting different angles on an issue. The ones that don’t seem to have that coherence I find much less interesting. Except for DA and TGTBTU, though, the blogs I visit are all single or dual-blogger sites.

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  25. Jessica, your blog dislikes me, I think. It either crashes or eats my comments :(

    Re: Borders, I added the True Romance blog to my Google Reader when it debuted, but am getting ready to remove it. I’m not interested in the videos or the promotion.

    Re: B&N, don’t read H2H. Romance B(u)y the Book, no, I’ve never been a fan.

    Re: AAR, I used to lurk there regularly and post occasionally. That’s how I first met Rosario and Maili and the long gone (as far as I know) Shinjinee online. I’ve drifted away and seldom check AAR’s forums (fora?) or read their reviews any longer.

    Of course, all of these things come down to personal taste and what I’m looking for as a reader from other reader blogs or review blogs. And my taste has been changing. For example, I think SBSarah and SBCandy are incredibly smart and articulate women when it comes to romance analysis and publishing. But I no longer visit SmartBitches daily and seldom pay attention to posts that show up via Google Reader, because the videos, contests and industry news seem (to me) to outnumber the reviews and cover snark that drew me to that site to begin with.

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  26. Amazon does indeed have blogs. Omnivoracious is the books editors’ blog. It’s a lot more interesting than the Borders and B&N blogs, in part because it’s not an in-your-face sales vehicle; I never say “Sell-out!” to my screen while reading it, as I did on one occasion with another blog :)

    Anyway, I think it’s noteworthy that Amazon uses data-driven social marketing (“People who bought Crusie also bought SEP”) and forum buzz (also very effective; I looked at some studies here), and doesn’t rely on its blogs for sales.

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  27. azteclady :

    Jessica, why does your blog not like me today?
    Reply
    EditMoveModerateSpamDelete

    I am so sorry! You can send me an email and I will post it if you are so inclined.

    @jmc: Again, I am so sorry about my blog making things hard for you. I will ask my web site host to look into it.

    @RfP: thank you for your bit of helpful research! I JUST got home, another 10 hour day, and will check it out ASAP.

    Thank you everyone for your helpful comments.

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  28. I visit the Borders blog occasionally but the H2H – never knew there was one and even now knowing, I won’t visit. I also don’t visit Romance B(u)y The Book – nuff said on that.
    As for RtB – I don’t visit it very often either – only if a blogger I know says they have a post there. And even Access Reader of which I’m a contributor I don’t frequent as often as I should (my bad).
    The ‘group’ blog I visit the most is the one at AAR.
    But – I prefer the single blogs the most. It has more of a one on one feel to them then the ones where there is someone different posting every day.

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  29. I haven’t read either blog – mostly because I assumed they exist for PR purposes. IMO, the point of the Big Box Blogs is to sell me stuff whereas the reader blogs point me towards books I want to read.
    I also have a problem with the way Borders segregates AA romances and choose not to buy from them because of this.

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  30. I only knew about Borders. It’s in my reader, but unless there’s a big giveaway, I generally only skim each post. I’ve won two books off of it, and those two posts were pretty much the only ones I paid attention to. There’s not much to keep me coming back to it; most of the topics are ones I’ve already seen covered in much greater and more critical depth, and I can’t stand Sue Grimshaw.

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  31. Ditto. I’m surprised actually to hear so many people echo my feelings about group blogs. I thought I was alone in not using the bigger sites like DA and RtB for recommendations. The Book Smugglers and Smart Bitches have always seemed to integrate their voices well, maybe it helps that there are only two of them?

    For rec’s: TBSmugglers, and the single author blogs mentioned here. I’ve always assumed I have a slightly skewed overview of the romance blogs but maybe I’m more typical than I thought (of Jessica’s readers :)

    The Store sponsored blogs: never went to B&N but the video blog at Borders really turned me off. Very good point about, if we are not the audience then they need to give it more space on their splash page!

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  32. I didn’t know that Barnes and Noble had a romance focussed blog, and I can’t see that I will start visiting there now that I know that it is there.

    Occasionally I do read the Borders one, but I have to say I don’t find it introduces me to new authors, it is more likely to be that an author I already know and/or like is featured and so I will stop by to see what they have to say. It certainly wouldn’t encourage me to buy new authors very often.

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  33. I didn’t know that B&N had a romance blog, but I wouldn’t have visited even if I’d been made aware of it.

    I must admit, I’ve yet to pay a visit to the Borders True Romance blog, and had DA not been involved, I wouldn’t even consider visiting. Promo blogs are beyond dull in my opinion. I may visit tomorrow if I can be arsed. Then I can say I at least gave it a whirl.

    Like

  34. I am not a fan of Romance B(u)y The Book, and I’ll just leave it at that.

    I can’t stand Michelle Buonfiglio either. She’s a fanny. (The British meaning of fanny that is.)

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  35. Late as usual, Kate.

    I don’t visit either B&N or Borders’ blogs. They smack of promotion, not examination. I sincerely believe their purpose is to sell me the book, not to discuss it with me, and frankly I understand that’s their MO entirely as a corporation. But I’m gullible enough, I don’t need that sort of sales pitch. I also have a fair amount of distaste for MBuonfiglio’s tone on her blog, which discouraged me from visiting the box blog.

    I do like Powell’s blog though. I won’t say it’s not promotion but the variety of guest bloggers give it a wide ranging-voice, a lot of their guest author bloggers write essays on broad bookish topics (so it feels less like sales), and they don’t separate out their genre posts into separate blogs. It’s rather come-as-you-are. And it’s accessible from their front page.

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"Cheapest mother fucking goldfish on the planet"

Shallowreader's Blog

...barely scratching the surface of romance literature, reading and libraries

Joanna Chambers, author

Historical romance

THE DAILY RUCKUS

ROYALTY, ROMANCE NOVELS, AND A LITTLE RUCKUS

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