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!
Jim: Thank you Brandon. It feels a little weird being on this side of the questions. I have had the pleasure of talking with many amazing authors and artists over the years and this is the first time I have ever been the interviewee.
Behrg: Well I’m thrilled to have you participate! Today’s interview is with Jim Coniglio of One-Legged Reviews. I’ve been following Jim for awhile on Twitter and always appreciate the insights he brings to the horror genre! So Jim, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Jim: Wow, you’re going to make me date myself now. I have been reviewing and writing for a long time. Back in the early ‘zine days I would submit to any I could find. Even sent a few into the old Twilight Zone magazine and Fangoria during its early run. My first stand-alone site (not counting the digital message boards) would have been on MySpace, back in the infancy of social media. Over the years I have had several different sites, some about books, comics and even moderated a Star Wars fan club. (ya, I’m a big nerd at heart). In the past couple years I have retired and have had much more time to devote to my reading and reviewing.
Right now my main site is One-Legged Reviews. I will post there first and then mirror my reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’ll also try to post links on related Facebook pages.
I know I am a small site compared to some of the big guys out there, but my overall goal is to get the book noticed and hopefully help promote the author and their work.
Behrg: 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?
Jim: I am an avid collector. Of what, sometimes, I am not sure, but I have a lot of it. Comics, books, movies and toys. They all share a spot in my house. At this point, I have a room just devoted to movies, and another that holds my library. I live in an old (supposedly haunted) Victorian home that has enough extra rooms for me to squirrel away my goodies. Luckily, I have a very loving and understanding wife who puts up with me (and the stack of trades and Grendel toys that live in our bedroom with us).
As far as something no one knows, that’s a tough one. Nowadays with social media, our lives are all out there for everyone to see. I would say that one of my favorite things to do is just work in the yard with my wife and enjoy the outside. I am sure it’s quite a sight to the neighbors to see a 6ft, 300lb, tattooed and bearded bear wearing a gardening hat and picking tomatoes.
Behrg: Nice! Taking time outdoors (especially these days) can be critical to mental health. Sounds like you’ve got a good companion there who supports your interests.
Now you can’t casually mention a haunted house in an interview that explores the horror genre without diving in a little deeper! Is there a background to the house you live in? Any experiences you’ve felt yourself?
Jim: We bought this house back in 2000 when we moved away from the city. The town we live in is very small and this was one of the first large houses built here. Was built in the late 1800s and over the years it has been a residence, a dentist office and a doctors office. Right after we moved in we started hearing the stories that the house was haunted. Over the years we have heard so many stories. Someone died, mysterious fire (we did find strange circular burn marks on the floor when we pulled the upstairs carpet). Never had any supernatural experiences ourselves aside from the strange noises that old houses make. We did find a hidden room while tearing down an attic wall. It was papered with circus posters and had old toys in it like a kids playroom, but completely boarded up and hidden. To this day we still get requests from the local “Ghost Hunters” group to come and walk through the house.
Behrg: A hidden room with circus posters? Man, this is such ripe material for a horror novel!! Needless to say, I’m jealous. 🙂
Any favorite sub-genres under the horror umbrella? Any you don’t particularly care for? Same questions but for common tropes in the genre?
Jim: I have always had an inclination to the cosmic horror genre. That in itself is a pretty big area. From the grandmaster himself, HP Lovecraft, to the modern-day authors who master the topic. Some of my favorites are Mary Sangiovani, Mike Duke and Brian Fatah Steele.
I cannot say that there are any genres I will not read. One book that truly made me queasy would have to be FAMILY TRADITION by Ed Lee. Holy crap, that is a stomach-turning read. More recently I’ve read DEAD INSIDE by Chandler Morrison. I had to set that one down for a bit after a certain gruesome scene and come back to it a little later. When I get one that is really extreme I will try and offset it by reading something a little mellower in the next book. Though we are talking about horror, so mellow has a whole new meaning at times.
Behrg: Good way to cleanse the palate! Physical books or digital?
Jim: Both are good with me. Being an old school reader I prefer the feel of a real book in my hands, but I do understand the constraints that authors are under and have no problem working from an ebook.
