One of our goals at BookSirens is to help book bloggers get advanced review copies from publishers and authors. To highlight the excellent work that bloggers do all year round, we started an initiative which we call Book Blogger Spotlights. In these spotlights, we have open conversations with book bloggers and learn about their interests, their inspiration, and what encourages them to read and analyze books. From book blog ideas to their favorite place to read, we ask them to share their knowledge with aspiring book reviewers and authors.
This week we chat with Dawn Heslin of Bound4Escape and Bound2Escape. Books are an integral part of Dawn's life. She was previously a bookshop owner and presently sells books online. A top reviewer and editor, Dawn has not limited herself to talking about books. She gives equal importance to upcoming authors, helping them with promotions on her blog. A true inspiration, she has over 850 book reviews on her blog with new ones being added regularly.
Dawn shares with us book blogging tips, her take on how to write a book review for a blog, and advice for budding new authors to get their books reviewed successfully. Let's get started!
Starting from the very beginning, before you launched a book blog, you had an online store for selling used books and eventually opened a physical bookstore as well. Please tell us a bit about that journey? How you got started, and how things evolved?
I started selling books online when I moved to a small town where there weren't any job openings for nurses nearby (I was an RN). I eventually ended up with too many books in my home and decided to open a physical bookstore in a small house, mainly for storage purposes. A year later, my husband and I moved into a bigger store on Main Street in Joplin, Mo. He sold furniture along with my books, and it wasn't until after a fire broke in the building next to us, that we moved a few blocks into an even bigger store. We were doing very well until the tornado in May 2011. It wiped us out, and we had to start all over again.
Unfortunately, the new store wasn't in a good location, so we had to close it a couple of years ago. Now, I'm back to selling books online, and my husband runs a flea market type store in Baxter Springs, KS, that we'd opened in 2013. I actually like how things have evolved as I can now do multiple jobs that I enjoy: editing, my book review services, selling books and other stuff on Amazon and eBay, and even a bit of mystery shopping.
Many people love to read, but it takes something extra to consistently and honestly review books. What is that special something, and where do you get that from?
With so many books available right now, it often becomes hard to choose that one perfect read. Reviewing books is a way for me to share them with my followers and let them know if they should read a book or not. For instance, there are some authors that I had previously never heard of, but their books are amazing. I want to share these books and simultaneously try to help the authors publicize their works.
Were you blog-savvy when you started Bound 4 Escape? If not, how did you learn the basics of starting a book review blog? Did you have a list of good book blog names that you went through, and how did you decide on the final name?
I was not blog-savvy, but it's pretty easy these days to start a blog. I also had a friend available to answer any questions and help me through. I considered blog names for a month or so before I started my blog. I mainly got input from friends and family, and finally chose Bound 4 Escape because that's what books are bound for, for us to escape.
You are the first book blogger I have come across who has two different book blog names.Bound 4 Escape is for reviews and then there is the non-review book promotions blog, Bound 2 Escape. Other bloggers simply use separate categories for this. What went behind your decision to create the two entirely different blogs?
When I started Bound 2 Escape, it was to help authors promote books; also, I wanted a blog I could play around with when I was thinking about making changes on Bound 4 Escape. I have thought about merging the two blogs but haven't decided for sure if I want to or not.
I noticed that you participate in many blog tours. What is your favorite part about blog tours? If you could change one thing about them, what would it be?
Blog tours are an easy way to promote and get free book reviews for authors. It also helps get their name out in public, especially if they are new in the field.
Most of the tours include HTML press releases which usually makes it easier to post. Ideally, it would be nice if the HTML always worked with Wordpress, but there are certain ones that I have to spend quite a bit of time formatting. For those tours, I usually end up setting up my own post without the HTML.
What, in your opinion, are the fundamentals of a good book review? Do you have an all-time favorite book review?
It depends on where that review is going to end up. Some publications prefer in-depth reviews. In my Review Policies, I make it clear that I'm not going to do that. I just want to convey my thoughts about the book to my followers. As long as the review helps them decide whether they want to read the book or not, I feel I have done my job. Regarding a favorite book review, I can't think of one right now.
Do you have an example of an author who impressed you with their pitch? If so, what specifically influences you? What did they do differently from others?
Once in a while, I get a request that is not the "norm." These requests are personalized, not canned. Some are funny, but that is not a requirement.
Where do you hope to see yourself and your two book review sites in 10 years?
When it comes to my blogs, the only thing I'd like to see is a shorter TBR list.
For your TBR list, do you read books in the order you get them? If not, how do you decide the order?
I don't read books in the order I receive them. I tried that in the beginning, but as I found favorite authors, I would put them on the top of the list whenever they had a new book come out. Now that my TBR list is out of control, I'm trying to take fewer books from tours and read more from what I already have. However, I am still accepting books from certain authors.
Of the last 50 books, you read and reviewed, approximately what percentage were from authors who submitted directly to your blog?
About a third of the last 50 books were submitted directly by authors to get book reviews. I'm working on making that 75%. By focusing more on spotlights for tours and less on reviews, I'm pretty sure I can do that by the beginning of next year.
What advice do you have for bibliophiles who want to start their own book review blogs?
Firstly, starting a book blog requires time for setting it up. Also, be sure you like the name of your blog because you'll be using it for a long time. Most importantly, tell the truth in your reviews, as authors appreciate knowing if there's something you didn't like so they can change it in their next book. Plus, you earn your readers' respect by being honest, making them come back to your blog regularly.
If you could pick one author - dead or alive – for a coffee date, who would it be?
This is a Sophie's Choice question, impossible to answer.
Which is the most common grammar mistake you notice in the books while proofreading?
Commas! Missing, extra, and misplaced.
Do you highlight while reading? If yes, what was the last passage or quote that you highlighted?
I don't highlight.
What has been the maximum number of pages you've read in a single sitting?
420 (maybe more, but definitely 420).
Which is your favorite place to read?
Thank you, Dawn, for sharing your amazing personal story and insightful observations about the book blogging world.
If you are an aspiring book reviewer, we hope you picked up some precious nuggets of information about how to make a successful book blog. Remember to take your time deciding on a blog name. As Dawn suggested, ask around and get input from your friends and family. After all, you'll be using the name for a very long time.
If you haven't already, we also recommend you join Dawn and become a book reviewer on BookSirens. BookSirens is a free and enjoyable way to get a never-ending supply of books, directly from publishers and authors, in the genres you love. You can read as many or as few of these books as you want, for free. All we ask is that you try your best to leave an honest review once you have finished reading the book.
If you are an author looking for the best book review sites, you can read Dawn's review policy here. Also, check out BookSirens's book reviewers list and quickly find potential book review blogs that are currently accepting books in your genre(s).
Happy reading and writing!