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 none other than horror author and reviewer extraordinaire, Steve Stred. So Steve, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
Steve: Cheers, thanks for having me. I’ve been a reader of Horror/dark fiction for 20+ years, but only took the dive into Goodreads a few years back. At the same time, I was really working on getting my own writing out there. During that time, I connected with Gavin Kendall who runs Kendall Reviews and at some point he invited me to send my reviews to him for site content. I will occasionally host reviews on my own author site as well. Those are ones that for whatever reason don’t fall under the typical KR banner or maybe a shorter read and I’ll just pop it on the site. I also leave my reviews on Amazon Canada, Bookbub and of course Goodreads.
Behrg: So, being an author and a reviewer, I’d love to dig into some thoughts here (and yes, I’m guilty of the same). First, let’s set some ground rules. No brass knuckles, other than that, anything goes. 🙂 But in all seriousness, it can pose a challenge to publicly review another author’s work when you’re an author yourself. First there’s the “quid pro quo” guise of you scratch my back, I scratch yours, which can be assumed by some if you’re giving a positive review. Then, there’s the challenge of what do you do when you read another author’s work that you really don’t care for? So how do you handle these challenges and maintain integrity while trying not to piss off the world?
Steve: It’s definitely an odd situation. I personally keep a distance between the two. So, when I read and review—it isn’t for that other author or for me—it’s for other, fellow readers. Unless an author is asking for a blurb or for beta, then I’m reviewing for the readers out there. (On a side note—every interaction I’ve had with authors regarding blurbs is they are only offered up if they like the story, same with when someone asks me.) I don’t do scratch for scratch. It’s even cost me a friendship from someone who helped me big time with a lot of advice and formatting, etc., when I started out. I’m not going to dig too deep into that, but if I don’t like something I’ll say it. I always try and be constructive instead of critical in any review where I didn’t enjoy the book or story, and I think that’s the best way to maintain integrity. Each individual has their own taste. I just DNF a book recently that a ton of people are raving about—it just wasn’t for me. Furthermore—if you absolutely don’t want any issues you can either decline and not review friend’s books, or just leave a rating and one or two lines. It doesn’t have to be in-depth. I personally won’t review any anthologies I appear in for my site or for Kendall Reviews. I may give a few of them a rating on Goodreads and even a line saying I’m in this but only rated based on the other stories, but for the most part I try to stay away from that.
Behrg: I love your approach here in why you review. It’s easy to forget the real reason behind publicly sharing your thoughts on a book or piece of fiction and instead focus on how many likes or comments, etc, your review received. Ultimately, like you said, it’s getting other readers to connect with something, not to showcase your own profile or dazzle with how clever your review is.
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?
Steve: As I mentioned, I’m a bit of both worlds—reader and writer. So, I write on my breaks at work. Completely outside of that—I love spending time with my family and frequently get up to no good with my son. I think at this point, some folks but not all folks know, but I used to compete in the sport of Bobsled for Canada. I was the position of Brakeman—which means I worked to push the sled as fast as possible before jumping into the sled and letting my pilot guide us down the track.
Behrg: First, let me say your son has a very cool dad. Love seeing the pictures and stories you share on Twitter. As far as the Bobsledding, I’ve always thought this is so fascinating as it’s something 99.9% of us would have ZERO experience with. How has your time as an athlete prepared you or helped you in either your writing or book reviewing process?
Steve: Well thanks! I hope he grows up to think I’m kind of cool haha! He probably won’t! I suspect your kids must also rave about your past (which I was shocked and so amazed to find out!). I think the two biggest things from that world to this world are to have thick skin and being very schedule oriented. You got to remember the golden rule—not everyone likes everything ☺
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?
Steve: I enjoy most things really. I’m a sucker for werewolf stories as well as super gory, dark reads. I’ve kind of lost my love of vampires and zombies, but if the synopsis is good or the author is a fav of mine, I’ll still tackle those books.
As for common tropes—I’m not a big fan of helpless women in stories. There are some specific times a character needs that to happen—for sure—but otherwise, it needs to stop haha!
Behrg: Great one to highlight. The damsel in distress needs to be retired.
Physical books or digital?
Steve: I do all of my reading on my Kindle now, so digital. Additionally, as a writer, I know just how expensive sending out review copies are. So, on my end, I am a fan of digital knowing that I’m not causing any financial issues for the author.