Behrg: Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
Jim: Ohh, what keeps me going. I think for any reviewer it is our love of reading. Whether it be horror, sci-fi, or non-fiction, it does not matter, you have to love reading. As a kid I devoured books constantly and that habit has followed me to this day. It used to be that you heard about a book by word of mouth or a magazine ad. There wasn’t site after site you could visit to read about your favorite authors. That is what I love now. The ability to just surf and read everyone’s opinion. There are so many great sites out there now; Night Worms, Kendall Reviews, Gingernuts of Horror, and so many more. Everyone will have a different opinion of a book; It’s awesome. I might dislike a book and then read someone else’s review and think, “ok, maybe I missed that point” and it might lead me to reread a story.
In the end it all comes down to your love of the genre and your willingness to share it with others.
Behrg: Love your answer here, and couldn’t agree more with you. We live in a great time for horror fiction with so many voices pushing boundaries, and with just as many amazing platforms spreading the word. I really like your thoughts on how someone’s review could alter your own thoughts on the experience you had, or at least open up new ideas.
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?
Jim: Wow, that is probably one of the hardest questions you could ask a book lover.
If it was only one author I would have to pick Jonathan Janz. He has been putting out one amazing book after another. What I think draws me in is his ever-changing style. From extreme horror, to ghost stories, to werewolves, he has done it all.
If it could be 3, I would say Janz, Brian Keene and Steve Stred.
Behrg: Great list. Janz continues to grow with every book he puts out, I don’t think it will be long before his reach grows exponentially.
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?
Jim: My biggest piece of advice would be to not treat it as a job. You have to love what you are doing, or it will just begin to feel laborious and take the enjoyment out of it. Don’t be afraid to say no. There is no shortage of review opportunities and not every book will be for you. If it is not a topic you like, kindly let the author know. Most of the time they will understand. And remember as a reviewer that you are not entitled to a copy of a book. I have heard stories from authors about rude reviewers asking for copies. Be kind, be understanding, and most of all be patient. Most authors and publishers also work other jobs, it may take time for them to get back to you. One email inquiry is enough if you are contacting them.
As far as challenges, I know I am a baby Cthuhu in the big cosmic ocean that is review sites. Especially as more horror sites spring up every day, I just do my best to produce a good and entertaining review with the hope that readers keep coming back. Yes, I would love to work with Sadie at Night Worms, or Gavin at Kendall Reviews, and hopefully someday I can, but until then, me and my little site will keep plugging along and promoting horror.
KR: Ironically before I had read this answer Jim and I had made contact about our love for Clive Barker. The result of these conversations is an ongoing collaboration, Chasing Leviathan. A project in which we will be reading/reviewing ALL the Clive Barker comics/graphic novels released.
Behrg: This is such a valid point, and I appreciate you recognizing authors too are often balancing multiple day-jobs, families, astral projection, and anything else they’re involved in. 🙂 Patience is required if you want to stay sane, on either side of the table!
Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Jim: My favorite read so far this year has been THE MAGPIE COFFIN by Wile E. Young. It just blew me away. I never knew I needed a horror western in my life until now. It was an outstanding read from start to finish. It is the flagship title in Death’s Head Press’ new “Splatter Western” series of books.
Surprisingly, my favorite book of all time is not really in the horror genre. Or should I say, books plural, however, both from the same author. I have always loved Richard Matheson. He has produced some classic stories like I AM LEGEND and HELL HOUSE, but my favorites are two of his somewhat quieter novels. BID TIME RETURN (that would gain more popularity later as SOMEWHERE IN TIME) and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. Both of these are amazing reads and over the years I have had to replace my threadbare copies several times. I don’t think I could tell you how many times I have reread them. And I challenge you to not shed a tear at least once during your read.
Behrg: Awesome suggestions.
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?
Jim: Oh Brandon, I am the best writer you will never read. LOL.
Jim: Over the years I have been lucky to have a few articles published and in my younger days some poetry, but never anything substantial. I could show you folders upon folders of outlines and stories that have never seen the light of day. I like to write stories for myself, but seldom show them to anyone.
I think reviewing has definitely helped to improve my writing skills. You have to keep your reader engaged and a good writing style will help with that. It also helps me that my wife will proofread for me at times and she is a very strict enforcer of the proper comma.
Behrg: I think the key for any writer—whether creating fiction or writing articles/reviews—is just that, to write first for yourself. If you’re not entertained by what you’re writing, how could someone else possibly be?
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?
