Today, the Book Blogger Spotlight falls upon Gaele, from I Am, Indeed. This amazing book blogger was a veterinary science major at university with a bent for English literature, American and British.
The transition from reader to reviewer was a natural one for Gaele. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read, and I’ve always been fascinated with language and words. I was a kid who traveled often, so books were easy to transport and bring along, and being able to hide in other worlds kept boredom at bay. It wasn’t unusual to see me with 3 or 4 different books in a bag or backpack, and I’ve had and used and worn out library cards, getting my first when I was 4. With the advent of eBooks, an iPad and a Kindle Fire; both exposure and ability to get new titles near instantly kept me feeding my reader with titles in all genres. When I started to see the profusion of review sites, I put my name in the pot for a couple of positions on review teams, and was chosen. Between those site owners giving me a chance, and my own type-A go all in or go home attitude, a book blog was born. Then as time has gone on, I’ve spent time working on my review skills: from running a small review team for an eMagazine, to encouraging and helping new reviewers, writing guest posts about reviews and still managing to write reviews for 3 sites beside my own I’m pretty busy. Additionally, I still beta read for (last count) ten authors, and I have started editing (copy/proof/line) and two of my edited titles are now released.”
Gaele, tell us about your book blog.
My blog at I am, Indeed started as a work in progress. I actually had started on blogger first with a free site, and then moved to word press with no real intentions for it to be a book blog. Then as my own reading increased I decided to start trying to increase readership by signing on with a few blog tour companies: from there the review opportunities increased, to the point that I am working with a four to five month waiting list, and my 2013 reviews have been closed for a month.
I went to self-host in July of this year, with lots of redesigning (a never ending process) and setting the blog indices and feel. I’m a one woman operation, I do have someone who will occasionally review science fiction for me as I won’t read that for review, but his time and input is limited. To that end, myself and a blogging friend have done some groundwork for yet another blog that will catch our overflow reviews, and we will be announcing the launch of that blog hopefully by the first of the year, with a call for associate reviewers there as well.
As a reader, I am a big believer in reading what intrigues, no matter the genre, and personally my own list of “pleasure reads” is greatly varied. For review, however, there are genres that I will NOT read for review: Horror, Dark or High Fantasy, High Science Fiction (I’m a Douglas Adams sort of Sci-Fi aficionado). Biography/Memoir, Religion focused, self-help, non-fiction or how-to’s. All of my choices for not reading a book are personal decisions based on my familiarity with genres, or belief that I am not familiar or comfortable enough with a genre to provide a review of quality that an author deserves. I’m very much a review-based blog: I’m horrible at asking interview questions, and I am sure that authors tire of answering the same types of questions repeatedly. I’ve done some character interviews, and will occasionally work an author interview in: guest posts I love, especially when they relate to a choice made for a book, a style or even just talk about process. I don’t think that readers ever tire of hearing about how an author does what they do.
In the 14 months since I decided to go ‘all reviews all the time’ I’ve rarely had days without reviews or posts: at least a post every day, most days are 2 or 3 titles reviewed. The inclusion of audiobook reviews added a whole new group of reviews on my site, I’m at 70 or so since I started reviewing the format and I love the variety that I get from those requests.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
Selecting a book is far easier. Because I’ve been reading for so long, and have a sense of what I like and don’t, I need an ‘ooh’ moment. Now that can come from a blurb, or a sample or even a cover. BUT, if one of those 3 items isn’t working for me – the book isn’t chosen. Period. I have learned to listen to my little internal voice because nearly 100% of the time if I have thought something didn’t work, and I still accept the book – I’ve found that my concerns were relevant, and often prophetic. I also choose titles through NetGalley and Edelweiss: those sites are often where I feed my need for different with lots of Literary Fiction titles: in fact I need to limit my visits there because like letting me loose in a bookshop, I can get lost in the pretties and ignore my reading schedule.
I still do some tour reviews, I like the variety offered with tours and being able to offer more options for giveaways for readers is always a bonus. Priority is easy. I work with a calendar. I have scheduled dates that posts need to be run, and everything works based on those dates. I have 3 or 4 different scheduling tools that I utilize to keep everything organized, and that way I can tell at a glance if I can accept a title for review and when the author can expect it will be complete. Priority is determined by date – each week I have a ‘to be read’ list that is based in page count. I try to read between 1000 – 1500 pages a week, this allows for audiobook time as well, but that is my goal *down slightly from earlier this year when I was shooting for 1500 – 2000 pages a week. I’ve come pretty close to never missing, at 570 or so titles already read for review this year. They are read in a block – I put all the TBR titles for the week into my eReaders or on the table, and I start reading. Sometimes straight through, other times I will mix up reads and do two or three simultaneously.
How deep is your TBR pile?
