Interview with a Reader

Hi everyone! I thought I'd mix things up a bit and post an interview I did a while back. 

I'd like to introduce and give a big welcome to fellow author, Antipodean, avid reader and all-round wonderful person, Beck Mitchell who is here to give us some wonderful insights from a reader’s perspective. Enjoy!

Hi, Beck!! Thanks for joining me today.

·         Thank you for succumbing to my puppy dog eyes and petulant begging to be interviewed *bounce bounce*. I might be a bit excited!

*Bounces right along with Beck* Oh me too! I’d like to start by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself, and the circumstances under which you first began to read LGBTQ fiction.

·         Okay. I’m biologically 46 with the mental age of around 15. I swear like a sailor with Tourette’s and have the moral compass of a 2-year-old… all awesome characteristics for shenanigans, apparently hard to live with. I really don’t understand why *innocent blink*

I came to reading relatively late. I was at least 13 before learning how to read. the first book I ever read was ‘Gone with the Wind’ and my relationship with romance was established and has been enduring throughout the years.

About four years ago I started reading erotic romance and when ménage was featured, was often disappointed when the, usually two men, didn’t interact. So I went looking for ménage with bi men and stumbled upon the M/M genre.

Oh I’m with you – the more two guys interact the better *winks*. So how many stories do you read in a year on average?
      Up until around June 2015 I was reading around 400 books/short stories a year. I started having trouble seeing text in April and when I finally went to an eye specialist, discovered I’d lost 30% of my vision. To slow the process of sight loss down, I’ve had to quit reading until the disease stabilises. This has been the longest period I’ve gone without reading and I have missed it!

I have continued to buy books with the hope that the next scan shows a stable situation that will allow me to start reading again. It’s a bit like waving a beer under the nose of an alcoholic… an almost physical pain because I dare not even read one chapter. I know, if the book engages me, I’d end up devouring the entire book in one sitting.

I understand avoiding reading the first chapter because next thing it’s 4am and I have to get up for work in a few hours. Fingers crossed you get the all clear to read ASAP, too. So tell me, is there a particular genre you most love to read?

·         I’d have to say that I have eclectic tastes but I tend to read exclusively from one genre for a period of time (weeks or months or years) before changing to another genre for another stretch of time. Even when reading other genres there will often be a romantic sub-plot, so that is probably the primary genre I read.

*Sigh* I love romance! Are there any genres you tend to avoid and if so, why?

·         I can’t read horror. I tend to immerse myself in a book or character and horror can impact me for years afterwards. I also have a prodigious memory so I’m cursed by flashbacks from particularly horrific stories.

I also struggle with stories that contain rape/non-con. If the world is not too earth-like I can read it as long as it is relevant to the story, but gratuitous rape or brutality doesn’t appeal. If the story is contemporary, I find the rape/sexual abuse storyline distressing. I read for enjoyment and escape and the darker themes don’t leave me in a happy place.

I struggle with that too and tend to avoid horror as well, especially horror movies as my other half has a tendency to jump at every tense moment, and that scares me more than the movie! So do you tend to gravitate toward stories that are on the lighter side, or the heavier the better?

·         I have some fluffy stuff in my favourites pile. I also have a wide collection of PWP (porn without plot) that I enjoyed reading *shifty eyes*… but I must admit that a well-crafted novel with a meaty plot, engaging characters and authentic romance, is my favourite kind of book.

I love dark, brooding characters with a bit of mystery about them. What character type are you most drawn to?  

·         I actually didn’t know how to answer this one so I went back to GR and read through some of my past reviews. It appears that I’m drawn to strong, yet kind heroes who nurture their partner and give them the support they need to fulfil their potential. Sappy I know lol.

Not sappy at all – characters with strength and who bring out the best in others are wonderful! So, what character types/pairings would you like to see more (or less) of?

