Page Turners: Finding out more about the Reviewing Community
The tables have turned – this time the author’s asking the questions.
Blogs and websites have been hosting author interviews for decades, giving readers a chance to get to know their favorite writers on a more personal level. But today we’re going to flip the mold, having an author interview a book reviewer. So buckle up, grab your favorite caffeinated beverage, and prepare to dive into what makes a book reviewer tick!
Behrg: Our interview today is with Jessica Page Johnson, a fellow book enthusiast! Tell us a little about your platform, Jessica. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Jessica: My site is JessicasReadingRoom.com. In addition, I post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I am also on Facebook and Twitter. I like to think of my Facebook page as a place to get to know myself and my co-reviewer Kim on a more personal level. I *try* Instagram, but that is my weak point as it is solely on the phone and I prefer to work at my computer. My co-reviewer Kim also has a YouTube channel where she shares some video reviews and her monthly wrap ups.
How long have I been reviewing? I started out as an admin for the Bookies Facebook Page and I share reviews there once a week. From there it just grew and I wanted to start my own site. I am still an admin of Bookies and it will always have a special piece of my heart as that is where it all started! That was just over four years ago and I still love every minute of it! If only there was a way to review full time and get paid/have benefits . . .
Behrg: That’s an impressive resume! And I’m sure there’d be no shortage of people signing up for that paid gig! 🙂
Outside of reading, what are some of your favorite things to do? What’s something no one in the horror/book blogging community would suspect about you?
Jessica: What else is there to do besides reading and working? LOL—I do watch a little bit of TV: Walking Dead, Manifest, Superstore (I worked in retail for almost 3 years after graduating college—so I love that show!) I used to scrapbook and play an augmented reality mobile game called Ingress with my husband, but we ‘retired’ from that. It was fun and you went to a lot of places. It’s similar to Pokémon Go, but actually came first and helped pave the way for Pokémon.
What would no one in the horror/book blogging community suspect about me? Well . . . My college internship I was a counseling intern at a men’s prison in northern Georgia. It was fascinating as I saw things many people don’t see. I even was fingerprinted with the ink and card for the background check!
Behrg: Oh, that’s a very cool internship! Ripe for story ideas, for sure!
Any favorite sub-genres under the horror umbrella? Any you don’t particularly care for? Same questions but for common tropes in the genre?
Jessica: I don’t read too much in the horror genre. I do tend to prefer suspense and thrillers. I do enjoy a good serial killer novel/series!
Behrg: Ooh, I like this as it’s something we haven’t yet explored! Often times the horror genre gets a bad wrap, when suspense and thriller novels that are filled with horror elements are lumped under the “Suspense” category. (And personally, I’m a fan of both genres, when well executed). Where do you find, for yourself, the line is drawn between the genres, and how can horror authors who are looking to broaden their audience make that leap?
Jessica: OH wow, this is a difficult one! I think a lot of readers look at the genre of a book and just stick with it. I am actually pretty open to most genres, basically if it interests me I will read it. The only thing I won’t read is erotica and I am selective with the fantasy/ sci-fi. In actuality, ‘horror’ is such as broad term and people usually think of Stephen King (even though he has written non-horror) or the slasher type movies. Yes, we do get those in novels, but read what it is about and maybe some reviews to see if it will actually interest you.
There is one indie-author I have worked with who writes “Fiction with Mean-ing” and in some ways her books could be considered ‘real-life horror’. I have a few of her books and really hope to get to hers sometime soon… (says every book worm out there with a never-ending TBR. But we really and truly mean it!!) I think ultimately you will have a set reader base and it is hard to break out into any other genre once you have written several novels. You can’t ever make everyone happy and if you change what you write then you might find new readers, but you make your ‘repeat readers’ mad as it is a ‘different’ type of novel than they are used to.
Behrg: Great thoughts, Jessica. Thanks for elaborating! What’s your preference—physical books or digital?
Jessica: Don’t make me choose!!! Both are great for their various different reasons, but I tend to prefer physical books over kindle books.
Behrg: I think you’ll find a lot of fellow readers agreeing with you there. Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
Jessica: I started my site for ME first, so I do it for me solely. Anyone else who may come along is welcome to join the ride. I love to see what others think about the same book, one could love it and another could despise it. It is all about the book love! If I don’t want to write a review right away I won’t (This has happened recently with two books that won’t get rave reviews ). Once reviewing becomes a chore you have to self-evaluate why you are doing it and maybe take a break.
Behrg: Excellent advice, and I’ve seen this happen both personally and with others. I’d add it’s also okay to step away from things for awhile until that joy and love returns.
If you had only one author you could read for the rest of your life, who would you choose and why? What if you had only three?
