Andrew Byers is a book reviewer of genre literature — crime, horror,
science fiction, fantasy, pulp, etc. — and blogs about all things
bookish at Tales from the Bookworm’s Lair . http://bibliorex.wordpress.com/ I met Andrew when he reviewed HARD BITE for Hellnotes.com . That’s when I hit upon the idea of “interviewing the interviewer,” which rarely happens. Andrew’s full bio is at the end of this piece, including an interesting tidbit about his own micropress in the works. —Elaine Ash
How did you get started?
Andrew Byers: I am a reader, first and foremost, and a voracious one at that. I am also a collector of books (5,500 books and counting) – in her more uncharitable moments, my wife would say that I am obsessed with books and that my library has taken over our home. I am also a writer myself. It was probably only natural that I would start reviewing books. I think I started writing book reviews for publication at some point in the mid-to-late ‘90s and have been doing it sporadically ever since. A few years ago I put my book-related blog together (Tales from the Bookworm’s Lair, http://bibliorex.wordpress.com/ ) and have posted many of my reviews there. Earlier this year I also became a book reviewer for Hellnotes ( http://hellnotes.com/ ), and you’ll see my recent reviews of horror-themed works there.
Elaine Ash: How do you choose a book?
Andrew Byers: I buy a lot more books than I could ever possibly read in a lifetime. That’s kind of sick, I know, but I can’t help it. I just love books too much to let them stay on store shelves. I’m also a completist, so when I like an author, I generally try to collect everything they’ve ever written. So I never lack for books to review. But increasingly, the books choose me, at least in the sense that in the last couple years, more and more authors and publishers have contacted me directly with book review requests. I don’t mind, of course, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to read some of the best new fiction that’s being written today.
I feel very lucky to be a book reviewer and to share my thoughts on the books I read with other readers. It’s never been a better time to be a reader, with the increased (and unprecedented) availability of fiction today. The biggest downside is that with the growth of self-publishing, epublishing, and small presses, it’s harder and harder for readers to find good books and good writers who may not be published by the big, traditional publishers. That’s where people like me come in. The cream will rise to the top, even if the books are self-published or put out by tiny presses, and reviews help people find good books to read they otherwise might never notice.
Elaine Ash: Who are the reviewers you think are the best in the land?
Andrew Byers: Would you think I’m a terrible person if I admitted that there really isn’t one particular reviewer I read obsessively? When I’m considering picking up a new book, I Google it and try to find as many reviews as possible for that book. I look at places like Amazon, LibraryThing, and GoodReads as a starting point, as well as independent book review sites and try to sample a cross-section of the reviews to get as broad as possible of a set of views on the books. And frankly, sometimes negative reviews help me make my decision – if a reviewer trashes a book for doing something, then I decide if that thing bothers me too. Many times the things that might turn off another reader don’t bother me at all. Having said all that, the reviews on places like Hellnotes and Bookgasm are very useful because they bring together many different reviewers in one place.
Elaine Ash: Any do’s and don’ts if you’re a writer with a book looking for reviews?
Andrew Byers: I receive review solicitations directly from authors once or twice a month. Most are authors I know, or have previously reviewed, or at least read, but sometimes entirely unknown authors contact me. That’s perfectly fine, I like discovering new authors, but it’s pretty clear on my website and from the books I review, that I review the kinds of books I enjoy reading: genre literature in almost all its forms, meaning science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, crime, etc. Every now and then I receive a review request by a very well-intentioned novice romance author who has clearly sent a mass email to everyone who has ever posted a book review online.
So, rule #1: know your audience.
Rule #2 would probably be to make your novel available to reviewers in a decent array of file formats: PDF, Kindle/MOBI, and Nook/EPUB at a minimum. Also, it’s OK to pester me after a couple months if you haven’t seen my review pop up or heard back from me that the review has been posted, but please don’t harass. Also, please understand if I decline to review your book. It may just not be to my taste, so it’s probably better from your perspective that I not post that review. Having said that, I do post negative reviews all the time, though almost never for reviews that were solicited by an author directly. In those cases I would probably be more likely to read the book, hate it, and contact the author to let them know that I couldn’t in good conscience write a favorable review, and leave it to them if they still wanted me to write the review.
Unlike the infamous “Harriet Klausner,” I do read books I don’t care for all the time. When I do post negative reviews, I try to clearly lay out why I didn’t like the book, with an emphasis on why the book didn’t work for me; my reasons for disliking a work might not be shared by other readers, so my negative review could still help readers find good books they enjoy reading. Perhaps the biggest “don’t” for an author: if you don’t like a review, don’t respond in a snarky way, insult the reviewer, etc. That’s extraordinarily unprofessional. You will only come off looking like a chump. This has only happened to me once, but the author in question ended up looking very bad in the exchange and lost a lot of my respect. (And, ironically, the author was responding to a review in which I gave his book four stars out of five, but corrected some factual errors in the text.)
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about books, Elaine! They are my true passion, and I love being able to interact with other book lovers.
BIO: Andrew Byers is a book reviewer of genre literature — crime, horror,
science fiction, fantasy, pulp, etc. — and blogs about all things
bookish at Tales from the Bookworm’s Lair
http://bibliorex.wordpress.com/ . He is also an occasional guest
book reviewer at Hellnotes ( http://hellnotes.com/ ). He plans to
launch his own micropress for genre fiction in 2013. A native
Virginian, he currently lives in exile in North Carolina teaching
history at Duke University with his wife and a retired Chihuahua