·         I’ve been writing a series that looks at loving with/despite disabilities. I’d love to see more realistic representations in the characters. Part of the reason I willingly turned away from traditional romance was that I couldn’t relate to the women... even when described as ‘curvy’ there were no physical similarities to me. I’ve had surgeries, pregnancies, injuries. I wouldn’t know what to do with a male six pack if I ever had one to play with.  I often skip over the physical descriptions of the characters because I want to picture the guy I saw in the supermarket or the bloke who walks his dog past my house every day. I want to superimpose those people into the books. I don’t like being forced into picturing model-perfect heroes. This attitude has flowed over into my own writing. I wrote about a couple (Edward and Adam), and the only description I gave was that Edward was tall and fair-skinned. I found it interesting when people sent me pictures of the characters. They were all convinced I’d described Edward or Adam as the picture portrayed, yet, in reality, it was their imaginations that had filled in the blanks. So, to summarise, I like reading about real people who can live and love happily with all their flaws and faults.

I loved a flawed character, and when someone falls for a character despite (or perhaps because of) those flaws, that’s the best! I have also read some beautiful stories about characters who have disabilities and adored them also. So, I’d like to ask how you select your next read. Via recommendation? If not, how do you find out about them?

·         I actually used the reading games on Goodreads to find books. I will read a specific author but when I’m looking for fresh material, I use a coin-toss approach. Despite the fact I was a top reviewer on GR, I personally only looked at reviews by a small group of people I knew had similar tastes to me. I shy away from the book-report type of review because I don’t want to know the synopsis. I want to know that a book made someone smile, cry, laugh. I look for books that have a visceral reaction in the people who read them.

I love to discover the reader’s feelings, reactions and thoughts. Speaking of reviews, do you review all or only some of the stories you read?

·         I try to review every story I read. I am an honest reviewer and that has caused issues when I’ve not liked a book. I try to be constructive in my criticism, but have had some backlash from authors. As I’m now writing I understand the pain of bad reviews but if 80% of your reviews say the same thing, I’d start trying to learn and improve. On the other hand, I write mostly positive reviews and I’m happy to encourage people to read a book I love with a glowing review.

So when you review, you offer feedback regardless of whether or not you enjoyed the story?

·         Always. and if I just didn’t like it, I’ll leave the rating blank and say “I didn’t like this book but it was well written …”. I don’t ‘punish’ an author for not writing to my taste. Bad reviews and ratings are reserved for poor product.

I’d like your thoughts on ratings. Some might see a 3-star rating as a negative, whereas others don’t. What are your thoughts on the ratings system in general, and are there any improvements/changes you’d like to see made in that regard? 

·         Goodreads has a subjective rating system based on enjoyment. Three stars is, in my opinion, a good rating. It’s saying that the book was a ‘solid’ read and most of the books I read fall into the 3-star category. I reserve 5 stars for the books that are on my favourites shelf. As a writer, I read the 3 star reviews to see how I can improve. I ignore anything below that because I have enough belief in my product to disregard those reviews.

Have other reviews influenced whether or not you decide to buy a story?

·         Absolutely. and sometimes I use reverse psychology. If the reviewer is consistently negative, I’ll buy the book because it’s probably awesome lol.

Interesting! So tell me, has a cover design ever influenced whether or not you decide to buy a story?

·         Yup. luckily it was an awesome story!

I love it when I come across a story that not only has a beautiful cover, but one that moves me. Now, let’s talk about size, or lack of *winks*. As far as story length is concerned, do you have any limits regarding minimum and maximum word counts?

·         Not at all. when I read, I don’t care how long the story is as long as I’m engaged and fulfilled by the story. short, well-written stories can be just as good as long, meandering stories.

Do you often try new authors, or stick with those you know?

·         Absolutely. As I said, I used GR games to stretch my boundaries and will read new authors to fulfil challenge criteria.

That’s great! It’s always exciting to discover the next new talent. Now, I’d like to delve into the subject of the dreaded DNF. I sometimes won’t continue a story if there are flaws in the plot, or where there are characters I can’t relate to. What (if anything) is a deal breaker for you?

·         If the book is so poorly edited that it is unpleasant to read, I’ll stop reading. I usually keep plugging away at a book unless it makes me ‘unhappy’ or some other negative emotion. I am able to forgive most things if a book is well-crafted and well-written. I don’t expect to love every book I read but I like to give good writing every opportunity to engage me.

Let’s talk about sex, shall we? *winks again* Do you think there are situations where sex is used too much in a story?

·         Absolutely. But, having said that, I enjoy reading PWP occasionally. As long as there are enough words between the sex to keep the characters alive, I’ll enjoy a good piece of smut when I’m in the mood. There are some authors who can’t write anything BUT smut and I admire their ability to think of creative and new ways to describe tab A going in slot B. I’ve never read a story that I can’t read because it’s too sexed up.

