Davida Chazan calls her book blog The Chocolate Lady’s Book Reviews. She has been writing on-line content including reviews and articles of all kinds since about 1998. In 2013, she began specializing in writing book reviews. Welcome, Davida.
Why did you start blogging about or featuring books? I actually started out writing consumer and product reviews of all kinds, on all sorts of content sites (most of which, if not all, are dead today). However, I found that I liked writing book reviews the best. Partially because not many people on those sites were writing them, and partially because I just love reading books, so why not review them, right? When these content sites (most of which were pay-per-click) died their slow and painful deaths, I decided to start my own blog, and book reviews seemed to be the most appropriate subject on which to concentrate, all things considered (as in, my education, my present “day job” profession, and my experience).
What type of books appeal to you and why? I’m an adult, literary fiction lover for the most part. I especially like to read works by new or lesser known authors. Maybe that is my way of finding my niche – discovering writers, including those who are publishing independently or even self-publishing. But to be honest, although there are some genres I refuse to read (fantasy, horror, erotica), I’m willing to read almost anything else. It is the reading that’s appealing, in and of itself.
Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre. As I noted above, literary fiction is my basic genre, but I tend to read lots of female authors – many of which write women’s fiction, but not all. Perhaps my favorite is historical, biographical fiction – I like to learn about times in history from the perspective of people – especially women – that might not be as well known as they should. I’ve learned about so many women that history has either overlooked, ignored, or under-represented, and the impact that they’ve made on the world is frankly, amazing! And the thing is, I was really bad at history when I was in school – until high school. That’s when we had this great program of combining history and English. We studied history through literature and literature through history. It made history come alive through reading beautifully told stories. I didn’t need to remember dates and places; I could read about the people and their motivations who lived during those times, and understand so much more about what their worlds were like. Such an eye opener! Too bad that program doesn’t exist anymore (that I know of).
Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them? Gosh, I really don’t know who they are. I just seem to get followers and readers randomly – at least that’s how it feels. I mean, I’m on a whole bunch of Facebook pages and I’ve made “friends” that follow me that way. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter and lots of other sites, but I’m not all that popular (relatively speaking). But mostly, I follow lots and lots of book bloggers, and I’m guessing most of my followers come from there. As for engaging with them, I comment on their blogs, and reply to their comments on my blog as well. I’ll tweet blog posts, like tweets, and retweet blog posts, too. But I do it instinctively, not strategically. If I feel something, I’ll like or comment or tweet or whatever. If not, then I don’t.
If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system. Well, right now I have a fairly new feature called TCL’s Countdown Questions. That’s where I ask authors to answer five, fast and fun questions. I generally post those on Tuesdays. Right now, I’m limiting them to personal friends and authors with books I’ve read and reviewed. But when I run out of them, maybe I’ll open it up to other authors as well.
When the mood strikes, or when I don’t have book review to post, I’ll sometimes post what I call literary musings, which are just essays on some topic that strikes my fancy. Often, I’m inspired by something I’ve seen talked about in some article, or on a Facebook page, or from a blog I’ve seen.
I am now an avid participant in the monthly #6Degrees of Separation meme, and I’ll occasionally participate in other memes, like Top Ten Tuesday or the like, when the mood strikes.
I’m involved in a few reading challenges, like the Historical Fiction one, the New Releases one, and the Big Summer Book one. I don’t do many blog tours, though. Maybe when I retire next year, I’ll get back to doing those.
Also, every year I do a “best of” list of my favorite books published during that calendar year. It is usually top five – since I’m a slow reader (30-40 books a year, not all of which are new releases).
As for rating books, I used the five-star method, including half stars. Mind you, lately I’ve found that half stars might not be precise enough. For example, I’ve read several books this year that deserve 4.75 stars – they’re almost perfect, but not quite. I’m thinking of revising to a ten-star method, and including half stars, but that seems sort of petty, and a bit too pedantic for me. We’ll see!
What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers? Good question, and not something I think much about, really. I mean, I follow other bloggers, and post links or comments on bookish Facebook pages, and hope they’ll follow me. Again, I’m not really all that strategic or proactive about it. If I see a blog or a Facebook page I like, I’ll follow it. If they visit my blog and follow me, that’s great.
How do you interact with authors and publicists? Whenever and however I can, and usually only by luck! I’ve gotten to “know” a couple publicists over the years, who send me emails. As for authors, usually they contact me, mostly after I tag them on reviews, but I have been known to “stalk” some authors I really like (thankfully, no one has complained to the FBI or Interpol yet).
What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world? Lots more people are self-publishing or going the smaller publisher route, from what I can see. Plus, I think the book blogger world has gotten bigger because of ARC sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss. That means that authors are getting a wider, more international audience – including in more remote non-English speaking countries. Of course, I’m glad that brick and mortar stores are still out there, and apparently doing well, but there was a time when it looked like they might go the way of the Dodo bird.
I’ve also noticed that younger readers are getting excited about books and blogging about them. There was a time when you couldn’t get younger people to read anything at all outside of school, and then television, movies, smart phones and other electronic devices might have kept people from reading altogether. But like with print vs eBooks, I think the tide is turning here as well. Getting people excited about books seems to be a recurring trend and the older generation should encourage this as much as we can.
If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry? I’d make the people who give out awards and make yearly lists look at all the titles published by independent and small publishers, as well as self-published books when they start handing out their laurels. I’d also like to see the big-name review sites look at them as well (such as the NYT, which has notoriously BAD book reviews, mostly written by authors who are about to publish their own new books. These tend to be very critical, often include horrible spoilers, and seem to be written to basically turn people off to the books they’re reviewing. I believe they do so to say “yes, well… don’t bother with that book, read mine instead”). It seems to me that whenever there’s a huge sensation and buzz out there about a certain book, that book was invariably published by a big publishing house. They all seem to ignore the fact that there are authors out there, publishing excellent books, through their own efforts or with smaller publishers that might be even better than the ones the larger houses are hyping all over the place. For example, this year, I read a book called “The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt” by Andrea Bobotis. It was a debut novel published by Sourcebooks Landmark, and it blew me away, it was so beautifully written, with such a touching story, and no other book has topped it this year. Is anyone talking about that book? No, they’re talking about “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood. Okay, fine… I’m sure Atwood’s book is great, and deserves all the kudos it gets. But this one… it just burns me up that it isn’t getting the attention I think it deserves. Sure, I’m just a blogger. Obviously, I have no real understanding of what is literary talent and what is not. That may very well be true, but I’ll tell you something – back when Fredrik Backman was about to publish his first book in English “A Man Called Ove” I read that book as an ARC and I knew right away that he was an author to keep an eye out for, and look at him now! So, keep an eye out for Bobotis – trust me, she’s another one on the rise.
Just for the fun of it, I’ll give you three more authors that I totally adore, and who I think are all sorely underrated. Ariel Lawhon, Greer Macallister and Jane Davis. Bet you’ve never heard of them. Well, you should learn their names; they’re marvelous authors!
I’m delighted to host you today, Davida. Many thanks for sharing your ideas about books, blogging and the publishing industry. Of course, you could also tell us a few of your favourite chocolates!
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.