Interview with Kevin Holtsberry from Collected Miscellany

Kevin Holtsberry has been blogging since 2001. Under various titles and domains he has written about politics, sports, theology, culture, and anything else that strikes his fancy. His site, Collected Miscellany, currently focuses on books and culture.

He has also dabbled in freelance journalism, having covered the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections in the crucial swing state of Ohio for National Review Online. He has also written book reviews and sports commentary for NRO.

Kevin has a Masters degree in History from Bowling Green State University and currently works in state government. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and 18-month-old daughter and the family’s two cats and two dogs.

Simon Owens: In all my interviews I’ve done for Bloggasm, I’ve talked to bloggers both with tightly-niched blogs and ones which focus on a variety of topics. The bloggers with tightly-niched blogs seem to be able to build up a readership more quickly because they have a group of core readers interested in their subject. As someone who blogs on a variety of topics, how has your experience been with this?

Kevin Holtsberry: Yes, niche blogs in many ways work best in terms of traffic and readership. You get people who are passionate about a subject and looking for someone who is just as passionate and/or knowledgeable.

I have often toyed with the idea of focusing my writing on a more niche area and trying to become more of an “expert” or “source” for one particular subject. The original Collected Miscellany was to be a literature focused blog and leave behind the quick commentary and miscellaneous blog posts.

Alas, I am not sure I have what it takes to make that work. My eclectic interests just range too widely and I lack the discipline to focus on one subject long enough. Face it I am a rather flighty dilettante.

Simon Owens: As someone who reads and comments a lot on books in your blog, do you receive any review copies from publishers?

Kevin Holtsberry: Yes. One of the greatest discoveries in the world was that publishers would send me books for free if I would review them. Of course, the dark side to all of this is the pressure to read and review more and more books. It is an addiction. I can never hope to cure it but I can try and contain the damage.

In all seriousness, I have found that many publishers are happy to send bloggers books to review if the blogger is good about posting reviews of the books sent; the more prominent the blog the higher the interest.

I don’t get a great deal of unsolicited review copies, but the bigger lit blogs (and political blogs) I am sure get a lot of books sent their way (or could if they wanted).

Simon Owens: How successful do you think lit blogs are at promoting books, especially ones that usually aren’t well publicized in other venues?

Kevin Holtsberry: I think lit blogs do a great job of promoting books. They’re passionate and knowledgeable and so can build up trust with their readers. When they recommend an author or a book it can cut through all the hype and marketing, or just the inundation of new books, and make a difference in what people read. I know I have read books based solely on a blogger’s recommendation.

In this way, it doesn’t matter if the book is a recent release or from a big name author. It is the trust and shared interests that matter.

Simon Owens: As someone who describes yourself in your about-me page as slightly “burnt-out” on politics, have you found the world of book blogging to be more welcome and friendly?

Kevin Holtsberry: I must say I enjoy reading quite a few book or lit bloggers whose politics differs greatly from my own. But I can’t say that the lit blogs are any more or less “welcome and friendly” than any other part of the blogoshere. In fact, I was de-linked and shunned by one prominent lit blogger because he thought I was insufficiently sensitive to the pain Bush’s re-election caused left-leaning bloggers.

With that said, however, I do find reading and writing about fiction in particular is a way to get beyond mere politics. Good literature, IMHO, can help people put aside political differences and the culture wars. It doesn’t always work, but it does provide some common ground and a place to talk. Things tend not to get as superheated and hyperbolic as they do in the political side.

Interestingly enough, I find that the vast majority of popular lit bloggers are left leaning. Part of the blame lies in the destruction of the humanities by the multiculturalists and others. But part of the blame also lies with those on the right who over-politicize the arts.

Simon Owens: I’ve heard that book bloggers get pestered on a daily basis with emails from self-published authors trying to get someone to help promote their books. Is there any strategies that you’d recommend for self-published authors that isn’t so intrusive?

Kevin Holtsberry: I don’t get too many, but it is pretty common. What really bugs lit bloggers, I think, is when anyone sends them an unsolicited email that is clearly not going to be of interest. When someone sends you an email seeking your time and energy and yet hasn’t read your blog or figured out your interest it seems like spam. Emails like this haven’t risen too high on the annoyance scale for me yet, but again, the bigger the blog the more interest; and hence emails.

So I guess if I were offering advice, I would say take the time to check out the blogs and find some that seem to match your interests and style. Don’t use the scattershot approach.

Simon Owens: What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own blog?

Kevin Holtsberry: One unique blog I really enjoy is Contemporary Nomads. Olen Steinhauer, Kevin Wignal, John Nadler, and Robin Hunt are all published authors with curious minds and interesting life histories. They don’t post a great deal, but when they do it is thoughtful and interesting. Getting to interact with authors I really enjoy and respect is a lot of fun.

Ross Douthat at The American Scene is probably my single favorite blogger. He covers a mix of cultural and political subjects and does so with insight and skill.

If you like your book talk a little more on the serious side, Dan Green’s The Reading Experience is great. Again, he may not post as frequently as some but it is all quality. I might not always agree with him but I usually come away smarter.

Ed’s Return of the Reluctant is a good source of literary news and views with a comic, and West Coast, twist. Ed is an unrepentant lefty but he is funny and keeps me informed about the literary stuff.

On the political side, it is hard to go wrong with the folks over at RedState.

Related posts: Interview with Off the Kuff, Interview with Nick Mamatas, Interview with Jay Lake, Interview with Ben Peek


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