Pretty much being an editor for Blogger News is a daunting task. We spend a lot of time reading, we probably read more than the average person. Selecting the Blogger Of The Month is always a fun but daunting activity. We all have our own ideas of what a Blogger Of The Month should embody. Being a reviewer, I was very happy when my fellow reviewer Kevin Tipple was selected.

I was delighted to interview Kevin. And I have to admit that I did have an ulterior motive. I get asked by lots of people what it is like to be a reviewer. The answer is, It Is A Grind! Yes it is fun to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. But there are also the endless hours of actually reading, and the endless hours of research!

Being a reviewer is not the ‘easy life’ that it is assumed to be.

Hi Kevin, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. We at BNN really appreciate you taking the time.

Thanks for having me.

For once I get to interview a fellow reviewer! Can you tell us a little
about yourself?

I have been the editor or assistant editor of several different zines over the years. These days, I write primarily for here, my blog and a few other places on the net and in print. Most of the places you can read my work for free but you have to be a paying member over at CrimeandSuspense to read the exclusive reviews I do for that site. They won’t ever run anywhere else. I am also the sole book reviewer for the Texas edition of the newspaper “Senior News” and have been for a couple of years now appearing in a monthly column. I also write fiction as well and sometimes it is published. My short fiction has appeared in magazines such as “Lynx Eye,” “Starblade,” “Show and Tell,” and “The Writer’s Post Journal” among others and online at such places as “Mouth Full Of Bullets,” “Crime And Suspense,” “Mysterical-e” and others. In fact, right now, I have one off my weird tales, “Burning Questions” up at Mysterical-e.

How long have you been a reviewer, and how did you get started?

Well, this is a long story that I will try to make very short. My local paper used to run reviews that often had basic elements wrong such as who did the crime, method of crime, what the murder weapon was, etc. My parents, my wife, and several other folks kept pushing me to write reviews but the local paper wouldn’t give me a shot because I had never written book reviews before. They and lots of other folks absolutely refused to touch me because I had no experience. Everyone said to get some experience but nobody said exactly how I could get some when I couldn’t get on with anyone.

Then I saw something online about a zine wanting reviewers. Elizabeth Burton, owner and editor of the “Blue Iris Journal” took a chance on me because, while I had never worked as reviewer, I knew books. This was back in the late nineties and I owe it all to her. These days she is acquisitions editor for Zumaya Press but back then she took a chance on somebody that had never reviewed books on any level and gave me my start.

‘I’ve got more than five hundred published reviews under my belt now. I’ve been through a lot of zine editors and owners since then but nobody, and I mean nobody, was as nice and supportive when called for and pushed me hard when I needed it as Elizabeth Burton was. A classy lady then and now, she was and is a fantastic editor and one I would hire in a heartbeat if I had something to show her.

Do you review things other than books?

No, I don’t. Movies, music, etc are far different animals than books and I don’t have the ability to talk about that sort of thing in great detail. I don’t have the working knowledge of such things like my friend Barry Ergang does for example and as such, I don’t try. Any effort on my part would just skim the surface and be fairly worthless to anyone with any knowledge of either. I stick to reviewing books and review them much like I did when I worked in the local bookstores and folks asked me to recommend something.

A question I am asked frequently is where do I get my books from? I find
that it is a hard one to answer, I usually say “everywhere”, PR companies, publishers, authors, press releases, etc. Where do you get yours from?

Oh, my. You don’t want to ask this. lol “Everywhere” pretty much covers it. I’m well known at major publishing houses with huge authors such as Les Standiford and Tom Clancy among many others using my reviews on their sites over the years so I get books from the major publishing houses on a frequent basis.

Then there are fantastic publicists such as Maryglenn McCombs and PJ Nunn who provide a constant stream of books. PJ Nunn, besides being a friend and fellow Texan, has been extremely helpful for my review work with “Senior News” as she represents so many Texas authors such as Ben Rehder and their books show up in my columns in “Senior News.” Like the publishers and just about everyone involved with me, Maryglenn and PJ Nunn both know that I will be honest about a book and not spin it just to favor them. Publicists who don’t get that simple fact usually soon decide I am not the reviewer for them.

I also get books from smaller publishers such as Hard Case Crime, Bleak House, Poison Pen and others. Sometimes the books come directly from the publisher and other times they come via an author request. Tony Burton, who owns, has authors send me books directly for exclusive reviews on his site. Michael Bracken, who edits “Senior News” has also occasionally had a book or two shipped my way.

Then there are the numerous authors who read my reviews somewhere because they found me on their own or somebody told them about me and subsequently will send their book. Not to mention the ones I get from my local library because I saw something in the paper or saw something on a shelf at my local chain bookstore. Most of my reviews used to come via library books and these days it is probably less than ten percent that way. With over 300 titles here at last count (which does not include library books) I’m set for quite awhile. lol

I see the book world as a very fractured entity at the moment, and I see no light at the end of the tunnel. Print On Demand (POD) has created a bit of a monster, while there are many great books published through this method, there are some absolute bombs, with poor, or even no editing spelling and grammar atrocities abound. What are your thoughts?

I pretty much agree. I’m also seeing some authors and publishers relentlessly hyping the concept of e-books and pointing to the Kindle as proof positive of the grand dawning of a new age. Beyond the fact that usually the people pushing it the hardest are authors that only appear in e-book format or publishers that only do e-books, I’m not seeing the huge groundswell for them that some claim. I’m old enough to remember much of the same being said about the beta-max which was far superior to the eventual winner VHS. I don’t think the Kindle is proof of much of anything except the crushing power of Amazon. I think if large numbers of folks are going to move to e-books it is going to take some sort of revolutionary device that we have no concept of yet. Something on the order of what the cell phone has done for communication.

