Phil, the blogger behind A Fantasy Reader, is another of those bloggers I stumbled on way back when. His main focus is Epic Fantasy, but he covers other subjects as well. My favourite type of post of his are the polls he does. He comes up with a poll and does a sort of round up article when they wrap up, that I always find very interesting. Plenty of fodder for a Blogger Query in my opinion, so I asked him and Phil said yes. Thus, today I get to share his answers with you lot. I hope you enjoy them.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Philippe Sylvain?
A 33 years old geek who sort of evolved into a software architect taking some free time to write a Fantasy reading blog. I have a son who is slowly showing some sign of geekiness but I can’t be blamed for that! Imagine the library of Fantasy books he has access to!
I live in Canada, more exactly in Quebec, and as most of my fellow Quebecers, my native language is French. Sadly, though, I don’t like translations much and there’s only so much Epic Fantasy written in French (good ones at least). I’m desperately trying to evade from the real 20th century reality through Fantasy reading, gaming and watching movies, provided that it’s in the past or future and swords are involved! I’m also trying to write a novel but I have always been kind of lazy about it even if I accumulated lots of ideas over the years… can someone kick my ass or lend me some free time?
What got you into blogging?
After roaming the web in hunt of interesting Fantasy to read and following several blogs over the years, I developed a compulsion to share my opinion with others, whether they wanted it or not! Seriously, I wanted to write about my reading experience in a more exhaustive way than writing comments on the reviews of other bloggers and I wanted to share interesting tidbits and news about Fantasy, mostly Epic, with everyone willing to listen.
Back in 2009, the relation between the bloggers and their followers fascinated me. I wanted to share this kind of relationship even if I knew I wouldn’t gather the traffic of my favourite blogs at the time, A Dribble of Ink, Speculative Horizons, Dark Wolf’s Fantasy reviews, The Wertzone or Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review. Things have changed since then and I found out that traffic isn’t the most important element of blogging, but at least, I have developed this connection and found it gratifying.
Moreover, it was a challenge I issued to myself. As I mentioned, my native language is French. Therefore, writing a blog in English allowed me to practice my skills.
Why A Fantasy Reader?
Simply put, it’s what I consider myself to be as a literature addict, an important element defining me. When I started the blog, I had no inkling as to the quantity of visitors I would bewitch and the name of the blog wasn’t really important. Aside from some titles with dragon in it, the only other name I thought about was Mightier than the Sword, part of the famous quote but the name was already taken by Aidan from A Dribble of Ink for a page about his projects. By now, I think that the name is too generic (maybe a small missed opportunity at coolness and it would look weird if I’m ever blurbed in a book) but I’m used to it and associated with it so it won’t change.
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
I think that the specification of the blog for Epic Fantasy could be labelled as unique. However, it can also be a double-edged sword since someone looking for the whole Fantasy spectrum could be disappointed even if I cover larger than the sub-genre from time to time. Then, what ends up as my final and most important selling point is probably my reviews and the personality I put into it and into the subjects and polls I explore, that’s the heart and soul of my blog.
What are your goals for your blog?
To keep blogging as long as possible! I hope I will always have enough time to share with everyone who is passionate about Fantasy literature, especially Epic Fantasy. I’m also thinking about a return to interviewing, even if I know that I have only one posted so far, mostly because the two ones I sent afterward where turned down for lack of time from the authors… Finally, I have an idea for the blog I’m developing and you should hear about it soon enough.
Another goal would be to have a greater presence on the social networks (with everything related to the blog) but I lack time to do so.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
I’m in an eternal state of questioning about the subject and I blogged about it. Every time I rate a book I review I reconsider the reasons behind it but I still prefer to score them. Sometimes, I feel like a rating is not a good representation of what I’m trying to convey with a review I wrote. I fear that some visitors will only scroll down to the score and miss every nuances that I bring in the review. That’s one of the reasons why I broke my ratings into five specific scores and an overall score.
When you look at the ratings on websites like Goodreads, I think that the number of ratings eventually gives it some credit. However, I will always stay dubious in front a rating without a review to back it up.
Then, there’s also the rating system involved. I like stars more than a ten points system (mostly because of the half points) but I asked my readers about it and they said they preferred the actual system. In the end, is it important if books get an 8.7 or 8.5? It’s a way of showing that you preferred one of them but the value of it stop there and it becomes problematic when you compare the ratings between books. With stars though, it’s harder to differentiate the better book, I see it more as an expression of a feeling, like highly recommended or stay away from it.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
Absolutely, they are important and have a purpose that can’t be denied. However, the justification behind it is paramount. Bashing an author or his work is out of the question but the readers have to know it if you didn’t like something, that’s one of the reason why they follow you, provided that the reviewer is able to articulate clearly what he found to be negative about the book. Even if a review is negative, it could be an interesting read for someone else by judging the criteria that made the reviewer dislike the book.
