Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Finding a Needle in a Haystack — Kristopher Zgorski of Bolo Books

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Delighted to introduce Kristopher Zgorski, of Bolo Books. While I read many book blogs, I must confess that I've often felt that Kristopher and I must have been separated at birth — our opinions on books are that similar. So I know if Kristopher really loves something — whether it's a book, film, or TV show, odds are really, really, really high I'll love it, too. (Um, hello FOX's Empire, which I wouldn't have seen without Kristopher's high recommendation!) 

Kristopher, with all the books in the world you could choose, how do you pick which ones to review?

Kristopher Zgorski: As a book blogger, I am often asked how I choose which books I am going to read and review. 

I should first say that I do not review every book I read. In fact, I would say that only roughly 1/3 of the books I read in a given year end up being reviewed. Because I want BOLO Books to remain a positive place which encourages reading, I really only review books that I truly enjoyed and feel completely comfortable recommending. 

But this still does not answer the question at hand.

Given my position as an online advocate for books and reading, I have to stay on top of the latest industry buzz titles. I do this via social media, conventions, and digital galley distribution sites. Beyond that, much of what I glom onto comes via word-of-mouth recommendations.

Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth:

Social Media:  Almost daily, I will hear about a book on Twitter or Facebook that peaks my interest. Once that happens, I begin to look into the title further to see if it fits the BOLO Books genre, sounds like something I will potentially enjoy, and check out the release date. Since I only review new titles (generally within the first month of release), I am often able to place that book on my general TBR list rather than the blog list. I am pretty good at knowing what types of books I will NOT like, so I can usually avoid them as well. 

As an example, I first heard about The Girl on the Train months before it was released. I was immediately interested and kept the title in mind. Then I heard that galleys were given out at Theakston’s Old Peculiar conference and I started to make efforts to obtain an early copy. Ultimately successful, I added the book to the schedule and waited until it was closer to release date to read it. At that time, I enjoyed it enough to decide to review it, knowing that it was going to be a big (and controversial) title. 

Online Galley sites (like NetGalley and Edelweiss):  These sites are for reviewers and librarians. They grant access to e-versions of titles. Each of these sites has the ability to narrow down the available titles by genre/topic/publisher, so that makes it manageable. From there, I often go by author recognition/cover/release date to see what books I might consider reviewing. Since I am only one person, I am limited to the number of books I can review in one week. There have been times when I have done up to three, but I prefer to keep it at one or two. This means that once I choose some possible books for any given week, I stop requesting titles for that week, hoping that one of the books I have already chosen will be strong enough to merit a review. This can backfire, but one has to create a cutoff at some point. 

Notice that I said cover design. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes (especially for debut authors), I make a decision based on cover design. I am certain that I am missing some great titles this way, but hopefully if that is the case, I will hear about them in another way. (Example, I passed on Kristi Belcamino’s Blessed are the Dead because I hated the cover design. Then I met Kristi, was told by various folks that the book was excellent, and noticed that future cover designs were improving. I gave the book a shot, loved it, and reviewed it (in one of the rare cases where I posted a review outside the artificial one month review window I have set for the blog). 

Conventions: It goes without saying that conferences strongly influence potential reviews on the blog.  I regularly attend Bouchercon and/or Malice Domestic. There are countless other conferences of interest as well. Meeting an author or seeing them interact on a panel can cause me to try a book that I might otherwise have passed on. Also, the swag bags at these conventions are often filled with advanced copies of books the publishers are excited about. (Hint: If you are willing to volunteer to help at these cons, you are often given added perks, so don’t miss out on that opportunity. It’s also the best way to meet new people who will become future friends).

Word-of-Mouth:  I am fortunate to know many folks in the crime fiction industry – Authors, booksellers, publicists, and fans. Many of them know my tastes via the blog.  They have no problem saying “have you read so and so?” Since they are blog followers, I know that typically, they are trying to steer me in the right direction to something I might otherwise have missed.  Many books I review come to me this way. Please, share the news about books you love. That is how word-of-mouth momentum works. If you look at a career like Louise Penny’s, you will see that in the beginning, she was selling books almost solely on the endorsements of early readers. Once that momentum began, there was no stopping it and she is now a New York Times bestseller. 

