BBAW: Interview with Genreville
This is a pretty fun day for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Today we swap interviews with other book bloggers and I was honored to be paired up with Genreville the newly relaunched speculative fiction blog over at Publishers Weekly, maintained by Rose Fox and Josh Jasper.
MentatJack: According to your mind meld post you’ve absorbed a TON of information from the blogosphere about the SFF community and the publishing industry. I’m continually following your first step of gathering that information, but finding the time to consume it all is a bit overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions for getting through the mass of information that’s posted every day?
Rose @ Genreville: I look for people who are already doing some of the filtering; for example, @BJMuntain on Twitter relentlessly retweets all the most interesting things being posted by some of the genre’s most prolific Twitterers, and Cheryl Morgan and Jay Lake frequently post links to interesting blog entries and articles around the web. Essentially, they read big chunks of the internet so you don’t have to. As Clay Shirky noted in the piece you recently linked to, these days the editing happens after the publishing. Look for those editors, not just content aggregators but content filterers.
Topic-specific sites like SF Awards Watch and Ralan.com, and tagged link aggregation sites like delicious, are great if you have a particular interest in mind. Saved Google searches are also extremely useful. You can save searches for words or phrases, ask it to search the web or blogs or books, etc. and every day the search results are delivered to your inbox. I’ve been meaning to set up searches for things like “science fiction subgenre” and “urban fantasy paranormal romance” (and, of course, “Genreville”).
Don’t stress too much about catching things the day they happen. History is good to learn about too, interesting conversations will still be interesting next week, useful information from a year ago is (probably) still useful.
Finally, accept that you’re just going to miss some stuff. It’s okay! There’s so much out there that even if you miss 80% of the awesome interesting things being posted to blogs or Twitter or Facebook, the remaining 20% will still teach you a lot.
MentatJack: You mentioned some style constraints that you have to work within as a PW blog. What other constraints does an association with such an organization enforce upon a blogger?
Rose: Other than the really obvious stuff like not violating reviewer anonymity or sharing internal memos, PW has put me under no constraints whatsoever. Those restrictions have mostly been self-imposed, and I’m trying to get rid of them.
When I originally started writing Genreville, I was very conscious of my (relatively new) position in the industry and didn’t want to give any impression of bias in one direction or another. This was reinforced when I made a post poking gentle fun at a bestselling author, and the author’s editor immediately emailed PW’s editor in chief saying that I was obviously biased against that author and how could PW trust me to edit a reviews section and so on. As it happened, I was able to reply that we were just about to publish a positive review of the same book I made the joke about, a review that I assigned and edited. Thinking a book is absurd doesn’t stop me from assigning it to a reader who likes that author’s work, nor do I insert my own opinions into reviews when I edit them, and it was very convenient to have proof on that on hand. Still, it was a little daunting.
Well, having talked it over with our new editorial director (who’s very gung-ho about Genreville and the relaunch), I’m going to stop shying away from expressing my opinions and discussing controversies. It turns out that blogging is inherently personal and skewed, and Josh and I are very opinionated people. Instead of pretending otherwise, we’re going to put our biases right up front. It’s really liberating and I think our posts will be a lot more interesting and numerous because we have the freedom to say “OMG YOU GUYS” rather than “I note with some interest”, and “I find this completely ridiculous” rather than “It’s a bit puzzling”. I’ve been a PW editor for two and a half years now and I think that’s long enough to very firmly establish my reputation as an editor; no one has ever accused me of skewing my sections or parceling out starred reviews according to my personal biases, and I like to think I’ve even been something of a champion of books that have in the past been overlooked because of PW’s general institutional biases against genre fiction, new small presses, erotica, fiction aimed at minority audiences, and so on. Having built up that credibility, I’m happy to draw on it and express my opinions with confidence. I think pretty much everyone knows I don’t let my personal preferences interfere with my professional work.
There is some pressure from PW to drive traffic to the site, where by “pressure” I mean that they give us bonuses if we bring in a lot of hits. That actually just encourages us to make opinionated, controversial posts that get people coming over to argue or agree, so I wouldn’t call it restrictive!
MentatJack: Is there a ridiculously small sub-genre that you identify with? (For instance I’m fascinated by what I like to call “entropy punk,” stories that extrapolate what type of existence there can be as the heat death of the universe approaches.)
