Book bloggers provide a vital nexus between the reading public and the writers of books. The fortunes of an individual book can rise or fall on the recommendations of book bloggers. It was mommy bloggers who propelled E.L. James into stardom, highlighting their importance in facilitating the discoverability of books that could otherwise (and all too easily) remain obscure. The point is, they’re kind of a big deal and they deserve a little recognition. This week, we turn the spotlight on one of our faves – an all-around cool guy and tough customer, Big Al.
Big Al, tell us about you. Feel free to leave out any matters that have not as yet been adjudicated.
Two things that have been a big part of my life from a young age are reading books and listening to music. Several years ago I got involved in reviewing music, primarily for a website that specialized in what’s called Americana music and also for one of those arts and entertainment magazines every city has. I’d stopped doing that and on some level missed it. When I got my Kindle I started reading indie authors and would sometimes review the book on Amazon. I’d met a lot of fellow readers and indie authors online. Many of them liked my reviews and kept suggesting that I start a book blog. I fought it for a long time, but eventually gave in.
Let’s talk specifically about Big Al’s Books and Pals. How’d you get that going and what goes on there?
I posted the first review near the end of January of 2011, so I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years. I started out by myself, but always planned to get others involved in some fashion which is where the “and Pals” part of the blog name came from. In the beginning the only involvement from others was an occasional guest post from an author. After mostly going it on my own for a couple months I had a review go viral and, due to my open submission policy, was flooded with submissions. I put out the call for pals to help review and over time have built a good team of helpers. For a period I was also doing author interviews, but for several reasons discontinued them. (One of those reasons was I agreed to take over a site called The IndieView – www.theindieview.com – which does author interviews.) So the Books and Pals site is now exclusively reviews of indie books (either self published or small press) and guest posts, with rare non-review posts from me or one of the pals. We’ve reached the point where we have a post every day and sometimes go through periods where we have two.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
We have an open submission policy with no guarantee of being reviewed, so we never lack for books to choose from. I maintain a database of all books that have been submitted with title, author, and genre. We all pick from that list. How we choose what to read and review is different for each person. If no one has asked to be assigned a book it is dropped off the list a year after submission. We also participate in some blog tours, mostly through a couple of companies that organize these.
How deep is your TBR pile?
You might not really want to know this. It is usually floating somewhere around 1,300 books. For those who don’t want to do the math, that means that we review somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 of the books submitted.
Tell us about the rating system you use.
We use a 5 star system, but not all 5 star systems are the same. I actually dislike rating systems and think what is said matters more than a number. Part of that is because the numbers are misleading and depending on the system can mean much different things, even before considering differences between readers. (For those who are interested, there was some good discussion in the comments of this recent post about the difference in Goodreads and Amazon’s rating systems.) I thought about rating systems a lot before starting the blog and came to the conclusion that if I was going to post the reviews to other places that required a rating to do so that I had to use a rating system. What I use is designed to closely mimic Amazon’s system.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
Yes. I mainly find this when I read genres that I’d stayed away from in the past.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Yes, that happens too. Usually it is because the premise of the book appeals to me, but the execution is lacking.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
I’ve got a lot.
Repeating the same word (saying the same word again) too close together or saying the same thing twice in a repetitive fashion are two things that I see a lot. Repetitively, even. Too much, even. (See how hard it is parse what the heck I’m saying there?)
Telling the reader something that’s obvious.
“Talk to you later.”
“Okay, good bye.”
We both hung up the phone.
At a minimum the last good bye or telling the reader the callers had hung up the phone is a waste of ink (or e-ink) and time. I actually think dropping both is fine. We can figure out the call is over, I promise. There are many variations on this (for example, if your character drives from point A to point B, telling us every street he took to do that only bogs the story down), but handling a phone call is one I see over and over.
With me, a little bit of dialect goes a long way. If your character talks with an accent or sounds like an uneducated hillbilly and knowing that is going to help with characterization, go ahead. Have him talk that way. But not every word in every sentence of dialogue. If the reader has to sound out half the words, you’ve gone too far.
I could probably go on until the answer to this question was longer than the rest of the interview. I’ll stop now.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
If a book is a good fit for my tastes, my opinion isn’t usually much different than the consensus. If everyone is raving and the book isn’t that good of a fit I’ll usually like it or at least understand its appeal. One exception is that it is common for me to give a negative review to a book and discover the handful of Amazon reviews are overwhelmingly positive and mine is the first that is negative. I’ll leave it to you to decide what that means.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
The answer I always give to this kind of question is to read and follow the particular blogger’s submission instructions. Not doing so will, at best, get the relationship off on the wrong foot. More likely, it will mean there won’t be a relationship. The other thing I would say is to never argue if you disagree with the review. That won’t help in the relationship with the blogger, nor with his or her readers if it happens in public.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
I’ll say it’s terrible, but hopefully more tactfully than that. Most bad books have something good to say and I’ll try to mention that. I also try to give specific examples in the review of the issues I had with the book. This helps those who read the review better understand the reasons I didn’t like it. Who knows, they might not see it as a problem and buy the book anyway. It also seems to cut down on the backlash from the author and hopefully he or she benefits from as well.
What was your worst experience with an author? (You don’t have to mention the author’s name or book)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that many of the people reading this already know the answer (at least the name of the book, if not the author). If you don’t know, Stephen’s introduction when I joined Indies Unlimited will point you in the right direction. That was neither my first, nor my last bad author experience, but it was definitely the worst. In spite of that, I had many good things happen as a consequence. Even so, I’d rather not repeat it.
And finally, what was your very favorite of all my books you’ve read?
Big Al? Hello?
Hmmm… I guess the call dropped. Well, that’s it for this time around. I hope you will all make both The Indie View and Big Al’s Books and Pals a part of your regular cyber-diet.