Welcome, returning and new readers alike, to Curiosity Quills’ weekly foray into the wild lands of book review sites!
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, helping you find new places to scour for awesome books.
This week’s victim- er, I mean, lucky participant- is Marlene Harris of Reading Reality, a general fiction blog with rrrrromantic leanings.
CQ: To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your site and what new readers can expect?
But I’m also a librarian, so I do write about issues that I think are important to libraries, especially when they affect people who use them. I’m passionate about ebooks, not just because my iPad is welded to my side, but also because they are changing the bookselling, publishing and library landscape.
While the “Big 6″ publishers are hemming and hawing about whether or not to sell to libraries, there is a lot of room for mid-size and smaller publishers to step in and build a relationship with libraries and get their midlist authors a very loyal readership who are known to buy series books.
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?
CQ: What was your hidden gem of 2011 – 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?
MH: My hidden gem was Ironhaven by Misa Buckley. It was an unsolicited review copy from the author, and one day at lunch I started reading it because, I confess, it was short and I needed to write a review of something, anything, that day. It was an amazingly good science fiction romance, and packed a lot of worldbuilding into the short length. It’s the story of a planet that’s dying, and a man whose family has just cancelled his ticket on the last ship out. There’s one woman who can help him find another way, but she might not want to help him. She’s his ex-fiancée.
CQ: Ebook Review Central is a bit of an unusual project, with you summarising a number of books from a single publisher. What inspired this? How do you put them together, and how do you pick a publisher?
Let me take a step back. At my last library, I did the ebook selection for the county. Romance ebooks circulate twice as much as anything else. So I wanted to get more. I was looking at Carina and Dreamspinner and other publishers that are ebook only, but the only thing I had to go on was the publisher’s description–those books aren’t reviewed. Library budgets are flat or shrinking, I needed to figure out which were going to be the popular ones.
There are review magazines that libraries subscribe to, but there is almost no coverage of ebook only books. Libraries buy books from authors that are new to them based on reviews. Nora Roberts doesn’t need reviews, but a first-time author is a different story.
So if ebooks were the new normal, where were the reviews?
So, for Ebook Review Central I chose most of the initial group of publishers that I did (Carina, Dreamspinner, Astraea, Liquid Silver) because their titles are available from OverDrive, the major ebook distributor to libraries in the U.S. They also represent different aspects of the romance genre. Carina covers everything, Dreamspinner publishes Male/Male romance, Astraea publishes “clean” romance that’s mostly not inspirational, and Liquid Silver publishes more erotic romance. I added Amber Quill by asking readers which publisher would be a good addition.
Samhain was included because they are a relatively large romance publishing house. They’re popular. Riptide is the final publisher in the set. They’re a new LGBTQ publisher who made a big splash on the romance publishing scene in October, 2011. They did so much good publicity that I decided to include them to see how their books would do, review-wise.
The whole project is a labor of love. Emphasis on both aspects. I search Amazon each week for the publisher’s list from the month before and enter all the data. Then it’s a Google search to find the reviews. And I do go back and check to see if there have been any reviews for previous titles by that week’s publisher. I use a big Excel spreadsheet. When I’m done I email the whole thing to my husband (he’s my techie) who converts it to the website pages that you see.
Now it’s a cycle. Carina one week, Dreamspinner the next, then Samhain, and last the 4-in-1 of Amber Quill, Astraea, Liquid Silver and Riptide. Then I start over covering the next month’s titles. I’d like to add another publisher or two, but the work involved makes that problematic.
The irony is that I originally thought that librarians would use it. It is turning out that authors and publishers are using it. But it is definitely getting used every week.
CQ: Do you find summarising a book from other reviewers’ feedback easier or harder than reading the book yourself and giving a full review?
CQ: Your stated preferred method of receiving review copies is NetGalley. What has been your experience, and why do you lean toward that channel?
My problem is that I pick out too many!
I do get approved for almost all of the books I choose. That’s because my profile is clear about my qualifications. I review a lot of books. And I am a reviewer for Library Journal in addition to the books I review on my blog. That has to be helping my approval rate.
Working with NetGalley has been a pleasure. The people that I have dealt with there have been fantastic.
The reason that I like getting review copies from NetGalley is that it is so straightforward. I request a book. I get it (or not). If I get it, I download my copy, read it, and upload my review to the publisher. Everything is tracked. Easy.
I have a library of over 2,000 print books. I’ve moved across the U.S. 6 times in the last 12 years, including to and from Anchorage Alaska. If there is one thing I don’t need, it’s more books to pack and unpack. Which is another reason why I prefer egalleys to print galleys. My iPad weighs a lot less than the equivalent galleys.
CQ: What anticipated new releases are you really looking forward to in 2012?
MH: The two books I’m looking forward to most are at opposite ends of the spectrum. When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris is the latest in her Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series. St. Cyr is everything you would expect in a Regency romance hero, complete with dark and tortured past, but these are not romances. These are very dark and twisted mysteries, complete with sinister political machinations.
On the lighter side, Redshirts by John Scalzi promises to be side-splittingly funny, but with Scalzi’s signature wit and sarcasm. And yes, the title does refer to those Redshirts, the ones who always get killed. This story is what happens when an entire ship is crewed with them. And they all want to survive!
CQ: And finally, use this space to give a shout-out to one of your own favourite book blogs.
Thank you for the interview, Marlene!
If you would like to see your blog or a blog you love featured, email Verity and we’ll see what we can do!