Sun. Jul 21st, 2019

Alicia Smock: Writer. Secrets of a Popular Book Reviewer

13 min read

How’d you start your career? What was your initial reaction received from others when you announced you would be writing?

My career as a book reviewer can actually be more described as a side hobby that grew in a way I never believed it would.

Shortly after I graduated college in 2014, I found an ad from Examiner.com looking for freelance writers and they were looking for a writer in the Chicagoland area. I was accepted as a “Chicago Library Examiner,” but given I lived an hour away from the city, I couldn’t travel there to write as many articles as Examiner wanted.

I spoke with the help department at Examiner and asked if I could change my title. They changed it to a “Chicago Books Examiner”. I had no idea what to do with my new title, at first, but then after finishing Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I really wanted to write a review of it. After writing that first initial review, I figured, why not write more? I have been an avid reader since I was young, so I picked up another book and started reading.

I did not have a following when I started writing book reviews and did not receive compensation since I wasn’t as well-known, but it was a whole new experience for me and it became a hobby I found myself thoroughly enjoying.

After about a month of posting book reviews, Shadow Mountain Publishing in Salt Lake City, UT contacted me through my Examiner email and asked if I would be willing to review a few of their newer titles as well as interview three of their authors. Agreeing to review those titles and interview those authors was the true beginning of my career/ hobby as a book reviewer.

Since that first professional contact, I have had authors and publishers contact me here and there asking to review a single title or multiple titles. For nearly five years, I have been writing reviews of books from various genres written by authors who are either making their debut in the writing world or who have been a part of the community for some time.

I consider writing book reviews more of a hobby than a career because I do not get to write all day every day. I write reviews for free and that, unfortunately, doesn’t pay bills, so I work a job during the day and get to write book reviews by night.

Even with just the evenings and weekends to write, I still enjoy it immensely and realizing I have been writing reviews for nearly five years is crazy to think about. I have read so many amazing stories I would not have picked up on my own years ago and I have spoken with many authors and have learned about many different ways of writing. If I could go back in time, I would have definitely started writing reviews sooner.

 

What were your best and worst moments thus far?

Best: This one is tricky. I would probably have to say my best moment was when I was contacted by Shadow Mountain Publishing. When I first started writing my reviews, I didn’t have a following of readers and, as much as I loved writing the reviews, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t bummed out that I didn’t have people commenting on my reviews.

When Shadow Mountain Publishing sent me that first email, I was shocked. It took me a bit to realize that this was a legit publisher and they wanted ME to write reviews for them AND speak with some of their authors. After they had gone over all the titles, they asked where to ship the books to. I gave them my address and, five days later, I received a large box on my front doorstep.

When I opened that box and saw all of those beautiful books inside, I took them out and hugged them. For my family, this is not new for me to do. I have always found comfort in books and, as everyone is not without their phones nowadays, I am never without a book. I started reading one of the titles that same day. The rest is history.

Worst: My worst moment was actually fairly recent. I endured a stressful time in my life, a time when I was told by someone in my life that all of the hard work I did at my day job wasn’t good enough, and I allowed that to affect my work as a reviewer. While I can only review in the evenings and on weekends, these events at my day job caused me to slip into a minor depression. I felt like my writing wasn’t good enough and I allowed reviews to pile up, making no effort to actually write them.

Books reviews to me are like how writing a story is to an author. I want to give an author an in-depth and honest review, not just a review saying that “I liked the book” or “I didn’t write the book.” To me, if my in-depth review gets an author even one more reader, than I feel as if I have helped the author. With the reviews piling up, I felt like I was failing the authors I had been in contact with.

This was in the not so distant past, but I am slowly on the mend. The writing community has been so supportive and I am now in the process of formulating a game plan to catch up with my book reviews.

Who was your biggest supporter?

I have never had just one supporter, but so many. At the very beginning and even now, my parents and my older brother and sister were behind me as I explored the new territory of book reviewing and freelance writing.

