Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, March 7, 2014

Interview with The Bookie Monster, Book Reviewer Extraordinaire

Hey, kids, we've got a special and somewhat unusual treat for you on the blog today.  In the writing world (and on this blog in particular) we often get caught up talking about the dichotomy of authors (like me) and publishing industry professionals (like any of my various publishers or hopefully future agent.)  And yet, somehow, we almost never find ourselves talking about...well...readers.  And, really, it's all about the reader.  Without them, none of the rest of us exist.  So today I invited a special guest to bring us a somewhat different perspective.  Shana Festa A.K.A. The Bookie Monster is a well-regarded reviewer in the horror community.  She doesn't get paid a dime for her reviews.  She's just a reader who likes to share her opinions of various modern classics of the horror genre.  So today we're going to be talking to her about that third and perhaps most important pillar of the publishing community: the reader.  But first, a brief introduction.

About the reviewer:

Shay Festa A.K.A. The Bookie Monster reviews horror and paranormal books, with an emphasis (but not limited to) zombie fiction. With a background in Psych Nursing, Shay brings her unique perspective to the online reading community.  You can follow her on FacebookTwitter, or her website.


Steve Kozeniewski:  Can you tell us about how you got your mascot?  Also, does he have a name?  (And, if not, may I suggest "L'il Braineater?")

Bookie Monster:  Sadly, there’s no exciting tale for my little monster. Having zero artistic talent, I knew I had to look elsewhere and found a ‘gig’ on Unfortunately, I chose someone with a very limited grasp on the English language, so my request for a scary, horror or zombie related logo, was interpreted in such a way that I was delivered a cute green blob that looked more like a booger than a monster. But the little guy gave me such a gut-busting laugh that I just had to use him.

"L'il Braineater"

Then I went back to, found an amazing graphic designer, and had her decorate the booger for a bunch of holidays. In fact, my St. Patty’s day logo went live this morning. What do you think? 

Top o' the monstering to ya!

Next up…Easter!

SK:  I'm looking forward to Easter.  I hope he resembles Louise Belcher from Bob's Burgers.  The netiquette for querying an agent or a publisher is very clear and easily accesible online.  For reviewers, not so much.  Can you tell us what you prefer? to see in a review request (i.e. a hard sell, a polite call-to-action, the entire synopsis, a one sentence logline...)?

BM:  I actually have an automated submission process that begins with a questionnaire accessed from the review policy page. I request a plethora of things, most of the time more than I use, but it makes it easier on myself or one of the other reviewers. And means we spend the bulk of our time writing a quality review instead of spinning our wheels to search for the info.

I subscribe to the work smarter not harder motto. The site itself is a beast to maintain, add in managing a large team and trying to read a book a day (not to mention a full time job) and things can easily overwhelm me. So I integrated my submission list with a review request queue that populates for me. Not only is it efficient, but it allows us to see a real time list of submissions by date and select the oldest submissions as our next read. My next wish list item is to find a way to do it all through Wordpress and populate the info into posts. So if anyone knows how to make that magic happen, I am a willing student!

I don’t need the hard sell, and try to accept submissions whenever they align with my target audience and my own and team genre preferences. With so many books already in queue, I’ve actually closed submissions to all but zombie fiction in hopes we can get caught up. I’ve still got a few November submissions to plow through!

SK:  I understand you're a nurse by day.  First of all, can you take a look at this lump on my rear end?  Second, as a medical professional, how do you feel about the depiction of gore in horror?  Does it bother you when authors get anatomy wrong or can you just "switch off" your professional mind and strap in for the ride?  Or are some mistakes okay but others are egregious?

BM:  Um…lucky for me, nurses don’t diagnose, so I suggest seeing a physician for that lumpy bum.

I’ll admit there have been a few occasions I’ve gotten frustrated by some glaring inconsistencies. I look at it this way. Any time you write outside your scope of knowledge, you run the risk of getting it wrong. Research, research, research. Most nurses would say it’s not easy to “switch it off”. Nursing becomes a part of who you are and changes your perspective on a lot of things. They’ll also probably tell you that everything revolves around bowel movements…but that’s beside the point.

