Welcome, good readers, this this week’s Book Blog Spotlight!
Review blogs are well established by now as one of the best and most popular routes by which readers find recommendations for good quality books in the endless slush pile of new and otherwise unknown authors. This is word of mouth, made grand and far-reaching by the power of the internet age, and in this column we will spotlight a different blog each week to talk about what they review, how and why.
This week, I’m joined by the lovely Ellie of Curiosity Killed The Bookworm, about dead people, cross-posting, and the trials and tribulations of reviewing self-published.
CQ: To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your site and what new readers can expect?
Books, books and more books. Sometimes there’s cake too. Every book I read makes in onto the blog, usually in the form of a review with my wandering thoughts. I try to write critical reviews so my readers can judge for themselves if they’ll like the book. It’s important to realise we all like different things and I avoid saying a book is “bad”. Just because i get annoyed with fois gras propaganda, doesn’t mean everyone will. A normal week consists of three or four reviews, a couple of memes and sometimes I’ll host guest bloggers or take part in community events. I’d like to spend more time writing features but they always seem to fall by the wayside when there are shiny books to be read.
CQ: Your blog has an unusual remit – “I read dead people”, a whole spread of genres so long as, as a whole, someone snuffs it. What is it about character death you find compelling?
Haha, it’s more of an observation that a remit. I had been looking back over the books I’d read recently and a character had either died during the story or a death in the past played a part in influencing them. Death is the one thing we all have in common, it will happen to us all, so it makes sense that it creeps into our fictional worlds so often. It’s something that causes such a wide range of emotions, grief, fear, even relief and we all want to feel something when we read.
CQ: How many review requests do you receive in the average month? What really grabs your attention in a query, and what earns the email a one-way trip to the deleted folder?
I’d take a stab at 20-30 a month but they come from all sorts of sources. Sometimes it’s a Twitter conversation and I do get books that just turn up, which is lovely. It’s a sad day when there’s no book-shaped post waiting for me when I get home! I like to see an author or publicist taking the time to match a title to my tastes. The only thing worse than not reading the review policy is taking a quick look and saying “I see you read x, you will like y” when I didn’t rate x all that much in the first place. I understand that individual pitches take more time but I honestly believe it will yield more results than blindly sending emails to every blog you can find. A bit of personality and professional friendliness will go a long way. Oh and proof reading the email before hitting send also helps!
CQ: What was your hidden gem of the last twelve months – the book you hadn’t been heard of till an author/publisher asked you to review it or a friend shoved a copy under your nose?
The Testimony by James Smythe. I got chatting with James on Twitter about some random topic ages ago and he asked if he could put me down for a review copy when it was available. Months passed and I sort of forgot about it but come publication week, a copy turned up and it turned out to be one of my favourite reads so far this year. It’s an oral history style novel about what happens when the entire world hears a voice. Is it god? A hoax? Aliens? I doubt I would have found it by myself and I would have missed out on a fabulous book!
CQ: Who are your favourite authors – both lifetime friends and ‘flavour of the month’?
Oh such a hard question, there are so many wonderful writers out there. The hardy perennials are Terry Pratchett, Kelley Armstrong and Karin Slaughter; I guess it’s easier to have a prolific favourite than someone who has just written one book…say perhaps Steven Hall. Recently I’ve discovered Jojo Moyes whose books have been challenging what people perceive of as chick-lit. I’ve been reading a lot of debuts recently so there are some names to look out for in the future; Eowyn Ivey, Michael Logan, Tanya Byrne and Lucy Wood to name a handful.
CQ: Your ‘about’ states you “no longer review self-published authors”, which implies you used to. What were your experiences, and why do you generally avoid self-pub these days?
It’s really been a build-up of a number of things which has just made accepting them for review to be a chore not a pleasure. I hope authors remember book bloggers are doing this as a hobby and not as a personal service to them. With a fairly open review policy, I was flooded with requests that took time to properly assess. If I said no, I would often be sent the book anyway “just in case” and that would make me feel guilty about deleting it. Again and again, self-published authors demonstrate unprofessional behaviour online to people who are their customer base; it’s no wonder there is poor perception of the sector. There are some decent books out there but I haven’t been blown away by a self-published novel as of yet and most the time they feel unfinished. I personally think the traditional publishing process adds a lot of value to the finished product as well as having an endorsement of an imprint you can come to know and love. With a self-published author you need to start afresh every time. Moaning at my opinions isn’t going to make me change my mind and review a book, which seems to be a bizarre, yet popular, tactic. I’m not saying I don’t read self-published books at all, but I would rather they come recommended by someone with a track record, such as a fellow blogger. Believe it or not, a lot really enjoy wading through the slush piles to find those hidden gems; it’s just not for me.
CQ: Since you started, do you find you read more, less, or about the same? Has the act of reviewing, of recording the strengths and weaknesses of a book for your followers, changed the experience of reading for you?
I read a lot more; I am always spurred on by the need to have something to put on the blog! It was unusual for me to read a lot of new releases, there were a handful of authors I’d pre-order hardbacks for but otherwise I would pick up books that had been around years. I think more about themes and the actual writing style now, although when I love a book so much that I whizz through it, I often find myself struggling to write a full review of it. Post-it notes are a book blogger’s best friend when it comes to jogging the memory. One of the things I appreciate about ereaders is the ability to highlight easily.
CQ: Do you cross-post to other sites (GoodReads, Amazon, Shelfari etc) and what are your opinions on these kinds of sites?
Goodreads is a great way to keep track of what I’m reading and the sprawling disaster that is my To-Be-Read pile. I also like to have a nose at what my non-blogging friends are reading. The experience isn’t so good when people are using it purely as a marketing tool but the social aspect is what makes it work. I do cross-post on the UK Amazon site although I don’t pay too much attention to the reviews myself. I know authors and publishers appreciate it, especially on a less well known book.
CQ: And finally, use this space to give a shout-out to one of your own favourite book blogs.
Just the one? Difficult choice but I’d have to give the honour to Hannah at Once Upon a Time
. She’s another eclectic reader and whilst at first glance, it doesn’t look like we have much cross-over we do share the same opinions about so many things. It’s a blog I make sure to check out daily.