As the years have gone by, I have discovered just how supportive the writing community as a whole can be. Every writer I have spoken with has been friendly, open, and humble. My aforementioned worst moment is an excellent example of just how amazing the writing community is.

I sent out a message to the authors I am currently reviewing for. I wanted to send the message out to apologize for my delay in writing their reviews and to let them know that I had not forgotten about them. I was so overwhelmed with joy when authors immediately started coming back to me with comments cheering me on, telling me all was well and that if I needed an ear, they were there, that they had gone through a similar difficult time, and so on.

All in all, the writing community has been amazing and it is full of so many wonderful people. That community mixed with the love from my family… I could not ask for a better support system.

What’s your writing/reviewing process like? Pen/paper, computer, laptop, coffee shops, writing spot.

My writing/ reviewing process goes like this.  As I read a book, whether it is a hard copy, e-book, or a PDF file on my laptop, I always look for the elements of that particular story that stands out more to me as I read. It could be the characters, the plot, the writing style, the dialog, the attention to detail. The list goes on.

Once I have read the book cover to cover, I go to my writing spot (my bed) with my mode of writing (my laptop) and then, as my blog name says, I “roll out” my review.  Every review is different which is what makes it fun. I always want to make sure every review has all of the elements I wish to include. Once it is written and I have gone through it multiple times to ensure all edits are made, I then post it on my blog, on Medium.com, on my social media pages (Facebook and Twitter), Amazon, and Goodreads.  For the final touch of the review, I always make sure to tag the author in my social media posts and I reach out to the author directly with a link to their review to share wherever they wish to share it.

Are you rigid in your expectations from other writers? 

I am incredibly flexible and go into each new book with an open mind. I see each book as each individual author’s baby. After speaking with so many authors, I see now that it varies on how much time a book can take. I spoke with one author who it took three months to write their book. I spoke with another author who took twelve years to write their debut.

What is wonderful about books is that there is no time limit. The beauty lies within the effort the author puts towards their book. Each author takes as much time as their story needs and I don’t expect them to rush through a story just to get reviews. Anytime I go into a new story, I go in with an open mind and I discover something new in each new story I read.

When I write a review, I am honest. I will always talk about all of the good things I found within the story, but if there are some things I wish the author had elaborated on or if the story itself perhaps needed one more round of editing, I will also point that out, as well. If I do give my opinions in a review, it is just that: opinions. Constructive criticism is always good for it shares with authors what they could potentially do to make their already amazing stories even more amazing.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you started, that you know now?

In all honesty, I am not 100% sure what I would change. If anything, I actually wish the opposite: something I knew then that I wish I kept now.  When I first started writing, since I did not have a following of readers, I just wrote for enjoyment. I would read a book that I wanted to read and then I would write my review. While I had wished I had a following almost five years ago, it didn’t bother me whenever I posted a review. I did it because I loved it. I still love posting reviews and I have more of a following than I did when I first began. Even though my following is not as large as others, I am still forever grateful for the few readers I do have. I do not need one million followers, not even one thousand. I just want to read and share my thoughts on what I read.

What I wish is that I wasn’t so hard on myself. I view writing book reviews as a small art and one that helps authors reach out to more readers to enjoy the stories they have worked so hard on. When I can’t write to my own expectations, I am harder on myself than any one person could be. I wish I could go back to when I first began writing in 2014, during a time when I didn’t care how I wrote… I just wrote.

You manage Roll Out Reviews. What’s that experience like on a daily basis?

Roll Out Reviews is my blog and, while I have been writing book reviews for nearly five years, my blog is only about three years old.

I had planned on starting a blog of my own and started it sooner than I expected when Examiner.com shut down due to unknown circumstances. I had wonderful connections to help me get started. One of my dad’s co-workers helped me set up my blog through WordPress and did such an amazing job designing it. I also had a connection at a previous job with a graphic designer who designed a beautiful logo for me. The name itself, as nerdy as this will sound, actually came from my love for Transformers. Optimus Prime is my favorite character and I love every time he says, “Autobots, roll out!” So, now, I “roll out” reviews for any author in need of one.

