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: Today’s interview is with Kevin Whitten of Well Read Beard. Kevin’s a musician, horror enthusiast, and—let’s face it—has the kind of beard that makes every man jealous. So first off, Kevin, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Kevin: It all started with Goodreads. I started tracking what I was reading and rating a bunch of stuff that I knew I had already read. I have really only been taking this seriously for a year or so, and I started the Youtube videos 6 months ago. So, now when I finish a book, I write the review on Goodreads copy it over to Amazon and do a video review for everything that I read. I use Twitter as my main source of doing bookish deeds.
Behrg: I’d love to dig into a little more on the YouTube side of things. How did you decide to start a channel and adding your book reviews there? Any advice for reviewers who might be contemplating something similar or might be afraid to try?
Kevin: I work from home. I have been working from home for 20 years, and believe it or not your verbal communication takes a hit after a while. I loved books, but I sucked at talking about them. I wanted to get better. My wife is an English professor. She teaches badass classes like Dystopian Lit and Holocaust Lit. I was finding all these great books but when I would attempt to tell her or others how great they were I was falling flat. So that was it, it was an exercise in self-improvement combined with a bit of a personal reading journal. I started talking about every single book I read on Youtube. Again, I approach this with the concept that there are no rules. Do it how you want, make sure you are enjoying it. If it starts to feel like work, pull back. I personally have found some modicum of happiness and self-worth in it. I am unfiltered and off the cuff. I often refer to my videos as book reactions instead of reviews. I react to them, I try to let those physical feelings of pain, or grief, or laughter, or whatever seep out into the videos. I just have fun with it. I don’t edit, I don’t over produce, I just talk about books.
Behrg: I really like that concept of a “book reaction” rather than a review. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about—how did this book make you feel? And that answer will be different for everyone!
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?
Kevin: I play quite a few instruments and muck around with songwriting. I am a youth football coach. I am also an iced coffee/cold brew enthusiast.
Behrg: That’s awesome! I have so much respect for those who coach kids (especially considering you’re all putting up with kids like mine own!) As a guitar player myself, I’ve listened to a few of your bluesy shuffles and gotta say, I’d love to hear a longer concert. How long have you been playing and any performances people can watch online?
Kevin: I have been playing off and on for basically 20 years. I played college football and used music to fill that void when it was over. I enjoy writing songs, I really hit peak creativity pre-social media, I think MySpace was a thing? Anyways – I used to record a lot, then got out of it. Now I don’t really record, but I write and put out videos of songs. A lot of that stuff gets pulled over to the music streaming services. So I have a bunch of stuff out on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc… But most of it is low-quality recording-wise.
This is probably my best recording. I did all of the instrumentation.
This is probably still my best song.
Behrg: Oh man, dig the guitar work and harmonica on Take it Easy Baby! And great chorus on Never Let Go – this is the kind of stuff I could listen to for hours. Thanks for sharing your talents, that’s something that’s not easy to do.
Any favorite sub-genres under the horror umbrella? Any you don’t particularly care for? Same questions but for common tropes in the genre?
Kevin: I enjoy the human parts of horror. I really enjoy the dark places that we as humans ( with no help from outside monsters or cosmic forces ) can go. That being said, I love a good haunted house story. I shy away from vampire stories and I am also not a huge fan of cosmic horror overall.
Behrg: The horror genre provides such an excellent way to explore the dark sides of humanity. Pick your poison—physical books or digital?
Kevin: Always physical. I stare at a screen all day for work.
Behrg: Ha! I love it. Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
I focus mostly on independent/small press stuff. It only works when I really like a particular book, but I get slightly high off the intimacy of reading a book that not many other folks have read and then spreading the word about it. Let’s face it, I don’t have anything original to add to the conversations about Stephen King. These smaller books give me an original platform and I feel like the work matters. The authors and publishers care that I am giving them my time.
Behrg: This is such an interesting take on the small and indie presses/authors, and I can certainly attest to the fact that every sale matters. There is something special about discovering talent, regardless of the medium—books, music, sports, etc—before they become well known. Keep sharing, your work definitely matters.
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?
Kevin: I will say
1. John Connelly and the reason is simple. He has a fairly large amount of written works and I have read none of them. I have recently been watching people RAVE about the Charlie Parker series and it alone has 17 books.
