For instance, all this talk about invisibility has me rethinking something. I've been seriously reconsidering my involvement in the ASif! review site project. I've been mulling things over for several months now. And when I went to Tasmania, I talked it over a lot with both cassiphone and flinthart and at great length. I'm in two minds about it and I haven't really decided where I stand. The project requires a lot of time, energy and money. By and large, I do a lot of the behind the scenes administration - liasing with publishers and reviewers, assigning the reviews and sending the books out to reviewers. electricant came on board, what two years ago now?, and has taken up the workload of tracking review assignments and review copies and editing and publishing the reviews online. Both these roles are very time consuming. And neither of us has much scope for giving more time to this project.
The problem is, the project in its current form isn't what we would like it to be. And for it to realise our vision, we'd need to invest more time. Much more time. And we'd need more reviewers on board. And there's also this question of money - the community generously donated to the running costs of this project in 2006 and 2007. I've been running the project using this money since then and I still have some left in the kitty. Probably for this year's budget. But after that ... what happens next is the question.
I've had a lot of difficulty selling advertising space on the site - publishers aren't that interested and I think see their contribution to the project as the free review copies. I also know that we get a lot of web traffic to the site and we have consistently won fan awards (Tin Ducks and Ditmars) recognising the achievements we have made and emphasising the support we have in the community.
What, then, are my thoughts? A while ago I re-evaluated my personal focus and realised the direction that I would like to go, personally. And ever since then, I've begun streamlining my commitments so as to be able to funnel as much time, energy and enthusiasm into the direction I want to go to achieve my own goals. I created ASif! to be a review website that would focus on Australian speculative fiction, for it to be a place where Australian writers could be critically reviewed and for Australian readers to find out what new local publications there are. However, I've had a lot of trouble finding reviewers interested in reviewing this material, especially for small presses (both local and international), and in fact cannot even entice them to read and review my own products.
It feels as though the site is moving off in a different direction, which would be fine except that I've also been thinking about how I think we are viewed by the big publishing houses. I suspect that we would be in a better position (in terms of how early we received review copies and what review copies we received) if there were more buzz surrounding our site - if our reviews of new books came out sooner, if we reviewed the more high profile books and if there was more discussion about the content of reviews we publish. And I've been mulling this over for a while now. Because it seems in some ways to be a chicken and egg situation. What's more, I'm personally receiving requests and review copies to review books here, on this blog. And that's made me think a lot about where I should be focussing my own energy.
This occurred to me today - this month (week), we've published 6 reviews - all of books written by women and reviewed by women. Respectable, well considered books by women including Gwyneth Jones and Kylie Chan. We review a lot of fantasy and paranormal romance. We tend to review the books that come in that our reviewers are interested in reading. And the kind of books that these are ... tend not to be the "high profile books" that I was referring to in the previous paragraph. For example, I have received no less than SIX COPIES of Raymond E Feist's latest book. We've reviewed it on the site already yet more review copies of it keep coming in. And I've been wondering why the heck why?
We publish nearly 200 reviews a year on our website - we're about 10 shy of hitting 800 reviews in total. That's an enormous achievement. I haven't counted but I'm very confident in saying the vast majority of these reviews will have been written by women (our most consistent and prolific reviewers are Lorraine Cormack, Tehani Wessely and Alexandra Pierce). There are also some really interesting reviews by David Buchbinder on the southern gothic paranormal subgenre (male reviewer talking in depth about books written by women, for women). Our reviewers choose their own assignments, picking the books out of the review pile that they prefer to read. I'd be interested to look and see what the genre breakdown is but I suspect we review far more fantasy than science fiction. I also suspect we review books written by more women than men. But again, I'd need to check. And also, more novels than short stories.
Perhaps one of the problems I'm having in increasing support from big publishers has more to do with our content? Is it possible that a review site that heavily features female reviewers reviewing big fat fantasy written by female writers is of lesser import? Given that that is such a huge chunk of the market, it does sound preposterous. And yet ...