Behrg: That’s an interesting point. A lot of reviewers prefer having physical books or signed copies sent out, which absolutely is appreciated but can get costly for an author or small / indie publishing house. Personally I’m one of those weird ones who prefer digital over a physical book as well, it’s just so much easier than keeping stacks of books all over the house, especially as I have ADD when reading and tend to jump between 4 or 5 works all at once.
Steve: Before our son arrived, I was always a physical book reader. I’d have my three books on the go and they would be sitting beside the bed. He didn’t have the easiest arrival and for the first three months or so, he slept swaddled on my chest. At first I was in the bed beside my wife, and then we transitioned onto our couch. It was a big-time PTSD issue for me. It wasn’t until he was about eight months old that I downloaded the Kindle app onto my tablet. He was now sleeping beside me, but I still couldn’t have a light on and trying to hold a book and turn the pages with a little one sometimes laying on you was impossible. The Kindle app saved me. I was able to read again and it didn’t wake him. So my wife got me a Kindle for Father’s day that year and I was off and running. As for the author side of it—I do get the appeal of a signed copy and a physical book for pictures and promo etc, but the expense is such a killer. So, I just made it a priority from day one to focus on digital for reviews. I’ve only made one exception—Eddie Generous asked me to review some Chapbooks from Unnerving. I bought four or five ebooks from Unnerving as I felt so horribly guilty!
Behrg: That’s an awesome way to say Thank you! Eddie’s an awesome guy and does a ton for the genre. I’ve been impressed with his imprint for a while now.
Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
Steve: Are mine well-thought-out? I kid. For me, whether I was submitting these to Kendall Reviews or just popping them on Amazon/Goodreads, the entire point of the review is to get someone’s attention and hopefully get a few sales. I’ve reformatted my reviews now to state what I liked, didn’t like and why someone should buy it. I typically don’t take notes or anything when reading, unless it’s a collection. I’m reeeeaaaalllly bad at remembering story titles in collections/anthologies, so I’ll jot down the story title and a little line to remind me what the story is about and a general rating of each story, but otherwise I’ll read the book then write the review the following day. As for what keeps me going – really it’s to give some free press/promo to an author. Reviews can be really tough to come by at times, so it’s always nice to get eyeballs on titles.
Behrg: I’m not sure reviewers fully understand how critical their roles can be in the book-buying process. I can’t count the times someone has told me they purchased a book based on a review or recommendation I had written. Times that by every reviewer putting even just a sentence or two together, and it makes such a difference. This is what keeps me reviewing, just knowing that someone might discover a new favorite author through something I share.
Steve: Absolutely. I think the thing to really remember is—we are fans of the genre! Reading and reviewing a book should be no different than tape trading in the past. I remember discovering such amazing bands as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Dr Dre etc from someone letting me borrow their Walkman at school while I studied in the library. That’s how books should work. Love a book? YELL BLOODY HELL ABOUT IT! Didn’t like a book? Say why you didn’t, as that may be just what someone is looking for.
Behrg: Tape trading—love the comparison!!
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?
Steve: Easy—Andrew Pyper. He’s my favorite author, a super nice guy and I love his writing voice. I also enjoy that his stories are willing to go ‘there.’ For a very main-stream, best-selling author, he has no problem including gore, deaths and extreme moments and that was a very eye-opening discovery for me when I first found his work.
If I had only three—the other two I’d choose would be J.H. Moncrieff and Stephen King. I know King’s kind of an obvious choice, but for this specific question, the reason I would choose him would be because he has A LOT of releases already, so if you only read two of his books a year, you’d be looking at the next 25 years covered and he’s incredibly prolific. Moncrieff is a fantastic author. Another fellow Canuck, she’s also another author willing to go “there.” I’ve loved how varied her releases are as well. From a creature-feature to a haunted bear and a Native American thriller. So versatile.
Behrg: Some great recommendations! I’m taking note. And who is this King guy you speak of?!? 🙂
Steve: Ha! Picking three was a tough one! I think over the last few years the level of work being released is unparalleled. So I’m keen to see what other people are saying for this one!
Behrg: Couldn’t agree more—we’re in a really unique time with so many talented voices bubbling up within the genre. It reminds me of the 90’s alternative era, when all these great bands just all sort of fed off the energy of each other, pushing themselves and their counterparts to greater heights.
