SFFWRTCHT is all about helping writer learn the business. One thing all successful authors must deal with is book reviews and that often means book bloggers. So here’s a perspective from the other side of that to help you understand book blogging, where the bloggers come from and perhaps how to deal with them when and if the time comes.
SFFWRTCHT: How’d you develop your love of reading?
My parents have never liked television. Our TV watching time was strictly regulated to two hours a week and absolutely NO TV in the summer. For fun my mom would take me to the library with this huge empty milk crate and I’d fill it with books. We’d read them together when I was falling asleep at night. I loved that tradition. That’s probably where my love of reading really starts. Then, when I was four I met my childhood best friend who also loved to read, which helped. When I moved from Delaware to Utah, I stopped reading. The move was hard on me and I think I was a bit depressed and lost my interest in books. The year after I moved I had a teacher who loved reading more than anyone I have ever met before, or since that time. I can’t remember exactly how she did it, but somehow she got my entire class reading, and loving it. She reignited the love of literature in me, and I’ve never stopped since.
SFFWRTCHT: Please tell us some of your favorite all time authors and books?
When I was a really little kid my all time favorite book was The Polar Express. My mom even got me a copy of it for Christmas one year and wrote a nice little thing inside and asked me to pass it on to my own daughter when she’s old enough to appreciate it. When I was a little older, my favorite book was James and the Giant Peach and the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In high school I randomly foundThe Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. That is still one of my all time favorite books, probably because it’s what really got me started on fantasy. It was my first experience with a new world and I loved it. A year or two later, my brothers introduced me to George R. R. Martin, and I’ve never looked back.
Right now my favorite authors are: K.J. Parker, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin, C.S. Friedman and Terry Pratchett (though I haven’t read a ton by him yet).
SFFWRTCHT: When and how did you decide to become a book blogger?
I started my blog in May of 2010. I was in my last semester of college before I was going to graduate and it was a lazy semester for me. It was my first semester I didn’t have to really focus on textbooks so I went back to reading fantasy. It quickly became apparent to me that I love talking about the books I read, and no one in my life cares because no one in my life reads. I started my blog so I could have somewhere I could talk and be excited about what I read and pretend there was someone out there who enjoyed reading, and cared what I thought. I never expected Bookworm Blues to turn into anything serious that people actually read and enjoyed. Through my blog I’ve met a great community of people who love to read and talk about what they read. It’s more than I ever expected and exactly what I wanted.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study literary theory or anything else to qualify yourself or learn how to critique literature?
Yes. I’ve taken more creative writing and literary theory classes than I care to admit. I have also been a writer my whole life, and I’ve had some short bits published, so I try to put everything I’ve learned in my classes into practice with my own writing. I think not only having studied literary theory, but also having put what I learned and what I like/don’t like into practice in my own writing has helped my reviewing quite a bit.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the hardest part of being a book blogger?
I hate writing negative reviews. I always feel horrible when I do it. I know how hard it is to write a book and I know how vulnerable, for lack of a better word, authors can feel when their work gets published and read by strangers. I hate saying anything mean about someone’s creative effort. I always feel terrible doing it.
SFFWRTCHT: How did your blog get so popular? You get books sent from major publishers, etc. How long did it take to rise to that level?
I think a lot of the reason anyone even knows my blog exists is because I’m pretty active on Twitter and always open to a discussion with pretty much anyone. When I first started out, I commented on other review blogs all the time. That really helped me gain followers. Especially when several of the blogs I commented on frequently pointed some of their readers in my direction. I don’t consider myself popular, but I have a blast doing what I do so I don’t really mind.
I started getting books from Tor about three to four months after I started reviewing. I was blogging about a year when I started getting books from Pyr. It wasn’t until about three months ago I’ve actually had publishers contacting me, rather than me contacting them.
SFFWRTCHT: Which genres do you review?
Anything under the “speculative fiction” umbrella except for paranormal romance.
SFFWRTCHT: How can an author submit their book for review?
Just shoot me an email with who you are and what your book is about. If you are a self published author, I’ll need an example of your writing before I accept your book. I try to reply as soon as possible, but sometimes it takes two weeks for me to get to my email.
SFFWRTCHT: How many books do you read/review in a month?
I used to read a lot more before I had the baby, easily 10-15 a month. Now, depending on how my daughter is doing (yay, colic!) I get anywhere between 5-10. I have a pretty nice pile of books I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet, so I’m averaging two reviews a week.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever refuse to review a book? Why?
I am pretty lenient with what I will review. I generally won’t read anything that has zombies in it (though I broke that rule for Tor recently). If the book could double as soft core porn (most paranormal romance) I won’t read it because I don’t see the point. I am also very picky about self published books. If an author doesn’t spell words right, or use periods, I won’t review their books.
SFFWRTCHT: How long does it take you to read/review a book?