Jessica: Another hard question! If it could only be one author then I would say Stephen King. He has written so many novels and there are many of his I want to read, but have yet to read yet (The Stand for sure!)
For the other two- This is still difficult!
Heather Gudenkauf—she’s just my favorite(!) and Neal Shusterman—I have only read two of his Scythe series and Dry. His novels are YA, but they leave you thinking about so many things!
Behrg: And here I thought you don’t read “horror!” 🙂 I haven’t read Shusterman yet but will have to check out his Scythe series!
What’s some advice you could give to those just starting to build a platform to review books? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered and how have you navigated them?
Jessica: Get to know some other reviewers in the community; they can be a big support system and help. DON’T pay attention to the number of page views you have or you might become obsessed with those numbers. I don’t even look at mine.
Don’t be afraid to say “No” to a review for whatever reason. If a book is not for you and you were sent it by the author let them know. They know all books are not for everyone. They may prefer an unfinished book to a poor review.
If you use review site such as NetGalley, don’t go requesting everything you might be interested in reading. You might get accepted, and then you are stuck with a huge TBR that you may never catch up on. (I’m telling on myself here . . .)
Behrg: That’s funny, as I’ve been guilty of the same with NetGalley. I like your thoughts here with letting authors know when a book isn’t for you. Separating the author from the work itself is important, and most authors—as you stated—will know not everyone will connect with everything they write.
Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Jessica: I’ve only had three 5 star reads for 2020 so far. My number one for this year (so far) is When by Victoria Laurie.
My favorite read of 2019 (and all-time favorite book—surprisingly) was The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain followed very closely by Kindred by Octavia Butler. Both are fabulous!
Behrg: Great suggestions, I’m not sure any of these were on my radar yet—looking forward to checking them out!
Do you write fiction yourself and, if so, have you published anything? If not, how has reviewing books allowed you to grow as a writer?
Jessica: I have not written anything nor have the desire to do that. Let me just review what others have written! Writing reviews has helped me in writing as it helps with vocabulary.
Behrg: There’s no right answer here, but how do you personally handle reviews for books you don’t care for? Do you finish every book you read or do you move on if a book isn’t grabbing you?
Jessica: That is something you have to be careful doing. You don’t want to just say ‘The book sucked!’ you have to say why it did not work for you. We’ve all had those books where we went on a rant reviewing. I’m telling on myself again, but I promise it was not my fault: There was no ending to that novel! (It was early on in my reviewing too). Sometimes you can go off on a rant on a good book too (which I have done as well).
I hate DNF’ing books! I don’t do this very often at all. But there was one I was listening to last year and I just could not keep going with it! There is only so much time and too many books!
Behrg: What advice would you give authors looking to have their books reviewed? What are some of the best ways authors have asked you to review their book? Some of the worst? Anything you’d like to let authors know regarding the etiquette of requesting a review?
Jessica: If the reviewer has a section for Authors—please read it! It says if they are taking books for review or not. If not taking reviews, they might be open to an interview/author spotlight/ etc.
Don’t send a generic email which is obviously cut and paste and sent to many reviewers—and don’t put the wrong name in the email!
If you can personalize the email, that is great! It becomes obvious that you looked at their site. Don’t expect an answer back at all, or right away. We have ‘real lives’ as well and don’t get paid to do this. Those real lives may include a full-time job. I joke around that reviewing is the part-time job I do that I don’t get paid for.
Behrg: Great advice here, and I would absolutely echo not copying and pasting the same rote email request over and over. Being respectful of people’s time is critically important as well.
As part of the horror author community, let me say a huge thank you from all of us for all that you do to support indie, hybrid, and traditionally published authors. Honest reviews not only help others discover our work, but can sometimes be the encouragement an author needs to keep doing what we do. Any last words you’d like to share with authors, fellow reviewers or casual readers?
Jessica: Thank you! This was fun sharing some about myself! Like I said, It’s all about the Book Love!
Behrg: Thanks again, Jessica, for participating and sharing your insights into the world of book reviewing! For those interested in learning more about Jessica and the sites she haunts, check out the links below, and be sure to leave a comment thanking her for all her contributions!
Jessica’s Reading Room
Youtube (co-reviewer, Kim): Jessica’s Reading Room Kim’s Reviews
A former child actor turned wanna-be rockstar, The Behrg is the author of the Internationally best-selling novel Housebroken and the thrilling Creation Series. His short work can be found in anthologies from Bloodshot Books, Comet Press, Omnium Gatherum, and Cemetery Dance. A mental health advocate, Behrg often explores the themes of mental illness within his work, albeit within a horror backdrop.
Behrg lives in Southern California with his wife and four kids where he still plays in a band, plays in fictional worlds of his own creating, and plays—quite poorly, he might add—at being an adult.
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