The Tattered Scroll wasn’t called The Tattered Scroll when I started reading Jeff’s blog. It was called Fantasy Book News & Reviews and later Genre Reader. So I’ve been following Jeff for a while now. So he really couldn’t be lacking in my Blogger Query series. Fortunately he agreed and you can find his answers below.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Jeff?
Let’s see…I’m a dad of a 5-year old daughter, a husband, a mobile software developer, a meteorologist, a reader, and a big sports fan (especially baseball and american football).
What got you into blogging?
I wish I could say it was to share my love of epic fantasy, which is all I read when the blog first started as Fantasy Book News & Reviews back in 2007. But the real reason I started the blog 5+ years ago is to get review copies. Not because I wanted free books, but because I wanted books early. I was an impatient reader, so if I could cut 2 months off my wait time to read a highly anticipated book by getting an arc..I was all for it. I know that doesn’t sound very noble, but its the ugly truth. The even uglier truth is my blog never really caught on with publishers, so the dream of arcs barely materialized. Once I had been blogging for awhile, I realized I liked the blogging process, the occasional author interview, talking with other readers in the comments…which is the reason the blog is still around 5 1/2 years later.
Why The Tattered Scroll?
This one is also a little weird. I started a new job in January 2011, and my employer blocked access to the Blogger domain. So I could not access the blog during work hours. Thus, I decided to move the blog to its own domain. As for the new name, I wanted something that said ‘this is a book blog’, but I did not want it to be a fantasy specific name, since I was beginning to read and review some non-fantasy books (primarily espionage). [Ed. Note: I was around for this, I even voted in the poll.]
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
Hmmm…I guess my unique selling point might be the e-book deal posts (though only good for those in the US), my “Fantasy Series Ending in 2012/2013″ page, and maybe my reviews and thoughts on e-readers and tablets. I would like to continue to blog more about my e-readers and tablets..especially posts related to tips & tricks for reading on those devices. [Ed. Note: You’re definitely the only one I know who tests and reviews all these devices.]
What are your goals for your blog?
My biggest goal is to maintain enough interest to keep the blog going. Several times in the last couple of years, I’ve come close to ending it. After 5 years, I know my blog isn’t going to be one of the big ones, but that’s not a huge deal. As long as I still enjoy it, and people still read it sometimes, I’ll likely keep plugging along. But it does get tough sometimes, especially if I spend 40 minutes writing up a review (or a Reaction, as its called on my blog), and the review gets no comments. So then I think: “was the review terrible?”, “was no one interested in the book”, “did anyone even read the review”..all of those thoughts are hard. Though maybe they are just a sign of blogger who is too sensitive. It’s not like I comment on every review I read, either (though due to the internet restrictions at work, while I can read most blogs I follow, our internet filter prevents me from being able to comment).
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
I go back and forth on this one. For some reason, I like to rate espionage novels, but not fantasy novels. No idea why. I did rate books during the early days of the blog, but the more reviews I wrote, the harder it was to rate a book. Before I could apply a rating, I had to look back at ratings for previous books, and determine how the just reviewed book compared to other books. It made the whole rating thing too complicated, so I dropped it.
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
I believe in being honest, so I tend to post my thoughts on a book no matter how much I liked or didn’t like it. Though if I truly dislike a book, I will likely stop reading before the end. My to-read pile is so big, I don’t have time to read a book I don’t like, just so I can say I finished it. Sometimes when I stop reading a book, I decide not to mention it on the blog. But other times, I will write up a “Couldn’t Finish It” post about the book, describing why I didn’t like a novel enough to keep reading. These posts are tough, because I don’t like being negative. But at the same time, I don’t want my blog to appear to be just a series of “this book was awesome” reviews. Negative reviews are even harder when it happens to be a book I received for free as a digital arc. I feel bad for writing a negative post, then sending an email to the publisher saying “thanks for the book, here is my review which totally rips the book”. At the end of the day, though, I want to post by honest thoughts, whether it is a book I bought, or a book I received from the publisher.
You tend to read (and review) a wide variety of genres: thriller, crime, fantasy etc. Do you find reviewing one type of book easier than another?
