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Interview with the Little Red Reviewer!

Merry December 27! Today I have an interview with Andrea Johnson, who maintains a very fun, thoughtful, wide-ranging fantasy and science fiction book blog at The Little Red Reviewer. She relates to the books she reads in a really personal way and makes interesting connections, like in her review of Martha Wells’s Artificial Condition, which weaves in her reactions to the video game Detroit: Become Human and her own experiences at the day job. (It’s a super post.) In January, after what will be almost nine years of book blogging, she’ll be launching a Kickstarter for a best-of book of her reviews, and this interview is to help spread the news about that--and also because it's fun to talk to interesting people.

Artificial Condition

Detroit: Become Human

You’ve been entertaining and informing readers with your book reviews and related posts on your blog since 2010. How has the book blogging landscape changed over the years?

One of the biggest changes I've seen is that publishers and publicists have realized that book bloggers exist and that we can actually help sell their books. Give a blogger an ARC of a book they are eagerly anticipating, that blogger will do just about anything for you. Back in the day, I don't think publicists and authors knew what to do with us. We weren't magazines, we weren't beholden to anyone, we also weren't required to read the book, give a glowing review, or publicize the review. Were we worth sending ARCs to? No one was really sure. Publicists realizing bloggers were free advertising and Netgalley changed all that. Yes, we are worth sending ARCs to! In fact, these days it's not unusual at all for bloggers to use their blog as a stepping stone to get into the publishing world.

Evolving technology has made blogging much easier. I no longer have to download the book photo from my digital camera to my hard drive and then upload to my blogging platform software. Now I can do all of that in 15 seconds from my phone. It's suddenly much easier to include more photos, short videos, or to shift your entire blog to Youtube and be a Booktuber vlogger. Instagram has a huge bookstagram area, with image-heavy posts. I am very curious to see how book blogging evolves over the next ten years. Will text-heavy sites like mine be considered “old fashioned”? Will Wordpress give me more space to store images and videos so I can imitate Booktubers and Bookstagrammers?

No matter how much the technology evolves, blogging will always involve hours and hours of reading the book, thinking about what you read, and typing up a review.

As a follow-up, I’m wondering about ways your approach to book blogging may have changed. Back in your first year, you wrote,
I review about half the books I read. Some books I pick up knowing I’m going to write a review, and other books I just pick up on a lark, and some books that I pick up on a lark I decide halfway through that I should write a review.

How have things changed for you (if at all) since you wrote that?

Only the first sentence has changed! It's still true—some books I pick up knowing that I'm going to review them, others I pick up on a lark and only later decide to review them. These days, I'm reviewing closer to 75–80% of the books I read. When I started my blog, I was working part-time, and many days my job at work was to “be available if people needed me, but other than that, stay out of trouble.” So I sat in the corner and read. What a heavenly job! I was easily reading 3–4 books a week. These days, working full-time, I'm lucky If I finish 3–4 books in a month. Less time to read means I'm more picky about what I pick up, means I'm paying much more attention to if the book is worth my time. If I get 40 pages in and the book just isn't doing it for me, I'll abandon it and pick up something else that looks more promising.

There is a stack of abandoned books next to the bed. These are books that I picked up one evening to read at bedtime, and then abandoned. Maybe I'll finish them one day, maybe not. My husband calls the stack the “book graveyard.”

If I finish the book, there is a good chance I'm going to review it.

You’re very good about describing both the good and the less-good in a book: you’ll say exactly why you loved something and how much, but also say if some element was disappointing or weak, or if something didn’t live up to your expectations from an author, etc. And even with books you didn’t like much at all, it seems like you find something positive you can say (I’m looking at your review of Brad Torgersen’s The Exchange Officers as I write that) Can you say something about how you arrived at your “reviewer voice”?</b>

The Exchange Officers

Oh wow, I'd nearly about that Torgersen title. I've reviewed a ton of amazing books, but as that review demonstrates, I've also reviewed plenty of mediocre books, and plenty of books that may have been just fine, but they just didn't work for me. The concept of “only publish positive reviews” has never worked for me. If something didn't work for me, I'm going to say so, and I'll do my best to say why.

My “reviewer voice” is my voice. It's my authentically honest opinion of my experience with a book. I always had that voice. It just took a few years to learn how to express it through writing. Developing that voice was almost like learning how to paint, or learning how to play violin. I knew what I wanted the painting to look like, I knew what was the song was supposed to sound like, I just had to practice the techniques a million times until they became muscle memory.

What's funny now is that I'm much better at expressing myself through the written word than orally. I try to have an intelligent conversation with someone and I sound like an idiot. But on paper? I sound pretty darn good!

