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 Lilyn George of the fantastic review team Sci-Fi & Scary. So Lilyn, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Lilyn: We try to post our reviews on multiple platforms when possible. At minimum, though: Sci-Fi & Scary and Goodreads. If it is a movie, we will cross-post to IMDB.
I started the site in 2015. I had not reviewed anything prior to that, but I needed something new to focus on, and I already loved books, so it seemed like a natural enough direction to venture in.
Behrg: Now your site focuses on both science fiction and horror, I’m always surprised when readers (and even authors) stick to only one genre. It’s sort of like loving pizza so much you refuse to try a hamburger. Do you find in your reviews you approach them differently depending on the genre? And how do you feel about those special pieces that are both sci-fi AND horror?
Lilyn: Well, I adore it when I come across a good piece of sci-fi horror, obviously. It hits all my happy spots. Now that I’ve answered your last question first . . . I’m surprised, too. It gets boring very quickly for me when I read only in one genre. The genres serve different purposes. I’ve often said: “I read horror for the safe scares, and sci-fi for the hope.” That doesn’t always apply, but it’s a good rule of thumb. I also read a lot of middle-grade fiction as I find it to be a good palate cleanser in between the two genres.
No, I don’t think I approach them any differently when I’m reviewing. After all, the first thing a reviewer looks for is a good story, yeah? Though I will admit to a bit of a bias when a ‘sci-fi’ book turns out to be fantasy in space, or when a horror ends up being more drama than anything.
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?
Lilyn: I tend to go through cycles with hobbies. Right now, it’s writing and volunteering my time at the local dog shelter. During the summer we do a lot of hiking. I’ve also been known to knit, crochet, and do photography.
Behrg: Any favorite sub-genres under the horror umbrella? Any you don’t particularly care for? Same questions but for common tropes in the genre?
Lilyn: Absolutely. I prefer supernatural horror and creature features (monsters, cryptids, kaiju, chomp’n’stomp, whatever you want to call them.) I like spooks and demons and things that go bump in the night right up until you turn the light on and they mysteriously disappear.
Real-life horror (serial killers, stories centering around revenge after rape/abuse,etc) put me off big time. It’s not that it disgusts me or anything like that. It just bores me. I read to escape, so stuff that could actually happen just makes me yawn.
Tropes: Anyone who knows me will be very familiar with the fact that I absolutely hate the dead kid trope in horror. Now, mind you, there has been times when I’ve seen it really well done and I appreciated it then, but the problem is that way, way too many writers depend on dead kids as a way to up the horror factor in their books. It has turned into a lazy writing prop and it needs to stop. Hint: People do move to new places and try to make new lives for reasons OTHER than child death. Trust me on this. If it makes sense and is an integral part of your book, do it. If it’s something you just threw in because you couldn’t think of any other way to up the ante for atmosphere and empathy, try writing again in a few years after you’ve experienced more life, please. Because life has plenty of ways to kick you without dead kids figuring into it.
Basically, having had to take a three-month-old off life support and having another child with a chronic, life-threatening illness, I’m intolerant of people who use the worst real horror as an excuse to not be more creative. This leads to me butting heads with people about content warnings, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Behrg: Some great thoughts and insight here, Lilyn, and I agree, sometimes authors can dig a little deeper and find far more interesting ways to deliver scares or even backstories than what the “tried and true” tropes can offer.
You’ve opened up an interesting topic regarding content warnings. Some readers prefer to have them, others can be turned off by them. What are your thoughts and how would you suggest authors approach the subject, especially if their writing may hit what might be considered “trigger warnings?”
Lilyn: Oh, I’m sure I’m going to piss some people off here. Good thing I don’t care. Look, it’s like this: Would you let a friend that you know has suffered from, let’s say, a recent rape walk into a movie that—without warning in the trailer or blurb—includes a very graphic rape scene?? I hope not. (If you would, you’re an asshole. I will die on that hill.) Decent people would not. It’s the same thing with content warnings in books. You’re keeping people who are trying to live their normal lives from unexpectedly wandering into something that could send them into a PTSD episode or anxiety attack. It’s just being kind.
