Burton Book ReviewI’m excited to welcome Marie Burton today, owner of The Burton Book Review blog and primary instigator of HF-Connection. Marie tells me she’s a “no holds barred” kind of woman and you will see that come through in her responses to some questions. Burton Book Review was mentioned several times as a source of book recommendations in the 2012 Historical Fiction survey.

Why did you start blogging? And why are you involved in two historical fiction blogs? Which blog began first?     I began blogging at Burton Book Review on December 31, 2008. That year I had begun to read historical fiction, and I was so lost trying to find quality historical fiction at my local library, and with online research I discovered the blogosphere. Fellow bloggers eventually inspired me to begin recording my bookish thoughts, and I was going through a grieving process at that time as my father had just suddenly passed away. (I was reading Penman’s When Christ and his Saints Slept when he passed, and that book got me through some rough days). Blogging at Burton Book Review helped steer my thoughts in a positive direction and give me a hobby.

HF-Connection began in 2010 as a venture with Michelle from the TrueBookAddict. We wanted to provide a site to share Historical Fiction guest posts and giveaways, as we were each getting contacted left and right for these types of things and we felt our blogs were getting cluttered with so many different things going on at once. 2010 seemed like a busy crazy year for historical fiction! We now welcome new and established authors at HF-Connection to promote their work. HF-Connection is also open to those non-blogging reviewers who would like a site to post their historical reviews to.

Why do you review historical fiction in particular?    Once the historical bug bit me, I was never able to move away from it. I have tried a small amount of contemporary novels in the last few years, but few inspire the passion that historical novels provide for me. I have been able to move away from the royally-themed historicals as I discovered Christian historical fiction. The sub-genre allows me to get the best of both of my passions! Before I got stuck on historical fiction, I was reading James Patterson, Lee Child, Lawrence Block and Janet Evanovich.. and things were just getting stale. History teaches me things in an entertaining way, and I really enjoy learning the stories of days gone by and the very intriguing people who lived back in the day.

What trends have you seen in HF novels in the past? What new trends are emerging?    It seemed as if historical accuracy was a much bigger requirement a few years ago, but now that the genre has become more recognized in literary circles I have noticed that the term ‘fiction’ is beginning to finally gain more acceptance. It’s still going to be a reader’s preference, some prefer their historical fiction to be as close to accurate as possible, but I think the genre is expanding to allow for a wider audience. I am also noticing that some otherwise literary novels are able to squeeze themselves into the historical genre as well.

Is historical fiction growing in popularity? If so, why do you think that’s the case?    With chart-toppers and news worthy authors such as Philippa Gregory (you either love her or hate her!) and Hilary Mantel, the genre seems to be gaining a bigger audience each year.  Those comments on my reviews that state “I have never heard of this author, I must check her out!” make me feel like I’ve done what I’ve set out to do: introduce readers to new books. I think the genre will continue to grow as subjects start to expand. There are so many obscure historical fiction titles that I know I would probably enjoy, but getting them noticed and out there is the hard part.

Who are your readers? What do you know about them? Do you collect specific data about them?    Most of my readers are other bloggers; I think just a few of them are not bloggers. While I do not collect data, I do look at the google stats and see which post is most popular or from what sources my hits are coming from. Those readers who are most inclined to read historical fiction come to my site, and many of my commenters have been visiting the blog since its early days. For some reason I cannot comprehend, the long winded review I did of a book on Jane Seymour in 2010 is my all-time most popular post and has been for quite a while! 7700 hits to that post alone.  (And Firefox is the number one browser among my visitors!)

What features does your blog include? What features are most popular? Are you planning to add any features?    I have tabs at the top of my blog which link to specific pages that reference two prolific authors Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer with their lists of works. I have had ideas to add other features but I lack the motivation. (There are times that being a book blogger seems like a very highly underpaid job! I always have to remind myself that this is a hobby, and to not stress myself out about it.) There is a page with a list of all my reviews, and I sort them out by sub-genre, since I believe using that organization is a lot easier for readers who are interested in a specific topic (sub-categories include Medieval HF, Wars of the Roses, Christian HF, Regency, etc.).

Many other bloggers categorize their reads by the year they’ve read it, or by author’s last name, so I hope my organizing by topic helps my readers a little better. The posts that get the most weekly attention would be the weekly bookish post that goes up on Sundays. This post talks about what I’m reading, and what books I’ve added to my collection that past week. Even though I’ve geared my blog to be primarily book reviews, it is these more personalized weekly posts that get the most comments.