So, that’s it in a nutshell. There are many another factors that can influence the choices I make, but I try to be as willing to help new authors as I am the already established. But one blog can only do so much. If you are a fan and want to help out, consider starting a blog, leaving reviews on other sites, or just spreading the name of new books you have enjoyed. I know the authors will appreciate it.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Reds and lovely readers, how to you choose what to read next from your TBR pile? Is there a blogger or reviewer out there you rely on? Do you blog and/or review? 

Tell us in the comments!


Joan Emerson said...

Aside from Jungle Red Writers' books that I always read, I tend to choose books based on genre or author. If I've enjoyed a book, or have something positive to say about the story or about the writing, then I might post a review on Goodreads or LibraryThing. Like Kristopher, I don't review all the books that I read.
Generally I just read the next book in the to-be-read pile but no matter how many books I read each week I never seem to get caught up . . . .

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Good morning! Joan, I know that feeling of never catching up with the to-read book pile....

Kristopher said...

I hear you Joan. We'd likely need to double or triple the time in each week to even get close to reading all that we want to.

Of course, if that were to happen, we'd probably just start adding even MORE books to our TBR piles.

Let's face it, there are worse problems to have.

Thanks to Susan for inviting me back to JRW. There's nothing I enjoy more than hanging out with you all!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, how fascinating! ANd I wonder--now that it;s a job, is it still…fun?

I imagine that when you hit a fabulous book--one of those moments when all the world melts away--it can remind you about why you started in the first place!

What do you think about the reality that people are making decision based on what YOU say? And that authors-gulp==are waiting with madly crossed fingers?

xoxoo and thank you so much for being here!

Kristopher said...

I make a conscious effort to make sure it never feels like a job, Hank. I'll admit, I'm not always successful, but since there is nothing I would rather do than read, these moments are fleeting.

I do take very serious my position as as curator of content. But let's face it, I'm not influencing decisions at the level of The New York Times or other more established outlets, but I do know that people make choices based on what I say. I know because they are not shy about writing me to tell me - whether or not they ultimately agreed with me. And I love that interaction.

Reading is a completely subjective thing, but once you get to know someone's personal tastes, you can make educated decisions based on that. Like Susan said in her opening, she and I are like "twins" and I know that is she liked something, I should at least give it a try. Same with you Hank.

As for authors waiting with crossed fingers. I try not to think about that. I like that they know that I won't be talking smack about their book if I didn't like it. But I also know that they hope it will appear on BOLO Books. That's a nice feeling.

My testimonials page on the blog is often where I direct folks when they ask me how authors feel about the blog.

Mary Sutton said...

I'm kind of like Kristopher and others - I only leave review for books where I can say something positive. Maybe I didn't love it with the heat of a thousand suns (a friend used that phrase this morning and I adore it), but there is something there that grabbed me.

And Kristopher, as for not having the same reach as the NYTBR, well, I'm more likely to pay attention to you than them. You got me to crack Blessed are the Dead. (I had held off because I'm not a giant fan of present tense narration) =)

Kristi Belcamino said...

I'm so relieved AND THRILLED that Kristopher decided to read all three of my books despite the cover of the first two! I totally get it.

I do the same thing based on covers. Unfortunately, most authors I know have zero say in how the cover looks. (Maybe someone like Hank does - : ) - but so far I've never met anyone who has been able to change a cover design if they don't like it.)

And thanks, Mary, for giving my books a chance based on Kristopher's reviews. I am so very lucky he liked my books!

Kristopher said...

Thank you for your kind words, Mary. I really do appreciate your support of BOLO Books. And more importantly, I'm glad that you found a new author to enjoy via my reviews.