There was this one dude that said we should just not read if we needed content warnings in books. Holy shit, was that the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Yeah, keep people from a genre they otherwise enjoy because they happen to have been through some crap and need to be considerate of their mental health. Makes perfect sense. Same as the people who say they won’t read a book if they contain content warnings.
Content warnings (the preferred term since people have made ‘trigger’ a laughingstock of a word) serve simply to inform readers that there may be material that could possibly make them remember horrible experiences that they’ve been through. Why would you not be kind and give people a heads up? It’s not asking for a detailed account of every possible ‘offensive’ thing in your book, just a quick warning that, for example, hey, if you’ve been a victim of rape, you might not want to read this until you’re ready. Yeah, dude, that’s asking so much.
I think there is, in part, a huge misconception about content warnings and how they should be executed. Protip: If done right, if you don’t wanna see them . . . you don’t ever have to see them. Amazing, I know.
Speaking of execution, there are many ways to do it, but the simplest one for me is this: A few words on the back telling the reader that there’s a list of content warnings available. (Maybe just something as simple as: Content Warnings—Page 345) Then the reader, if they want to, can turn to page 345 and quickly skim a list of content warnings. (Something simple like: This book contains scenes involving suicide and rape.) If it’s an e-book, you could provide a link at the front of the book that goes straight to the content warning list if people click on it.
. . . And look at that. You’ve been kind to people who have been through some crap and nobody who doesn’t want to read them has to read them. Mind blown, right? I know I’m a little snarky about this, but it absolutely blows my mind that so many people don’t have a shred of basic empathy when it comes to people going through traumatic experiences and trying not to let it rule their lives.
Behrg: I think you bring not only valid points to this argument but an idea or solution, which is rarely provided in cases like this. It’s certainly making me look at my own writing and how I could incorporate something similar, so thank you!
Do you have a preference for physical books or digital?
Lilyn: Either. I’ll include audio in here as well. Reading is reading is reading. Each method of doing so has its pros and cons. I like physical for the ‘feel’ of it. Digital is great when I’m on the go and want to read on my phone, etc. Audio works wonderfully when I’m in the car, or doing chores, and so on.
Behrg: Love that you included audiobooks in this. I tackle a lot of my reading through audiobooks as well and have just started getting into the production of them with some of my own work.
Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
Lilyn: I enjoy books and movies. None of my team would do what we’re doing if we didn’t. We enjoy reading them, we enjoy talking about them. It’s fun to shout from the rooftops when you’ve gotten your hands on something fantastic, and it’s equally fun to grouch about the utter trash you encounter on occasion as well.
Behrg: 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?
Lilyn: This is a ridiculously hard question for me as I’m not really one of those people that get hung up on specific authors. I enjoy the individual books and even those I’d consider “favorites” are still not insta-buys from me 99.9% of the time.
I guess I’d probably go with Nora Roberts if I had to choose a single author. I grew up reading her books and while they’re formulaic, she still does a great job with her more supernaturally-inclined series. Her stuff is neither sci-fi (unless you’re counting her JD Robb books) or horror, but she does an amazing job giving you characters that you care about and building worlds you can step seamlessly inside. That matters more than the genre sometimes.
Now, if I had to choose three: Nora Roberts, Jonathan Maberry, and Bill Schweigart. I only like about half of what Maberry writes, but his Joe Ledger series is amazing and always tempts me to check out his other work. Bill Schweigart is a lesser-known name, but the man wrote a trilogy that actually had me happily reading each book and that’s a rare, rare thing. He does cryptid horror very well.
Behrg: Great answers, and ridiculously hard questions are what interviews are all about! 🙂
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?
