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 Ben Walker, a Kendall Reviews contributor, author, reviewer, and fellow horror enthusiast! So, Ben, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Ben: I split my time between contributing to the Kendall Reviews website, filming my own booktube videos on my channel – BLURB – and I recently started reviewing for Unnerving Magazine and Ginger Nuts of Horror. I began reviewing back in 2001 for a consumer website, where I covered food, movies and more unusual items for many years, gaining a few awards along the way. I also did a stint reviewing erotica and other adult items before I approached the sadly defunct UK Horror Scene website to begin covering horror. So to answer your question properly, nearly 20 years!
Behrg: That’s an impressive resume! Youtube reviews have really started taking off of late, what are some of the challenges and successes you’ve uncovered with your channel and any advice for those looking to dip into that medium?
Ben: I’m still a pretty small channel – 229 subscribers at last count – so I don’t feel qualified to give a lot of advice beyond what far wiser people have said before: find your niche and stick to it. Oh, and put out regular content! My channel started out as food reviews before I switched to booktube content, and funnily enough my most successful video is still a review I did of Ghostbusters bubblegum for reasons I don’t fully understand. My main challenge is finding interesting ways to put my reviews across – I call them Bizarre Book Reviews because I don’t want to rely on traditional to-camera booktube content. I like mixing it up with skits, and lots of bad puns. Maybe that turns some viewers off, but that’s the kind of content I enjoy, so I’m still trying to fill that weird little niche in the hopes that people at the very least click away and buy the books I’m reviewing.
Behrg: Nice. And for some reason, I’m really craving Ghostbusters bubblegum right now . . . 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?
Ben: I bake. I don’t make as much of a big deal about it online any more, as I was planning on going into it as a business but that fell through. But I do love to cook, and baking unusual cakes for birthdays and whatnot helps me unwind. Plus sometimes you get to hit things with a rolling pin.
Behrg: Ha! That’s awesome. I can honestly say I have zero skills when it comes to baking, though if you put me behind a grille I can usually hold my own. Do you have any favorite sub-genres under the horror umbrella? Any you don’t particularly care for? Same questions but for common tropes in the genre.
Ben: Splatterpunk is my favourite, anything goopy and gory with a message behind it ticks all the right boxes for me, as does bizarro. On the flip side, I don’t much like stories where the horror feels tacked on, like where you can tell an author is an expert in a specific subject but fails to merge that with tension or scares. Trope-wise, I enjoy Z-grade movies, so tropes don’t bother me much in the written format—my favourite though is the “intellectual forced to deprave themselves in some way” that Edward Lee and others do so well.
Behrg: Physical books or digital?
Behrg: Great answer! Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
Ben: I have a drawer full of sweets directly under my keyboard. So when inspiration escapes me, I pull out the stash and decapitate a jelly baby or two.
Behrg: Those poor jelly babies. What’d they ever do to you?!? 🙂
Ben: They know what they did. (insert ominous music here)
Behrg: Haha! 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?
Ben: Stephen King, no question. I have a bookshelf dedicated to his titles and probably always will. If I had to bolt on a couple more, I’d go for Jonathan Janz and Wrath James White. Janz has this great filmic quality to his writing, and Wrath gives you extreme horror mixed with frequent dips into realistic S&M. Between all three I think you’d cover all the bases of sex, drugs and violence.
Behrg: It’s hard not to include King in a line up like that. If it’s been a while since I’ve read his work, falling into one of his books (a new release or otherwise) always feels like coming home, in a way.
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?
Ben: I’m lucky enough to have the time and resources to put into booktubing, even though my setup is very basic (£30 webcam and a £50 mic plus £40 editing software). My biggest challenge with booktube is finding people who want to watch videos about books, which is why I try to put an unusual spin on my reviews. Going forward I think I need to focus on the quality of the review content and balance this with the weird shit, because most of the reviewers I enjoy exude enthusiasm or deep knowledge, so I’d love to be on the same level as, say, the film critic Mark Cousins but for books, and I’ve got a long way to go before I can say that about myself. So I guess if you’re starting out I’d say find what you like about other reviews first, then find your niche and make sure to put your identity on there, don’t just copy what other people are doing. And be consistent, something I need to work on too!
Behrg: Great advice. There’s a lot more power than people realize in finding a niche that’s true to form. In confidently being yourself. Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Ben: The Luminous Dead blew me away this year, but I think that’s a 2019 book, so I’ll say True Crime for a 2020 read. Both are tense as hell, though in very different ways. There are reviews of both on my booktube channel, plug plug.
Ben: Sorry, I’m terrible at self-promotion . . . The Luminous Dead review is here:
and True Crime is here:
Behrg: As an author and reviewer, let me ask a question that—whether it comes up or not—could be in the back of some readers’ minds. How do you balance critically reviewing others’ work while creating your own? Has your approach to reviewing changed over the years?
Ben: Yeesh, that’s a tough one, because I can’t say that I go into a review thinking “if I say I hate this, will the author shit all over my own content?” I’m not worried about myself that much. That said, I try to be respectful if I didn’t like a book because I’d expect the same if I was being reviewed. To a degree I’ve become more selective in what I accept or seek out for review, because I don’t enjoy ripping on bad content as much as I used to. Back when I was doing consumer reviews I didn’t hold back at all if something wasn’t good, and you’ll see the odd booktube video of mine where I do the same, but those are getting rarer now. I do think I’d gain a larger audience if I was constantly nasty about naff books, but honestly, I prefer putting out reviews that make people want to read. That’s the bottom line, supporting great stories and authors.
Behrg: There’s sort of a quiet power in coming to know what you like and prefer. Love your thoughts here. 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?
Ben: I used to finish every single book and review them no matter how terrible they got, but I’ve learned to embrace the joy of just walking away from a book, or at least skimming through to the end. That mainly applies to books I’m assigned from the venues I write for—when it comes to my booktube channel, I will always finish what I’m reading and review as honestly as I can. I dabble in editing as well, which means I have to try and switch that brain off when it comes to giving a fair critique.
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?
Ben: Ask first. Don’t send me a book out of the blue, unless we’ve got history already—don’t follow me on Twitter then shoot your book over an hour later. If someone sends me a review request with a book attached, I will 9 times out of 10 ignore it. If the title is on my radar already there’s a slim chance I’ll accept, but don’t count on it. Imagine going into the supermarket and having one of those product sample people run up to you and jam a cereal bar down your gullet. “Will you try the new Wonder Bar?” they scream, as you choke on a granola cluster. That’s how you come across when you attach a book to your introductory email. If I say no, I will always try to direct you towards someone who might be more interested, but you have to ask first!
Behrg: Excellent advice. 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?
Ben: Stay honest!
Behrg: Thanks again, Ben, for participating and sharing your insights into the world of book reviewing! For those interested in learning more about Ben Walker, Kendall Reviews, Unnerving Magazine, or Ginger Nuts Of Horror check out the links below, and be sure to leave a comment thanking Ben for all he does in ridding the world of jelly babies, one bite at a time!
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.
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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.
When coloring, he does not stay within the lines.
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