Definitions of what a “discourse community” is vary and not everyone believes that becoming one is necessarily a good thing. However, I think the term may be useful here for the idea of the book blogosphere–a place where we communicate together with shared values and assumptions and towards shared goals. That is, generally speaking, the book blogosphere might be understood to share goals such as: reading and reviewing books, discussing books and their merits, finding and interacting with others who are excited about reading, etc. And we have to do all those things by communicating in common and expected ways, perhaps by providing an argument and evidence, or by providing a shorthand recommendation through a star rating. The trick? Because the book blogosphere is informal and nebulous (Indeed, who comprises the book blogosphere, and do all parts of it share the same goals and values?), the rules remain unwritten. And yet, to be accepted as bona fide book bloggers, we most likely have to adopt at least some of them.
Simply by blogging for awhile and by reading discussion posts about what bloggers like to see in other blogs, why they blog, why they follow other bloggers, etc., I have gleaned some of the unwritten rules, which I understand as follows:
- Book bloggers expect blogs to be presented in clean, orderly ways. Uncluttered sidebars, easy-to-read text, easy-to-navigate menus, and a professional logo are often seen as markers of a “real” blogger.
- Book bloggers ought to be blogging for the pure joy of it or for community, not for monetary compensation or a higher page count. You may want ARCs or wish you could be paid like fashion or food bloggers, but you’re not supposed to suggest as much. Being paid is seen as suspicious, as if you have become part of a publisher’s marketing department. Likewise, you may want to see your stats rise, but if you say so, you ought to clarify that you love blogging enough that the stats do not really matter.
- Book bloggers should be careful they are not seen as argumentative. Rose Read has written a little about this before, suggesting that bloggers are often afraid to write negative reviews if the consensus on a book is positive. This rule goes further, however. That is, bloggers generally seem to expect comments on posts to agree with the post. Going back and forth too much with an opposing opinion might be seen by some as argumentative.
- Book bloggers expect some sort of quid pro quo when they comment. That is, if they comment on your blog, it’s considered neighborly to comment back, if not immediately at least eventually.
- Book bloggers are not supposed to mention the quid pro quo rule. We’re all commenting for the love of community, not to get something back.
- Book bloggers appreciate fewer memes and more discussions. Memes are generally considered easy filler, but increasing numbers of bloggers seem to appreciate discussion posts (and some reviews) as they provide more complex issues to think about and respond to.
So what do bloggers value? They tend to value community, friendliness, and rich content–all good things! But looking at the unwritten rules can also help us to question some of the current standards. For instance, why is it so bad to receive monetary compensation for writing book reviews? Does that make Publishers Weekly and Kirkus publications we ought not to trust? Why can other bloggers make a living out of their hobby but not book bloggers? And do the current rules of neighborly discourse potentially stifle conversation? Are we missing out on lively debates because we fear to seem unkind? And how do we feel about potentially being a discourse community, anyway? Does pressure to integrate into the community mean that we lose some of our individualism?
I’m not sure I have answers to all these questions, but they are ones I like to ponder, along with my musings on my rhetorical choices and the reasons behind them.
So what do you think? What unwritten rules do you see in the book blogosphere and do you feel pressured to conform to them?