annual report Readers and reading

The Year In Books – Not bad for 2020

Seven Circumstances grew some more this year – the 10th year of its existence. Yes, it’s been ten years since those I published those first, hesitant reviews in 2011, on a brand new WordPress site. Since then the growth has been exponential and steady. In 2020, the site had 87,490 views, up from 54,000 in 2019; 64,929 visitors, up from 36,337 in 2019, and currently 203 people are following it. This is an overall increase in the number of visitors – the kind of internet user that counts – of 56.47%.

I published 37 posts, on average 3 per month. I did actually hold down a day job at the same time, so this is fewer than in 2019, when I published 58, and 2018, when I published 80. Several reasons explain the growth of the site in spite of having less new contents;

Explanations for the numbers

Connection with real authors: Making a connection with real authors, talking to them and reviewing their books, makes the contents relevant and current. I have personally found it most rewarding and enlightening to have been able to have a real-world connection with authors Jon Gliddon, Greg Hickey and Gordon Mohs. The year has flown by too quickly for me to have connected with any other authors or publishers. These authors bring with them their own feed of fans, visitors and followers who read the reviews of their work on this site, which in turn increases the numbers.

Long-posts: The things I write about need explaining, which means that the information in the posts and pages usually contains a fair amount of research and words – the average length of posts in 2020 is 2,179 words. This makes the contents useful, I think, and draws a certain kind of site visitor. The longest posts were for a series of articles Real World Meets Realism, on realism in Fiction versus Non-Fiction, and one that I’d been itching to write for ages, on three novels written about Eliza Lynch and the President of Paraguay.

The troll operators: The location of the second largest group of viewers, after the United States, is the Philippines. It is now a fact that the Philippines is a global call centre and content moderation hub. “Content moderation” is a polite term for the manipulation of social media statistics – likes, hates, trolling, fake accounts, fake followers, spam, phishing, you name it. Judging by the spam caught in this site’s filter, it is fairly obvious what the 10,000+ views from the Philippines mean.

Real readers: Contrasted with these faceless makers of machine-generated comments (some are so bad they are funny), I do know the names and avatars of the real people who follow and read this blog. Thanks, folks, for your interest and support.

This miserable year: I cannot discount the misery of 2020 as a factor in the increase in visitors and viewers. People had more time in lockdown to read and to browse the Internet.

Consistency: I post regularly, mostly on the same day of the week. People like consistency, it creates the impression of reliability and trustworthiness.

Eye candy: I take a great deal of trouble over my posts, particularly those that are reviews, from the contents, to the graphic design and the videos.

Caution: I take care to avoid the risk of getting sued for anything from libel to copyright. This means that the contents of the site is neither purposely contentious nor negative. I do try to be balanced and provide proof for my opinions.

Usefulness: The most views are firstly for pages and subjects that are tricky – call them academic if you wish – such as poetry, which most people seem to find challenging, and some aspects of literary theory; and secondly for books that are in the news, popular, or regarded as “difficult”.

Most viewed posts and pages in 2020 (500+ views)

Below is a list of the most viewed posts and pages on the site this year. Some of these are old, but even so, the information attached to the articles as pdf documents were downloaded more often than people watched the videos of book reviews. It seems people do need the information.

The mystery of the misquoted quote from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance10688
Elements of poetry: Lines and stanzas8221
Elements of poetry: Rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance7135
Elements of poetry: Genres5191
Elements of poetry: Meter and Feet4477
Why we think fictional characters are real – It’s how our brains work4109
Home page / Archives3272
Scoundrels, crooks and high rollers – “Boereverneukers”, by Izak du Plessis1725
Buy it because it’s beautiful – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy1703
Why we think fictional characters are real – Empathy1646
An idea that asks to be murdered – Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami1584
Elements of poetry: rhythm, meter, rhyme, stanzas, visuals and genres1503
The Unfinished “Tintin” – The tricky business of fan fiction versus copyright, Part 3 of 41199
This is what being old is really like – The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, by…?1121
Why we think fictional characters are real – They are like us1053
Mental-floss on a grand scale – Death’s End by Cixin Liu984
“The Little Prince” – The tricky business of fan fiction versus copyright, Part 4 of 4802
Suffering and sublime beauty – The Famished Road, by Ben Okri794
Elements of poetry: Visual presentation and poetic diction726
Classic crime fiction with a Canadian twist – The John Cardinal Series, by Giles Blunt621
They don’t exist: The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel608
One personal piano – A remarkable bundle of inventions558
Ten reasons why people don’t finish reading novels550
Nice but Light-Weight – Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman541
Amazing Interconnectedness – The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng (now a major film)522
The Creative Process & Publishing II – Literary Agents499

It doesn’t work to chase trends

One factor that I have not counted as having contributed to the views of this site, is trends. I do not follow trends. I write about what I find interesting, as and when I discover it. Sometimes, the discovery is a trend, for instance, people who record versions of modern songs in Medieval English. Sometimes the discovery is a happy coincidence: I loved coming upon Steven Price’s remarkable novel Lampedusa, and Maggie O’Farrell’s wonderful Hamnet and Judith. Those two authors alone made the whole year’s reading and wading through other books worthwhile.

Lessons learned this year

If you want to ask an author, ask them directly

I’ve learned that, as tempting as it is, very few review aggregator platforms or websites will really allow an individual reader to connect directly to the author the platform or website is promoting. I include many platforms in this, such as BBC World Service – World Book Club, and GoodReads. There is always some person acting as an intermediary – sometimes they know the author and their works, sometimes they bark up the wrong tree. (Or maybe their algorithm to find readers and reviewers of a particular author simply doesn’t work.) Most times they contact you in order to increase their own user or subscriber numbers. It’s often a case of bait and switch, and I’ve learned to get in touch with an author directly if I want to ask them something. Some authors respond, others don’t. That’s OK.

Don’t hope for a digital galley proof

I’ve found out that some platforms hold out the carrot of a free pre-publishing proof, that many reviewers go for so that they can get their review of a new book published first. One such a platform is NetGalley. It turns out that NetGalley also just issues invitations to review books as a promotional tactic. In all these years I’ve never been able to get my hands on a digital galley proof from them. And now they have also been hacked. So it’s bye-bye NetGalley.

Support publishers that value independent views

Other publishers genuinely want real, independent reviews of the books that they publish. These are rare – one is Linda Leith Publishing, whose editor, Leila Marshy, actually does see to the publishing of independent reviews on their website. I was glad to see that my review was published unaltered. I was sorry that this year I had no time to read more books by their authors, because they are unusual works by Canadian writers.

Header image: Our own Vancouver Public Library in downtown Vancouver, BC. It’s an amazing piece of architecture.

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