What’s it like to spend your spare time writing book reviews? Is there any place in the blogosphere for negative reviews? Andrea from The Little Red Reviewer shares her thoughts and announces an exciting new project!
Hi Andrea! Tell us about yourself and your blog.
Hi! I’m Andrea, I live in Michigan, and I love books. I have always been a book nerd. I love used bookstores, I find libraries comforting, I love being able to escape into the imaginary worlds in a book. Opening a book is like stepping into the TARDIS, you know?
I started my book review blog, The Little Red Reviewer, in 2010. My first love is science fiction, and when I started the blog I had only recently begun reading fantasy, so the book reviews are nearly all science fiction and fantasy titles. At first, writing reviews was just a way to help me remember all the books I was reading, and a way to connect with other readers. The majority of the books I reviewed came from my bookshelves or the library. I was very lucky, when I started the blog I was working part time, and had plenty of time on my hands to read, write reviews, and network online.
Why did you first decide to start a book review blog?
I was already posting reviews on some online communities, there was a book review area on a science fiction bulletin board I frequented, there were some e-zines I occasionally submitted reviews to, I got involved with an online book review magazine that sent me ARCs. This was like 2008, the early days of the internet. Social media didn’t really exist yet, and the sites I was posting at did not receive much traffic. I was meeting my first goal of writing reviews to help me remember what books I had read, but I wasn’t connecting with other readers. I wasn’t having conversations.
I wanted to continue publishing book reviews, but I wanted to do it on my own terms, in my own corner of the internet where I would be beholden to no one. And this thing called WordPress looked pretty user friendly and easy . . .. and one weekend, before I knew it, I had a blog! I suddenly had a blog, but no new book reviews to post, so my first few reviews were reworkings of reviews I’d previously posted at other sites. One of my first reviews to post to Little Red Reviewer was for China Mieville’s The Scar, which is one of my all time favorite books, so I started with the best!
What’s the most fun thing about blogging, and what do you find challenging?
The most fun is being surrounded by books! I know that sounds cliché, but that really is the best thing. I love that my coffee table is overflowing with books I’ve read or am about to read. I love that there are stacks of books on the floor next to our overflowing bookshelves. Another fun thing is going to author events at local bookstores and conventions, and getting to interact with amazing authors and other fans.
In 2014 I went from working part time to working full time, and that was a huge adjustment. I suddenly had a challenge to find enough time in the day to read and also review. I was used to having hours per day for blogging activities, and suddenly I had hours per week. So finding time has been a huge challenge to overcome. I’ve really had to focus on what is most important – reading books that bring me joy and writing reviews, and pull back on secondary blogging activities like networking with other bloggers, reading books I’m not enjoying, and planning blogging events like read alongs.
What do you do when you receive a book for review, and then you don’t enjoy it? Do you think negative reviews have a place in the blogosphere?
The older I get, and the more full my life becomes, the less patience I have for books that aren’t working for me. That said, I am very careful about the review copies that I request. I had a situation earlier in 2017 with a book I’d requested for review. It was by an author whose work hadn’t quite worked for me in the past, but I wanted to give this author another try, and the publisher was just so darn nice! So the publicist sends me the book, and… it’s terrible. I just bounced right off of this thing.
It was a struggle, and I had way better things to do with my time than read a book that was simply not good. So I e-mailed the publicist and apologized, and said it just wasn’t working for me, and that I felt bad the publisher had spent money mailing it to me. The publicist emailed me back that same day, saying I shouldn’t worry about it because not every book works for every reader. The publicist knew me well enough to know that I did truly and authentically feel bad. I didn’t finish the book, and I didn’t write a review either.
Do negative reviews have a place in the blogosphere? Absolutely. You can write a negative review that discussed why something didn’t work for you, and you can do it in a way that is respectful to the author and to people who enjoyed the book. Because just like that publicist said, not every book will work for every person. I’ve published plenty of negative reviews. I do my best to be respectful. There was that one time though, that I’d written a negative review, and then saw the author at a convention, and the author knew who I was, and was not happy about the review. It was the most awkward 5 minutes of my life!
You’ve recently announced an exciting new project – tell us all about it!
Oh, I am so excited about this project!!! I am Kickstarting The Best of Little Red Reviewer, which is a print book of the book reviews I am most proud of. It includes a nice cross section of the books I’ve reviewed over the last 8 years – space opera, fantasy, anthologies, classic science fiction, international science fiction, small press, large press, and everything in between, and showcases my best work.
The Best of Little Red Reviewer is not a list of my favorite books, nor is it a list of books I think you should read. It is a showcase of my best work. Over the years, people have complimented my work, so let’s see if it can exist outside the computer screen.
The Best of Little Red Reviewer is, in part, a viability test of what book blogs can mean beyond and outside the virtual blogosphere.
The more I thought about this project, the more I felt it was the next logical step for me.
How are you going to decide which reviews to include?
Had someone told me I’d written over 400 reviews and that I’d have to read every single one, I would never have signed up for this! (just kidding) But I did go through every review I’ve written since 2010, even reviews I’d posted at SFSignal, and kept track on a spreadsheet of the reviews that were my best work, and reviews that were almost my best work. I think there are about 100 reviews on that spreadsheet. I wasn’t judging the review on how much I like the book, I was judging the review on how much I liked my own writing.
Do you have a favourite review from all the ones you’ve written?
Oh gosh, I don’t have just one favorite! To name just a few, I am quite partial to my reviews of The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White, The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne Valente, Artificial Condition by Martha Wells, and The Inconvenient God by Francesca Forrest. Beautiful and amazing books make me want to write beautiful and amazing paragraphs.
Tell us about some of your favourite books and authors.
I feel bad that some of my favorite books will not be making it into The Best of Little Red Reviewer. When I read them, I wasn’t a very good reviewer yet, or I didn’t have time to write a really awesome review, or I wrote a pretty good review that just wasn’t good enough to make this book. Here is a short list of the first few books that came to mind as my favorites. Keep in mind that this list changes every 6 months or so.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Scar by China Mieville
Side Show by Sheri S Tepper
Just about everything Steven Brust has ever written
The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne Valente
Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee
Defenders by Will McIntosh
I know a book is a favorite, because when I need a comfort read, that’s what I grab.
Where can people go to find out more and donate to the project?
Click here to visit the Kickstarter page for The Best of Little Red Reviewer. There are backer rewards for a little as $5! If you follow me on Twitter, I have links and hashtags that will take you to the Kickstarter page as well.
I’m not asking for donations, I’m asking for pledges. If the Kickstarter funds, everyone who pledges $5 or more will actually get something for their money. The higher the pledge, the more you get! $15 (plus shipping) will get you a paperback copy of the book. Some pledges are attached to customized books, others are attached to you getting to determine what reviews are in the book, others are perfect for budding authors. I am planning for stretch goals to include swag and more content.