Today I’m pleased to introduce my special guest, Big Al, owner of Big Al’s Books and Pals, one of my favorite indie book review sites.
About Big Al:
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 IndieView http://www.theindieview.com/ 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 http://booksandpals.blogspot.com//, or work on his next post for Indies Unlimited http://www.indiesunlimited.com/ (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.
Welcome, Al. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Thanks for having me, Lyn. I usually spend more time asking the questions than I do answering them. I guess we’ll see how I do sitting in the hot seat myself.
LOL I’ll try to be gentle. To begin, please tell us how and why you started reviewing indie books.
I’d bought a Kindle and was hanging out a lot in the Amazon forums where I met several indie authors, bought their books, and having picked up on how hungry they were for reviews, left customer reviews on Amazon. After a while some of my forum cohorts, both authors and other readers, told me they liked my reviews and encouraged me to start a book review blog. I’d previously written music reviews for a niche website and an arts and entertainment magazine, so I had some idea of what I’d be getting into by doing that. So I resisted. But eventually gave in.
What are your favorite genres to read and review?
My favorite genre is the thriller with legal thrillers being my favorite subgenre. However, my reading diet has always been broad, even including more than a trivial amount of chick-lit, although I didn’t realize that was what it was called for a long time. But I did sense that I wasn’t the target reader. The only genres I’ve normally shied away from are horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Since starting Books and Pals, that’s changed a little. I’ve tried books I wouldn’t have considered in the past and discovered that I really like some forms of science fiction, primarily those that are set in the near future and not in space. That includes (although isn’t limited to) dystopian. I also like to mix in a fair amount of non-fiction. Travel narrative, memoir, and books on politics are all likely to catch my eye.
Luckily I also have others who help me out. The “Pals” in the site name. I have several reviewers each with their own genre likes and dislikes. Whatever the genre, there is going to be someone who might like it.
Speaking of the Pals, can you tell us a little about them?
The only thing all the Pals have in common is that they’re avid readers. For some, this is the first time they’ve been in a position of writing something that was going to be seen by hundreds or thousands of people other than customer reviews at Amazon. Others are indie authors and one of the Pal’s day jobs is another role in the publishing industry, although I’m hesitant to say more since I’m not sure how much he or she is okay with me saying. (Plus, that vague statement is full of intrigue and makes it sound like a much bigger deal than it is.)
A mysterious reviewer, intriguing indeed! On a more mundane note, roughly how many submissions do you receive per month or year? Of these, approximately how many do you accept for review?
Our submission policy is much different than most review sites where you query and they’ll let you know if they’re interested. Our policy is that if you fit our guidelines (self-published or published by a small press and available as an ebook from Amazon) then you can submit your book. As you’ll see, submission is no guarantee of a review. But as long as an author follows the directions on our submission page, he or she has a chance. (http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/p/submitting-book-for-review.html) The single biggest way to blow any chance of a review is to not follow the instructions. Authors or publishers who query first or send the book in an unacceptable format get filed in the “can’t follow instructions” file and won’t hear back. My theory is, if they can’t follow instructions, odds are they can’t write a book I’m interested in. From a practical point of view I’ve found that responding to those emails in any way opens up a time-consuming dialogue that takes time better used reading and reviewing. I don’t have statistics on how many attempted submissions don’t follow directions, but would guess it is at least 10%.
The details about each of the books submitted are entered in a database where I or any of the Pals can choose it to read and review. If no one has volunteered to review a book after a year it is dropped from the list.
In the twelve months ending the last day of February we had slightly more than 1,400 books submitted for review consideration. During that same period we reviewed just over a book a day on average. If I’m doing the math right that means we review roughly one out of every four books submitted.
What is the average wait time between an author’s submission and when you publish a review of her/his book?
For those that eventually get reviewed, the wait time varies a lot and I have no idea what an average would be, only the range. The minimum time is two or three weeks. The maximum is something over a year, possibly as much as fifteen months. It depends on how long the book was in the database, how quickly the reviewer reads the book and prepares the review, and even who the reviewer is since I tend to hold onto those reviews I’ve done personally, scheduling those done by Pals to be published and holding mine back for slack times.
How much importance do you place on formatting and editing of ebook submissions? Do you ever reject books due to poor presentation, spelling and typos?
Some of the Pals will reject a book for these reasons. I’ll abandon a book with bad formatting unless it is something sporadic. Editing, specifically lack of or a bad job of proofreading and copyediting, won’t make me abandon a book, but it is the most common way to get a less than positive review from me.
Keeping up with all the sites you are on, plus your day job, must be very time consuming and tiring, I would guess. How do you manage everything?
I just did another interview and was asked the same question. My answer is, I don’t know. I tend to let certain tasks wait, like checking in new books submitted for review, and then catch them up in a big batch. I’m sure it gives some people the idea that they’re being ignored, but seems more efficient in getting everything done. I also have a lot of people helping me in different ways, primarily the Pals who write way more reviews than I could on my own.
It sounds like a juggling act, much like writing. Now please tell us about your Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards Contest, how it’s run, how nominees are chosen, etc.
We just completed our second annual awards presentation that as you pointed out we call the Readers’ Choice. You deserve a big congratulations on being one of a handful of authors to be nominated both years. The nominations are determined by the Pals and myself from among the books reviewed on the site from March first through the end of February. In setting the slate of nominees we attempt to come up with a number of nominees in each category that are roughly reflective of the number of books we reviewed in that category. Categories are also not set in stone and may be combined or subdivided based on the same criteria. Getting a five star review is no guarantee of a nomination, although all nominees will have received a five star review. I hope that sounds as wishy washy and vague as I tried to make it. Too much detail would start to sound as boring as the parental lecture you heard twenty eight times in one year as a teenager and be a lot like touring a sausage factory, too much information.
The key is that we feel that all the nominees are good books and we’d be happy to have any of them win. I’m glad I don’t vote because I don’t think I could decide what book to vote for in most categories.
Once we have a slate of nominees, we open it up to our readers with each vote counting as an entry in a giveaway. We also have other ways to enter the giveaway (liking or having liked our Facebook page and things like that.) The prizes in the giveaway this year included an Amazon gift certificate and a bunch of ebooks.
Thank you for mentioning my nominations. I’m proud and grateful to be in such a select group. Finally, what advice would you give authors who seek reviews? How should they select review sites to approach?
It’s a numbers game. Not every site you approach is going to be interested and not every site that is interested will review your book. Some of the things I’d suggest here have been discussed in my answers to other questions, like reading and following the submissions guidelines you’ll find on almost every review site. If a reviewer recognizes your name and it isn’t for something negative, they’re more likely to give your book consideration. One of the sites I have, The IndieView, has a database of indie friendly review sites. (http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/) Go through the list looking for sites that seem to be a good fit for their genre preferences, look over their site to see if your book seems to be a reasonable fit, and if so, submit following their instructions.
Thank you, Al, for sharing your experience as a reviewer, as well as the dos and don’ts of submitting a book for review.