Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Day in the Life... of a Book Review Editor!

Writers - ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a book review website?

Readers - ever wondered if you could manage to get free books in return for writing a review?

Today I chat to the Editor of the 'Judging Covers' website to find out what really goes on in the world of book reviews!

Nikki, thanks so much for joining me today!

When did you decide to set up a review blog and what were your motives for doing so?

I'm a freelance writer and had been toying with the idea of starting an online magazine, but I couldn't come up with an idea that I really loved. One day I finished reading a book and I immediately wanted to chat to the nearest person about it - and it struck me that a book review site could be the answer!

There are some incredible book review blogs for women out there, but most tend to focus on chick lit and women's fiction - which I love, but I also read other genres too, and there seemed to be a gap in the market for a women's book blog that covered a bit of everything.  I didn't want the blog to be restricted to just my opinions, so I talked to a few friends who were all really keen to get involved and help the site offer a wider range of tastes. And so, Judging Covers was born!

* Judging Covers was born! * 

How would you have rated your computer skills beforehand? I'm not the most tech-savvy person & I know I can get quite frustrated with my blog at times!

I've always been quite good at computers and I've had a few blogs in the past, so over the years I suppose I've picked up enough knowledge to make things run smoothly and look relatively presentable! I couldn't create a website from scratch, but I have enough experience with Wordpress to edit the templates and make it all look nice. I did a bit of graphic design and basic web design on my degree, but I'm pretty much self-taught... trial and error!  

How did you go about approaching publishers for free books? Was it difficult to drum up support initially?

I actually didn't approach anyone - the original team just started reviewing books they'd bought, and after a few weeks I started to get emails asking if we'd be interested in receiving review copies, presumably as more people stumbled across the site.  Free stuff was never the intention, so it's all happened quite organically.  We do get offered a lot of books now (too many!) but there wasn't anything I did to make that happen.  The majority of reviews at the site are still of books that we bought ourselves.

If a reader would like to review for Judging Covers, do they need to have a lot of writing experience?

Not necessarily, but I suppose you need to have a natural talent for writing. I've always wanted to provide a really high standard of reviews, and our team includes professional journalists, copywriters and authors, as well as students and bloggers. I always ask for an example of writing from people before they join the team, so I know that standards will remain high - but I'm happy to support aspiring reviewers too. Everyone starts somewhere.

* Judging Covers - Meet the team! * 

Are reviewers expected to review a certain number of books per month or is it flexible? Do they have to review every single book they are sent?

I'm really flexible when it comes to the amount that people contribute. I don't think I can demand anything from people when they're not paid for their efforts, so I don't put pressure on reviewers to meet deadlines or targets. It's supposed to be fun! There's a huge variation in the amount that people contribute, but I'm happy with that as long as we continue to post great content. I will also accept one-off reviews from people if they're not really interested in an ongoing commitment, but would like to share their thoughts on a particular novel they've read.

We have a system in place where the team can request the books that they'd like to review from a list, so nobody receives a book that they have no interest in reading. It's nice if they do review all the books that they're sent, but I never chase them up - I know sometimes I simply don't have time to read everything I want to, so I wouldn't nag people!

*Want to review for Judging Covers?* 

With regard to setting up the blog, tell me about the best experience so far?

We were shortlisted for a Cosmopolitan Blog Award in 2011, which was amazing. We had only launched in January 2011 so hadn't been around very long, but two of our reviewers were able to attend a very glam awards party in London.  We didn't win, but the recognition was fantastic. I've also had emails from some of my favourite authors saying how great the site is, which means a lot.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?

We've had a few instances where reviewers may have upset an author by a negative review, but that's kind of the point of reviewing. If we only posted positive reviews, people wouldn't trust our opinions. Sometimes you do read a book that didn't work for you, but it doesn't mean that everyone will hate it or that the author isn't talented; it just means that it wasn't your cup of tea, and I believe reviewers are well within their rights to say that.

I see you are also involved in another website "Twelve52" - tell us a little about that?

Twelve52 is a digital magazine that is run by one of my good friends, Joy. I contribute a monthly book column, which includes interviews, mini-reviews, features and opinions on book-related topics. I always wanted Judging Covers to be strictly a review resource (we don't post any interviews or book news) so my Twelve52 column features all the fun stuff that I can't post at JC! The Judging Covers review team often contribute quotes or opinions to the Twelve52 features, which is a nice little extra.   

Wow! That was fascinating! I really enjoyed getting inside the head of a review editor! I hope some of you readers will consider approaching Nikki and writing some reviews for her. I have reviewed for Judging Covers for some time before getting my publishing contract. I know it really helped to boost my writing confidence. Reviewing books also helps you to read more and read differently. You'll learn much more about characterisation, pace and plot.

Thanks for joining me Nikki! :o)