In adult literature, do you feel that sex scenes are something most readers expect?

·         If you market your work as erotica, there needs to be erotic content. Romance on the other hand can range from sweet and innocent (fade to black) to almost hard-core porn. I read romance with less expectations than I do with erotica…

Paperback or e-book – what is your preference? And do you see a day where the printed word will become obsolete? (heaven forbid lol)  

·         I physically can’t read paperbacks any more. The text is just too small. having said that, I have over 3,000 paperbacks and 18,000 e-books. I don’t think paperbacks will ever disappear completely, but I do think they’ll become rarer and coveted… like the re-emergence of vinyl records. They will be a collectable to be treated with reverence rather than a cheap commodity like they are today.

Wow that is some collection! My idea of heaven is having a personal library with wall to ceiling shelves (with one of those sliding ladders) *sigh*. So regarding how to get one’s work out there, I’d like to know your thoughts regarding publishing options. Do you feel it matters whether authors are self or traditionally published?

·         My only concern with self-published authors is the quality of the product they release. I have read too many poorly edited self-published stories unfortunately. It tarnishes all authors who self-publish and cheapens the reputation of all authors. As long as a product I pay for is well-edited, I don’t care if it is self or traditionally published.

Oh, I agree – however an author publishes, a good editor is a must. Now onto the subject of getting to the end of a story. Are you more a fan of a series, or do you prefer to read stand-alones?

·         I have some favourite series I read and some stand-alone novels I wish were series lol. if I love a story, I don’t care how long that story is. My only gripe will be if someone serialises a novel and I have to wait for the conclusion of a story arc.

Speaking of story arcs, how important is a HEA to you?

·         An absolute must!

Though I have read some interesting stories with open-ended or even tragic conclusions, I have to say I enjoy a HEA the most. Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on marketing. When do you feel authors get it right (or wrong) when promoting their work?

·         I like to know when a new book is coming out but some authors spam every group and timeline with their promotional material so I end up ‘muting’ their posts. It is a fine line between promotion and spam. I think the most effective marketing tool is word-of-mouth. write an awesome story and watch the readers pimp your stories for you!

I get a lot of my recommendations from word of mouth, too. Now as far as what you like to read the most, I was going to ask you to name your Top 10 favourite stories, but instead I’m going to switch things up a little. Which stories and/or authors do you love, but feel deserve more recognition?

·         Muscling Through by J. L. Merrow is a book I think should be read by more people. I love it to pieces. The simple, black and white, pure love of Al for Larry is refreshing and poignant. When I could read, I’d read this story multiple times a year.

My next favourite book (apart from Clear Water) is ‘Force of Law’ by Jez Morrow. Now this story by all rights should not be on my favourites list because the editing is awful. But it is such a sweet, sexy tale that I forgive its many sins lol.

I could literally make an endless list of my favourite stories but I think the easiest way to share the books and authors I love is to link you to my favourites shelf on Goodreads: 

Each and every book on this shelf/list would be, in a normal year, read at least three times by me. These books are always on my kindle, tablet and phone and I revisit them often. This past 7 months, while I’ve been unable to read, I have thought about these stories and like an addict, struggled to resist the siren-call of the joy I find in their words and characters.

If there was one story you could choose to make into a movie, which one would it be and why?

·         I think Amy Lane’s ‘Clear Water’ would make an awesome movie. The snark, the dialogue, the setting and sub-plots would make an epic chick flick. It would become a cult classic like ‘Love Actually’.

'Love, Actually' is one awesome flick, and I have to admit, I do love me a snarky character. Well we are at the end of the interview, but before I go, I have just one more question for you. What is the one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring authors out there?

·         Listen to your editor. If you disagree with them and get a second one who says the same thing, then chances are they are right. Too many times I see fledgling authors disregard good advice because their ego gets in the way. And in addition, don’t write to please your audience. Write the book/story you want to read. This will be more authentic and genuine than story you ‘force’ to comply with expectations from readers.

What wonderful insights! Thank you so much for dropping by, Beck. To my readers - I hope you enjoyed. Until next time! J  

L J Harris