This is another thing that’s changed now that I have a baby. Before my daughter was born, I was averaging a book every day to every three days. Now it usually takes me five to seven days to finish a book. Sometimes longer, depending on length.
SFFWRTCHT: How big is your TBR pile?
Huge. I’m honestly afraid to count all the books waiting to be read and reviewed. If I read books as fast as I did before I had my daughter, it wouldn’t be this long. I have books waiting to be read all over my house. It’s driving my husband crazy.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever get to read for fun?
Reading books that are sent to me is fun. I read so many books that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of because they are sent to me. I love it. That being said, I usually read about four books at a time, one of which is a book of my choosing.
SFFWRTCHT: How do authors usually respond to negative reviews?
Most authors will just ignore a negative review, or not comment on it. I’ve had a few write me pretty nasty letters.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever refuse to review friends’ books for fear of conflict arising?
I usually don’t say no to a review if the book looks interesting. If it’s a friend, I always feel a little awkward doing it, but as long as my friend understands that I’ll be honest, and if they can handle my honesty without letting it impact the friendship, I’m fine with it if they are.
SFFWRTCHT: What advice do you have for authors/publishers/publicists on how to relate/interact with book bloggers?
This is probably going to make me look really bad, but I think sometimes book reviews get taken too seriously. Let me explain what I mean by this. I view literature like painting. It’s an art, and, like art, it’s subjective. For example, I couldn’t care less about Monet and his bridges and lilies. They don’t appeal to me. However, there are tons of people who love Monet and would sell their soul for some of his paintings. Neither perspective is more or less valid than the other and you can picture how reviews would change based on those different opinions. Books are no different, and neither are book reviewers. All our tastes are completely different and while I think it’s important for authors to be aware of what their audience may like/dislike, don’t let yourself need antidepressants based on negative reviews. All reviewers are doing is stating their perspectives and opinions. It’s not gospel, and where one person may hate/love a book, someone else will feel differently. Acknowledge those opinions, but don’t take them too seriously. By that I mean, don’t let them crush your soul.
On another note, authors/publicists are usually pretty good at being friendly and easy to talk to, but some aren’t. Book bloggers are just regular people who love to read and sometimes getting approached by an author/publicist can be intimidating. In fact, I don’t interview authors because talking to an author through an interview scares me half to death. My only real advice on how to interact with book bloggers is don’t forget that some of us may be intimidated by authors, so don’t forget to be friendly and approachable.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you ever discussed a review with an author? Did it ever prompt you to reread the book or modify your review?
I have modified reviews before, but after I modify them I usually take them down until I reread the book. In the moment I think modifying is a good idea, and then I really think about it and realize I should reread the book and write a better review, as that would be the most fair way to go about changing/altering my review and opinions. I haven’t quite reached the point where I have reread reviewed books yet, but I plan on it soon, especially the first few books I reviewed on my blog – those reviews are pretty terrible. I have talked to authors about their books, but I think you are the person I have been able to talk to most in depth about your book, and that was so refreshing! Most authors seem rather unwilling to have an in depth conversation about their work.
SFFWRTCHT: Well, I made deliberate choices and you’re a friend. It was important to me to understand, if I could, why you reacted to certain things as you did. In the end, I concluded it was probably just taste vs. an issue with craft but learning from criticism is important as a writer. How should authors respond to negative reviews in your opinion?
Be polite. A review is just someone’s opinion, and even a negative opinion still gets the word out about the book. Not everyone can love every book, nor should they. Reviews should be written in a way that tells readers why they liked/didn’t like the book (not just, “I hated this book! It sucked!”) and authors should accept those reasons without writing nasty letters to the reviewer. Being open to discussion with reviewers, or people who have read the book is nice, though. There is a chance that readers interpreted something wrong and that could have effected their overall opinion of the book. Discussing books with readers could clear those issues up and get readers more excited about re-reading the book. Respect on both sides is necessary.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you make an effort to be constructive in criticism you write?
Very much so. I don’t believe that there is a perfect book in existence and I try very hard to discuss the reasons why I liked each book and some flaws each book had (in my view). I realize that my opinion is just that, and opinion, and my readers have different tastes in books than I do. Thus, I may not enjoy one book, but I realize that some of my readers will, and I try to write a review that discusses not only why I did/didn’t like a book, but why someone else might like/dislike said book. I also try really hard to give REASONS behind why I feel the way I feel about a book. I think there are far too many reviews out there who just summarize the book and then say, “and I liked it” and that’s it. I try to NOT summarize the book (you can read the back-cover-blurb yourself) and instead only talk about important things like dialogue, plot, characterization and world building.
Sarah Chorn’s book reviews can be found online free at http://bookwormblues.blogspot.com/. A new mother, she lives with her husband and baby in Utah.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. The sequel to The Worker Prince is forthcoming in 2012, The Returning. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.
The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel.