Summer Reading Bonanza News: Read through to the end to see the Week 2 winner announcement! Commenters on today’s post will be entered into next week’s drawing.
Please welcome Kristopher Zgorski, book reviewer and founder of BOLO Books.
How did your site come to be? What prompted you to put reviews online?
As a recovering English Major, I felt the loss when I was no longer afforded the opportunity to analyze, discuss, and debate books once I finished my schooling. Book clubs helped, but I needed more. Reviewing seemed like a good outlet for me and then when I noticed that the books I loved were not getting mainstream coverage, I realized there was a gap to be filled. When I see the statistics on the number of female authors who get professional reviews every year, I am embarrassed. The same goes for many minorities. I knew that these were the books that people were reading, so why weren’t they getting reviewed?
Furthermore, as a reader, I knew that it was much more important to me to know if other readers enjoyed a book, as opposed to many of the mainstream reviews that focus on the historical context and technical aspects of a work. I knew that if others–like me–simply wanted to know what good books to read, then a blog focused on positivity could be a success.
What typically draws you to review a particular book?
I have always been a ferocious reader and I am generally willing to try anything. That said, for my blog reading, it is much easier for me to determine what will not work for me and for the blog than knowing what will. I know my reading taste and certain types of stories just lend themselves to blog coverage. For a book to be appropriate for BOLO Books, it has to have something for me to say about it beyond a plot synopsis. I don’t always get it right. Since I don’t do negative reviews, the majority of what I read never gets written about. I estimate that I review about a third of the books I read, but lately it seems to be closer to half. Maybe I am getting better at picking books? Who knows? What is so great about the blogging world is that there are people out there covering all types of books, so if one blog isn’t a good fit, another one will be.
Have you always been a mystery reader? What other genres do you or have you enjoyed?
Oh yes, I have always been a mystery reader. I started out with Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. But honestly, I read a little bit of everything. I love what is happening in the YA world these days. I love Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, but I could give or take Sci-Fi. When I obtained my bachelors’ degree in English, it was with a focus on minority literature, so I love to find those lesser-heard voices in all genres. My main interest tends toward fiction, but I do enjoy a biography or true crime tale every so often.
How long did it take you to build up a following, and how did you do it?
For me, the building of a following happened very organically and quickly. Since I was a regular attendee at conferences like Bouchercon and Malice Domestic long before I started the blog, I was not a completely unknown entity when I started BOLO Books. What was new for me was the use of social media to continue to build on that audience. I always said I would never join Facebook (too much of a time suck), but once I had the blog, there really was no option. As it turns out, it was a great decision as I have made some very close friends via first connecting on Facebook. Twitter is a more natural fit for me, since it is so fast moving and just requires a quick comment. I am steadily approaching 1000 followers on Twitter, which really astounds me. Who would have thought? (Please, follow me on Twitter–@BOLOBooks–and help me reach that 1000 follower goal).
How much time do you spend, per week, on the blog work?
Reading, Reading, Reading. It’s impossible for me to estimate how much time I spend reading each week, but needless to say, not a day goes by that I am not consuming the written word. I don’t write my reviews until a few days (even a week) after I have read the book. This is because I have to think about the work for a while before I can determine if I want to review it and if so, what I want to say. At some point, an entré into the review comes to me and then I will sit down and write the whole review. This takes about an hour – my reviews are typically about 500-600 words. Then a few days later, I will go back and edit, rewrite, proof the review before it gets posted to BOLO Books. This helps to explain why I (and most bloggers/reviewers) need the lead-time if we are going to consider a book for review. It is my goal to post my reviews within a four-week window of release date (from two weeks prior to release to two weeks after release, with right around the actual release date being the sweet spot), but in order to do that, I have to have the book in my hands early.
How has your site changed over the years, and what prompted the changes?
I started out planning to post every Monday and Friday, with the occasional Wednesday. Due to demand that has expended to closer to four days a week–sometimes five. It’s a good problem to have because it means that the crime fiction community is an engaged one and that the quality of output is quite high. I still rarely post on weekends, unless I am at a conference, just because I like to get away from technology for a few consecutive days. The work doesn’t end when a post goes up, you have to share it on social media, let authors and publishers know, and respond to comments. I love all of that stuff, but things like that take time and frankly, I’d rather be reading on the weekend.
What sort of responses have you had from people offline (non-bloggers or non-writers), or do they know about your success?
My friends and family have been very supportive of BOLO Books. Since most of my everyday circle of friends do not read nearly as much as I do, they were already asking me for recommendations. The blog just makes it easier and more “official.”
Last year at Bouchercon was the first time I really started to realize the reach that BOLO has. At that conference, it was rare for me to travel from one panel to another without being stopped by someone who was familiar with the blog. Of course, it helps that I am usually dressed in something bright that is emblazoned with the BOLO Books eyeball logo.
Everyone seems to enjoy the fact that they can come to BOLO Books and know that they are going to read a positive review. At first people thought this meant that I just liked everything, but as time has gone on, people get that I just choose not to talk about those books that I don’t enjoy (and I will tell you, there are many). There is too much negativity in the world and as I always say, just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean that someone else won’t love it.
Who was the first author you met after reviewing their book, and what was that like?
Many of the authors I review are already acquaintances of mine because of my regular attendance at the mystery conventions. But it is always a thrill to hear that they saw my review and appreciate what I had to add to the conversation. It took a while before I could finally meet up with Megan Abbott, so that was a thrill when it finally happed at Bouchercon. Also, meeting Alex Marwood for the first time was a real joy. Really, the opportunity to meet any of the overseas authors–Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, John Connolly, etc.–is always a highlight since they don’t often get full US book tours.
Probably the most thrilling encounter was the result of a contest I won. When J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst came out with their collaborative novel S., their publisher (Mulholland Books) sponsored a contest that I won. The prize was lunch at Balthazar with both J.J. and Doug. I was a true fanboy at that meeting. Details on that can be found at my blog post titled: Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams, Balthazar and me (http://bolobooks.com/2013/11/doug_dorst-jj_abrams_balthazar_and_me/)
You don’t get many days like that in one’s life!
What are some of the best experiences you’ve had so far because of your blog?
BOLO Books has opened so many doors for me. I was asked to do a number of live interviews for the Festival of Mystery (http://bolobooks.com/2013/05/festival-of-mystery-bolobooks-recap/), which was a blast. One of those authors was Ann Cleeves and it was quite an honor to talk with her for that event. I’ve also had the pleasure of both moderating and participating in panels at Bouchercon. That weekend is always like a big family reunion and it’s a great to be a central part of that. It helps that many authors have told me how much they enjoyed being on my panels.
Also, I love to expand the limited boundaries of the blog every so often. So, I will cover theater productions I see if they have a crime element to them. I was lucky enough to go to the Baltimore premiere of the movie Every Secret Thing–based on the book of the same name by Laura Lippman–and covered that (http://bolobooks.com/2015/05/every-secret-thing-premiere-the-bolo-books-recap/).
When I met Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, she told me that she was a huge fan of crime fiction (especially Raymond Chandler). She began to follow BOLO Books, so I asked her if she would like to stop by the site for an interview (http://bolobooks.com/2015/03/azar-nafisi-the-bolo-books-interview/). And get this, she said yes! Now that was a validating moment.
Clearly, I could go on and on about “best experiences.”
What advice do you have for new book bloggers or authors who wish to connect with book bloggers?
For authors, I will suggest following some blogs. I know we all have a limited amount of time and this might not seem like the best use of it. But I can tell you for sure that if I know someone has been following the blog before they ask me to review their book, they are more likely to get a positive response to a review request. At the very least, check out the blogs you plan to approach before you send off that e-mail. I can’t tell you the number of review requests I receive for books that are not even crime fiction. I know those folks didn’t even look at BOLO Books. Also, try to address the blogger by name–most of us have our name somewhere on the blog. It’s more personal, it shows that the request isn’t a completely cut and paste job (even if it really is), and is just generally more polite. Also, you would think this wouldn’t need to be said, but please include something about your book in any contact. Bloggers are unlikely to take the time to research your book when a request comes in. Believe me, we are not hurting for books to review and if someone else makes it easier for us, you just might miss out. Always remember that bloggers are not getting paid for the time and effort they put into helping publicize your book. We do it because we love the work and respect the career choice. Return that favor.
As for bloggers, I just hope they know what they are getting into before they begin. This is not a glamorous road. Sure you get some free books, but the amount of work needed to make a blog successful far outreaches any high one might get from some free books. If that is your goal, it’s a whole lot easier to go to the library! Also, the stigma against blogs and bloggers still exists–it may always. As professional reviewing jobs dwindle, bloggers are filling the void. Mainstream media reviewers feel threatened. There is probably an argument to be made regarding the difference between getting paid to do something and doing something because you have a true passion for it, but really there is room for both. As in any field, there are good and bad examples in both the blogging and professional review arenas. I say follow your heart and listen to the voices that speak to your soul. Doing that, you can’t go wrong.
Book Reviewer Kristopher Zgorski is an avid reader devoted to crime fiction who presently works as a Production Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University Press and is also the founder of the mystery and crime fiction book review blog BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com). His reviews have also appeared in Crimespree Magazine and the UK Ezine Shots.
He can be reached at the following social media outlets: