I’ve got a real treat for you guys today–we’re going to mix it up a bit with the usual Awesome Authors interview and do an Awesome Reviewer piece with BigAl of the phenomenal BigAl’s Books and Pals indie review site. Okay, okay, Al enjoys doing interviews so it wasn’t like it was hard to talk him into it or anything, but I’m still stoked to have him on the blog today.
I’ve been a big fan of his review site since I went indie in 2011, and got to know Al during my stint at Indies Unlimited (he shared his gruel with me when I first started. I do miss those “raisins” that Kat always added. So thoughtful…) Al’s a staunch supporter of indie authors, working tirelessly to advance the cause, and has a wicked good sense of humor, to boot. Here’s his bio:
An avid reader for just shy of half a century, BigAl (who claims not to have a last name) spends the majority of his waking hours sitting at the computer. After working his day job (in front of the computer) his evenings are spent scheduling posts for The Indie View and thinking how happy he is to have never had the urge to become a writer. Then he’ll write reviews for his book review site, BigAl’s Books and Pals, or work on his next post for Indies Unlimited (a website for the indie author and those who read them). Those times BigAl manages to escape the computer are usually spent hanging out with his four grandchildren.
DV: Hi BigAl! Welcome to Awesome Reviewers 🙂 Can you tell us a little about yourself?
BA: You’re really starting off with a short joke in the first question? Most interviewers save that until later for fear that I’ll storm out in a huff. Yes, I’m vertically challenged and called BigAl (I’m a fan of camel case) for the same reason every six and a half foot tall, four hundred pound man is called Tiny. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to live with it. Almost. 🙂
DV: Your blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, recently won the Indies Unlimited Excellence Award for Best Review site. Congratulations! How has the recognition changed your formerly luxurious lifestyle over there? Are you receiving extra rations of gruel? Are they at least including a few more ‘raisins’?
BA: Stephen Hise, the Evil Mastermind, always digs deep and makes sure I get a little more meat in my daily half bowl of gruel now. I’m not nearly as gaunt as I was and may soon have to go on a diet.
In all seriousness, congratulations on the recognition. You and your pals do a great service for indies and I, for one, am forever grateful to you and your site for intelligent, concise, and well-balanced reviews.
And thanks for the kind words. The Pals make all the difference. Without their help the site wouldn’t do nearly as well. We’d have many fewer reviews and some genres would get short shrift if I was on my own.
“If you want to find the next big thing before most of your friends… indie books are the place to find them.”
DV: How long have you been a book reviewer?
BA: It depends on your definition. I posted my first book review on Amazon in June of 2010. I started Books and Pals the following January after several authors and readers on the Amazon forums kept telling me I ought to and I grew tired of resisting. Prior to that I’d reviewed music for several years for a website specializing in what is often called Americana music as well as for an arts and entertainment magazine in St. Louis. If I didn’t have that prior reviewing experience I might have thrown in the towel when Books and Pals was only a few months old due to a few experiences early on.
DV: Why did you choose to review/support indie authors as opposed to traditionally published ones? Any thoughts on indie vs. traditional publishing?
BA: Do you have a word limit? I could go on forever on this question. The short answer has two parts. First is that just as in music, the big companies with high profiles need hits or bestsellers to survive. So what they choose to pick up is aimed at the center of the bell curve or, as I like to think of it, the lowest common denominator. If you want to find the next big thing before most of your friends (although most of my reading friends read Wool first and made me read it) or read books that don’t always hew as close to the tried and true formulas, indie books are the place to find them. Second, when I can I like to support the little guy. (Now you’ve got me cracking short jokes, too.)
DV: 🙂 You contribute to or run three different blogs (that I’m aware of): BigAl’s Books and Pals, The Indie View, and Indies Unlimited, as well as work a day job. How the heck do you find the time to breathe, eat, or sleep?
BA: As I said above, the Pals help a lot and telling them I’ll hold my breath if someone doesn’t get me a review soon almost always works. I usually read while I’m eating (not to mention while cooking, filling and emptying the dishwasher, and a few other activities I won’t list), so multi-tasking helps. Being able to work my Kindle with one hand or read with it sitting on a kitchen counter makes all that possible. I’m not sure how, but I manage to fit it all in and still have time to hang out sometimes with my grandkids.
DV: Let’s talk about reviews: is it just you doing the reviewing or do you share?
BA: I share reviewing duties with the Pals which not only takes the pressure off me, but allows us to review a lot more books. I also have one Pal who doesn’t write reviews, but proofs mine. I do the same for the others, so we hopefully shake out the worst typos and other problems.
“I’ve read a hundred or more books a year for almost as long as I’ve been reading.”
DV: How many books do you review in any given year?
BA: The last few years I’ve read somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 books a year, which I think is a slight increase from before I started Books and Pals, but only slight. I’ve read a hundred or more books a year for almost as long as I’ve been reading. I review most of those and with the help of the Pals we average a review a day.
DV: Holy Cow! That’s a lotta reading. How do you choose which books to review?
BA: I and each of the Pals have their own process. I use a combination of methods, sometimes looking at the reviews in our queue about to “expire” to see if any jump out at me (we have an open submission policy, but if no one picks the book to review after a year it drops off), sometimes looking for a specific genre I’m in the mood for, sometimes a new submission will appeal to me and I’ll grab it before anyone else gets a chance, authors I’ve read and liked before, really it could be anything. One of the Pals vets books that look interesting by reading the Amazon samples and filtering out those with serious issues or that don’t grab him right away. I never go by anything except the title, author, genre, and sometimes whatever pitch is made in the submission.
DV: Do you have a rating system? If so, how does it work?
BA: We use a five star rating system which is defined to parrot the system used by Amazon although we try to use objective terms to describe each ranking rather than purely subjective as Amazon’s does. People think five star rating systems are all the same and really they aren’t. For example, an average book or at least your average review using Amazon’s system if you review every book you read should be closer to four stars than three which goes against most people’s instincts. For those who wonder, I wrote a post at Indies Unlimited that explains why this is.
“If I find more than the equivalent of roughly one [error] every ten or fifteen pages, you’re going to receive a three star rating, at best.”
DV: What do you like to see in the first pages of a book that’s been submitted for review on your site? What keeps you reading?
BA: A character experiencing a conflict. It could be something big (maybe a bullet hitting the wall behind the narrator) or something normal (a guy working up the nerve to approach an attractive woman in a bar). Whatever it is, I want to wonder “what happens next?”
DV: Are there any specific things writers do (pet peeves) that make you drop the book you’re reading and head for the nearest liquor cabinet?
BA: Lots. (I thought we weren’t going to discuss my “little problem.”) I’ll limit it to two.
Releasing a book into the wild before it has the proper polish. By this I mean that proofreading and copy editing functions have been done and done right. While reading, I keep track of typos, incorrect grammar (except in dialogue where the character isn’t well spoken), missing words, and other issues that should have been shaken out in the final stages of the editing process. If I find more than the equivalent of roughly one every ten or fifteen pages, you’re going to receive a three star rating, at best. One of the legitimate knocks on indies is that many of their books aren’t properly edited. I know that isn’t true of the best indie books, but where it is, I follow the take no prisoners approach.
Repetition. This can take several forms. Instead of going into them maybe I should plug Indies Unlimited again and link to this post where I gave a list of ten pet peeves and go into more detail on this one.
DV: What are your thoughts on negative reviews? What do you suggest an author do when they receive one?
BA: One option would be to not read it. For some authors that would be the best decision. The danger there is that you’re setting up an echo chamber and may miss a chance to learn something of value in how different readers react to your writing which could potentially help you improve as a writer. The most productive thing to do is consider the reasons given and ask yourself a few questions. Do I agree and if not, why not? Does it appear this reader was outside my target audience (maybe because your book was free and attracted readers who would have never given it a second glance otherwise)? Have the reviewer’s reasons been raised previously by others? Vent in private to a friend if it helps. Remind yourself that this is only one person’s opinion. Then, if there is nothing you think you can learn, file it way in the back of your mind and move on. If it helps, every time-tested classic of literature has someone who didn’t like it and has given it a negative review.