It's true Kristi. I think very few people not in the publishing industry realize that the author has little say over the cover (and sometimes even their title). I think publishers need to be very careful in the current climate to make sure their books accurately reflect the quality within. Thankfully, the cover for Blessed Are Those Who Weep is excellent.

Kaye Barley said...

Good Morning, Mr. Zgorski - Always fun to see you here.

I count on you and Lesa Holstine when it comes to book suggestions, and I especially appreciate hearing about a new-to-me author.

Kristopher said...

Lesa blog is great Kaye. As is Dru Ann Love's. The beauty of all these blogs is that we each focus on different things, so more authors have an opportunity to be discovered by readers. Notice that we very rarely cover those instant New York Times bestsellers (with the exception of Louise Penny) because they are less in need of the help.

Hallie Ephron said...

Fascinating, Kristopher (and now I have to go see what you wrote about The Girl on the Train because I'm reading it now.) Can I just say, authors so appreciate that you read an write about books... and that you think of your role as connecting readers with the books they'll like.

What makes me want to read a book? Definitely when one stirs up controversy. Yes, I am swayed by covers -- more often to rule OUT a back rather than to rule one in. It's often not that the cover is "bad" - just it doesn't look like my kind of book.

Kaye Barley said...

Kristopher, you make an excellent point about how you, Lesa, and Dru Ann rarely cover the instant NYT bestsellers. And all have a large and faithful following. So many of us want more than what's found on the NYT list.

When Meanderings and Muses was showcasing authors (sometimes 3 a week), I was getting an average of 450 hits per day, and more than one author let me know about spikes in their on-line sales, some of whom were debut, unheard of, and often self-published. I loved that.

As a matter of fact, Louise Penny was one of those showcased authors, back with her first book when she was basically an unknown.

Keep up the good work - I love what you do and love that you keep it fresh so it doesn't seem like a job for you to do, but a pleasure for you and for us.

Kristopher said...

I've long been a fan of your Meanderings and Muses blog Kaye. It's just possible that I first heard about Louise Penny on there (or possibly Lesa's blog).

It's so important to showcase those newer authors. But it takes a slew of blogs to do that, because one person can only read so much.

I know that BOLO Books has increased the sales of books. I don't say that to boast or brag, but because my followers are constantly writing me to say thank you. They may not have bought that book without seeing it on a blog (mine or one of the others) and that is what makes it so enjoyable.

I am really all about getting people to read, so as long as I know I am doing that, I will continue.

Karen in Ohio said...

I don't know how you keep up. Between this blog and other mystery blogs, friends who recommend books, two book clubs, B&N's Nook Free Friday selections, Kindle bargains, and freebies from conferences, I have hundreds of unread books here. If the electronic world ended tomorrow and/or I had to be housebound for the rest of my life, I would still never run out of things to read.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

Kristopher said...

I hear you Karen. Sometimes I wonder how I keep up as well. There are many books I would love to get to, but I have to realize I have limits. I do make reading a priority every day, but anyone who follows my facebook page also knows that I am always going to the theater, dinners, conferences and "my day job" as well. I do need more hours in a day.

Dru said...

What a great post Kristofer.

I like that we serve different readers, all to get the word out about books and the pleasure of reading.

What brings me joy is when a reader lets me know that they bought a book from reading one of the guest post on my blog and an author tells me there was an increase in their sales after they appeared on my blog.


Kristopher said...

Thanks Dru Ann. For those that don't know Dru's site is a great one for many reasons, but especially for advice on the cozy genre. She knows her stuff!


Janet Gilbert said...

This post pulls the curtain back to reveal the serious time commitment of a dedicated, professional reviewer. And Kris, you are "The Wizard of Whodunit." Look, everyone knows you have to read a lot of books and then spend time crafting a review for the worthy ones--but all of that social media stuff and Internet searching sounds like a job on top of a job. Good thing it's your passion, Kris, that definitely comes through!

