Today’s interview is with Mieke, a book blogger and reviewer who writes for both English and Belgian audiences. It gives my blog an international perspective and shines a light on the publishing and book industry in Belgium and the Netherlands and discusses the differences in publishing culture between the two.
Please introduce yourself and give us a background of yourself and your career.
Hiya! My name’s Mieke, I’m 25 years young, I live in the Northern part of Belgium together with my boyfriend and two cats and during the daytime office hours I’m a full time Data Entry Coordinator at a company that creates and distributes thermal imaging and infrared cameras. In the evenings and in the weekends, I’m a book blogger and reading addict.
When and why did you start reviewing books?
I started reviewing books pretty much in high school, though I never published book reviews online. I only started my blog at the end of last year, so I’m still pretty new to all this. I started reviewing books because I was “forced to” at school but the more reviews I wrote, the more I started to like it and actually see the purpose of it. Writing down my opinion on the books I read helped me to remember them more easily, especially when someone asked me about my opinion on a book I read. As to my blog, I publish my reviews online because I want other people to know what I thought about it and probably help them decide whether or not they’re going to read the book I reviewed.
What platforms do you use for reviewing books?
Well, obviously I use my own blogs (http://www.boekenvlinder.be for the Dutch reviews and http://loveforbooksandbutterflies.wordpress.com for the English reviews), and other than that I also use Goodreads and some Dutch websites like dizzie.nl, hebban.nl,bol.com and standaardboekhandel.be. I also use my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/Boekenvlinder) and Twitter (@Boekenvlinder) to publish links to my blog or to other book-related websites or news items.
In my opinion, a badly written review is either a very short review or a very long one.
Which do you find is most effective in getting your reviews read widely? How do you build up traffic and exposure for your reviews?
I found that most of the traffic on my review posts comes from Facebook, so I’d say that for me, Facebook is the most effective channel for getting my reviews read. It also helps that I host giveaways frequently. That way, people get to know my blog and they’ll come back more often to read reviews.
In your opinion, what should all good book reviews have/do? What do you think makes a badly written review?
Now this is a hard one… I think all good book reviews should be unique and written by yourself. I hate it when I read book reviews that are pretty much an exact copy of someone else’s review. That’s also one of the reasons why I don’t read other people’s reviews before writing my own. Chances are I’ll think “ooh, I thought that as well!” and write exactly the same thing in my review.
In my opinion, a badly written review is either a very short review or a very long one. I also don’t like reading reviews with tons of spelling or grammatical mistakes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad review.
Do you have a favourite genre of book that you like to review and why?
I don’t really have a preference, but If I get to choose between lots of genres of books to review, I’d choose war stories. They may be fictional but true stories -or stories based on true stories- are fine as well.
I think it’s important for authors to get recognition for their hard labour.
How does the Belgian publishing culture differ from and also how is it similar to English and American publishing?
Hmm tough question, since I don’t get in contact with English and/or American publishers much. I’d say English and American publishers are far more prepared to let readers acquire review copies of their books. When it comes to Belgian publishers, you practically have to beg for them, or you have to win some kind of contest.
Also, I found that English and American publishers have a more open mind as to the kind of books they publish and they’re far more ahead of their time. The genres Young Adult and New Adult, for example, are hugely widespread and a lot of different publishers actually publish these genres, but in Belgium we have to go looking REAL hard to actually find a publisher who wants to publish these genres. In The Netherlands, however, it’s not like this at all.
Which authors and books have really stood out for you? Which publisher do you feel is currently producing top quality content?
Currently, I’d say Anthony Doerr and Margaret Leroy or both authors that are standing out for me. “All the Light We Cannot See (published by Scribner) and The English girl (published by Sphere) are both fantastic books by publishers that are, in my opnion, producing top quality content as far as I know. In Belgium, both books are published by The House of Books and this publisher has always been one of my favourites, together with Xander Uitgevers.
I found that English and American publishers have a more open mind as to the kind of books they publish.
Why is it important for authors to get their work reviewed?
I think it’s important for them to get recognition for their hard labour. Out of reader reviews, they can get a lot of feedback and this might help them on writing their next book. They get to know what people think of their writing style, their language use and all that. I think reviews are also quite important to the publishers and editors of the books. It happens regularly that spelling or grammatical mistakes slip through the editing (and re-editing) and readers that notice them, could help getting these out of the book in future editions.
How do you achieve tact and gentleness in reviews that may not be so favourable? Or do you prefer to be blunt and to the point?
I always try to stay gentle in “bad” reviews. I might find a particular book quite bad, but someone else probably doesn’t share my opinion. If I have something negative to say, I always try to add something positive for the author to think about for a next book. Of course, that’s not always possible, but still… I try to thoroughly explain why I find a book bad so other readers can understand my opinion. Just writing “this book was awful and I wish I’d never read it” doesn’t really make a review (even though there really are books where I felt like this).
And finally, what are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I’m reading Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (in English), The Code by Fredrik T. Olsson (in Dutch) and Hitte by Lis Lucassen (in Dutch and it is currently being translated into English, as “Heat”).
Links for Mieke’s work can be found within the body of the interview!