Book Reviewing: the Interviews

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David and I met via a book group. I initially considered writing a review of a recent read for our extra week this month, until I hit on the idea of writing a piece of fiction about the review process itself.

We’d love to read about your personal review process – do add them in the comments below

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“Good evening everyone, tonight we’re going to talk about book reviews. With me in the studio tonight are Leon Wolf, Carolyn Sweetman and Jon Friend. Leon has been reviewing books as part of his skills portfolio for a number of years, Carolyn is a renowned book blogger and Jon runs a long-standing book club here in Brighton. Leon, Carolyn and Jon, welcome to the Late Night Chat Show.”

“Leon, perhaps you’d kick us off by taking us through how you got into reviewing?”
“Sure, thanks Amanda. As you can see, I’ve never been one for the booted ‘n suited lifestyle, the 9-5, working in an office thing.”
“For the listeners, I’ll simply say that Leon is dressed in a casual and individual style!”
<sound of laughter>
“I’m a variety of things – photographer, musician and writer, but I realised that I really needed something to even out the peaks and troughs of freelance work. A friend recommended book reviewing and put me in touch with a contact of his and from that I now run a reviewing group.”
“A reviewing group? How does that work exactly?”
“I get shipped a stack of books every week which I separate out based on genre, length, style of writing, that type of thing. In essence, I try to suit each member of my review group to the books I receive. Then they collect their new bundle of books and return the old bundle, together with a brief note of their impressions. I take a quick look through the books myself, then put the reviews together and submit them.”
“So you write all the reviews?”
“Well, I pen them, but they are largely made up of the scribbled notes and impressions of those who’ve read the entire book, while I pick out bits and pieces to round the review out.”
“I see. So, do you ever read an entire book yourself to review it?”
“Very rarely. Only if it’s clear that none of the group would have the time or interest in something unusual.”
“And where do your reviews end up?”
“We don’t write for one particular newspaper or magazine. Our reviews are sold on to a variety of publications.”
“Thank you Leon and now over to …”

“Carolyn Sweetman, welcome”
“Hello Amanda, thanks so much for the invitation to the Late Night Chat Show.”
“Could I ask you the same question, Carolyn, how you got into reviewing?”
“My path is very different from Leon’s, Amanda. I worked in the City for many years but decided to be a stay-at-home Mum once my children were born. That said, I knew I’d want to keep my hand in doing something. As I did English Lit at Uni and have always kept up with my reading, I decided to give reviewing a go.”
“And you chose blogging as your mouth-piece?”
“Well, everyone’s doing it and it’s so easy to set up a blog these days, you don’t even have to pay for a website or anything. I do have a proper website now, but I didn’t spend any money on the technical side of things until I had a decent following.”
“And how long did that take?”
“About two to three years, but I did work hard on the social media stuff.”
“What like Twitter and Facebook?”
“Yes, I know it sounds like I just sat at a keyboard and chatted to lots of people I’ve never met. And whilst there is a bit of that, you also have to work at it. You have to learn about optimum posting times and search engine optimisation, you have to build relationships for business purposes, not because you like someone. I took it seriously. I wrote tons of reviews on amazon and goodreads and built contacts from there too. I tweeted authors, agents and publishers with links to my reviews and put out a monthly newsletter to – what is now – over ten thousand readers.”
“Sounds like all that hard work of yours proved successful. When you started up your blog, what measure of success did you apply?”
“I wanted earn a living from my blog. Nothing massive, but I did want it to bring in some revenue, especially as I paid out so much in the early days on buying books. You see, because I was doing it as a business, I knew I couldn’t sit at home and wait for a book to become available at the library – I’d buy it and review it whilst it was still new and hot. That was a big part of my draw and why I was taken seriously. Now, of course, I get sent free copies for review. More recently, well I get a buzz when I see my reviews being quoted on author’s and/or publishers websites and their publicity material.”
“And your review process is?”
“I read a book from cover-to-cover. If it’s so bad that I cannot, I say so in my review.”
“Thank you Carolyn and finally over to …”

“Jon Friend – welcome Jon. Jon runs a book group here in Brighton. It’s been going for nearly 20 years now and has had a regular membership of between 10 and 15 people. Jon, tell me what got you into setting up a book group?”
“Hi Amanda. Well, I’m an avid reader and have always wanted to discuss the books I read, but none of my family or friends were interested in what I read. So I decided to seek out some like-minded people. I tried once before, but I was living in too small a village. It’s been great here in Brighton, we always have people on the waiting list, but I keep it to a maximum of 15 or the discussions could get out of hand.”
“And do you have a review process Jon?”
“We have a whole range, ‘cos it’s a very individual thing. Depending on life stressors, most of us read everything from cover-to-cover, although there’s some skim-reading when a book isn’t to a person’s taste. Personally, I’ve never not finished a book. It’s a proud boast of mine. We look at writing style – there’s a few in our group who can’t bear anything written in the present tense. We ask ourselves the typical questions: Is it a good story, is it well-paced, is it believable, are the characters well-drawn, did we learn anything new? If all else fails, we end up casting the film!”
“And have you ever considered reviewing as a profession Jon?”
“No, not at all. I enjoy our discussions, but that’s because we know each other and are comfortable in sharing our personal opinions. I’m not sure how happy we’d be to publish them. For us, it’s a personal thing.”
“Jon, thank you so much for coming to talk to us.”

“This is Amanda Don for the Late Night Chat Show saying goodnight and thank you to my guests and to you for listening.”

 

© 2016 Debra Carey

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Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My primary blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics personal to me, including #ISWG reflections; I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching. My previous general blog was Bunny and the Bloke- now in mothballs.

One thought on “Book Reviewing: the Interviews”

  1. I have a book blog. I started off writing reviews for others, then set up my own. I am sent free books by publishers, which I review and then mostly pass on, either to a family member or to my school library. Sometimes I review a book I’ve bought. I rarely review a book I didn’t like; I keep that for my slush reading! My site caters to children’s and YA readers, which doesn’t stop me from getting requests from people who have written something totally inappropriate for my site.

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