Learn about SEO. If you’re going to build your own website, you need to understand how to do things in a way that will actually drive traffic toward your site instead of away from it. Now, SEO is hard to nail (heck, I’m still struggling with it) but if you don’t have at least a general understanding of the basics, you’re going to make things a Iot harder on yourself. This is a huge challenge but so worth it.
Reviews are for readers, not authors. Please keep that in mind. The moment you start kissing author ass is the moment readers (with common sense) start giving you the stink-eye.
Also, you’re going to get flack from authors and rabid fans when you don’t like their books at some point because there are always assholes and idiots out there that don’t understand that reviews are for readers AND that people can have different opinions. They’re opinions. Just like assholes, everyone has them and I guarantee you some of them smell a lot worse than others do. Accept it and move on.
Build a team or become part of one. Doing it on your own, especially if it’s your own site, can be exhausting and lonely. Many hands make light work, and the friendship that you can build (if the group you work with is a good one) is a reward in itself.
My Kali Krew is a great lot. We have a discord server and while we do organize and plan things on there, we also round up for group movie watches where we insult each other, the movies, the actors, circle back to each other, and just keep going. We all love them, and we all laugh our butts off during them. We even have a pinned schedule for movie choice.
But, also, when one of us isn’t feeling well, others step in to help out. When one of us is having a bad time, the rest of the crew is there to lift spirits, discuss problems, and do whatever we can to support that person. You can find a community easy enough, but how often do you find a family-by-choice?
Behrg: Love this advice! It isn’t often I see bloggers or reviewers talking about SEO and that’s so important to consider if you’re launching your own site or trying to have your content well indexed. And when it comes to reviews, I couldn’t agree more. It’s okay for people to have differing opinions!
When it comes to your third point, what would you suggest for anyone just starting out in reviewing who’s looking to either build a team or become a part of one? Where should they start and what kind of expectations should they have?
Lilyn: Well, it’s easier to join a team than start your own, that’s for sure. The most important thing, whether joining a team or creating your own, is to look for people that share a similar mindset to you. They don’t have to like all the same things, but y’all do need to be able to crack jokes with each other and basically get along. Similar temperaments can help a whole lot.
You also have to consider who you are publicly tying yourself to. I mean, I wouldn’t tie myself to someone who kisses massive ass to get ahead and rules their team with an iron fist, for example. The idea makes me shudder. But someone who stands up for what they believe in, is always ready to step in when a friend is getting attacked? Yeah, I would in a heartbeat.
Do your research. Check out the social media history of people you’re considering joining forces with. Engage them in basic conversation. Skills can be learned, personality and idealogical conflicts will screw you over in a heartbeat. (A MAGA-nut on our team wouldn’t last five seconds.)
Behrg: Now, recently you announced Sci-Fi & Scary will be putting together an anthology of body horror short stories. Is this the first publication you’re looking to release and what gave you the idea to put this together? Anything you’d like to share with other readers or authors about it?
Lilyn: We’re currently working on Twisted Anatomy: A Sci-Fi & Scary Body Horror Anthology. We’re looking for this to be released in February 2021. It’s an interesting experiment for the Krew as it’s a mass effort involving most of us. The idea took off after discussing a vagina tentacles story with Laurel Hightower and at first I kind of laughed about it, but then we all realized it would be a good thing to do. Especially as we wanted to do something more to promote diverse voices (we want a majority of the anthology contributors to be diverse), and to help out some charities as well.
Because we believe that authors should be paid for their work, even though this is a charity anthology, we are providing token payments. We welcome everyone to submit to Twisted Anatomy.
KR: For more information on Twisted Anatomy click HERE
Behrg: What a great undertaking and way to promote diverse voices while giving back! Wish you the best of luck with this and sincerely hope it’s only the first of many to come!
Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Lilyn: I haven’t read much in 2020, so right now it’s The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper. I made my goal in 2020 to only read books by diverse authors and to push my boundaries on what I read. I didn’t actually expect to get approved for TGoU, and I especially didn’t expect to enjoy a young adult drama, but . . . I did. Very well written.