2. Terry Pratchett, kind of the same reason. Dude wrote a TON of books and I have read very few of them.
3. Ok, I fold. Stephen King.
Behrg: At least you didn’t go all in! 🙂
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?
1. Keep it fun.
2. I look at it like creating music, there are no rules.
3. It’s about the reading, if it becomes more about you or more about your followers you are losing the reason you started in the first place.
4. Be original, don’t set out to emulate anyone. Do it your way.
5. If you spend more time on the books you LOVE and less on what you don’t love – I personally believe it will remain enjoyable.
6. Keep it fun.
Behrg: I think I might just print these 6 points out and post them next to my monitor—Such. Good. Advice. Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Kevin: My favorites of 2020 so far
Novel: Dead Woman Scorned by Michael Clark
Novella: True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik
Short Story Collection: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor or Lucid Screams by Red Lagoe
Poetry: Hysteria by Stephanie Wytovich
2019 Top Book overall
Night Film by Marissa Pessl
Top small press read – a little Appalachian Dark Gritty piece called Songbirds and Stray Dogs by Meagan Lucas
Top Indie Horror Read was Whispers in the Dark by Laurel Hightower
Behrg: So glad you included poetry in this as it often gets overlooked! And I love that your list of favorites has more women authors than men! Some excellent choices all around. 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?
Kevin: I occasionally play around with poetry and songwriting. I have some music published on most streaming sites. I am all or nothing kind of guy. So if I am reading—that is all I am doing with every free moment of time. And the same holds true for music, if I am playing or writing—that is all I am doing. So I am not one of these people that consume and make art at the same time. I gorge myself on the consumption of books and eventually get so full that some of spills out into a notebook of poetry or a new album’s worth of songs. Rinse and repeat.
Behrg: Writing is writing, whether it’s music, lyrics, or stories. I’ll sometimes go months without writing a song and then something will hit and it just pours out of me. Those moments can be frantic—fulfilling, but frantic. Writing fiction for me is more like a marathon than a sprint, but everyone has a slightly different approach. What name or band is your music published under? Definitely want to check it out!
Kevin: Kevin Whitten.
Willie Nelson said that anyone can write a song, everyone has a song catcher but very few people turn it on or pay attention to it. He said something like that anyways. For me, when it’s on, it’s on—I can construct full songs in the time it takes to take a shower. When it’s off, or when I am dwelling on the fact that folks may not really ever listen, it’s all the way off.
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?
Kevin: I am a bit of a completist. I do not DNF many reads. I will NOT thrash the little guy. 2 Stars ( It was OK) is generally my lowest rating for a small press book. I then still try to find something positive to say in the written part of the review. “I didn’t care for the overall story, but I felt the author did a really good job of this…” On major large publisher books? All bets are off.
Behrg: This intrigues me, and partially because I find myself doing a little of the same. Do you think it’s acceptable to have a different scale when judging a traditionally published novel versus a small or indie press published book? If so, what about those readers or reviewers who hold both to the same level of scrutiny?
Kevin: I think it’s perfectly acceptable. I go back to the fact that I refuse to accept that there are “rules”. Everyone can do it how they want. But for me, if you as an author have been placed on a pedestal, if you have been handed the megaphone, you better get it right.
Behrg: Excellent point, and totally agree. 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?
Kevin: For me? A year ago I had very little following. It has grown quite a bit over that time. What I am getting at is “Don’t be afraid to ask”—I may appear to busy to read your book, but most of us are still thrilled by the idea of being offered ARCs. I know I am. Send the book, but then do NOT apply pressure. I generally give an author an estimated time frame, whether that is a week or months from now. If you really want someone to read your book, Perks are always great—I will use Michael Clark as an example. He sent out signed bookmarks and coffee cups and other cool little items with his books.
Behrg: Great advice. I think often authors may feel they can’t approach certain reviewers because they’re so busy or because they review more well-known authors (even within the indie or small press community). And perks can be a fun way to stand out for those who are in a position to do something like that!
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?
Kevin: I have always enjoyed reading, but it was always an isolated, solitary, lonely hobby. I feel that the twitter book community and the review platforms have opened everything up. It has given us book worm introverts avenues of engagement. Reasons to share and socialize about the books we love.
Behrg: Such a great way to look at reviewing! For those interested in learning more about Well Read Beard, check out his contact info below, and be sure to leave a comment thanking Kevin for all he does!
Well Read Beard
YouTube: Well Read Beard YouTube Channel
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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