As part of our Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event, Expanding the World of Literary Criticism, with the National Book Critics Circle on September 15th, we asked our group of panelists to answer the following question:
Social media hasn’t changed the actual nitty-gritty work of book reviewing—the core activity of reading, engaging and wrestling with a book. But social media does have the potential to help a critic to reach a wider audience. Both Twitter and Facebook direct a review toward a ready audience of book lovers and a wider dialogue about literature. But the question remains: Do all those “likes” and “favorites” mean that people are actually reading our work? At the very least, it increases the odds.
Books and Travel Editor, Newsday
President of the National Book Critics Circle
Because of social media, I can follow the work of hundreds of American book critics daily, as well as reviewers worldwide, from Zimbabwean blogger Ainehi Edoro (Brittle Paper) to Nilanjana Roy in New Delhi to Stephen Romei and Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times. I've engaged all of them in critics' polls I've done for BBC Culture, most recently the 100 Greatest British Novels. And the National Book Critics Circle can conduct a nationwide conversation about books, and our awards, including the new #NBCCLeonard award for best first book in any genre, via Twitter @bookcritics and Facebook.
NBCC Vice President/Online [former NBCC president]
BBC.com and the Lit Hub columnist,
contributor to NPR.org
Social media is an invaluable tool for critics. It's a way to reach a larger audience, and that's crucial in this day and age. My first paid book review came about as a result of being very active on Twitter. I mentioned that I was looking for more freelance work, and a bookseller in Minnesota connected me with fellow NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel of the Star Tribune. It's also a way to find out about forthcoming books! Before social media, critics depended largely on catalogs to learn about frontlist titles. Now we can see what booksellers and other early readers are excited about, too.
Contributing editor at Literary Hub
VP/Awards for the National Book Critics Circle
To be honest, I don’t know how social media has changed book reviewing—every thought I have about this has a counterpoint. But I’ll try: Social media has changed book reviewing in part by allowing more writers and publications to circulate their opinions about books, which has resulted in better (or at least more) coverage of books that in the past might have slipped away unnoticed, in particular books that are formally innovative. It’s not that such books weren’t covered in the past; they were. But social media occasionally helps galvanize the support of a book that in the past might have received one review, in one magazine. (This is maybe a stretch, but I wonder if Lucia Berlin’s posthumous story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women would have been as well-received without the boost she received from social media. She was certainly a big part of my Facebook feed.) Of course the other thing that social media has resulted in is the proliferation of the listicle. There are way more lists now than there were before the advent of social media. One headline in June: “31 Stunning Books You Must Read This Summer.” Social media does have a tendency to favor this sort of drill-sergeant tone over the more back-and-forth approaches of most in-depth reviews. But I think that in-depth reviews are becoming more popular again for this very reason—a slowly developing argument offers something that snap judgments don't.
Editor at Bookforum
"I don't think that the rise of social media sites have changed the tenor or quality of book criticism. However, the social media universe, including Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, has fashioned new ways for us to disseminate reviews; to construct reading communities and the literary community, in general; to connect writers to readers and editors with critics."
author of The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism
As it has in nearly every aspect of life, social media seems to have had both positive and negative effects on book reviewing. I love being able to share my reviews on Facebook and Twitter—I know there are readers out there who would never know about some books if they didn't encounter them online, and if there's anything I love as a reviewer, it's introducing readers to a book they might not have otherwise heard about. On the other hand, being active on social media can be hugely distracting (as it is for everyone), and can present specific problems for critics. I have to be careful not to be too friendly with writers whose books I might review, and to avoid seeing too much coverage of books I'm going to write about but haven't yet.
Writes on books for the Boston Globe