From Integrity to Marketability: The Importance of Your Own Space

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The famed blog Bookslut shall be shuttering its digital doors this year, as announced through an interview with Jessa Crispin on Vulture. After 14 years of work, Crispin has decided to end the popular and influential lit-blog due to running costs and her changing opinions on the literary industry. She is of course entitled to do so and makes many salient points in her interview, yet there are several moments that stuck in my throat while reading them; claims and assumptions that assert an inherently soulless nature in book blogging circles, one where creative freedom can never live in harmony with mainstream appeal.

Crispin is completely right about the rising costs of maintaining a deceptively simple blog, and the increasingly difficulties in finding ways to pay for basic costs. Certain kinds of writing – more clickbait in nature and geared towards a wider, homogeneous crowd – bring more attention to your site, and crunching out that kind of content can be pretty soul destroying. Crispin’s cynicism towards this evolution of the field isn’t unwarranted, yet the utter dismissiveness with which she attacks those who do it, all but declaring them integrity free sell-outs, overlooks a number of issues with both the publishing industry and book blogging circles at large.

She names figures like Ron Hogan for leveraging their blogs into book deals (Crispin herself has 2 books out, with a 3rd on the way), and calls sites like Millions “so professional, and I mean that as an insult… It’s like using the critical culture to support the industry rather than as an actual method of taking it apart”. It’s a dressed up version of the ‘down with The Man’ argument that pits the big industries against the hard-working man of the people, with no cross-contamination. It would be wonderful if the system worked as efficiently and democratically as it’s supposed to, yet I see no reason why one can’t make money from their work and maintain their sharp focus.

I’ve been book blogging for close to 6 years now in various forms. I’ve never made a profit from the blogs and projects I’ve run, and usually end up at a loss at the end of the year with my editorial partner (we’ve written about this before on the site). We make sacrifices and certain decisions in order to make the process less stressful. That means on-site advertising. We don’t make much from it but it does help. Amazon affiliates, something Crispin expresses anger towards, are an element of the field most of us struggle with, given the site’s turbulent relationship with the industry and downright crappy business tactics, yet it’s one of the more reliable ways of generating income for a mid-size blog.

Blogging is a luxury for us amateurs. Its hidden costs shut out a lot of crucial voices. From servers to layouts, the economic struggles of hobbyists are so often dismissed as privileged people problems (not to mention the mental and emotional labour required), which ignores the reasons people try to get their voices out there in the first place. Publishing is a closed off industry, much like many bases of power in culture and entertainment, and for those kids from working class backgrounds or those who aren’t white or based in major cities, a blog can be their only route into the field. Unpaid internships are not a viable option for the majority of us. For better or worse, a blog can be a lifetime, and choosing what you want to do with that personal space can often be a deeply considered process. There’s a reason I include this site on my CV.

Integrity is not the natural enemy of populism. Capitalism is a wasteful system that forces many to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise do, but when you’re stuck in the middle of the mess, you play the cards you’re dealt. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about how bad it all is, and many of us do. Sometimes we use Twitter – a platform Crispin dismisses as being nothing but linking to other sites – and other times we blog, knowing full well it may ruffle feathers or close a few doors. Sometimes we put up that listicle or accept a sponsored post and wait for the pushback, but I think your readers deserve a little credit. They’ll oppose obvious bullshit but they’re also more empathetic than often thought, and they know the cards are stacked unfairly. Our friends in the professional critical sector walk that fine line and still create sharp, radical and challenging pieces that interrogate bases of power.

The starving artist myth is the most pernicious falsehood we’ve allowed to continue into the modern age. There’s no beauty in it, nor is there some inherent integrity that can’t be found elsewhere. Artists have day jobs, and so do many critics. I admire Crispin for drawing her personal line in the sand and sticking to it; for others who take a different path, I see no reason to dismiss their intentions.

This site – this small corner of the internet we carved out for ourselves to tell our stories and find our voices – won’t win any awards or break the bank. The opportunities it offers are few and far between, but we’re heartily grateful for each and every one. It costs us more than we wish to admit but the sacrifice is worth it. I wish it was easier to maintain my authenticity and just not give a fuck about the rest of the community or industry, but the truth is I care an awful lot, and caring isn’t a scar on my integrity. This space is ours and hopefully you find something worthwhile in it.

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