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?
Steve: I think my advice would be to just focus on being yourself and be humble. Be grateful for any authors who send you a copy. Don’t work on being like any other reviewer or disingenuous. And never worry about likes, shares, number of followers. The only thing that should matter is that you gave a voice and space for an author and they’ll be forever grateful.
I think the biggest challenge I face is the author/reviewer mentality some people have. Some say authors should never review, which has never made sense to me. I’m a small fish in both worlds, but when I’m reading a book, I’ll be leaving a review. It’s not a critique on the book in the sense of me copy editing it. It’s me sharing my love of the genre and wanting to try and support everyone.
Behrg: I think that authenticity is key. Like you say, don’t be afraid to be yourself. And for authors who want to also share their experience about the books they read? That should be allowed. You can’t be a good writer without constantly reading. And when you find those books you really connect with, why wouldn’t you share that?
Steve: Absolutely. I personally, and others may think differently, find it odd that all authors would die for a blurb by Stephen King on their book, but authors are not supposed to review books. If I’m in the horror section of a book store and see a book and there’s a line that says something like; “Watch out for Andrew Cull, he’ll devastate you,” and the quote is from a writer, let’s say . . . Chris Sorensen, that’s a great quote and Chris is a hell of a writer. Would you then have an issue if Chris left a review for the book as well? I know it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but if you love a book, tell the world! One sale is more than zero sales.
Behrg: I’ll have to take your word on that one, I’ve never been good at math . . .
Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
Steve: 2020—The Residence by Andrew Pyper. 2019—The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper, Those Who Came Before by JH Moncrieff and Remains by Andrew Cull.
Of all time is a tough one. I love, love The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper. The Mist by Stephen King rocked me to my core. The Neverending Story by Ende really opened up my love of fantasy. So there’s a few favourites.
Behrg: Great list. And I’m excited to add Pyper to my TBR pile.
Steve: Thanks! I would highly recommend you start with Pyper’s ‘The Only Child’ if you haven’t read any of his work. It is a fantastic read. As for Moncrieff, if you haven’t read her work, ‘The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave’ was stunning.
Behrg: Do you think reviewing books has allowed you to grow as a writer?
Steve: I do and I have. I think one of the most common quotes is “to be a better writer you need to read more.” Or something like that! For me, I love seeing how a writer grows with their releases and because I read A LOT, I get to see this happen in real-time haha! So, for me, when I see that, it makes me work that much harder at being a better writer.
Behrg: I’ve had a chance to read a few of your books (and have even reviewed some of them) and I gotta say, you have a very unique voice with your writing style. So tell us a little about your writing, for those unfamiliar with your work. How did you get started or what led you to start writing with an eye towards publishing? And what has been your most exciting moment as a published author?
Steve: Really blew me away that you took the time to check out my stuff. That’s so kind of you. Thank you! As for my writing, I describe it as pretty dark and bleak. I think that’s accurate. My mind works in an odd way, where for the most part I get the idea, formulate almost the entire first draft of the story and then write it down over the course of a week or a few weeks. I typically have 3-5 things on the go that I’m working on at any given time, not including edits, back matter, etc., etc. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school and that was the real kicker back then. We had an English teacher that scared the hell out of us and he’d often yell or slam stuff if he hated things or if we weren’t behaving. But he was ruthlessly honest. I remember he kept me after class once and said that he’d been impressed with a few of my poems and that when I went into college I should take some creative writing classes and see if I enjoyed it. I did and it was ok, but I really focused more on sports and my career path. It wasn’t until years later I started writing Invisible. That book is about 60% autobiographical and it was such a tough story to write and tell, but it was very cathartic to revisit and ultimately release. I’ve really never released anything for others. I write for me and the stories I want to read. The fact anyone else has even purchased something from me is mind-blowing!
As for most exciting moment—I would say it was seeing the email that was sent to the Ladies of Horror Fiction after the First Annual Ladies of Horror Fiction Grant was awarded. It’s something that we’ve worked hard to launch last year and knowing that the Grant was going towards furthering more women in the literary world was very humbling but also exciting! If you wanted something more specific directly about myself—I’d have to say receiving my first acceptance email from a submission, which was from Kevin J. Kennedy!