Another thing I appreciate about your blog is how you review not only up-to-the-minute stuff, but also older things. There’s your yearly Vintage SciFi month (January—it’s coming up, folks!) featuring things written in 1979 or before. But you also review more recent, but not-new stuff—I’m thinking of your review of Steven Brust’s Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille (2003). And you review not only books from major publishers, but things from small presses, too, as well as Kickstarted anthologies and the occasional self-published work. It feels almost like it’s part of your mission to have people consider things they might otherwise overlook. How much of that is deliberate and how much is chance?

Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille

It's a combination of chance, hearing about interesting titles and authors through word of mouth, wanting to read more from my favorite authors, wanting to know what inspired my favorite authors, and meeting small-press publishers and authors at events. Very little in the way of actual planning.

My “to be read” list is literally the next thing that catches my eye at that moment, and I might change my mind 30 seconds later. I do have moments of jealousy of those book bloggers whose blogs are constantly covered with shiny ARCs, those bloggers who only read the newest titles. But then I think to myself “aren't they interested in what came before?” That's one of the reasons I started Vintage Month—I'd finally read some Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and suddenly the brand-new low fantasy I was reading finally made sense. Reading older books, be them 10 years old or 50 years old, feels like a casual class in the history of science fiction and fantasy. I really like knowing what came before. I like knowing what inspired my favorite authors.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

I also have bookshelves full of books that I either haven't read yet and want to, or read years ago and want to re-read.

As far as the Brust book, well, he's one of those authors whose books I seek out. When he has a new book coming out, I preorder it. If I'm at the used bookstore and I see a title of his that I don't already own, I automatically buy the book. Finding a copy of Cowboy Feng was like finding a diamond! Same deal with Kage Baker, Jeff Vandermeer, Yoon Ha Lee, and a few others—I actively seek out their older fiction and buy as much of it as I can find. One day, I'll take a week's vacation and read my stack of early-in-his-career Vandermeers, and I'll finally finish Baker's Company series.

I'm lucky enough to learn about a lot of neat books through word of mouth and chatting with editors and authors I've gotten to know over the years. These friends of mine have figured out what kind of fiction I'm drawn to, and they recommend authors to me that I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

And now some questions about **your** book. When and how did you arrive at the decision to take the plunge?

At four in the morning.

When I can't sleep, instead of tossing and turning, I'll get up, make some coffee, and just sit and listen to my city waking up. In those wee hours of the morning, I get some crazy ideas (just ask Lesley Conner, she's been victim to plenty of them!). Usually a few hours later, I realize how crazy the idea is, and I just file it away as “fun crazy idea to never do.”

The idea for kickstarting a book of my best reviews, it showed up in the wee hours of the morning one day, and it never went away. I mentioned it to a few people, expecting them say “yeah, that's a crazy pipe dream!” and everyone I mentioned it to said it sounded completely doable. I asked friends who had already had successful kickstarters for advice, and they were happy to chat and happy to cheer me on. Apparently the only person who thought this was a “fun crazy idea to never do” was me.

The book will include your best reviews. Can you tell us something about the selection process?

The first thing I had to do was read all my reviews. I started with my earliest reviews and worked my way forward. It was like meeting an earlier version of myself, it was neat! But man, I had over 400 reviews to scroll through! As I came across reviews I was pleased (or very pleased) with, I added them to a spreadsheet. Reviews I considered my best work got a score of 3, reviews that were pretty darn good but not great got a score of 2, and reviews that were well written but didn't have much of a personal touch got a 1. About 40 reviews got a score of 3.

One of my backer rewards will include a guarantee that the backer's favorite review is included in the book. Maybe you loved a review that only scored a 2? Your $35 will guarantee that review makes it into the book! In this way, The Best of Little Red Reviewer will include the work that I am most proud of and some fan favorites too.

Any possibility of this becoming a yearly thing?

Haha! It took me eight years to collect the material for The Best of Little Red Reviewer. I suspect volume two will be another eight years in the making.

But. . . if my kickstarter is successful, that means reviews posted on blogs have value outside the internet. If I can make this successful, then doesn't it follow that other bloggers can (and will!) as well?

Thank you so much, Andrea, and good luck!

She’s called the little red reviewer, and she really does have gorgeous red hair

This entry was originally posted at https://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/900831.html. Comments are welcome at either location.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 31st, 2018 04:27 am (UTC)
Fascinating! Really enjoyed reading through this and some of the linked reviews. Especially connected with this:
...suddenly the brand-new low fantasy I was reading finally made sense. Reading older books, be them 10 years old or 50 years old, feels like a casual class in the history of science fiction and fantasy. I really like knowing what came before. I like knowing what inspired my favorite authors.

Thanks to both of you!

Edited at 2018-12-31 04:27 am (UTC)
Dec. 31st, 2018 12:26 pm (UTC)
And thank *you* for coming and reading!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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