Since it is only a blog I can work on in the evenings, every day is different. I try to write and post at least one review per week, but that doesn’t always happen. If anything, when I have a chance to take the time to write an in-depth review and then post it, it is always a wonderful experience.

Once the review is posted and I have reached out to the author about his or her review, I always look forward to the next day. I love hearing what the author thought of his or her review. I love hearing the thoughts of other followers: on if they know the author personally or if they are intrigued to read the author’s book. It always makes me excited because then, once I have completely finished a title, it makes me wonder what I shall read next.

Reader, writer, reviewer, and future editor. Looking at life with hope and happiness, no matter what happens. Pick one. Why? Do you feel that each element helps you overall in your work?

In all honesty, I can’t just pick one. I do believe that each element helps in my overall work because all of them connect together.  My love for books originated when I was little. My parents read to my siblings and I every night before bed and it was always the highlight of the evening. As we grew up, I was actually jealous when my older brother and sister began reading chapter books and I couldn’t because I hadn’t reached that level in my reading yet. The first time I read a chapter book on my own was with the Magic Tree House series and I still remember my first experience reading that book to this day.

I started writing stories when I was young, as well. Stupid little stories about a dog getting lost or some short story about a Pokémon character, but they meant a lot to me as a kid and I would always show my parents the finished story with pictures, proud of my work. I have written a few unpublished short stories as well as various articles for the paper at my University and I do plan to write a book at some point in the future, but I do very much enjoy writing book reviews now and have noticed my writing strengthening with each review I post.

My dream is to one day become an editor (preferably in the publishing industry, but any company in need of an editor would be wonderful, as well) and I have even strengthened my editing skills with some freelance work as well as editing my own reviews. Editing really aids me in making my reviews as perfect as I wish them to be.

What recommendations do you have for new authors?

A majority of the authors who approach me are new authors trying to get the word out about their debuts. Having spoken with many new authors in the past, I understand how difficult it is for them to find reviewers. People always claim they don’t have the time to read or they charge a lot of money for a single review.

There are, however, many people out there who do take the time to read books and review them. I have come across many other reviewers throughout the years who review just like me. I have also come across some not so friendly reviewers as I have tried to assist other authors in finding more reviews.

My recommendation, or even advice, for new authors would be to not give up searching for people who would review your story. It can be hard, but keep sending out those messages. You’ll find people who will take the time, appreciate your work, and give you an honest review to help spread the word about your novel.

That invitation comes from me, as well. While it may be just a little while for me to write the review for you, I will. I read books cover to cover (I don’t believe in skimming) and I give an in-depth honest review. I can even point you to others I have met who would do the same.

Believe and trust in the writing community. It is full of supportive people.

What is your process for accepting reviews? Can you be approached,  or do you make your own choices?

While fantasy is my favorite genre to read, I read and review every genre under the sun. I love to give every author a chance who is in need of a review. Whether it is an author’s debut novel or their fifth novel, I will review any book if asked (with the exception of erotica… It makes for a very uncomfortable read for me).

I have made some choices in the past of books I read, but I mainly have authors approach me through another author whose book I already reviewed or they find me by other means. My main points of contact are through Facebook and Twitter. Once someone reaches out to me, I give them my personal email address so there are various ways we can stay in contact.

In all honesty, the few choices that I have made are authors I meet in person. I have met a few authors at various places (a book convention, Renaissance Faire, a restaurant in the town I live in, etc.) and those authors I have met, I always make sure I speak with them and purchase their book. I always appreciate any author who puts themselves out there and takes the time to speak to someone about their story. It, once again, shows how humble the members of the writing community can be and, of course, I will offer any support that I can.

So, in a nutshell, I am a very approachable book reviewer. While it may take a little bit of time to get the review published, any author who needs a review and contacts me, I will make sure to read their story from cover to cover and write an in-depth review for them. 

We thank Alicia for her time. Be sure to follow her on her Website and social media sites listed here:

 

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