More important than what you do is what you don’t do. Don’t argue with the reviewer. (Who is the expert on what his or her opinion of your book is? This is an argument you can’t win.) Don’t click on that “review was not helpful” button on Amazon and have all your friends do the same. (Many reviewers know when this happens and they may be capable of being more passive-aggressive than you.) Don’t vent in public. Don’t start a war you can’t win.
“Don’t argue with the reviewer.”
DV: I certainly agree with you there. Where do you see the publishing industry headed?
BA: For my cues, I look to the music and, to a lesser degree, the video industries. Both have gone through what is commonly referred to as disruptive innovation, in both cases brought on by the same culprit, the internet. You can still buy DVDs, CDs, and even vinyl records, but most people download their music and stream video through Netflix or some other service. The paper book will still be around, but at least for narrative books, fiction and some non-fiction, it will become a specialty item, not the norm.
How that works out for the biggest players in the industry, the largest publishers, remains to be seen. I think they’re more likely to end up like the largest record labels than becoming almost extinct like Blockbuster Video. However, like the record labels, their business will shrink and they’ll become less and less relevant.
DV: All good points. What advice would you give to new authors?
BA: Do your homework. There are multiple ways to get your book in front of readers, each with advantages and disadvantages. Read, listen, and evaluate what those who have taken different routes to publication have to say about the experience. (Even better are authors who have had books published in multiple ways.) If you decide to self-publish, realize that you’ll be wearing two hats, author and publisher. Sometimes those two personas will find themselves at odds.
DV: No kidding. Are there any other projects you’re involved in that you’d like to mention?
BA: Sometimes I think I should write a book. Then I think about the first one star review and reconsider. Plus, I have that time problem you already pointed out.
DV: LOL. And now for the question I ask all my
victims guests: If you could time travel, either forward or backward, where would you go and why?
BA: Only one? No fair. Michael J. Fox got three chances.
If I have to pick one time and place I think I’d go to San Francisco, probably in 1967 or 1968. Hopefully you can make me thirty or thirty-five years younger so everyone won’t assume I’m a square. (That sure sounds dated, doesn’t it?) The why is easy. Partly it would be to observe and possibly participate in a time of social upheaval where I think the country changed for the better. (While you’re making me younger, can you make me taller and handsome, too?) And what about the music of that place and era? Cool and groovy, don’t you think? Right on.
DV: Yeah, man. I get where you’re coming from. San Francisco in the late 60s would be far out 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, BigAl. Good luck with that whole sleeping thing—and don’t forget to say hi to Jimi for me if you happen to end up back at the Summer of Love.
For more information on BigAl and his pals, follow these links:
am forced get to interview the curmudgeonly fabulous K.S. Brooks, multi-talented, multi-genre author and co-administrator of the global powerhouse that is Indies Unlimited. (Full disclosure: I am a contributing minion and I had to resort to extortion KS has graciously agreed to allow me an extra ration of gruel for posting this travesty interview.) What follows is the bio her hockey playing pool boy sent for me to use. I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you gentle readers that this insane concoction information could possibly be true–or not. Just remember, we’re talking about K.S. Brooks here. Consider yourself warned…
“K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist and photographer, author of twenty-two titles, and co-administrator of the multi-author, multi-national website IndiesUnlimited.com. She is the creator of the Mr. Pish educational children’s book series as well as the Agent Night suspense series. Brooks’ feature articles, poetry, and photography have appeared in magazines, newspapers, books, and other publications both in the U.S. and abroad. In November 2012, she founded Indie Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery which provides brand new books to libraries in need at no cost. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website or her Amazon.com Author Page.”
And, without further ado, heeeeere’s K.S.:
D: Hi K.S.! Thanks for being here 🙂 Tell us a little about yourself and your latest release.
