Since we’ve been discussing writing lately, I thought it would be a good time to ask long-time friend and book reviewer, Gary Roen, some questions about the book industry and to hopefully give some advice to newer writers based on his many years in the business.
SHARON: Please give us a little background on yourself.
GARY: In the 1970’s my parents and I started Chateau Publishing to publish my father’s book Murder of a Little Girl. I sold books, set up press tours and as we expanded worked with authors to market their books. I also was asked to do a radio show on WPRK in Winter Park Florida about sf and fantasy. Pat Flannigan and I did the show for two years and branched out into print media as well to promote books. It was there in 1979, that I began as a reviewer and have been constantly expanding where my reviews appear. Now, they are in Midwestbookreview.com, West Orlando News, Sodo News, and Natchez Sun to name a few. I later sold Murder of a Little Girl re-titled A Little Girl Is Missing, Evidence of Murder and several other titles to major publishers as an agent but stopped because authors were too hard to deal with so I became a reviewer and consultant to help authors better.
SHARON: On average, how many books do you receive in a month?
GARY: It varies each month the number of books I receive but it can be as high as 100 at times. This is because of the way books come to me. Here are some of the ways that happens. I receive titles from publishers each month that are delivered to my home through the many delivery companies. I also have authors, who contact me by e mail, or to the publications, or authors just find me somewhere on the internet and send me a copy. Also other ways are local publishers and I go to lunch and I am handed copies of books and if I speak at writer’s groups or conventions like Spooky Empire in October, Megacon in March and Oasis in May and book events like St Pete Times Reading Fest in October or UCF book festival in April where authors also hand me copies of titles or see that a copy is sent by their publisher. I network with authors who tell me about other writers who I make contact with or I contact publishers because I have seen something about a book or through the radio programs I do.
SHARON: What do you look for in a book?
GARY: A book is sent to me for me to make a comment. We should not forget that a review is nothing more than how the person feels about the book that has been presented. I do not speak for other reviewers but what I look for is the author has to present a story with a beginning middle and an end. I look for characters I feel something for and writing that is easy to read and enjoy. I also look for covers that make me want to read the book. So often that is not the case.
SHARON: What do you do if you think the books basically sucks?
GARY: If the book is bad I try to find something about it that was good by saying something like I know what the author was trying to do here but it doesn’t work for me.
SHARON: Do you ever have situations where your review is not appreciated by the author or the publisher?
GARY: Yes, authors are very bad about negative reviews even though I am trying to tell them what I think is wrong with it. They forget it is a personal opinion but they also don’t want to hear anything bad. I say something in the hope they will try to do better next time. Publishers are more understanding because they know I am not going to like everything I read.
SHARON: When we first got into book writing there weren’t a lot of choices except going to the New York publishing houses and hoping that they would like the story enough to invest a small sum of meney I getting it into print. There are so many alternative ways of getting a book published today that were not available years ago where now the writer is the one in control of the editing and cover art and even manner of publication. Do you think this has been good or bad for the business?
GARY: The publishing world has been both good and bad for authors and readers. For readers there are more choices than ever before but there are more things published that need work before they are in the hands of readers. There are lots more places for books to be printed and put on as e books or on the internet. Main stream publishers in New York are merging with each other, creating fewer places for writers to get published by the majors. POD (print on demand) publishers are also good and bad. Create Space and Outskirts are two good ones who work with authors to promote and sell books. Publish America and some others have bad reputations and will only take money from the writer and not do much else. Amazon is both good and bad. Good for readers because they can get a book cheaper than the bookstore but bad for writers and publishers because the money they receive is less than before. Like any other business there are good things and bad. You just have to weigh what’s best for you.
SHARON: Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
GARY: Donald E Westlake who wrote so many funny mysteries, James Patterson, who writes fast paced novels and is working with other authors to present adult and kids novels and get more people to read, Ben Bova for his hard science fiction that has great characters, tense situations and are believable. Jeffrey Archer for his family sagas including Mightier Than The Sword and the Aherns for the great storytelling in action adventure. These are just a few of my favorites. I have lots of them for different reasons.
SHARON: Any advice to someone who has written a book and his family and friends are telling him to go for it as it’s bound to be a best seller?
GARY: Stop thinking you will be the next Patterson, Stephen King, or Clancy. Just tell a great story as best as you can. Have it edited by professionals who are there to help whip it into shape. Learn to network, go to book events, sf conventions, comic conventions and do not be afraid to talk to people. If need be, hire someone to edit your book, help promote it and or find someone who does consultant work in publishing. Have also a thick shell and listen to criticism that is being done. Do not take it personally unless the person says you should not write again or something unkind like that because that is uncalled for, but it happens.
Thanks for your advice Gary.
Gary can be heard live on the My Home Town radio show at www.1520wbzw.com between 4:00 and 5:00 EST on the first Tuesday of each month and can be contacted directly at email@example.com.