As for 2019, I read three fantastic books and I’m unwilling to choose between them. So: Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes (space heist sci-fi with psychic cats), Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (LGBTQ fantasy dealing with monsters I wish we could abolish outside the pages of books, too.), and Whispers in the Dark by Laurel Hightower (amazeballs paranormal horror-thriller.)
Of all time? Easy. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (yes, yes, he’s a homophobic bigot and no you shouldn’t buy any of his works. But I read Ender’s Game before I knew any of that, and it is a fantastic novel regardless of Card’s permanent holding of the Supreme Bigot title.) My second favorite is The Martian by Andy Weir, as narrated by R.C. Bray (WTF was Audible thinking replacing him with Wil Wheaton?)
Behrg: Ender’s Game is easily on my top 3 shelf as well, and one I’ve revisited many times over the years. It’s amazing how well it holds up. And as for the personal beliefs of an author, I tend to separate the creator from their work, but completely understand your concerns.
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?
Lilyn: I dabble. Right now I’m working on a duology. The first book is about a clinically depressed woman with the god-like power to edit reality who goes toe-to-toe with Lovecraftian gods to save the universe because she knows if she lives too much longer she’s going to become the villain, so she’d rather go out the hero. The second one follows her daughter, who has to fix a mistake her mother made that nearly ends everything by itself, while trying to navigate a relationship with a man who is, at best, too possessive and needy to the point of codependence, and at worst is a solid at domestic violence of the emotional and mental abuse end of things.
No, I haven’t published anything. I haven’t even tried.
Reviewing books has been a big asset because it can really teach you what not to do. There was a bit of a fuss on Twitter about this a while back because I said authors needed to invest in a good book cover, an editor, and a beta-reader. As well as that multiple drafts were needed. You wouldn’t think people would get so up-in-arms about it but good lord. People will find any reason to get shirty.
I stand by what I said, though. You do need a good book cover. If you possess the ability to do it yourself, GO YOU! DO it yourself. Rock it. But if you’re working on a 10$ a month subscription to photoshop that you just started last month, and you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, please, please save up and get a pre-made cover. There are reasonably priced ones available. And, y’all, we do judge books by their covers. Give your book the best chance of being picked up that you can. Please.
You do need a (good) editor. If you can’t afford one, don’t be afraid to save up until you can, but also there were some great suggestions of looking for editors that are just trying to get started, or even just exchanging WIPs with other writers, and so on. There are ways to get around the $$ aspect, but there is no reason to not get objective eyes on your work. You are too close to it. You need someone who is not to help you see the problems. While there are some blessedly talented individuals out there that may not need an editor’s helping hand, the majority of people do. A good editor makes for a stronger book but do your research on whomever you pick.
I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. Do what you can, within your limits. Just be aware that you will be judged on the overall quality of what you’re putting forth. So if you’re happy with a badly photoshopped cover, no editor, and type it once and be done… go you and I genuinely wish you the best of luck, but… uhm, yeah, I’m probably gonna pass on that read.
Behrg: First, let me say your WIPs sound amazing! That’s a brilliant concept of “editing reality” and knowing you’ll end up the villain so trying to burn out before that occurs. And I’m a huge fan of fiction that explores mental illness in all its forms. A lot of my writing falls into that category, and I feel we need more of it to not only increase awareness but to allow ourselves to understand mental illness in a way sometimes only fiction allows us to.
I remember when this whole debate thing came about on Twitter. I STRONGLY fall into the camp that if you want your work to be considered or well thought of you have to give it the attention it deserves. Multiple drafts, editors, proper cover design or formatting . . . all of that is what separates amateurish work from what might or should be considered professional, regardless of whether it’s self-published or not. Anyone can hit the easy button and just throw a first draft out to the wind, but if you’re looking to build a career or develop a following you owe it to yourself AND your readers to do everything you can to make your final product as professional as possible.
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?
Lilyn: It depends. I used to read every book, but there’s just too many good books in this world to waste time on one that’s not working for you. With that being said, there are some books that are so abysmally bad they turn into rage reads.
While I do enjoy ripping into a really bad book, I don’t like giving negative reviews. (I know, that makes no sense.) So here lately my rule of thumb has been if I’m not able to even find something I like about it by like the 30% mark, I give up. I’d rather just move on than force myself to finish reading something I don’t care for and write a review I don’t want to write.
However, if it’s a rage read? Sorry, gloves are off, and I’m ripping that sucker to shreds because if you have me to the point of rage reading, you’ve done too much wrong and I’m gonna yell.
Behrg: Yell away! 🙂 Love this, and I’m always interested in how others approach it as I’m constantly shifting how I review books I don’t care for. I strongly believe in giving honest reviews and I’ve purchased books solely based on negative reviews, so there’s value either way you look at it, but I’ve been setting books aside more that just aren’t grabbing me instead of completing them and notching up those negative reviews as well.
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?
Lilyn: Check the review policy. If it says a site is closed for submissions, then don’t submit. It’s an auto-delete and I don’t even try to reply most of the time. The best way an author can ask me to review their book is to fill out the review request form on the site. The worst way is to pop onto my Twitter feed when I’m discussing something with someone else and shove your book in my digital face or sliding it into my DMs. It’s not far below sending me an unsolicited dick pic in my opinion.
Authors need to follow the review policies for the people that they’re requesting reviews from. Make sure we’re open to review submissions, that your book is in one of the genres we cover, and that you check your spam mail after you’ve submitted a review request because there have been lots of times we’ve sent out acceptances and never heard back/received the book.
Also, please remember that 95% of us are doing this as a hobby during our free time. We try our best to review as much as possible, as quickly as possible, but most of us work full-time jobs, have children, actual lives, etc. All of that will come before reading a book will. It’s a fact of life. We aren’t snubbing you, we’re just living.
Behrg: GREAT advice. And authors, take note.
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?
Lilyn: I admire any writer that has the guts and determination to not only write an entire story but to also actively seek to publish it. Stories, whether they’re sci-fi, horror, or any of the other genres provide portals for people to escape from the crappy worlds they’re living in, and that should always be celebrated. (I’m speaking generally here.) Whether they be a page or three hundred, writing something that can take someone away, even for a couple of minutes, is an amazing thing. Whenever you’re doubting yourself as you’re working on the second, fourth, or sixth round of edits (if you do that many), please remember that.
Imposter syndrome is a very real thing, but that story you wrote? Just by writing it down you did so much more than many people ever do. Remember that, too.
To readers: Please support diverse voices. Science fiction and horror are filled with straight white men, to the point that trying to find stories from outside that particular group can be a colossal pain in the butt. We are overloaded with stories told from that lens, sometimes to the point that when we do read work from diverse voices it might not seem as ‘good’ because of what we’ve been trained (deliberately or unconsciously) to recognize as good. And that’s just not right. Stories told through different lenses can provide a rich, fresh experience that you just aren’t going to get from reading the latest 999 page novel from Stephen King. Feel me? We have to nurture those voices. (No, I’m not saying we need to blindly support them. If something sucks, it sucks. But please, step out of your comfort zone occasionally to try stuff. You’d be surprised by what you’ll find. If you need some ideas, head over to ladiesofhorrorfiction.com for a start. Sci-Fi & Scary also keeps a small database of women science fiction authors as well. Obviously, there is diversity beyond that, but those are my two easiest places to point for starters.)
Behrg: Excellent points. There are so many diverse voices out there that deserve to be celebrated and discovered, and seeing things from someone else’s perspective is really what reading (and writing) are all about.
Thank you for joining us for this interview and sharing your thoughts on the subject! And please keep reading, reviewing, and writing your own stories! All while walking that tight rope that is real life.
For those interested in learning more about Sci-Fi & Scary, check out their site info below, and be sure to leave a comment thanking Lilyn and her team for all they do!
Review Policy: www.scifiandscary.com/review-policy/
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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