How deep is my TBR? Well – my own personal pile is about 30 books – that may or may not get reviewed. I have about 180 titles waiting for scheduling in my submission queue, with another 100 or so titles (I think) scheduled for the rest of the year.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
I have a 5 star / flame (for sexual content) system. Essentially it is closely allied to the Amazon system with a few minor tweaks. I have a system of criteria that I find important: character, story, quality of writing, story arc, world, unique elements, dialogue, ‘feel’ that all are considered with every review adding quality of narration (voice, suitability, enunciation, variations and effects used to delineate characters) for audiobooks. When any of those elements stand out (for the good or bad) they are more important to the review (for me) than say a formatting glitch or some minor editing errors. However, that is not to say that I do not notice most of the editing fails, spelling and grammar mistakes – when they distract my reading flow, or are repetitive – that also will gain notice and become an issue. Sexual heat ratings I do for those who are concerned they will see something that is contrary to their beliefs or comfort level. I try to note sexual content, drug and alcohol use and other elements that are not appropriate for readers under 18, with a nod to the increase in erotic content in many romance titles by providing readers ways to see that a title will have X Y and Z elements.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
I don’t think that I’ve ever deliberately chosen a title that didn’t appeal. I just rather know that it wouldn’t be fair to the author. Have I chosen a book for review and scheduled it for later and then wondered why I chose it? Certainly. But there was something there that drew me at the time, so while I may have some reservations at the moment of reading, I try to ignore those and just read. Often I am surprised, usually pleasantly.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Sadly I think every reader has had that moment, it is probably why I tend to have authors that I favor for style and quality of writing, but I try not to get too wrapped up in a particular series or single character. I can better appreciate the author’s work if I approach it as a “I love their writing” rather than “X is the favorite character and I love his story – until the author did that”.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Lately I’ve been seeing a profusion of things that just don’t hold water for me.
Authors writing to a fad – if you don’t feel the story, you don’t have characters clamoring for you to tell their story – don’t do it. You will disappoint your fans, and you won’t gain positive traction with those who are particular fans of the genre you are dipping in to because X Y and Z authors have made the bestseller list with one like it.
Authors who are writing by “committee” with constant posts asking for reader input on what sort of character, what they should do, what sort of plot twists. Again, if the characters aren’t clamoring to have their story told – don’t tell it.
If you don’t have the time to dedicate to making the best example of your writing possible at the time – I don’t have the time to read it. Use Beta Readers and editors like you would use soap in the shower: liberally and frequently.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
Oh – my list is long – we could do this all day. Let’s just hit highlights.
Don’t get “creative” with dialogue. If you have established that you have a person from the Bronx, I do not need to see him always speaking in dialect or accent like “youse guys”. Establish your character’s unique speech pattern and LET IT GO. Now, there are some exceptions, if the words are foreign to your readers, if you need it to establish a character’s ‘difference’ and difficulty with language – then showing a patois that is relevant to their pattern and construction of speech is understandable.
Not editing – we can ALWAYS tell. Believe me.
Plagiarism – whether you are similar in feel to another story that you loved, or are actually clipping whole sections from another author – neither is good. USE your Beta readers to specifically address their questions about similar to – and then TAKE their advice. Make the story your own.
Inappropriate words / phrases that don’t fit your time frame. Most often I see this in historical fiction: it’s fine to play with characters IN a specific time period, but be aware that there were not cell phones in 1960, and ‘gay’ was a lighthearted feeling of making merry in the 1920’s.
Wavering point of view in narration; head hopping without clear voice for characters; telling me everything two or three times without showing once; not logically closing a thread in a story.
Making every new book you release part one of three: not all stories need 3 books and 300K words.
Characters that are introduced and given placement without a point: if I can’t keep them straight and know why they are there – you don’t need them.
Your blurb is promising things your book doesn’t deliver – or your blurb is full of “praise” for your writing with nothing about the book. I don’t want to know what others thought / think about your writing, I want to make my own decision – give me something to work with.
Authors who write a screenplay with every description telling me what something looks like: great for a new and unique world, but give your reader some credit for life experience and don’t micromanage their own visual input to your story. Frost on an apple is something we can see: it doesn’t need 5 more lines of guided description. Yes, you need that when shooting a film for the art department to capture the feel, but as a reader I want to make my own determination.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
I’m a very eclectic reader; I know that my taste isn’t everyone’s. But, I frequently find that the ‘buzz’ around many of the more popular titles is apt to leave me flat. I can usually, however, see why people who rave about it are, and when I review those sorts of titles I do try to make note of readers who will particularly enjoy a story.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
First – follow their directions. EVERY book blogger I know has a set of submission instructions on their blog. USE those – follow their steps. Do not randomly send review copies to an email. I delete all of those I get – you can’t be bothered to look at my blog – I can’t give you time. Do not EVER send a mass email to bloggers to announce a release or review copies available. I have to take the time to read your blurb to see if your book will interest – you should at least look through my blog/reviews to see if your title may fit in there.