K: I’m an old, yet somewhat sexy (well, to people with bad eyesight), curmudgeonly hermit, who for the time being lives in the wilderness of northeastern Washington State. My first book was published in 2001. I came out here late in 2008 to write (and to get away from people – I told you I was a curmudgeonly hermit) and since then I’ve published 21 additional titles. (Technically, I started writing full-time in 2009.) My latest release of a novel is Triple Dog Dare, a humorous chicklit story I co-wrote with Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise. The book was inspired by my dear, sweet, and somewhat mischievous Mr. Pish.
D: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
K: I get this question so often (at least I did back in 2011 when I was doing a ton of interviews. I’ve pretty much stopped doing interviews because of how time-consuming they are and because I hate answering questions.) that I actually wrote a post about it: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/04/09/inspiration-phooey/
D: When did you realize you were a writer?
K: It might have been third grade. I’m not completely certain, but I do recall writing a ton of stories back then. I think when I saw that HG Wells had ripped off my story about the island of talking animals – well, that’s probably when it sank in.
“What the hell is this? is commonly heard in my home…”
D: What has your road to publication been like? What made you decide to eventually go ‘indie’?
K: Well, that’s a long and complicated story, since I was literally – and quite accidentally – one of the first indie authors. The story of my bizarre journey was actually the first thing I ever wrote for Indies Unlimited – here – http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2011/10/25/my-strange-new-world-by-special-guest-author-k-s-brooks/
D: You are obviously a prolific writer. How hard is it to switch between writing children’s educational books, snark, and action/adventure?
K: I have ADHD, so it’s not difficult at all. In fact, I welcome the change in gears. It’s easy to burn out on a project. Having another one or two or ten in process simultaneously is very appeasing to my multiple personalities. The biggest problem I have, actually, is trying to figure out how to classify (by genre) what I’ve written once I’m done. Is it a romance? A mystery? A character-driven drama? I dunno. What the hell is this? is commonly heard in my home.
D: What are you working on now?
K: Now? If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Really. It’s top secret. Like really secret. Sorry. After the first of the year, however, I’ll be able to discuss the upcoming and long-awaited sequel to Lust for Danger, possibly a couple of comedies, a vampire book I have to write under a different name, a mystery, perhaps another Mr. Pish book, and if the Feds come through with my Witness Protection Program credentials, a seedy tell-all about some not-so-nice people.
D: What is your process like? Do you write every day? Have a certain word count? Do you have a ritual that you enjoy doing before sitting down to write?
K: I don’t have a process. I do what needs to be done. Usually that means doing nothing for most of the year and then cramming and releasing three or four books in one month. Rinse, repeat. Next thing you know – 7 titles added to the backlist! That looks really impressive to people who don’t realize the rest of the year I sat around eating bon-bons, watching Oprah, and getting my feet rubbed by the Indies Unlimited chimp. Life is trying, isn’t it?
D: Do you find you work better with or without deadlines?
D: How much research do you do when you write your books?
K: Depends on how well I know the subject. I tend to over-research, which sometimes slows me down, but hardly ever is a waste of time. I’ve done research on everything from bomb detonators (why I’ve been on the FBI’s favorite people list since like 1991) to desert survival to marine life in the Falkland Islands. I’ve also taken a few punches, and gotten a concussion during the process. I wrote an article about some of my more extreme research “experiences” here: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/06/21/dont-try-this-at-home/
D: In light of the huge changes in publishing, where do you think the industry is headed? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
K: I have no idea. The way things change, so rapidly, anything could happen. One thing I know will not happen, however, is I will not be growing a beard like Konrath. A hockey player once told me that I am by far the least hairy person he’d ever met.
“I sat around eating bon-bons, watching Oprah, and getting my feet rubbed by the Indies Unlimited chimp…”
D: What advice would you give to new writers?
K: Seriously – do your homework. You wouldn’t start a company without doing market research, interviewing vendors, and doing credit checks. You wouldn’t let your company put a product to market without testing it or researching your distribution choices. Give your work the same amount of attention, if not more.
D: If you could time travel, either to the past or into the future, where would you go?
K: I would like to go to France, in the mid-1800s and be the first person to taste a croissant as it was invented. It would be nice if Alexandre Dumas was there, as well, so I could smack him for stealing my musketeer story ideas. And I took French for 6 years in school, so at least I could say those six years weren’t a total waste of time.
