For our 2024 blog series, we’re highlighting industry professionals to find out more about their time in the book world. Follow along for insight on what catches a reviewer’s interest, things to avoid when pitching a media outlet, what librarians are searching for and more.
Today, we’re chatting with BigAl (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna). He spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for his website BigAl’s Books and Pals as well as running The IndieView, a website intended as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.
As someone who hears about A LOT of books, what makes one stand out to you?
In some ways I’m lucky in that I don’t have to consider the same things that a book publicist or a publisher or many in the book business do. The IndieView and my review blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, are both things I do as a hobby to help out my fellow readers as well as authors.
Being in a different position than a publicist, agent, or publisher, all I have to look for in a book is whether it appeals to me personally. I don’t need to take into account whether it is likely to appeal to a broad audience, only whether it has an audience. In the case of choosing a book to read for review, the only audience it has to appeal to is me. I think the evolution of publishing over the last dozen years or so has made it possible for some of those stories with appeal that isn’t broad to get out there and find their audience.
I’m starting the third paragraph and I still haven’t given an answer to the question. Maybe I need a better editor. For me personally, I have always enjoyed thrillers and suspense and mysteries, whether detective mysteries or a normal person trying to figure out what is going on. Throw in a little humor, and you’re even more likely to pull me in. Those who are old enough to have read Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder series or Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series in the prior century will know what I was reading many years ago. I also find that I like books, fiction or nonfiction, that help me experience something vicariously, whether a travel book or a book with characters who live a life very much unlike mine. At a high level there are only so many stories and they’ve already been told many times. The specifics are what makes a story unique, so it has to be something in the specifics – whether it is the characters or a unique twist of some kind to make a book stand out. If a book seems to have that, it will draw me in.
What’s the worst thing an author (or publicist!) can do in telling you about a book they’d like you to consider for coverage?
I’ve got a couple things.
First, familiarize yourself with the venue and possibly tweak your boilerplate email to reflect what you find. The IndieView does two things an author or publicist looking for coverage might benefit from. One of these is providing a list of book review sites that meet certain requirements, and doesn’t require anything other than to check out the list to use it. (Then follow the link to the independent sites in the list that appeal and follow their directions.) The other is interviews (or IndieViews, since that is the name of the site). If you ask for a review, don’t contact the site. You haven’t done your homework and I won’t bother to respond.
The second thing is to follow instructions. At Books and Pals I have a page that explains what to do to be considered for review and instructions to submit a book for consideration. One of those things is to send an ebook in one of a few eBook formats as part of your submission email. It’s amazing how many authors and publicists manage to find the email to send their request, but don’t follow the instructions on the same page and prior to the only place the email is listed. When I receive those I have a “nope, not bothering with this one” file that those emails go to.
Neither of these things are really what I think your question is aimed at, but the reality is that what I get “told” in the email telling me about the book isn’t going to matter if you get excluded before I reach the point of considering the book.
What makes your job easier?
I could answer that for me this isn’t a job, it’s a hobby. I’d be right, in that if I was doing it for financial reasons I never would have started and certainly would have quit long ago. But it is a job in that it involves work keeping things going. What makes it easier is publicists and authors who do (or don’t do for some of them) the things I talk about in the last question. Plus, reading or helping publicize that good book is a reward in itself that makes it all easier.
Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the book world?
Yes and no. I’ve always been an avid reader beginning in second grade (many, many decades ago) when I won a class contest for reading the most books that year. I suspect if we’d been keeping track that I’ve beaten all of my classmates by that metric every year since. But in other ways, running these websites, writing a bit myself as a reviewer or for a while writing for yet another website aimed at authors, was something I kind of fell into and found I enjoyed. I’m a bit surprised it happened.
What is your favorite part about working in the book community?
I enjoy helping connect my fellow readers with books and authors they might not find otherwise. I’ve also made a lot of friends among avid readers as well as authors from around the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Ellen Whitfield is senior publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.