Secondly – never ever ever approach a book blogger with the words “Blogger X’s review was ___ and I like your style so will you review my book”. The first thing I’m going to do is check out Blogger X (if I don’t know them already) and then look for their review of YOUR title. I’ll make my own determination if the review is well crafted – and there are reasons for them liking or not. THEN – I’m going to CONTACT blogger X and tell them you are trash talking. After I’ve done that, and talked with other bloggers that I know (because this may NOT be the first time you have behaved badly) I will respond to you and tell you why I am not reviewing your book. I may or may not include a link to the many posts out there about bad author behavior, but you have burned the bridge with me (and several others) by one inappropriate request. Book bloggers DO share information about problem authors, problem publishers and problem tour companies. You do not ever want to make that list.
Third – a thank you is always appropriate. Taking the time to thank the reviewer for THEIR time in reading and reviewing is important.
Fourth – questions / disagreements about the review should NEVER be public. Email and ask – personally, I will make corrections to factual information (if I get a name or a date wrong, that sort of thing) but the review on quality will NEVER change. Telling me that I don’t have the “latest version” of the title after the review is less than what you expected is NOT my problem. When you updated, you should have provided the copy, letting me know it was updated and HOW. If I haven’t read it – I will use that copy. I can ONLY review what you send me.
Fifth: street teams. Street teams are wonderful marketing tools for authors, and are great supporters of your work. But, they too need management. (All of these examples I have seen with my own eyes as blogger and street team member)
♦ Do Not EVER have your street team vote UP or DOWN a review on a review site – you are bullying the reviewer, and you are actually making some interesting changes to your metrics that you didn’t realize. Amazon has now changed their metrics – so a vote down on a middle rated book (3 star) will count more than a vote up on a 5 star. And a proliferation of votes on any rating for a book will be counted as ‘fan’ votes and not affect the metrics.
♦ Do not encourage your street team members to visit blogs where your book is featured and then ask them to post their own reviews. They want to blog – open their own. But My blog and my reviews, while I love comments, is not the place to put your own review with links to your review. Ask a question, tell me why you loved Character A, say thanks. The rest – only gets your post deleted and your author on the ‘probably not’ list
♦ Offering swag, gift cards, free books as an incentive for street team members to write 5 star reviews is just despicable. And is done often
I have emailed authors and most will address the issues – those who don’t – I can’t have them on my blog.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
It is neither my desire nor my job to crush dreams. Life and stress can do that on its own if you allow that sort of thing. My job is to read and present a critique / review – to help you tell the best story possible. First I have to look at my own personal prejudices – was there something there in the story that gave me a bad taste – or was it simple craft issues. My job is firstly to READ the entire book, and then present my thoughts. Taking into account my own personal predilections to like or dislike an element, I then try to capture what worked. I’m not a negative person: I don’t think anyone learns from being told something was bad without being told of the positive parts and giving examples of what missed that mark. There is always something positive in a piece of writing – you just need to find that – and address that as well. This is not to say that there are books I have reviewed that the review is shared ONLY with the author (and not published elsewhere), and I do not review DNF books. I try to give examples, and offer suggestions of what could improve.
And honesty. I am always honest. In fact, I get more positive responses from less ‘glowing’ reviews, because I’ve taken time to both inform the author of the why, giving examples and offering suggestions. I’ve even had authors come back to me after a less than glowing review with additional titles. I truly want to love every book that I open, and I’m fortunate in that I can usually offer suggestions to readers who will love the book, and to authors to keep their trajectory on an upward angle, improving quality and sales. I’m a cheerleader for the written word; I love reading and books and think everyone should. That’s why I have a book blog.
What was your worst experience with an author?
All of my ‘what author’s should do to have a good relationship with bloggers’ comes from an author (or authors) behaving badly and not following those rules. We (book bloggers) do talk, and the horror stories I have seen from others, as well as some bloggers who have overstepped just leave me gobsmacked. Professional and polite have gone the way of the dodo bird it seems, and I just will do my utmost to maintain those qualities in public forums as much as possible. Yes, I have had everything I mentioned happen to me, often more than once from different authors who should have known better.
You are, in the reviewing world, only as good as your reputation. Lose that and you have lost everything. Getting into flame wars or reacting angrily to some of the junk out there only puts you in the sandbox with the miscreants and cat poop. I rarely pop off and rant at specific people, and I also don’t address negativity when I am angry. I write my ‘first’ response – and sit it on my desktop. When cooler heads prevail – I reassess the information, decide if it warrants a response or action and then take it.
Gaele, thanks for a great interview. Now, everybody go over and check out I Am, Indeed.