Jim: That is a great question! We all come across books that just don’t click; whether it be due to genre, content, writing style or so many other factors. Every reviewer handles these differently. I try to finish every book I read. If it does not grab me at first I might set it aside and try coming back to it later. Though, sometimes I just can’t. There have been books that I just had to stop. Most of the time it’s not content, I can handle most anything, but the actual writing style or structure. You can be the most creative writer in the world, but if you can’t string a few paragraphs together cohesively, you are going to lose your reader.
Over the years I have had books that can draw that 2-star review, and yes even the dreaded 1 star. When it comes to these I don’t post them. That’s just my personal rule. I may have not liked it, but that author worked hard on it and in his eyes it is his baby. If I have a real problem with it I will let the author know my feelings privately, not in a public post. Most will appreciate the input, but others may not. Which kind of leads into your next question.
Behrg: That it does! So 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?
Jim: Luckily, most authors and publishers are great to work with and they conduct themselves professionally.
If you are an author, the first thing you should do before you contact a reviewer is check their website. Most will post guidelines for reviews and whether they are accepting new books at this time. If you do contact them, please be polite. A friendly email with your request and information about your work and yourself will go a long way. Ask them if they would be interested in your work and what formats you can offer them. If the reviewer declines, don’t take it as a personal affront, it just might not be to their interest or they might be overburdened at the time.
I once had an author send me an email promoting his work and asking for a review. The email was quite long, but he knew exactly how to draw someone in. He was funny while still being serious about his work. I was laughing by the end and really enjoyed his book once I read it. A little kindness and common sense go a long way.
The worst was an email from an author who just said his story was great and I needed to read it, and a link was included. That’s all! Sorry, but that does not get you a favorable response.
I think the biggest mistake an author can make is talking smack about a reviewer because they are not happy with how their book was viewed. Most reviewers do this because they love the books and they don’t get any monetary reward from it. They are giving their time to read the book and give an honest opinion. Some may like it and some may not. If you’re an author and you get an unfavorable review don’t hop on social media and start berating the reviewer. If you have a question, ask them privately and civilly. You need to remember that all of us in the reviewing community are like family. If you attack one of us, the whole family can come down on you. (insert your best Hulk Hogan voice here)
Behrg: So much to unpack in your answer! I love what you shared about the author including humor in his request. SOOO much better than sending some form letter that’s just copied and pasted to every reviewer email you can find. But you bring up a point here that we haven’t yet discussed in our series, that of an author publicly berating or complaining about a review.
First, let me say I’m usually of the persuasion that everyone has their process and brings their unique approach to how they operate, whether as an author or a reviewer. But I will die on the pedestal that an author should NEVER publicly discuss or complain about a review they disagree with. A review is one person’s experience with a book, and everyone is entitled to share that experience, as varying as it may be.
So let me ask, what advice would you give to an author who does feel hurt or disagrees with a review? Or what about a reviewer who discovers other reviewers publicly disagreeing with their thoughts, which does occasionally happen?
Jim: It all comes back to the fact that we are a social media world now. There are so many people whose first reaction to criticism is to jump on Twitter or Facebook and vent. This goes to authors and other reviewers, think before you type. Starting a giant flame war online is not a way to solve a problem you have with someone else. Drop them an email or DM to discuss a review if you’re an author. If you’re a reviewer and you are having a problem it’s the same advice. Starting a big argument between reviewers does not help our community. We need to support each other and stay strong together.
Behrg: “All boats rise together” is something I believe in completely. 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?
Jim: I just want to thank you again for this opportunity. Also, I’d like to send a word of thanks out to all the other reviewers out there. I follow so many of you and your work; it is inspiring to me and everyone who reads it. Keep those pages turning, those reviews coming and let’s promote this weird and wonderful genre we all love so much.
Behrg: Again, a big thank you to Jim for participating in this interview! For any of you would like to connect with him or check out his work and reviews, follow the links below. Be kind to each other!
Jim grew up on the South Side of Chicago to a steady diet of horror movies, Saturday morning cartoons and Fangoria magazine. He has written for several fanzines and websites over the years and now runs a review site at One-Legged Reviews. Jim lives in rural Indiana with his wife and 2 pups and spends his days of retirement reading and sitting on his porch yelling at the neighbor kids to stay off his lawn.
Website: www. oneleggedreviews.blogspot.com/
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.
Stalk him at www.thebehrg.com
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