We first bumped into each other on Instagram I believe, and then started chatting on Discord for a bit. While I took a break with a newborn in the house, you started on BookTube and have got a good following! How did you get into reviewing books online, and why?
I’ve been reviewing online on and off for about ten years. I won a copy of John Gwynne’s Malice when it came out, and I wanted to talk about it so put up a review on a blog I used to have. In general, it’s all about having people to talk to about the books I like, as most of the people in my life have different reading tastes to me. More recently, I don’t think there’s any real formula to it. I set up a Bookstagram account for the same reasons — to find a community of like minds — and eventually got persuaded to take my thoughts across to YouTube, from where I’ve not looked back.
How have you found being a part of the book community, talking with authors/reviewers etc?
The community is fantastic, everyone is really friendly and happy to help and support each other. I’ve made so many great friends, across readers, reviewers, and authors. I like to think the three groups are mutually beneficial, with everyone seeing the value in the other groups. Especially in the indie community, there’s so much accessibility as well, so I would say it’s easier to find a platform to chat with authors — and that’s only a good thing in my opinion.
What makes you pick up a book? Is it the cover art, the author, premise…?
A little bit of everything. Everyone says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and there’s a reason that most people also ignore it! I like to think I’m a good enough judge of my own tastes that I can tell from a quick look at the cover whether a book will suit me or not. So that’s often the starting point, and if a cover tells me the book might work for me, I’ll check out the synopsis. Authors are a bit more tricky, as I read a lot of debuts or otherwise new-to-me authors, so it’s definitely the cover and premise that have the biggest draw.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I’ve always read for pleasure, ever since I first learnt to read. I read exclusively fantasy for about twenty-five years, and only added sci-fi to that within the last five years or so. I’ve never been one to re-read however, so there’s only a small number of books that I’ve ever read more than once.
What are your favourite books/authors?
I’ve read a good mix of classic and more modern fantasy. In my younger years, David Gemmell and Raymond E. Feist did a lot to shape my fantasy tastes with the Drenai Saga and Riftwar Cycle. More recently, John Gwynne has definitely leapt to the top of the pile with his Banished Lands books. I’ve also been loving L.L. MacRae, Ryan Cahill, Zack Argyle, Daniel T. Jackson, and many more great authors in recent years.
You have read and reviewed a good amount of Indie books recently. How have you found the quality of those books and how important do you think it is to highlight these writers?
There are two answers to this. The first is: fine. Self-publishing still has a reputation among some for being inferior quality, but it’s just not true. Too many people equate self-publishing as the path an author takes when they can’t get a trad-publishing deal. In reality, there are so many reasons for an author to choose self-publishing, and plenty do it without even considering traditional methods. Especially with the issues in the industry at the moment, all of the “problems” those people associate with self-publishing can be found in books published by every single publisher.
The second answer is that the quality is often higher in self-publishing. If you consider an indie title that has gone through editing and proofreading — as I would suggest most do, although I have no figures to back it up — there’s perhaps not much difference left between it and a trad-pub title. Where the magic happens though, is in the control indie authors have, and in so many cases, the love they have for their work really shows in the design. I’ve seen so many beautiful indie books with naked boards under the dustjacket, internal artwork, chapter header illustrations, even additional extras such as bookmarks etc. For trad publishing, this seems to be reserved only for the big-name authors and titles, and even then you might just get some sprayed edges and fancy endpapers. If I want a beautiful book, I would always look in the indie pool before even considering anything put out by a big publisher.
Lastly, I think it’s very important to highlight indie authors. They have a hard time of it because often they are producing equal (or better!) work than traditionally published authors, but they don’t have the reach of a big-name publisher behind them. Ultimately, the stories these indie authors are putting out are so often the type of stories that the publishing houses are unwilling to take a risk on, so by highlighting these fantastic indie titles and authors, little by little, I think it helps to shape the trends in publishing, at least in the SFF genres.
What do you like to do outside of reading and creating content online?
I work as a proofreader, so get to read both for business and pleasure. Occasionally then, I just need to switch off, and I tend to do so with a good TV show, or listening to some music while in the kitchen, cooking. I also play snooker as a good way to unwind in the company of friends.
Who are your go-to content creators?
I watch a number of SFF BookTubers, but don’t really have any go-to creators outside of that platform and subject. The only exception is NerdForge on YouTube, as I love the work they do. For SFF BookTube, I have too many to mention all, but the ones I am watching the most recently are Covers With Cassidy, Niki Hawkes – The Obsessive Bookseller, A Fictional Escapist, and Kay’s Hidden Shelf.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start a BookTube/Bookstagram/Book Review website?
Be yourself and be honest. If you’re not, for either of those, people will see it and they won’t trust your views as much. Also, it is perfectly fine to post a bad review, but always be respectful — and never tag the author in negative reviews. As I mentioned earlier, the community is really friendly and helpful, so there’s always going to be someone to offer advice, if you look in the right place.
If you could be any fantasy character, who would you be and why?
I think probably Samwise Gamgee (movie version). I just like the idea of having had a great adventure, and then settling down in a beautiful (non-scoured) Shire and living a life of comfort and happiness.