Kathy Reel said...

Well, Kristopher, you know that I love you and your blog, and I am trying to learn from you how to get my reading blog out there more. You have introduced me to some amazing people, authors and others, and I consider you one of my top reading resources, as well as a friend. Bouchercon 2013 in Albany was my first Bouchercon, and it began so many good things for me as a reviewer and blogger, with meeting you there (at the Reds' panel, of course) was one of the best parts. On branding, I think you have achieved perfection, and I'm still searching for that special branding for my blog. A friend that accompanied me to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest last weekend commented that I really jumped in and made connections with the authors. I replied that you have to be willing to do the work if you want to establish relationships with authors and expand your reading base, thus bringing it back to your blog and sharing with others. Of course, it's a labor of love, and you, my friend, are one hard-working book enthusiast.

I do have a few authors that support my blog, but I'm hoping that you, my blog guru, will advise me further on that. I hadn't thought about testimonials, and, of course, you have given me yet another great idea.

I like that BOLO is positive in its philosophy. My blog follows the same path, with reviewing and featuring books and authors that I am genuinely excited about reading. Since starting to receive more ARCs in the past couple of years, I feel an obligation to authors, too, to make the time to read the book, give feedback, and promote books to others. Like you, I naturally gravitate towards connections with authors whose books I know I will enjoy, so the obligation to promote them is fun.

I so wish I were going to Malice to connect with you there, but I will be at Bouchercon, where I intend to corral you into much enjoyable conversations and some fun activities. Because, as well as a master blogger, you are a fun person. Gee, I wonder if others will realize I adore you. Hehehe!

k said...

I knew you would chime in Kathy, and I am so glad that you did.

Blogs don't happen over night and though it might not always seem like it, BOLO Books has a long way to go still. It certainly helps when sites like SHOTS e-zine (in the UK) and CrimeSpree start to request reprints of one's reviews, but more important than that is finding a core readership who respects and values your opinion (because, let us not forget that it is only an opinion).

You will get there, my friend. I have already seen that happening for you. But I'll take any excuse to sit down with you and discuss books! See you in Raleigh.

Kristopher said...

Obviously, that above comment is by me, Kathy. ;)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lesa! DruAnn! Kathy! It's such a joy to live in this community.

ANd the conventions are a wonderful place to catch up. We are concocting the Reds panel for Malice right now--and whoa.it's gong to be--well unusual. YOu'll be there, right?

Maybe we can make you reviewers part of a category..hmm. Pssst. Reds, don't you think?

Yes, I know I'm being secretive. We cannot wait to share the Reds panel! And you all will hear about it first.

Cathy Ace said...

Great post, Kristopher! I remember meeting you at Bouchercon 2013 and was very impressed by what you said at the reviewer/blogger panel. I've followed you ever since, and enjoy reading your insights. However, I should point out that you and some of your fellow bloggers (esp. Dru Ann, Lesa, Kaye and Kathy) are totally to blame for the fact that my TBR pile frequently topples over, sometimes giving my dogs a real start! :-) Thanks for all you do - and please keep doing it?

Kristopher said...

Thanks Cathy. That panel at Bouchercon was really fun. We are trying to put together something similar for Raleigh.

You know I'll be at the JRW panel at Malice, Hank. Wouldn't miss it! Looking forward to seeing everyone again soon.

Mark Baker said...

My TBR pile continues to grow whether I want it to or not. (Really, can't I get one peak off the range at some point? Pretty please?) I rarely attend conferences unfortunately, but I use all the other ways that Kristopher mentioned to find out about new books.

And I have a blog. I've actually been reviewing online since 2001, but my blog is relatively new, just with an archive of a bunch of my reviews. I do review everything I read, but I try to stick with the books I know I'll enjoy. After all, reading is a hobby, and if I'm not interested in reading it, I don't pick it up.

FChurch said...

