Shortly after I began marketing my novel, In Leah’s Wake, a former agent told me I’d never sell 500 books. The agent had left New York, but she was a pro—in the business for years—and her words stung. I hung up the phone, feeling heartbroken, depressed. Had I not been in the midst of my first blog tour, I might have pulled my novel off the market that day.

Determined to see the tour through, I soldiered on. On the tour, I met wonderful, caring people—book bloggers—whose kindness buoyed and sustained me. Their support gave me confidence to believe in myself.

Since then, In Leah’s Wake has appeared on hundreds of blogs. Book bloggers opened their hearts and spread news of this quiet literary novel across their social networks. Eight months after my discouraging conversation with the agent, my book has sold nearly 100,000 copies.

Book bloggers are, I believe, the fairy godmothers and godfathers of the literary world. Bloggers invest their estimable talent, their tremendous energy, and their invaluable time into discovering, reviewing and promoting new books—and they keep dreams alive.

In very real ways, book bloggers have created and nurtured the indie revolution. Their vision, their energy, and their determination have enabled this amazing populist movement to take hold and grow.

Here are five important ways bloggers shape the literary world:

For indie authors, bloggers replace traditional reviewers
Book reviews are big business. The dollars paid to reviewers at publications like The New York Times is generated, at least in part, from ad sales paid for by traditional publishers. Thus far, traditional media have resisted reviewing indie books, probably at least in part because there is little or no money to be made.

Before book bloggers took over this role, readers interested in trying books by new indie authors were forced to buy largely at-random. With the explosion of digital publishing, thousands of eBooks flooded the market. Understandably, readers were reluctant to plunk down hard-earned money for a book that might turn out to be a dud. Recognizing the need for honest reviews, book bloggers picked up the slack. Today, bloggers take the guesswork out of book-buying, lowering the risk for readers.

Provide professional reviews, tailored to their audience.
Like traditional reviewers, reputable bloggers don’t merely give an opinion about a book under review. They offer a thorough analysis; they analyze plot, evaluate structure and character development, offer praise where due, and cite shortcomings.

Unlike stodgy traditional reviews, blogger reviews feel personal. Readers have an opportunity to respond to blog posts; in their dialogue, readers and bloggers connect. Today, many bloggers specialize in a particular genre or genres and readers follow their favorite bloggers, often those with whom they share sensibilities. The blogger is a faithful friend; readers trust his or her reviews.

Discover new voices.
Unlike the traditional media, bloggers typically welcome indie-published books. No one pays bloggers for their reviews, except perhaps in free books. Bloggers are not compelled by corporations to read books by anointed authors. Bloggers select books freely, with the goal of sharing good reads with their followers and visitors. Because they’re open-minded, willing to read books by unfamiliar authors and give those books a chance, bloggers discover new voices. This is what happened with In Leah’s Wake.

Introduce new authors and spread the word about books.
Traditional publishers invest upwards of $100,000 into marketing favored titles, often at the expense of smaller books (whose author is then blamed for the book’s failure). By generating PR, raising the profile of their anointed authors and favored books, publishers controlled the bestseller lists. Now this is changing.

When bloggers discover a new author or book, they share the news. Many publish a review on their blog, post on reader and consumer sites, like Goodreads and Amazon, and share news across social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and so on. Harnessing the power of social networks, spreading news virally, bloggers—and their followers—are launching bestsellers, putting their favorite books on those all-important lists.

Offer collaborative communities for authors and readers.
Bloggers host vibrant communities of authors and readers. In the past, other than via public readings, readers and authors rarely connected. Today, readers and authors meet on book blogs and dynamic conversations unfold. Bloggers also interview authors or invite them to write guest posts, giving authors a chance to share their thoughts with readers and readers the opportunity to learn more about—and connect with—authors.

Friendly and personal, book blogs invite collaborative dialogue. The comments an author receives from readers help her grow as an artist. Most blogs are moderated, eliminating the unfortunate nastiness that all too often ensues on sites that encourage anonymity. Book blogs are the new literary salons—offering a safe, vibrant, comfortable place for authors and readers to chat.

Today, thanks largely to book bloggers, we are privy to the funny, poignant, intelligent voices of new authors from around the world—voices that, not long ago, were silenced by the gatekeepers of the old guard. These rich new voices reach into hearts and minds, forging connections, uniting us in a community of readers and writers, as we search for and find—through the power of words—the better part of ourselves. This, truly, is what reading and writing is all about.