Ever wonder about the story behind some of your favorite book bloggers’ websites? Well, wonder no more because each month we’re featuring an interview with a well-known blogger. For April, we have Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books, who will receive the prestigious Raven Award from Mystery Writers of America at their Edgar Awards later this month.
Hi Kristopher! Thank you so much for stopping by. Please tell us about your blog. Why did you decide to write it? What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way?
BOLO Books was a project I pondered for quite some time. After attending crime fiction conventions for a number of years, I wanted to embark on something that would feed my love of the genre between those events. I was also looking for a way in which I could utilize my writing skills without giving up on reading – reading being a hobby that takes time and commitment in our modern and hectic world. My English degree certainly honed my ability to analyze literature and to subsequently write about it in a clear, concise, and meaningful way.
I quickly found that the book blogging world was filled with my people – like-minded individuals dedicated to spreading the love of books. I made so many friends and contacts. Every month the statistics for visits continued to grow (even to this very day), so I knew that I was on to something. For whatever intangible reason, readers connected with my reviewing voice and writing style. Never did I expect that it would one day lead to being awarded the Mystery Writers of America Raven Award…and yet, that is exactly what has happened.
The lesson in all of this is that sometimes our destiny finds us, but we have to be willing to take the leap.
We’re so thrilled you are receiving the Raven Award! Do you also post your reviews elsewhere (Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.)? Why or why not?
Many of my reviews are syndicated in my review column, Central Booking, in Deadly Pleasures Magazine, while others appear with frequency in Crimespree Magazine. I do not post reviews to customer-focused sites. I know that many authors would like if I did, but it is a matter of personal integrity for me. I spend hours on each review – not even counting the time spent reading the book – and I just can’t justify posting those in-depth reviews next to reviews saying “the kindle version didn’t download correctly” or “the shipping box was dented.”
I also think that many writers forget that bloggers are also trying to find an audience. It can be easy to think about what so-and-so can do for me, while losing sight of the fact that they too are expressing themselves with hopes of finding an audience. My reviews are first and foremost for readers. If along the way I help an author’s career, excellent. But I (and other bloggers) don’t owe an author the widespread adoration in multiple locations. Believe me, there are many authors who would disagree with me. My best advice to authors making requests of a blogger is this: Think “Would I ask the New York Times or Kirkus critic to do this?” Now, all of us bloggers know that our opinion is not as important as those major critics, we get it, we really do; but we also do what we do without any financial compensation, so respect will go a long way towards getting the response you want. Take a moment and help to direct your readers to our blogs, share our reviews of your friend’s books, show some interest in what we are doing – rather than only focusing on what a blogger can do for you.
Great advice. What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your blog?
You all heard that I am receiving an Mystery Writers of America Raven Award in 2018, right? It’s doesn’t get much more “best” or “surprising” than that.
But honestly, there are so many highlights: I got to have lunch with JJ Abrams when he was in the midst of writing the first of the new Star Wars movies; I have moderated some amazing panels, including one on LGBTQ+ representation in crime fiction; I have interviewed authors during their launch tour for their newest novels; I have spoken to a Sisters in Crime chapter about the book blogging world and how authors can best connect with them. This summer I will be speaking at a local library about the hottest summer books.
BOLO Books also led to me getting other writing gigs. As mentioned above, I am in both Deadly Pleasures Magazine and Crimespree Magazine. I recently took on another gig which I am very excited about. I will be continuing the Blog Bytes column for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. This was the column most recently written by Bill Crider and it was quite an honor to be asked to help keep that legacy going.
We’re sure that Bill would have been thrilled you were taking over the column. What advice would you give to new bloggers and/or to authors who would like to connect with book bloggers?
For new bloggers:
- Make sure that you are ready for all the work involved. Book blogging has to be a labor of love and it’s not worth jumping into if you aren’t fully committed to it. Making a success of a book blog requires constant posting of new material, fielding endless pitches, researching your topic, and still managing to find the time to read the books. But as you can see from above, it is also completely rewarding.
- Pick a specialty. It is very difficult, though not impossible, to do a general book blog. There are still many subjects that could use a dedicated blog focused on them.
- Figure out what schedule is do-able for you and then stick to it. I can’t stress this enough. A book blog that doesn’t post new content regularly will never get off the ground. Even when you do, it takes time to build an audience.
- Differentiate yourself. This starts with a memorable avatar/logo. When people see the BOLO Books eyeball logo (his name is Rhett btw – short for retina), they immediately know everything that follows comes from me. Also, find your voice – just as with novelists, this is so hard to explain, but you know it when it happens. I’d venture to say that most of my loyal readers would know a review was by me without needing to see the byline. That develops over time, so you don’t need to have that in place when you start, but keep it in the back of your mind always.
- Follow some of the blogs you like: via E-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
- Read their submissions guidelines
- Comment on and share their content; share their review of your book
- Meet them in person when possible
- Promote them as much as you want them to promote you.
Rhett needs to hang out with our mascot, Eggatha! We have one more question for you. We love your BOLO Books Composite Sketch series. How did that idea come about and how do you choose who to feature?
The Composite Sketch feature has become incredible popular; way more than I ever anticipated. Basically, I wanted a place where everyone could learn a bit more about the various members of our crime fiction tribe – not just authors, but publicists, fans, agents, etc. I also wanted something that did not have to be tied to direct promotion. In life we are constantly being bombarded with sales pitches and I wanted a place were we just have a getting-to-know-you conversation absent of any agenda.
The Composite Sketch questions were crafted to be incisive. These are not easy questions; they require thought and contemplation on the interviewee’s part. For almost every one that has posted so far I have gotten a note saying something along the lines of “that was so much fun, but wow, it wasn’t easy.” Likewise, when each one posts I get messages saying “I learned something new about this person I never knew before.” And that is exactly what I wanted.
With the success of the feature comes the barrage of requests, so I will say this here. The Composite Sketch feature is very near and dear to my heart so I do not take pitches to participate. This is an invitation-only feature on BOLO Books. I try to cultivate a variety of subjects that represent a cross-section of our crime fiction tribe. At this point, I have limited it to folks I have met in person, but I imagine in time it will expand beyond that. There are only 50 slots in a year (I don’t post Sketches over the end-of-the-year holiday period), so it’s going to take a while to get to everyone I want to feature. I hope that everyone keeps in mind, this is not a popularity contest – some of my closest crime fiction friends have not been Sketched yet – but is instead curated to highlight all aspects of the genre – writers as well as fans, veterans as well as newbies, folks behind the scenes few think about as well as those perennial favorites we all know and love. I will get to everyone is time! (Which also means, when the request arrives…say YES.)
Thank you so much for inviting me to visit Chicks on the Case today, Kellye!
Thanks to Kristopher for stopping by! You can say hello to him in the comments. Don’t forget to congratulate him on his well-deserved Raven Award.
Kristopher Zgorski is the founder of the crime fiction book review blog, BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com) and will be awarded the Mystery Writers of America Raven Award in 2018. Kristopher’s reviews also run in genre-specific publications such as Deadly Pleasures Magazine, Crimespree Magazine and Mystery Readers Journal. Kristopher is obviously an avid reader and regularly attends industry conventions such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and BEA, in addition to smaller MD/DC/VA area book gatherings and signings.