Two years ago, there was an extensive debate about it after a negative review by The Speculative Scotsman for The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman. The power of a negative review was analyzed and the principal aspect that was highlighted was that someone who hears about a negative review could be influenced by it without taking into account the opinion of the critic in comparison with it. I don’t believe that it’s actually the case with many readers. Usually, we share several interests with the reviewers we follow and we come to know their taste. Then, it’s easier to make a well-considered decision based on the review, negative or not.
In my case, I can’t say that it happened very often to write one and I think that it’s a sign that I was able to choose the books I wanted to read without stumbling upon one deserving a negative review. I tend to finish every novel I pick up (with one small exception in the last years) and therefore if I read a book in the future that I really don’t like and find the need to share, a negative review it will be.
One of the regular features of your blog, is the polls you run which I always enjoy. How do you come up with those? Are they just questions that come up, which you save or do you sit down and think of one when it’s time for the next poll?
It’s a mixture of both. Most of the time the questions come to me when I’m reading some comments on a blog or looking into the talk of the town in the Fantasy blogosphere and I always hold a list of future polls I want to make. There are so many subjects to explore! On the other hand, sometimes I have to dig deeper to find an interesting idea. In these cases, one hour in the spa with my girlfriend and a good bottle of wine always ends up bearing fruit. [Ed. Note: That sounds like an interesting approach ;-)]
Originally, I wanted to get to the bottom of the elements characterizing the typical reader of Fantasy. However, as I always mention when I write a retrospective of a poll concerning this kind of subject, it is far from scientific, mostly so when taking into account the number of participants!
By your own admission, you’re a serial series starter. Is there one series, beyond the obvious ones such as Martin and Jordan, that is taking way too long to be wrapped up to your liking?
If indeed I am a serial series starter, which is the case, we seem to be partners in crime! You’ve got quite an impressive list! [Ed. Note: Guilty as charged! I do seem to start a lot of series.]
Aside from the ones you mentioned, I don’t think there really is a series I’m reading right now that is taking too long to end or is becoming too diluted, it’s more a question of eagerness for me. In fact, since there are precisely so many series to follow, I rarely feel impatient toward an author because a series would take time before finishing. However, the danger of spreading the storyline in too many directions like Jordan did is always present in big series and authors like Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and Brent Weeks will have to be careful not to fall into the trap with their current work.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Blogs have a considerable importance for my reading choices, mostly to discover new books that flew under my radar. When you find a blogger with similar taste, it becomes a great source of potential books to pick up. I still spend a lot of time reading reviews from other bloggers but the only direct influence it has in my choices is probably my reading pile order. As you mentioned, I’m a serial series starter but I will often base my choice from the new releases from the series that I have already started. Moreover, since I receive so many books from the publishers, more often than not, my choice will be from my gut feeling after reading a synopsis.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
I think that the relationship between bloggers and the business is mostly a healthy one. The blogs have an important role and the publishing industry realize it. We do indeed receive ARCs and free books but for the most part, the majority of us are staying impartial. Word-of-mouth, be it in a positive or negative manner, has always been one of the best form of promotion for the book business and blogs are one of the best word-of-mouth evolution on the web. The blogs are often creating the buzz the publishers are looking for. Will it remain so, I can’t tell but even if there seems to be no end to the new blogs popping up, the book business can’t miss that opportunity.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
I’m currently reading Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, which is probably the book I was most eager for in 2012 and listening to The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks. So far, both are pretty amazing.
Even if it may not be the best book of the year, I’m certainly eager about A Memory of Light to finally find out how Rand will save the world. Aside from this, I’d say that Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch and the second Stormlight Archives novel by Brandon Sanderson are at the top of the list. In addition, aside from George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, one of my favourite authors is Steven Erikson. He will probably come up next year with the second novel for the Kharkanas trilogy but what I’m most eager for from him is his future Karsa trilogy, which seems too far away!
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Gaming! I have been playing video games for much longer than I have been reading. I admit that I easily get lost for hours when I’m playing a video game, mostly so when it’s an immersive RPG and I often miss hours of sleep to play longer. It’s something that sadly, I’m unable to do when reading since I have a bad tendency to fall asleep with my book in hands if I’m reading late at night. With my son now of an age to play, I think that good playing times are ahead of me! [Ed. Note: That sounds like fun.]
However, since I don’t have enough time to write everything I would want to write on my blog, I’m only writing some rare digressions about gaming on A Fantasy Reader.
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 believe that most of the librarians in the world would be extremely disappointed to see the way I shelve my books. First of all, it’s not by genre since a significative number of my books are Epic Fantasy. Therefore, I haven’t come up with anything clever. I would say that it’s essentially classified by authors that I like and by the bookbinding type of the books. The authors whom I love best are entitled to the upper shelves and the hardcovers and paperback are grouped together whereas the mass-market paperback form piles on the shelves. In some cases, as for the last books of Joe Abercrombie, I tend to show the most beautiful covers by putting them up front.
Merci beaucoup, Phil! You can find Phil at A Fantasy Reader or follow him on Twitter.