As to publishing in general, I think there is a huge shakeout coming with a number of publishers going under due to the economy. I’m hoping that some of the major entertainment companies that bought publishing houses and tried to run them like everything else in their empires will divest themselves on their purchases. Publishing needs to be run as a book business and not as a line entry on some gigantic entertainment companies accounting sheet.

q6) As a follow up, the people that I deal with tend to know my likes and
dislikes, so I don’t get a lot of bad books. On the odd occasion though I do
get a ‘stinker’, something that should never have have met the printing
press. I have a dark corner in the apartment where these ‘progeny from the
loins of Satan’ are stored and forgotten. It is rare that I will give a book
a ‘public flogging’ (but it does happen). My theory is that the vast
majority of authors have tried their best, or for financial reasons could
not afford to employ a decent editor. What do you do with the ‘stinkers’?

Usually, I have to review them anyway. Most of the time when it happens, and maybe it is just coincidence or something, books that I have not liked were ones that were specifically contracted for through an editor. It puts me in a bit of bind because I gave my word I would review such and such and then discover that in my opinion, it is a horrible piece of something that should be taken outside and set on fire as an offering to the literary gods.

I’d cite examples but folks would take it personally or somebody else who I wasn’t even thinking of would think I had been commenting about him or her and the hate mail would start up again so I won’t. It is amazing how stupid I get after I read a book (according to the author) and say I don’t like it publicly. lol I have been known to do a public flogging on a book on occasion. I always caution all who want to send me things that I am not a rubber stamp reviewer (unlike some who will also remain nameless here) and that the backlog is huge. I always preach the idea that an author, publisher, whatever should read at least some of the reviewer’s work so that they know what the reviewer reads and likes. Despite my aversion to horror books which I have stated publicly many times, I still get requests to review them.

I read a lot of great books by authors that are unknown, they deserve shelf space in the bookstore, but bookstores don’t want to take risks, they only want to stock the NYT best sellers. Is there a solution?

I don’t know. Obviously, getting noticed by the book buying public once somebody does publish you is getting harder and harder. Legitimate reviews are falling by the wayside as newspapers in their wisdom and efforts to stem their losses and falling circulation numbers make their papers fluffier and less filling. Amazon also plays a part of this as they encourage reviews that have no meaning other than the generic “I loved this book so much and this author is wonderful!” gush reviews. I don’t know of any solutions that don’t have their own issues and require a major change in business practices.

Back in the days when I worked in the bookstores, I first started out at BOOKSTOP. As part of the hiring process, I was interviewed by the store manager and I had to discuss books. Who I read and why and who I didn’t read and why. Like any potential employee, the manager wanted to make sure I was a READER first and foremost.

I was and am. This is why I got the job despite being a lousy interviewee in the hiring process. I don’t interview well no matter how many times I role play it. But, I knew books.

When Barnes and Noble bought out Bookstop and took over, those days were soon gone. Instead of knowing books, we had to make sure that we wore ties and long sleeve shirts, that our hair was above our collars and that we greeted the customer within three feet of the door which was marked precisely by a long piece of blue tape that ran diagonally across the floor. I still remember one store manager that told me with a bright smile that “Books were just like produce. Anyone can sell books.” She also was very proud of her recent degree and bragged that meant she didn’t have to read another book for her life. And she was our perky store manager and totally worthless for anything besides being eye candy.

These days when one walks into the major chains one has to understand that almost every book placement is bought and paid for. Shelves that have cute little placards that are supposedly “staff selections” are paid advertisements just like end caps, stacks on tables and all the rest of it. The staff, for the most part, aren’t readers and could not care less. Absolutely there are exceptions but, in general, this is what we, the reading and buying public have settled for and it is a sad state of affairs.

I’m not sure bookstores are any more averse to risk than publishers as so much of what hits seems to generate book copycats. I do know that if the staff of the bookstore doesn’t read they won’t be much help. Like everything else, the consumer has to look elsewhere for info and if all he or she can find is the latest NYT list that is all they do. I once had a customer tell me, “If the book makes the NYT it has to be good” or words to that effect.

I didn’t agree then and I still don’t.

Consumers have voted with their money and as such independents and smaller bookstores around the country have fallen due to the economic power of the chains and now Amazon. If consumers don’t demand something better it won’t happen because there isn’t any economic incentive for those left standing to change anything.

Who are your favorite authors, and your favorite genres? Boy I would hate to be asked that question!

This is a tough one. It probably is best for me not to name names because those I like and forgot to mention here aren’t going to be happy. The list is just too long. Genre is easier. I’m primarily a mystery guy though I also read thrillers and other things including non-fiction. In mystery, I lean towards the harder edge books but have also read plenty of cozies.

I don’t much care for the theme mysteries such as the ones with cats in them, dogs, crafts, food courts, talking parrots, etc. This list is pretty endless these days as mysteries with a gimmick seem to be all the rage among so many. They just aren’t for me though I have made an exception here or there.

One of these days are we going to see a book with your name as the author?

Boy, I hope so. I am working on something but as many folks know from direct experience writing a novel takes time. If I am working on my novel or writing another short fiction story I am not working on the books that need to be reviewed and I feel guilty. That is made worse by the fact that the books keep whispering to me reminding me that they are here. The whispers get a little louder every time another book arrives. Just yesterday, I think the pile moved a little bit. I’m worried because when the pile starts moving bad things could happen.

Kevin, thanks, and have a great 4th of July, Jan and I send our best wishes
to you and your family.

On behalf of all us Tipples, thanks very much and right back at you from the Great State of Texas. Now, how about a nice Canadian front to cool us off? You can take it off the winter account.

Editors Note – If you think you have the magical spark to become a reviewer, drop us a line. It isn’t the bunch of roses that some might think. But it sure is fun.

Simon Barrett

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