I have been blessed to know Jen Forbus for many years. She was one of the first book bloggers I contacted as a publicist, and since then, she has reviewed dozens of my authors books. What I enjoy about her blog, Jen’s Book Thoughts, is that she extends beyond traditional reviews and helps readers get to know their favorite authors. In addition to her own blog, Jen also reviews for Shelf Awareness and Crimespree Magazine.
What are a few of the misconceptions authors have about book bloggers?
This is a hard question for me. I’ve often said I feel as though I blog in my own little world. I don’t pay attention to the drama often going on around me – I have the luxury of not having to worry about sales numbers and renewed contracts and whatnot. And honestly, I’ve never been driven to pursue huge numbers of followers or anything, I just want to talk about books I love and get the word out about the authors that write those books. The other stuff has come, I think, simply because the one thing I always, always insist on is being genuine.
Four and a half years ago when I started my blog, I was just looking for a place to put down my thoughts about books. I never imagined it would lead to some of the things it has. It’s still my hobby. While the blog has allowed me to show others what I’m capable of, the blog itself doesn’t provide any sort of income. I brainstorm ideas and organize projects for no other reason than the enjoyment it brings me and those who read it. I’m kinda selfish that way.
I’ve been very fortunate. The blog has brought me into contact with some of the most amazing individuals I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. I’ve never had the impression that THEY had misconceptions, but maybe there are others out there who do.
Do you review self-published books or e-galleys? Why or why not?
I do review e-galleys, but not from NetGalley or any other form that would expire. I had an experience where I was reading a book and it expired, so it disappeared from my readers – along with all my bookmarks and notes – and while I was able to renew it, the bookmarks and notes were gone forever. So if I get an e-galley, it has to be one that will not expire.
Self-published books I do not review. When I first started blogging I had no conditions in regards to self-published books and received quite a few. None of them were books I would review on my blog because I couldn’t even finish them. There was obviously no editing involved. And while I know there are diamonds out there, I simply don’t have time to filter through everything to find those diamonds. So the established publishing companies play that role for me. Which is not to say everything they publish is something I like, but there are far fewer books that I don’t finish from established publishers than from self-published authors. And I never have a shortage of books to read, either.
A small caveat to this is if someone I’ve read in the past self-publishes short work, like a short story or a collection of shorts, I’ll read something like that. A lot of times those have been works they’ve published elsewhere in magazines or anthologies. But it’s also not a commitment of ten hours or more if it’s poorly written.
What are some of the differences and similarities to blog reviews and “traditional” reviews (newspapers, magazines, etc.)
This is a tricky question. I’ve seen so many bloggers and everyone seems to have a different reviewing style. And I review for two “traditional” sources and neither of them have the same style either. However, both sources follow my same philosophy as far as printing the reviews of the books I like. There are so many books – more than can ever be reviewed – and very limited real estate, so it’s reserved for positive reviews. And again, not all traditional sources are like that either.
I try to limit my amount of plot summary and focus on the strengths of the book, while also mentioning areas I thought might be weaknesses. And I make an effort to explain why I thought they were strengths or weaknesses because other readers may not share those same reactions, and that gives them a better ability to judge if they’d like the book themselves. A lot of traditional sources I’ve noticed have more plot summary and one or two sentences about their thoughts on the book. “Blurb-worthy” sentences I call them.
When it’s appropriate I like to throw in a direct quote or two from the book so readers can get a feel for the writing style. Not having a limit on review size enables me a lot of freedom to do that as a blogger. I don’t see that as often in “traditional” reviews.
What advice would you give to a debut novelist wanting to get the word out about their book.
I receive gads of book pitches each week in my email and I simply can’t accept them all – I’m doing well if I can read them all. I’m accepting almost none from sources I don’t already know. So advice to reach someone like me would be to set yourself apart in ways that aren’t a book-pitch email. Introduce yourself to readers as a person. I’ve met several debut authors at conferences, events, or online and talked to them as people – like meeting a new friend. Then when their book came out, I was eager to read it.
I also rely on publicists like Dana who have established themselves with me. She doesn’t pitch me every book she has but instead takes the time to know what I’m most likely to read. And I know she’s going to pitch me a book she believes in. The same goes for booksellers and librarians! I know many personally and trust their recommendations to me.
One other source I tend to trust is the folks at TLC Book Tours. They coordinate blog tours and I don’t do many anymore but I do still take tours with them. I haven’t loved every book I’ve agreed to participate with, but a large percentage has been great. I discovered John Verdon through a blog tour and he’s become one of my favorites.
Other than publicists, how do you find out about new books coming out?
I mentioned a few avenues in the previous question: blog tours, librarians, booksellers. But I also talk about books with people. So often I hear about a new book coming out through friends – in person, online, at events, etc. I sign up for newsletters from authors I have enjoyed reading in the past. Sometimes I find out a book is coming out simply because I receive a copy of it in the mail from the publisher or it’s one of the books I’m sent for possible review from the other sources I review for.
There are all different ways I can hear about a book coming out. I think one important point I can make, though, is I disregard a book coming out when I hear about it from an author who sends me a message on Twitter or Facebook and I have never heard from that author otherwise. For someone like me, that isn’t an effective way to get the message across. Others may feel differently.
Visit Jen’s blog at www.JensBookThoughts.com and follow her on Twitter @JenForbus.