One of the current rising stars of the book blogosphere is Justin Landon from Staffer’s Book Review. His thoughtful reviews and funny and creative way of writing up negative reviews coupled with awesome, thought-provoking articles have made him become a must-read not only for me, but for many in the SFF community. In addition, he’s also a dad to a toddler girl, so we have another thing in common besides our love for SFF. Justin is a funny guy and has the most interesting discussions on Twitter, where he’s quite active as well. Obviously, he was prime fodder for a Blogger Query, especially as he was one of the bloggers interviewed for the series that inspired Blogger Query. Here’s what Justin had to say:
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Justin Landon?
I’m the purveyor of my own little slice of genre heaven called Staffer’s Book Review (and occasional musings). The last part of that is pretty important because I write a lot more than just reviews. As for me personally, I’m a thirty-one year old husband and father who loves science fiction and fantasy. Strangely, I’m somewhat of a late convert after not reading genre between adolescence and my late twenties. Maybe that makes me like a late life convert to religion who feels compelled to remind everyone how holy they are. Yeah, that’s me with SFF. Read it or you’re going straight to hell.
What got you into blogging?
The money. I felt like it was time to make money and so I embraced blogging. Buying it? In reality I suffered a pretty traumatic knee injury two years ago. I was forced to give up basketball, which at the time was taking up around 15 hours a week of my free time. Combined with a wife who tends to go to bed very early, I felt like I needed a new outlet and I missed writing.
Initially I started the blog with the intent of merely reinvigorating my ability to form sentences. The ultimate goal was to start writing fiction after I got myself back into some habit of putting words to page. It turned out I really enjoyed writing reviews and commentary. I’d still like to write more fiction, but the truth is I get a lot of enjoyment out of what I write for the blog. I only wish someone would pay me to do it.
Why Staffer’s Book Review?
My original blog title was “Staffer’s Musings”. Six months in I realized two problems with it. One, it sounded like every other blog ever written. Musings is a terribly generic word. Two, it didn’t convey that I was a book blogger and that I wrote predominantly reviews. I couldn’t imagine someone quoting my review and crediting it to “Staffer’s Musings”. So I changed it to Staffer’s Book Review in an effort to sound more like what it is. Frankly, if I had it to do all over again I would call it something snappy and clever. I actually spent the last fifteen minutes trying to come up with something snappy and clever to include here, but I failed. You can see why the name of my blog is rather terrible.
As for why it’s Staffer, well…. suffice to say I work in politics and if you’re not an elected official you’re a staffer. And that’s all I’ll say about that unless you get me drunk at a convention. [Ed. note: are you coming to the 2013 World Fantasy Awards in Brighton? If so, I might just try that!]
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
I think I do two things that are relatively unique.
One, when I review crappy books I rip them apart in a humorous way. I have no idea whether they actually work as humor, but I think they do and my mom agrees! [Ed. note: never argue with a mom!] I use different characters, some made up, some ripped from literary history or pop culture, to have a sort of “screenplay” like dialogue about the book. I recently did it to John Scalzi’s new novel, Redshirts, if anyone is interested.
Two, I poke the hornets nest a lot. What I mean by that if I write a couple pieces every month that usually amount to me calling out some segment of the publishing community. Whether it’s literary snobs or publishing curmudgeons, I genuinely try to start debate. I want to get people talking about the industry so we can make it stronger. Again, I have no idea if it makes a bit of difference, but I try.
What are your goals for your blog?
Peter V. Brett asked me this question at Balticon and I had no idea how to answer it. Given the amount of time I invest in it, you’d think I’d have a better idea. The truth is I can’t afford to go into publishing as a career (unless those jobs pay a LOT more than I think they do). I don’t really see myself as an author, although I’d love to try someday. So where does that leave me? How to I leverage all the relationships I’m building with the SFF community?
I’m not entirely sure. If someone wants to talk to me about doing some freelance editing or slush reading, I’d probably take them up on it, but otherwise my blog is a creative outlet. It’s a place for me to exercise the part of my brain I don’t get to use anywhere else. Should I find a way to monetize it? Probably. But would it stop being fun then? We’ll see what happens. For now, I’m just enjoying it and if I start posting massive traffic numbers I’ll be happy to run sexual enhancements ads.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
I don’t do it. Mostly I don’t do it because I think it leads to people not reading my reviews and I’m an egotistical bastard who thinks people should read what I have to say! Seriously though, I think rating systems are flawed. No book falls perfectly into a 1-5 scale or a 1-10 scale or whatever. If I rated books I’d try far too hard to make sure it was a bell curve distribution, which would lead to constant reshuffling of the numbers. I don’t need the headache.
