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 our interview series connects us with the mysterious A.S. MacKenzie, a fellow contributor at Kendall Reviews. First off, tell us a little about your platform. Where do you post reviews and how long have you been reviewing?
MacKenzie: I post reviews for Kendall Reviews (kendallreviews.com) and for Brian’s Audiobook Blog (briansbookblog.com). I started writing online reviews well over 15 years ago but stopped for a long time. Picked them back up early 2019 and have been going strong since.
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?
MacKenzie: Favorite things to do are writing, graphic design, gaming, woodworking, model building, cooking, and dabbles in photography. I don’t think most people know about my joy of model building. My passion is to create photo-realistic plastic models using paints and other techniques to feel like the small object is as close to the real thing as possible. It’s tedious, irritating, maddening, and I love it.
Behrg: That sounds incredibly challenging and, dare I say, psychotic . . . but in a good way! 🙂 What got you into model building and is it something you find a release from in the doing or in the finished product?
MacKenzie: Definitely in a good way and absolutely psychotic. I got into model building as an activity my dad and I used to do when I was little. I’ve always been fascinated with how things are put together and how to take them apart. The act of building the model is the release, with the finished product being a reward.
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?
MacKenzie: I’m a sucker for gothic horror, supernatural thrillers, and monster mayhem. Anything that really amps up the tension is where I want to be because I believe the heart of all good horror is in the tension.
Gore for the sake of it, same with abhorrent behavior for the sake of it, are things I avoid as often as possible. Blood, guts, and disgusting/malignant behavior (rape/abuse/etc.) are crutches for those who don’t know how to inflict tension in a scene. Now, I don’t mean those things aren’t necessarily welcome in a good story, they certainly can be if introduced properly and framed to show it isn’t a good thing, but if they are what you rely heavily on to make it “horror” then you’ve missed the point entirely.
Behrg: I’m 100% in this camp with you. Give me the horror elements once I care about the characters, but the tension created through that magic “What If” will always resonate with me much longer than something just going for shock value.
Physical books or digital?
MacKenzie: My bowing shelves on my bookcases would probably prefer me to say digital, but honestly I like them all. Print, digital, comics, audiobooks, whatever. If the story is good then it doesn’t matter how I ingest it.
Behrg: Love that you mention comics and audiobooks as well. There are so many formats for storytelling, all of which deserve to be explored. With regards to audiobooks—and I ask, as I consume a lot of audiobooks myself—do you find your experience with a book changes depending on the quality of the narrator? Are some books, in your opinion, better suited to an audio format than others?
MacKenzie: The narrator is 100% key to me for how well I enjoy the story. I’ve got a few I always look for when deciding what to read next, but I don’t let an unknown narrator stop me if the story sounds good. Yes, some books are even better in audio while I’ve come across a couple that were better read than heard.
Behrg: Writing well-thought reviews takes time. What are some of the things that keep you going?
For me, I will wait until I have two to four reviews to write before I write them. It helps me stay in a “reviewer mind-frame” so that what I write, and my perspective, stays consistent. This often means I will need to revisit a source to freshen up, but I think this is the best way I can do it in order to keep my standards up.
Behrg: Interesting. I find I do the same, but more from a procrastination standpoint rather than any real purpose behind it!
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?
MacKenzie: Why not ask me which one of my toes I want to keep?! Only one?! Ummmmmm . . . I guess I would say Jonathan Maberry, maybe? I have certainly read him more than pretty much anyone else. To bump up to three would probably need to be Myke Cole and Scott Sigler. But, and I can’t stress this enough, I have too many fandoms of too many authors to try and narrow it down. There’s a treasure of works out there by too many to count and picking just one or two is too limiting.
Behrg: Fair point. But really, why do we need all those toes anyway?
Any 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?
MacKenzie: I will scream from the mountaintops that the best way to create a reviewing platform is to first get out there and review books for others. I appreciate those that have struck proverbial gold in their review platforms and didn’t start out this way, but for the vast majority you have no idea what it takes to run a review platform until you’ve worked with some. It is crucial to understanding the demands, logistics, review interactions, and what it is you want to convey. Because if your idea for reviews is the same as 99% of the others out there, then you will get lost in the fold. Working with other review platforms allows you to see what is missing or what is consistently popular by readers.
Behrg: Great advice. Favorite read of 2020 so far? Favorite read of 2019? Of all time?
MacKenzie: Honestly, my favorite read of 2020 so far has been the comic series, Mountainhead, published by IDW from John Lees and Ryan Lee. It is a departure from the typical art of comics with a storyline that is engaging, engrossing, and thoroughly unable to predict. They are on their fourth issue now and I can’t recommend it enough.
Favorite of 2019 is a tie between Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint and the audiobook Alien Covenant: Origins by Alan Dean Foster. Both were fast reads that I couldn’t put down. In fact, I read Cole’s book in a single sitting one afternoon.
Of all time?! Ooooh boy . . . ummmm . . . Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? I think most horror readers started reading young and typically read something that was bizarre and pushed their imagination. Can’t think of anything that did that more to me than this book. But, this is also like picking a favorite writer: one just isn’t enough.
Behrg: I haven’t heard of Mountainhead, but will definitely check it out! And love the answer on your favorite read. It’s all about pushing those boundaries.
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?
MacKenzie: Yes, I do write fiction. My two main genres are crime thriller and supernatural thriller. Aside from some honorable mentions and shared shorts, I hadn’t really published anything other than my own free-to-read eBooks and a bunch of short stories. But, I can’t divulge any details yet as contracts aren’t signed, that may change end of this year or beginning of next. More details to come.
Reviewing books has done nothing but help, in more ways than just reading would. Reviewing gives me a critical eye and view of the work, which I can then translate back into my own work as either improvements or areas to avoid. It’s been a big boost to my process.
Behrg: Congrats on the contracts—exciting news and look forward to hearing more about the projects! Occasionally I hear from authors that they can no longer enjoy reading books as they perhaps look at things with a more critical eye or find themselves “editing” along the way. You seem to have a good balance of being able to do both. Any thoughts on how to keep that love alive while professionally reviewing?
MacKenzie: I can only speak to my own experiences but for me, it is continuously looking for new mediums to enjoy. I play games, watch movies/TV, read comics, listen to audiobooks, etc. All offer different pathways to stories and are great inspirational kickstarters. One of the stories in an upcoming offering was written shortly after I played a particularly challenging game of Hitman 2! You never know where it’ll come from so it keeps me interested in reading everything instead of critiquing everything.
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?
MacKenzie: I don’t finish them and will let my editor know. Much like my reading for personal enjoyment, if a book doesn’t interest me, offends me, or is just too poorly written to continue, I stop. There are too many outstanding stories out there for me to waste my time reading those that aren’t.
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?
MacKenzie: Reach out to review sites/periodicals/etc., and find out their procedure. There is no faster way for your work to be ignored or blocked than to go outside the process. It’s a similar method to querying agents in that if you don’t follow the very clear way they request new work, you will not be given a chance. If you think inundating the review editor or reviewers themselves with your magnum opus that you are certain we will love if we just gave it a chance will result in it not being read and you not getting others to read it. I can assure you that a lot of reviewers know each other and we do share. We have a lot of opportunities for your work to be reviewed, you just need to follow the procedure outlined. It works, trust me. If for some reason a review platform doesn’t list their preferred methods, then a general email to the contact listed on the site should suffice, but do your homework and look first for the procedure.
Behrg: 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?
MacKenzie: We are readers, like you. We like some things and don’t like other things, just like you. You are allowed to disagree with us and think that we completely missed the entire point you feel the author was trying to convey. But, you are not allowed to belittle, insult, or berate us for that review. Just keep in mind that books are everywhere but not every book is for every reader. See what our opinion is and know it is just that: an opinion from another reader.
Behrg: Thanks for taking part in this interview!
A. S. MacKenzie
A. S. MacKenzie is an Atlanta based author who loves all things books, movies, games, and comics. He lives with his wife, spoiled dogs, and an unhealthy obsession with building things. He can be found building worlds in books, building plastic models, or building with wood. Check out his website at asmackenzie.com for ways to join his newsletter and read free stories. Also, he’s been known to frequent Twitter (@a_s_mackenzie) to say something vaguely interesting and Instagram (a.s.mackenzie) for food, travel, and random pics.
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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