Actually, I do find it easier to write reviews of thrillers and mysteries. I’ve mentioned on the blog (about 100 times) how bad of a review writer I think I am, and that I dread sitting down to write a review once I’ve finished reading. There are so many bloggers that write high-quality reviews, that maybe I let it intimidate me a bit. Dunno. I think it would help my fantasy reviews if I took notes while I read. Many fantasy novels are so long… many times as I read I will think “I should mention this in my review”, but by the time I finish the book, it’s been 2 weeks and I have forgotten most of my mental notes. However, taking notes would take the fun out of reading for me, as it would make reading feel more like a chore. Also, I find that thinking about the review while reading a book, distracts me a bit and puts up a little barrier between me and the book. So all of those things combined lead to me disliking the entire review writing process. Not a good thing for a book review blog, huh? However, when I read espionage novels, the review writing process doesn’t interfere with my reading as much. I think part of the reason is that I don’t have to think about detailing the world and the setting. Since the espionage novels take place in our world, usually current day..that means I don’t have to spend the time or mental energy to figure out how to put that stuff in a review. I can just say the espionage novel takes place in the current time, and jumps between the USA and Europe, and readers can fill in the rest. Which means I can concentrate more on reviewing the story and characters, instead of a fantasy world and its history. Guess this answer has gone on long enough. I just hope it made sense :) [Ed. Note: It does, though I’d have put it the other way round, as I find reviewing thriller/espionage/crime far harder due to the need to keep from spoiling the plot, which is far easier for me in reviewing speculative fiction.]
You’ve often stated your preference of reading only finished series. Does that only apply to fantasy series or to crime/thriller series as well. If not, why the different approach?
This does not apply to espionage books, mostly because each book is self-contained. Yeah, the characters in an espionage series will appear in multiple books, but the storylines are (usually) taken care of within a single book. My “book memory” isn’t great (maybe because I read while listening to sports on tv in the background), so I have a REALLY hard time remembering details in a series if I have to read each book 1 year (or more) apart. That is the biggest reason I prefer completed series in fantasy. If I read as they are published, I miss way too many little hints and details from the previous books. And thus the impact of the story is lessened. For espionage, all I have to remember from book to book are the characters, and because the authors know a reader might be jumping into book 3 or book 8, they are pretty good about filling in any character background a reader might need to know in the new book. And once again, the real world factor comes into play. With espionage, I don’t have to remember the world’s history, political alliances, etc, like I do when returning to a fantasy series. Thus, I don’t have any problems reading espionage books as they are published.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Since the only other blogger I follow that reads espionage is Civilian Reader, blogs don’t really impact what I choose to read. And when I read fantasy, since I tend to wait for the series to be complete, I’ve had several years of reading blogs, forums, reviews to determine whether a series is for me (or not). I guess blogs do play a role for me, but not usually in the “I’m gonna read this book next” way.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
I’m not really sure. I guess our reviews are like a publicity tool, though I think it makes bloggers nervous (or indignant) if you phrase it that way. While we review to share our opinions of books, we do want others to read a book that we really liked. So I think blogs serve as an “unofficial” publicity outlet, whether we want to admit it or not. But the trick is to prevent author or publishing ties from corrupting our reviews.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
I just finished The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima last night and each book in the series has been better than the one before. I own the last book in the series, The Crimson Crown, but haven’t started reading it yet. I’m also reading The Big Maria by Johnny Shaw, which is a bit of a caper novel filled with lots of low-brow humor. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I need to read The Intercept by Dick Wolf next, since I specifically requested that one. As for what I am eagerly awaiting..A Memory of Light, even though my goal of being ready for it will not happen. I am only on book 5, so I have a long way to go. I am also greatly looking forward to The Enemy by Tom Wood due in May 2013. I believe this book came out in the UK last year, and I have impatiently been waiting for a US release. His first novel The Killer was awesome (he went by the name Tom Hinshelwood then).
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
Other than the easy answer (my family), I would say sports and gadgets. I tend to buy just about every e-reader that comes out. I might not keep them if I don’t like them, but I usually end up buying them to try it then returning to the store if I don’t feel its worth keeping. I currently own 4 e-readers (Nook Simple Touch, Kobo, Kobo Mini, Kindle Touch) and 3 tablets (iPad 3, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD 8.9). And am always keeping up with what is rumored to be coming out next. [Ed. Note: Any plans to test the iPad Mini?]
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?
For some reason, I only read espionage novels in e-book format, so most of my novels are fantasy. I used to shelve them in 2 big categories, and 2 minor categories. The big categeries were Read or Not Read, and the minor were by format. So I would group my unread tpb and hardcover books together, my underead mmpb books together, my read tpb/hc books together, and my read mmpb books together. A year or so ago, I got rid of the read/unread categorization. So now all of my books are grouped into 2. The hardcover and tradepaperback fill my 7 bookshelves, and my mmpb are stacked on the floor. I am gradually getting rid of my mass market paperbacks, as they are getting replaced by digital books. But I still buy hardcovers, which means I own one physical copy and one digital copy of each fantasy book in my collection.
Thank you, Jeff! You can visit Jeff at The Tattered Scroll or follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.