Do you think of the blog as having a brand? If so, what is it?    The blog in the beginning of its life had a unique header image which featured Chatsworth and some sheep. I had many comments on that image! When other bloggers directed their followers to my blog, they always mentioned my quaint header image! I have since used a personal photograph that I fell in love with, which helps illuminate the feel for my blog, but I’ve used the same background since 2009. As far as branding goes, keeping your visual imagery for the blog constant I feel is a necessary component to your branding, as well as staying constant with what you post. If I start reviewing thriller or horror novels, I know I would lose some followers, since I’ve already created my following through the historical fiction genre.

What are your marketing strategies for the blog?    Every now and then I run a giveaway from my personal collection that is open only to current email subscribers or followers. I don’t like to run giveaways that ask for new followers, as I want to be able to thank and reward those folks who have stuck with me. I don’t have a large following because I don’t go out and market and leave my review posts everywhere I can, plus I don’t run the constant gamut of giveaways that others do. People know what to expect from my blog, and I am content with that.  In 2010, I had actually changed my blog name from The Burton Review to Burton Book Review to reflect that switch from a wider base of blogging to more of a purely book review site, which then resulted in the HF-Connection’s birth for those ‘other’ posts.

Do you conduct reviews on a paid basis for any other publications?    My reviews have always been offered for free, if only in exchange for that book. I go out and seek the books that I want to review, and for a few years I had even deleted my contact information from my site so that I would not be inundated with review requests because I was so behind with my review pile. The only publication I review for occasionally is the Historical Novel Society, which is also unpaid.

Why do you think so many people blog about historical fiction or participate in blogs about historical fiction? What are the implications for writers, agents and publishers?    This subject matter is so very intriguing! If you ask a newer historical fiction lover, “What was the book that got you hooked on Historical Fiction?” odds are it will be The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (please don’t hurt me!). The discussions of historical subject matter can be passionate and inquisitive and so very enlightening. With the growing popularity among blogs, and the fear of the information highway on www declining, more and more users are finding themselves eager to discuss the books and their authors amongst like-minded readers.

Authors now have a web presence to maintain, and the implications can be varied, depending on the author’s conduct. I have seen way too many tiff’s going on, and I was so disturbed by some of the mud-slinging going back and forth in 2011 that Iwasthisclose to quit my reviewing for authors. Facebook, twitter and Goodreads all offer an online presence to authors, and some know how to use the tools properly, but others seem to let things get out of hand, especially when discussing details of historical accuracy.  Authors and marketers also need to treat bloggers with the respect they deserve, and not assume that bloggers are merely a mouthpiece for their work. A big pet peeve is when I accept a book for review, and soon after the author or publicist “politely requests” that I post a review only if it is a positive review.  Or if I post that this author happens to be this author and that author then emails me and asks me not to divulge that information.  I just wish that people would realize that most bloggers need to feel like they have a freedom to post what they want to post on their blog and not to be dictated to. Unless they want to start paying me as their marketer..

What do you see writers doing differently to market their books and build their platforms? What about publishers?    I am noticing now that authors are seeking “influencers”. These influencers would get to have a closer relationship with authors, plus get the inside track to their works as well as review copies. This influencer then goes out on the internet and talks up the author’s works or newest release whenever and wherever they can.  I see the author doing a lot more of the legwork as opposed to a publicist. I also used to get tons of unsolicited review books in the mail – it was getting quite comical actually. Now there are just a few of those that trickle their way towards me, as publishers are using the platforms of Netgalley and edelweiss to get their books out there for a much cheaper rate as an eARC/eGalley.

What advice do you have for writers?    I am a wanna be writer and not quite there yet myself. But for those who are trying to make a web presence, please don’t add fuel to any fire you see brewing. General rules of respect should be followed, such as to not be profane or leave comments that could be taken the wrong way. Political, racial and religious topics should be avoided (unless those are topics of the book you are publicizing). *Please don’t point out negative reviews* which then unleashes your fans (if you have any) on that reviewer. Please allow bloggers the freedom and the voice to express their opinions. Shake off that negative review, and move on. You cannot please everybody. But, if you would like to promote a positive review, don’t plaster it all over Facebook in every forum/group you can find. Twitter is a much nicer place to continue to promote your work, otherwise you start to get spammy with continual posts about your work. Once or twice on Facebook is sufficient. I also suggest creating a page on your own website to link to your positive reviews.

Is there a question I should have asked?    You had lots of great questions! Maybe the one you didn’t ask is where I see myself five years from now, blog-wise… and how blogging has shaped my life! The last five years I have been buried in books, primarily due to the web presence that I’ve created for my blog. I am humbled to be interviewed by someone such as you, Mary, and grateful to all those followers who helped give me a reason to keep going. I have over 260 reviews online from the past four years, and I know if it weren’t for the blog visitors I would not be so diligent. And to all the fabulous great writers out there, slow down!! I can’t keep up!

Thanks for having me on your site today, Mary.

Great question to add at the end, Marie! I’ll have to start including this one in future interviews. Best wishes for ongoing success at both your blogs.