It absolutely pulls me right out of the story when I see these type of sloppy errors. Even before I was a nurse I read a piece of zombie fiction (it will remain unnamed to avoid shaming the author) where a character suffers a broken arm…when described in detail, the author tells readers it was the tibia. It was all I could think of for the remainder of the book. For my current project I researched even the smallest of things to make sure I didn’t give misinformation. Guns, helicopters, even houseboats! As a nurse, you’re taught to question everything, and if you still have questions, ask for the evidence based practice. My poor husband has to be out of his mind by now. Every few days he’ll say something like “they said can cause cancer,” or something else random. I don’t let him get passed that sentence before retorting “who is ‘they’ and where’s the study to prove it?”

SK:  In the "Authors Behaving Badly" category (and there's no need to name names - but you can if you want!) what was the absolute worst reaction you ever had to a review?  Did they mail you a box of horse dung? 

BM:  I rarely give out my physical address, so thankfully no dung. But I have had two very awkward interactions with authors who felt their reviews did not meet their expectations. Both reviews were written by two very talented members of my team and surprisingly, they weren’t bad reviews. Both books received 3.5 stars, which equates to “I liked it” as described in our policies. The first author emailed me asking me to remove the review because it wasn’t helpful to them, and they felt it would not help them make any sales. Additionally, they were so affected by the review that they told me they had been excited to start the next book in the series that night, but now they may not be able to. I was quite taken aback, and replied that like any art, writing is subjective. Just because we didn’t love it does not mean others wouldn’t feel differently. In the end they asked that I put the review back up. Then a month later I received an email from the same author out of the blue. The content made me very uncomfortable, and I actually told them that in my response. The gist of their email was an in depth explanation of why they felt the review was bad, and they felt the reviewer did not read the entire book because they had opinions that didn’t jive with how the author felt their work should have been perceived. I felt like a ping pong ball.

The second awkward moment also came in the form of an author email. This author sent an email strongly disagreeing with the review and even insulted the reviewer, who happens to be a successful author. They felt the small things pointed out were personal tastes of the reviewer alone and the author felt a loss of 1.5 stars was too aggressive and it deserved a higher rating. I must have read that review a dozen times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. But the review was exactly what the author had been promised. An honest opinion. I was actually confused, because the review called out many positive things, and a few small but important negative items that would impact my opinion of the book had I been reading it. I thanked the author for their feedback and apologized for not being able to give them a five star rating. Then again, two months go by and I receive an email from the same author thanking us for the valuable feedback our review provided. They had made changes based on the things my reviewer called out and were rereleasing their book. Additionally, they submitted the second book in the series and said the feedback they had received from us on the first book was “fantastic and invaluable”.

SK: Redemption time: what was the best author reaction you ever had to a review? Did they bake you a cake with a L'il Braineater topper?

BM:  There have been so many. I have been blessed with an amazing list of submissions. And the authors have been incredible and gracious. I receive emails from authors all the time thanking me for the reviews my team and I have written. I can’t pick a winning moment, but I will call out some early ones that gave me such joy and pride.

The first moment for me was when I went to the Permuted Press website to look for a new book to read and I saw a banner on their front page advertising Iain McKinnon’s new release, DEMISE OF THE LIVING, quoting my review. I remember jumping around the house and doing the happy dance that something I wrote was being used to promote a book.

The second time I did the happy dance was when the same exact thing happened. I was browsing the web and found one of my quotes in an ad for Devan Sagliani’s UNDEAD L.A. Devan has been one of my favorite authors to review since I started The Bookie Monster. His work is really diverse and he writes both adult and young adult zombie novels.

Then the authors upped the ante and I started finding my name and quotes in the acknowledgement section of books. I had no idea it was there, and I opened the books and, BAM, there I was! Happy dance times a thousand!

SK: Since this was one of the questions YOU asked ME, what Star Trek character would YOU be? (And the answer had better meet my standards as a superfan.)

BM:  Christine Chapel…she was a nurse!

SK: I grudgingly accept that as a deep enough cut to prove your fandom.  Well, thanks for stopping by Manuscripts Burn, Shay! Do you have any parting words for us?

BM:  “Beware the toes you step on today. They may be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.” Words to live by.

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