D: Thanks for stopping by, K.S. I assume the purple llama is yours, right? Right. He left a present on the carpeting. Most generous.
Anyway, here’s the description and an excerpt from Brooks and Hise’s new release, Triple Dog Dare. To find out more about K.S. Brooks, please see the links at the bottom of the post.
Triple Dog Dare.
When wealthy champion dog breeder Stu Hockersmith presents prize pup Lord Louis to lovely Bianca Jameson, he hopes to win her heart. Things don’t always go as planned. Bianca, oblivious to Stu’s amorous intentions, takes the adorable pooch back to California where she goes on to become a celebrated author, writing books about little Lo-Lou.
Bianca thinks she’s living the good life with her Norse god of a fiancé, former fashion photographer Lars Lundgren. When she realizes Lars has spent all their money and committed her to a new book with a looming deadline, Bianca pulls out all the stops to get the job done. But she doesn’t know about all of Lars’ deals.
To make matters worse, Stu is informed that gifting Lord Louis broke the kennel club bylaws and he now must get the pup back before his father’s legal team takes action against the woman he still loves.
Stu needs Lo-Lou to satisfy his father. Bianca needs Lo-Lou to finish her book. Lars needs Lo-Lou to work out a secret deal with a movie producer. Lo-Lou can’t be in three places at the same time. Or can he?
From Chapter 23:
Terri started to protest, but Bianca spoke first. “I’m sorry Stuart. You’re right. We haven’t been honest with you.” She glanced down at her lap as if mustering courage. “The truth is, I’m in trouble. I foolishly let Lars handle the money so I could concentrate on my writing. He got us – got me – way in over my head. Among other things, he bound us to a contract to do another book without telling me about it, and we are way past the original deadline and even the publisher’s legal, lawyer-type period.” She seemed uncertain how to word her last sentence and fumbled a bit before looking over to Terri who nodded nervously and fervently.
Bianca swallowed and took a deep breath. “Luckily I bumped into Terri and she talked to the publisher and got us another two weeks to get them a manuscript. Even if we can actually finish a book in two weeks, that will only solve one of my problems. So there is the ugly, embarrassing, and humiliating truth.” When she finished speaking, she drooped a bit and stared vacantly at the plate before her.
Terri reached over to place a hand on Bianca’s arm in consolation and said, “We were hoping you might help us, Stu. I know now we should have been honest with you. I’m sorry. It was my idea, not Bianca’s.”
Stu felt the weight of his own scheme pressing hard upon his better conscience. He tried to tell himself it was okay, because he was actually trying to help them while they, on the other hand, had been hoping to finagle money from him. But there was Bianca – so sad – and showing genuine remorse, as was Terri.
“I haven’t been completely honest with you either. You may as well know the Colonel has initiated legal proceedings to recover Lord – I mean Lo-Lou. Under the Oakwood Hills Charter, the dogs technically belong to the corporation. It’s something that is done to protect the bloodlines. The long and short of it is that I didn’t really have any right to give him to you in the first place.”
The expression on Bianca’s face changed from one of regret and guilt to one of shock and horror. Her mouth dropped open. “You came out here to take away my dog?” Her posture stiffened and she sat back away from the table. Tears welled in her eyes. “On top of everything else? Lo-Lou is the only thing I have left!”
Stu felt a near-panic surging up inside him at her reaction. “Oh, no. No, not that. No no no no no. Well, yes, but not exactly.” Bianca burst into tears as he heaped this final, large straw onto her already heavy burden. Terri leaned over to hold Bianca in a consoling embrace and shot Stu a harsh, narrow-eyed look.
www.ksbrooks.com (official website)
More links at: http://ksbrooks.com/contact/links/
www.MrPish.com (official website)
More links at: http://mrpish.com/about-mr-pish/links/
I’m over at Indies Unlimited today, blogging about going indie vs. traditionally published. Come on over and join the conversation! http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2013/09/18/fences-schmences-why-going-indie-was-easy/