Rose: I’m a huge fan of nonfiction about fiction: maps of places that don’t exist, taxonomies of dragons, Klingon dictionaries, that sort of thing. I have an entire shelf of one bookcase dedicated to it, and I suspect we’re going to need a second shelf soon.
I also collect pre-Eccleston Doctor Who novelizations, as Doctor Who and the Space War was the very first science fiction book I ever read. I’d never seen an episode of the original series until last year, when I Netflix’d and torrented the first two seasons, but I’ve loved the books for going on 25 years now.
MentatJack: As an editor of book reviews, what advice do you most often feel amateur book bloggers need to hear?
Rose: I’m not sure any of my advice comes from my experience as an editor, but here are some suggestions for avoiding the most common pitfalls:
- Have a good sense of your intended audience, and aim every single post directly at them.
- Write well. I don’t just mean “use spellcheck”; think about the structure of each post, make sure you have an opening and a conclusion for anything longer than two sentences, keep track of your grammatical structures, understand the nuances of the words you use, try to be pithy and quotable without sacrificing substance for style or content for snark. Read good writers and learn from them. Swap beta-reads with another blogger for your longer posts. Josh and I post one-offs without consulting each other, but for anything longer than a few paragraphs, we use Google Docs to create drafts and then go over each other’s work, catching typos and tightening sentences and poking at ideas that could use more examination. Collaboration and the editing process make us both better writers.
- Remember that you’re part of a community. If you post a link or a bit of news, mention where you found it. Link to other blogs as much as you can. Talk to other bloggers. Be generous with the time and attention you give to the community; it will come back to you threefold.
- Post often, or at least at a consistent rate. We’re aiming for three to five posts a week, some themed and some not. Once you solicit readers, you make a commitment to them that you will provide them with content. Keep to that commitment.
- Have fun! If it’s a chore, people will be able to tell, and no one will want to read your blog. Bored people are boring. Besides, why do it if it isn’t enjoyable?
- Don’t let it eat your life. Even if you’re doing it to make money, treat it like a real job. You’re not required to be online and blogging and tweeting 24/7, and if you try you’ll just burn yourself out.
MentatJack: Would either of you mind sharing how you came to work together? [asked as a followup question to both Rose and Josh]
Rose: Well, we’re married, for starters. *grin*
If you look back at my old Genreville posts, you’ll see that something like half of them include a line like “I was talking with Josh the other day…”. He’s my Leigh Eddings: giving him a formal byline is simply acknowledging the contributions he made from the beginning.
When I originally started Genreville, he also started doing some book blogging at a short-lived blog called Skifferati (still one of my favorite words ever), so I knew he could write about books. We talk about books all the time, so I knew he could analyze them and discuss them in interesting ways and come up with ideas that would never have occurred to me. We go to events together and both know a lot of people in the industry, so I knew he could gossip. We have very different tastes in books, and very different backgrounds; he knows more about politics and philosophy than I do, for example, which is why he mostly authored our Labor Day post. We think really well together and inspire each other. Given all that, asking him to be my co-blogger was a no-brainer. So far it’s worked out extremely well.
Josh: We’d been discussing books together since we first met. On moving to NY, we started spending more time among writers and editors, and got to know a lot more about the industry. Rose was running Genreville for a while on her own, but it got to be too time consuming, so collaborating was a natural step for us.
MentatJack: And 2 questions directly for Josh:
Your bio on PW refers to you as a “blogger, fiction reviewer, and itinerant IT/CS/QA/Marketing person.” How do you keep all of that straight and what part do you actually call your job?
Josh: I’m not working at a full time job right now, so I have plenty of hours in which I can get small jobs for a variety of projects done. Keeping things straight is just a function of whatever project comes my way at the moment. For financial reasons I’d like the stability of a desk job, but you do what you’ve gotta. And I like the blogging part a lot. It’s something I know will grow over time if I market it right.
MentatJack: Do you have any marketing advice that you think might be particularly relevant for the average book blogger?
Josh: Read and review books of the sort you’d like, but don’t be afraid to have critical things to say if a book didn’t work for you. Be balanced. A relentless cheerleader for everything is about as useful as someone who does nothing but tear books down.
This whole experience was a blast. Now you can go read MY responses to Genreville’s questions.