Behrg: I’d say you’re an extremely humble author. Keep hustling like you are—certainly great things ahead along your journey.
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?
Steve: I used to try and finish every book I read, but not anymore. There’s just only so many hours in the day, days in the year. If I finish it and it’s one I didn’t care for, I’ll still work to state what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. I try to be as fair as possible. If it’s really not grabbing me, I’ll DNF and move on.
Behrg: I love that concept of stating what did and/or didn’t work. Even in some of the books I connected with the least there are certain things that can be lauded. Sometimes it’s easy to dump on a book that misses the mark while forgetting the many other things the author might have gotten right.
Steve: Bingo. Really, for me at least, even if you are rating a book 1 star—but you finished it—there had to be something compelling enough to have you read it all the way through. I would hope so! Haha!
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?
Steve: Well, this one’s a double-edged sword with me also writing. To be reviewed—I do like having a bit of a back and forth with someone but I’m not against a cold call/random email message. I have my review guidelines on my site. I’m pretty easygoing and I’ll always be upfront with how long it might take me to get to the book. The worst way though, would be a direct message without any conversation with a link to buy the book. It actually happens a lot more than people think. On the flip side—as a reviewer—I try not to be too aggressive or upfront if a book is coming out that I’m interested in reviewing. If I see an author put out a call, I’ll message and say I’ll take a look or for them to email Gavin as Kendall Reviews has a number of reviewers who may be inclined to read the book.
Behrg: So you mean we should actually try and have conversations with people before we try to shove products down their throats? That self-help book How to Sell 50,000 Kindle Books in 2 Hours I purchased was WAY off . . .
Steve: Ha! Well . . . like I said, for the most part, yes. I also know that some people really struggle with social media and interacting with people in that manner. It took me a few years until I even understood how to effectively use Twitter! So, that’s why I don’t mind a direct email. Those emails are also always friendly, let me add that. It’ll usually be, “Hello, my name is so and so and I released a book. I saw that you review or came across your name here that you may be willing to review my book. Here’s the title and it was released on this date. Here’s a brief synopsis. If you’re able and willing I can send a digital copy, sincerely so and so.” It’s always pleasant and as I mentioned, I’ll be upfront about my ability to get to it. I consider the ‘ask for a review’ much like the first time someone is at a school dance and it can be very intimidating and awkward. I remember when I first started out, I wasn’t sure how to ask, so I messaged a few people and said something like “Hey, sorry to bother you, I just wanted to let you know my book is free on Amazon for so many days but if you would like, I could email or mail you a copy.” For the most part I had interacted a bit with them already, but I just didn’t know how to ask. I’ve recently had someone message me, no prior interactions and ask for a physical copy and then get angry about why someone else had a physical copy when I said I had none currently. That’s not a cool ask!
Behrg: I’d definitely agree there’s best etiquette practices on both sides of the fence. As a fellow author, let me say a huge thank you from all of us for all that you do to support indie, hybrid, and traditionally published authors. You are always lifting people in this industry, regardless of whether it comes back around, and I can honestly say I don’t know anyone who’s out there hustling as much as you, whether it be reading, writing, or reviewing.
Steve: Thank you! That’s very kind. Really. That’s always so nice to hear. I just want everyone to be successful and reach and fulfill their dreams. It’s a tough go out there and if we all hold each other up, the weight pushing down is less!
Behrg: Any last words you’d like to share with authors, fellow reviewers or casual readers?
Steve: I think my last words will reflect a bit about what I said before. All it takes is one review to get someone’s interest in a book and make a sale. So it’s not about follower numbers or page likes etc. It’s about being an honest reviewer who states why you liked/didn’t like a book. A bad review at times, can sell just as many books as a glowing review, if the reasons are laid out. And it’s about giving an author some promo that they can benefit from.
Behrg: Great advice! For those interested in learning more about Steve or connecting with him, check out the links below!
Steve is the author of three novels, a number of novellas and four collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website HERE
Steve’s Submission Policy: HERE
Steve Stred Readers Group HERE
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
Check out The Behrg’s GoodReads page HERE
The Behrg’s Amazon author page can be found HERE
Follow The Behrg on Twitter @TheBehrg
Facebook: Do people still use that thing?
The Behrg Free Fiction: HERE