If people are REALLY curious, I do use Goodreads ratings for filing purposes on my Goodreads-shelf. They’re not my “official” rankings, but they make sorting books by like to dislike much easier.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
HELL YEAH! They’re fun to write. [Ed. note: and to read. I love Cheryl!] If that’s not enough, I believe that writing negative reviews is part of our job. We’re arbiters of taste. If an agent is the first line of defense, and a purchasing editor is the second line of defense, then the book reviewer is the reserve cavalry unit waiting to plug the hole in the line. Wow, that’s a bad metaphor. See, this is why I blog and don’t write. Regardless, we’re not publicists. It’s not our job to help author’s sell books. If the things we write and say help sell books… super! But, our responsibility is to our readers. Our responsibility is to point them toward good things to read, but also to steer them away from what not to. Or at least that’s how I feel about it.
You’ve only been blogging for about a year and a half and weren’t really familiar with fandom before that (according to your convention blog post.) What’s been the most fun to discover about the SFF community?
You know what, it came as no surprise, but it was nice to find out it was true. The SFF community is incredibly welcoming. I suppose it probably springs from the fact that most of us don’t feel terribly accepted in the mainstream culture, or at least our love for SFF isn’t. From the first day I started blogging NethSpace started reTweeting me. A month later Aiden Moher from A Dribble of Ink started hyping me. I’m their competition, but they want me to succeed. That’s awesome.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
I don’t read that crap! FanZines are where it’s at, sister! Ask your next question, quick.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
Ok, so I answered that last question in a flip manner, but I’m going to make sense of it now. Blogs are the future.
With the decline of the bookstore the vast majority of people moving forward will buy their books on-line. Decline in bookstores, means a decline in conversation between two people who love books. Ask anyone out there, what’s the best way to sell books? Their answer is always, “Word of mouth.” Well what happens when people stop running into each other in the stacks? When book store employees aren’t there to recommend stuff? When book clubs stop meeting in person? The answer is blogs. Blogs are the new conversation.
Did we ever imagine even ten years ago that on-line dating would be acceptable? That it would become one of the primary ways by which the modern single thirty something meets other modern single thirty somethings? No way! That shit was fringe! In that same way, I think publishers are slow to recognize the importance of blogs now and in the future. I don’t think blogs today are a major reason in to whether or not a book is success. But, that’s changing. Moving forward their importance is only going to grow. Amazon and Goodreads will always be the Match.com of book conversation. But, if the publishers want the blogging equivalent of eHarmony, a network of people who target specific readers, they’re going to need to start interacting with and treating blogs like major outlets. Because like it or not, we’re the word of mouth in a digital age.
So to answer your last question, blogs are the sole reason I choose what to read. Whether it’s Aidan Moher’s early cover unveils, or Civilian Reader’s early author interviews, or Mad Hatter’s new procurement posts, I rely exclusively on the other blogs to help me find the books that interest me. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
I’m currently reading a literary manuscript from a friend who’s published science fiction with a big-six imprint. I would tell you who, but then I’d be betraying a sacred trust handed down for generations. Not really, but I’m still not talking. The one novel I can’t wait to read this year is Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country. I’m a huge fan of his work and he keeps getting better with every novel. I’d probably consider stealing Ellen Wright’s (Orbit’s US publicist) pet to hold as ransom if I don’t get an early galley.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Fitness! Some of my readers know that I’m a competitive bodybuilder, but I suspect most don’t. I spend around ten hours a week at the gym and every other year I maintain a rigid diet to get under 5% body fat in order to get on stage. It’s a pretty ridiculous hobby all things considered, but I used to be very overweight and bodybuilding helped me get healthy. It still does, in fact.
Reading is a very complimentary hobby as long cardio sessions make for good reading time, and as I get lower and lower in caloric intake most dynamic activities become a challenge. I’ve debated about whether or not to blog about my next competition. Stay tuned! [Ed. note: That would be cool!]
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I don’t keep many books, to be honest. I have limited storage space so I probably only own between 50-75 books. However, I actually shelve them according to publisher, which is something ONLY a book blogger would do. It helps me see who I’m reading a lot and who I’m not reading enough.
Thanks for inviting me to do this, Mieneke. I can’t imagine anyone is that interested, but who doesn’t like talking about themselves?
Thank you for letting me interview you, Justin. And hey, if anything I am interested in your answers, but I suspect I’m not the only one! If you haven’t visited Justin’s blog before, run don’t walk and you can also (try and) keep up with Justin on Twitter. Thanks again for a very interesting interview, Mr. Landon!