Monday, December 9, 2013

Interview with Karen

My guest today is Karen, currently the " #1 Best Reviewer " on Goodreads.


I am Karen - I have been on Goodreads since 2007. I work for nook right now, making booklists, but before that, I ran the fiction department at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square for about 13 years. I was an English major in undergrad, and I got my masters in library science, and I read and review like a machine. I can be found here, if I need to be found:

Now I will answer questions

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

Not really. My personal tastes are all over the place, but since I have a background/training in readers' advisory, I think it is important for me to know a little bit about all genres, so I will frequently read outside of my comfort zone. I am in a romance reading group here on Goodreads, because it is not a genre I know much about, so it gives me exposure to books I would ordinarily not pick up. But if you are asking me what is my favorite genre to review, well - that's easy. I discovered monsterotica a couple of years ago, and while it is frequently painful/hilarious to read, it is SO much fun to review. The breadth of material out there is staggering, and I love bringing it into the light of Goodreads. You're welcome, Goodreads!

On average, how many books do you review each month?

Well, before this particular month, when I have become too busy to do much of anything, I was writing a review every single day. It was part of my routine. A routine I hope to get back into, once holiday fever dies down a bit.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I do, when I have the time. I get a lot of review requests on Goodreads, every single day. And with many of them I can tell that I am not the right reader for the book, so I will usually direct them to the readers' advisory group I have on Goodreads, where we have a thread for authors to promote their work, and members who are interested can contact the author for review copies or whatnot. But between the arcs I get at work, and Netgalley, and friends who are authors or publishers wanting me to read their books, my time is frequently not my own. However, right now I am reading a book that was a review request, so it definitely happens.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I have read some great self-pub/small pub books. I have also read some terrible ones. I do think it is exciting that it is now an option for authors - to get their stuff out there without all the hoops of traditional publishing. Although I would like to publicly suggest that before excitedly publishing your work, to just run it by an impartial reader. There are plenty of college kids freelance copyediting for beer money, and I think readers are more likely to take a self-published author seriously if the glaring grammatical errors and typos are cleaned up a bit, and your mom or husband is not likely to give you as honest a reaction as someone who doesn't know you. College kids work for cheap, and it will really make a difference.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I do, but because of my readers' advisory training, I try to cushion my blows a little, because I am well aware that even though the book might not have worked for me, there is someone for whom it will be the best book ever. So I try to be as objective and open-minded as possible, and try to adjust my review to address those people, although there have been times when a book has made me so angry that I had to let out my honesty, and I only felt a little guilty about it.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Good question. This doesn't really count as a genre, but I was really snooty about adults who read YA fiction for a really long time. This was all just reactionary jerkiness over the popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight, while authors I loved weren't being read at all, and it made me crazy. And I was really stubborn about it. And then I had to take a YA readers' advisory class for library school, and I started to see that in the contemporary YA market, there is a lot of really good stuff out there - sophisticated, well-written stuff that is completely unlike anything that was marketed for teens when I was young. And while this wasn't part of that class, when I read On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, I was blown away. It was a real eye-opener for me. And now I read plenty of YA, even completely silly stuff that is just fun instant gratification leisure reading. But I still haven't read any Harry Potter. Old habits die hard and all.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

When I first joined Goodreads, I was totally inexperienced with social media. I am not on facebook, and I didn't understand the concept of social media at all. Goodreads was just a place to record the books I had read, for my own purposes. It was fun to shelve my books and it was just goofy booknerdy times. Then I started writing reviews just as a way to have conversations with my real-world friends. They were terrible - just in-jokes and short little nothings. But then, strangers started commenting on them. And then my bestie Greg got on the top reviewers list one time, and I was like - I want that!! So I started writing reviews that were more involved, because I get a little competitive with Greg sometimes. And then once I started really getting into the readers' advisory thing, I realized how helpful reader-response reviews could be for people, and I started taking it more seriously, and it became something of a mania and a compulsion. And here we are.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I'm not sure I understand the question. I don't think there has been any real change in the ratio of creative-to-derivative titles in the publishing world. And maybe that is just because my tastes are all over the place, so I don't notice it as much, but there are always going to be mass market bestseller page-turners which are usually going to be fairly formulaic, and there are always going to be challenging and experimental books because there is a market for both of them. I think there is a lot more genre-blending going on now than ever before, with crossover genres like paranormal romance and urban fantasy kind of melding into something that appeals to both romance and fantasy readers, and I think that the burgeoning new adult market is blurring the boundary between YA and adult romance, but I think that while there are plenty of books out there that are appealing to readers precisely because they seem familiar and comforting in their sameness, there are still plenty of authors pushing the envelope for readers who are looking for the next thing.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

Oh, dear. I genuinely do not know. Probably not one of my popular ones. I like the ones that are fun more than the ones that are truly useful, because they remind me of the time when Goodreads was still very small to me, and I was just reviewing for a handful of people. I enjoy this one still:

But I have far more useful reviews. I just can't really isolate which is the most shining example of my reviewing mastery, so let's just go with that one. Because it is fun. And I like having fun with reviews.

I would like to thank Karen for answering my questions. If you would like to learn more about her reviews, visit her profile here:

No comments:

Post a Comment