In the olden days (B.I.--Before Internet), I learned of new books by browsing the shelves at the library or bookstores, by word-of-mouth, and by using BookPage. I've never focused on the NYT's bestseller list, because invariably those books are everywhere in plain sight.

Reading the jacket and inside synopsis AND the cover is enough to tell me whether or not I want to try a new author. Sometimes I dip into a new author and am not sure whether I want to try again--but if I find myself still thinking about the characters, the plot, the setting, then I'll usually try again--this happened with both Ellis Peters and Louise Penny.

But now, A.I.(After Internet), I can check out author's pages, blogs (Thank you, Kristopher and Kathy and and and!), Goodreads, Amazon reviews, and so on. I also use sites like fantasticfiction just to browse--I like that if I check out a favorite author's new work, it will bring up similar authors. I may use that to sample someone new as well.

Kristopher said...

There are so many online sites to gain information nowadays, FChurch. It truly is astounding.

I will say that one of my favorite things about my Kindle (any e-reader really) is that I can sample a chapter before I commit. I don't use that feature for the blog choices much (since I have to choose them long before they are published), but certainly use that feature when shopping for other reading. It's good for a reminder of what I intended to buy as well.

Kathy Reel said...

Hank, Cathy, and FChurch, you including me in the bloggers after my post means a lot to me. This beautiful little community here at this blog has done much to encourage my going forth with enthusiasm. I gain so much comfort here, as I know we all do. Reds, you have created a little heaven on Earth here.

Kristopher, if I can sneak into the Raleigh Reviewers and Bloggers panel, I would love to participate. However, if not, if it's already set in motion with people in place, I completely understand and will be happy to just attend it.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Love pulling back the current a bit and seeing how one mystery reviewer works his magic -- thanks, Susan and Kristopher!

I confess I sometimes choose a book because it's garnered lots of talk and as a writer, I want to know what the buzz is about. That's how I first picked up Louise Penny. Others I choose because I've heard, or know from past reads, that the author is particularly good at some element of craft that I want to focus on. And write -- er, right -- now, I'm reading so I can vote in a few categories next weekend at Malice!

Leslie Calhoun said...

I belong to a mystery book club of about 9 women of various ages. We have varied tastes but commit to reading the chosen book each month. (Grandkid news and recipes are saved for the lunch we attend after the meeting.) I have found many authors I would have NEVER have picked up and read through the book club - and made friends I wouldn't have found either.

Kristopher said...

Bookclubs are so great for that, aren't they Leslie C.? There is nothing like other frequent readers talking about books to generate some new titles to add to a TBR pile.

And Leslie B. - I was right there with you a few weeks back, trying to make sure I had read the nominees for the Agatha Award. You'd think most of them would have already crossed my path (and indeed, most had), but there were a few I had to catch up on. Fun times!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Hi Kristopher--what fun to find you here on the blog today! Love hearing about how you choose and read books. Do you ever have authors bugging you about why theirs wasn't selected? It's hard, I know, because a writer's heart and soul gets poured into a book...

Katie Baer said...

I salute Kristopher for committing to review only in a positive vein. I aim to do that, also in my blog-- http://exlibrisnc.blogspot.com
(which covers all fiction, not only mysteries (but have reviewed work by Margaret Maron, Louise Penney, and Vicki Lane).

However, I read one book (not a mystery!) that was so widely acclaimed--and, in my opinion, so bad--I did whinge, but did not name the author. To my surprise, many people pushed to know the title so they could avoid the book! But I didn't relent.

Susan O'Brien said...

What a treat to get a peek behind the scenes at BOLO Books. I have so much respect for Kristopher's reviews and positive approach. When I read his review of my debut mystery, I wanted to frame it! I'm so glad he was a guest here today. Thanks, Jungle Reds!

Kristopher said...

Thanks Susan. Finding Sky was a terrific debut and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we hear your name called during the Agatha Award presentations.

I'm off to check out your blog, Katie. Anyone who is a fan of those ladies you mentioned must know what they are talking about. ;)