Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is well underway, and several of the participating book bloggers have posted progress updates and reviews. Mark keeps a page on his own blog updated with all of the latest additions, so check that out and follow the hashtag #SPFBO on Twitter if you want to stay up to date.
Most recently, Sarah from Bookworm Blues has posted reviews for the first five of her assigned (27 or so) books. There are two awesome things about this.
First, Sarah is doing what she calls a mini-review (which really isn’t that mini) for every book she reads, which is going above and beyond the call of the Blog-Off: participating reviewers are only asked to select their favorite of the 25 or so books sent to them. How they do that is up to them, and they aren’t required to finish every book, let alone review every book on their site. So the fact that Sarah is taking the time to read and review each book shows an incredibly gracious and determined professionalism on her part, especially given the personal setbacks she’s had to deal with recently. Hang in there, Sarah! Thank you for your work and effort, and I think I speak for all of the authors involved when I say our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Second, Sarah’s first batch of reviews is overwhelmingly positive. Bookworm Blues uses a five-star rating system. Of the five books she’s read, four of them received four-star reviews, and one received a three-star review. This speaks highly of the work submitted to the contest thus far, particularly given that she chose the first five books at random.
This may be the golden age of self-publishing, but self-published authors still face a significant hurdle in getting their work taken seriously; many reviewers and readers alike still presume that self-published fiction is generally of lower quality than its traditionally published counterparts. The fact that so many book bloggers, who have become some of the most important book critics of this generation, are taking self-published work seriously enough to review it in the same manner they review fiction published by the Big Five is incredibly encouraging.
I wouldn’t have been any less enthusiastic about this contest if all of the reviews were negative, but it is wonderful to see self-published fiction being praised.
Twitter recently implemented a new algorithm in its code that selectively includes content from users you don’t follow into your timeline. This change has caused a lot of backlash in the Twitterverse, for relatively obvious reasons. TechCrunch reports on the changes:
The specific change in how your Twitter timeline operates allows for the company to inject additional content into your feed from other users you don’t follow. This is in addition to promoted tweet advertising content — you still get that thrust into your feed too.
So basically this change means tweets from people you’re not interested in may now show up in your Twitter feed. And judging by the popularity reference, at least some of the content being algorithmically injected is exactly the sort of mainstream trivia that makes Facebook so uninteresting to a large swathe of Twitter users (myself included). And indeed the sort of content that populates Twitter’s Discover feed — aka ‘the feed that no-one reads’. Except now some of that crap is being thrust in front of your eyeballs, mingled with the tweets you did want to read.
Twitter’s focus on popularity as a selection criteria for injecting tweets evidently also means that tweets marked as favorites by other users can now appear in your timeline — a change that has already triggered a backlash of complaints, as noted by an earlier Guardian report.
This is troubling to me as a writer, because I use Twitter as my primary social media tool. I use it for marketing, networking, and interacting socially with friends and acquaintances. A big part of the appeal of Twitter (aside from the fact that it’s still primarily text-based) is the fact that I can curate a news feed that is tailored precisely to my interests and field. The idea of Twitter changing their app to deliberately interfere with that functionality irks me.
It seems fairly obvious to me that this is part of a larger effort to monetize the service and therefore increase corporate profits. Yes, they already have advertising in the form of promoted tweets, but the more power Twitter has over your timeline the more opportunity they have to fill it with irrelevant, mainstream, commercialized crap (which, as the TechCrunch article notes, is exactly what has happened to Facebook).