Monday, April 8, 2013

Interview with Janicu, Book Reviewer, on Community... 'Days

Another great guest on Community Days today! Janicu (aka Janice) has been reviewing books since 2006, and posting reviews on her blogs since 2007. Her focus is speculative fiction (an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, and stories in general with fantastical elements) with a good does of romantics thrown in for good measure.

You can learn more about Janicu on her Specfic Romantic blog or on Twitter. She's also got a great Tumblr if that's more your style. Hope you feel enlightened after reading her responses!

What is it that attracts you to speculative fiction with a romantic angle?

Well, I think that it's the combination of the total escapism of a world that exists in your imagination that SF brings combined with the interesting relationship dynamics you see in Romance. I don't necessarily NEED both of those together - when I was a kid, straight Fantasy was my favorite genre, but as time went on and I read more stories, I realized I tended to prefer character-driven tales that end happily. That's not always true (I good bittersweet ending can make me hug a book and sigh brokenly), but it is generally where my tastes are. When I first created my blog I didn't really think too much about what to call it. I just used my nickname (janicu) and said, "janicu's book blog". Later on I wanted to make it clearer what I reviewed so I came up with specficromantic because it explained my tastes better.

Can you share a bit about your book reviewing practices? Do you read a book multiple times before reviewing? Do you take notes during the process? Do you like to do a quick read-through first?

I read a book once fully and usually I trust my initial reaction at the end - loved it, meh, hated it. It tends to be visceral and personal. Then I sit and think about WHY I felt that way and put it down in a review and I try to put it into more objective terms. I pinpoint where something went wrong for me, or where something hit me just right. I will then go back and flip through the book while I work through this. This is my own method and I know it is different for every book blogger. I know a lot of bloggers that write notes, that write their reviews AS they read, and so on. I tried both these things, and writing notes was good but I couldn't keep it up because it made my reading experience less about enjoying the story and more about being analytical. I only read a book multiple times before a review when I really can't figure out where my reaction is coming from. I have been known to reread a book just because I loved it (it might be after I reviewed it though).

What are some common mistakes you see authors make in their writing?

Hmm. I'm a reader and not a writer, so this is from that perspective. If I think about what takes me out of enjoying a story, I would say if the world isn't quite believable it will throw me off. I feel like this is a tricky thing though. There's a lot of different elements to it. For instance with dialogue, if it doesn't sound like something someone would really say, or there is so much of it it's taking over the actual story telling, that can jar me. Or there can be lack of character development. There may be one or more characters who have just one personality trait and their one-note personality takes me out of the story because I expect people to have facets (I'm taking about the always ANGRY character who I don't know why they're angry, or the DRUNK parent who has no other qualities but to be drunk). There's also the actual world building. If something doesn't make sense logically, I will have trouble suspending disbelief and just enjoying the world. If it's a story about angels, sure, OK, but make me believe there's a whole society, history, culture, architecture, fashion, customs, and maybe an evolution behind that. Don't just tell me the main character is an angel and they're gorgeous that's all you have for me. Basically I feel like I do better when certain things are carefully thought out and you can tell this in the story.

What are some mistakes you see authors/publishers make when approaching you for reviews?

The thing that I have seen a lot of book bloggers complain about is when they're approached for a review and it is really clear that the person approaching them hasn't read their review policy. I think I'm on some book blogging directory, maybe under Fantasy or Romance or some combination, so maybe someone is just using my email address there to send me a request. Unfortunately because this person is just blindly sending me an email, I will often get requests for genres I state in my review policy I do not read. I get so many of these I no longer even reply because I suspect I'm just an email address in a mass mailing list. Being addressed as "blogger", part of "everyone" or not even addressed adds to this.

What works better is when I'm addressed as "Janice" (a sign that they read my "About" page which has my name there - although Janicu is still OK), and if a PR person or author says something that is more specific to me. Like "I noticed you liked X book because it has floating islands in it. This book has floating islands in it, plus it is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and I see you are a fan of those". That said, emailing me referring to something in my very latest post doesn't work as well.

Other things that don't work:

  • Being pitched to do an interview for an author I have never read (I feel uncomfortable being asked to basically work to come up with questions and publicize someone and I don't know if I like their books or not). I feel similarly about being pitched a blog tour for someone I am unaware of (I am often asked to do a blog tour for an author in a genre I don't read too). Authors & PR should pitch these things to bloggers who have already read a book by this author and who wrote a positive review, or pitch to a blogger who has posted about an author's upcoming book and said they really wanted to read it.
  • Pitches that describe a book as a cross between one huge bestseller and another huge bestseller or better than some mega-blockbuster book . First of all, this is really cliched, but the other thing is that my first reaction is to scoff cynically. I also have a similar reaction when I'm told in the pitch how I will react to a book ("you will be deeply moved", "you will be on the edge of your seat"), because you can't really predict how I will react. It's better to say something like "I think/hope you may/will like this" instead of telling me how I will feel, and keep the comparisons to something more humble and focused on story elements ("this character is a cross between Lizzy Bennet and a pirate captain") instead of predicting that the book is going to be bigger than the Beatles.
  • Pitching a book without a link to an excerpt, or at least a link to a website where I can find an excerpt. If I'm on the fence, an excerpt is usually what I use to make my decision.

OK, I know I listed a lot of things, but the truth is I get a lot of perfectly pleasant requests and most of them aren't bad at all. Unfortunately, I don't often say yes because I have a lot of books to read and reading a book and then reviewing it takes a really long time. I think I said yes to one request this month. And two this year. So if I say "no thank you" or just don't respond, it's not personal. I've had people send me emails demanding to know why I turned down their request, or sending me multiple follow up emails checking if I got the first one. That isn't productive. :\

How do you feel the book scene is evolving, content-wise? Do you see certain themes, topics, or character styles on the rise?

I think there are certain "trends" that come and go. In 2009 or 2010, I thought steampunk would be the Next Big Thing. I think in 2011 I was seeing a lot of dystopian, end of the world, post-apocalyptic books. Last year I felt like I was noticing a lot more "Young Adult set in space" stories. More recently I feel like the genre New Adult is getting a lot of attention, but people can't seem to decide what New Adult is - I've heard more than one interpretation. I'm not really sure I have my finger on the pulse of what the next trend is going to be though. Pirates? Time Travel? Fairy-tale retellings? I have seen a small up-tick in those three, but I don't know if it's enough to count as a trend.

Speaking of the book scene, I've been getting a lot of invitations from start ups that are basically social media sites based around reading. I have tried a few but so far I haven't taken to any. Goodreads remains the place I go to when it comes to tracking my reading socializing with other readers. Maybe one day there will be a serious competitor - there are a lot of new bookish social sites popping up.

Do you have any thoughts on the existence and/or evolution of strong heroines in modern speculative fiction?

All I know is that I want to see women in my stories that are like real women, and this means not so much that I want to see women that are "strong" but women that are human. And humans have a range of emotions and show growth and can be inspiring.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, agent etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

Well, since I'm a book blogger and reading is where my interest is, I follow more authors than industry professionals and more book bloggers than authors. From that perspective, I enjoy authors that don't JUST post things that are about promoting their own book. I like it when I see authors putting on a reader cap and recommending books they liked (and not just posting about a friend's book that just came out), or just post amusing things they found on Youtube, or just writing about their day. I also enjoy creative ways of using social media: for example using Tumblr creatively (see Trish Dollar's Tumblr for an example), or thisismyjam or 8tracks and posting mixes that relate to their books (see Jeri Smith-Ready as an example).

Thanks Janice for your great answers! Don't forget to check out her on the Specfic Romantic blogTwitter, and Tumblr :)

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