Lori Hettler is one of the Internet’s more industrious book worms. She’s the founder and moderator of The Next Best Book Club, one of the biggest groups on Goodreads, and also the brain behind The Next Best Book Blog, a space dedicated to small press reviews. We caught up with Lori to learn about her work and what she loves to read.
Back in 2007 you founded The Next Best Book Club, which has since grown to become one of the largest and most active book clubs on Goodreads. What gave you the idea to start TNBBC and how has it evolved?
When I first joined Goodreads, I was a member of a group that didn’t have a particularly active moderator. I found myself creating a lot of interactive posts and threads there and after a few months I thought what the heck, why not create a group of my own! I called it The Next Best Book Club because I was on a never-ending quest to find that next best book and I wanted to help people find their next best or favorite book, too.
TNBBC today is basically the same as it was when it was born 8 years ago. Well, aside from the 14,000 members, of course! Despite the size, it’s got this great small-community feel to it. We have tons of different threads, so there’s something for everyone. You like playing literary games? We’ve got those. You like monthly group reads? We’ve got those too. You like winning cool books and getting to discuss them with the author? We host Author/Reader giveaways and discussions every single month. You need some recommendations on what to read next? We love to do that. We also have a really cool Beatles Reading Challenge this year, where we’ve turned every Beatles song into a bookish reading task.
In 2009 you created The Next Best Book Blog, you and several contributing critics review titles from independent authors and small press publishers. Why did you feel it important to create this space for those books?
As I started really coming into my own as a reader, I fell hard for small press titles. TNBBC on goodreads is a mixed bag… we talk about all kinds of literature and I didn’t want to limit the scope of the group. I enjoyed how it captured all aspects of the reading-sphere. So I created TNBBC’s blog, a space I could totally devote to promoting and reviewing small press literature.
The review contributors didn’t come on board until 2013. That was something I really struggled with. To this day, I am still the sole moderator of TNBBC on goodreads. And that’s primarily because the members bring the content. But on the blog, I was a voice of one, and I wanted to capture aspects of the small press community that were outside my own personal tastes. I love what the review contributors bring to the table. It’s really helped to diversify TNBBC and broaden our small press coverage.
What’s your reviewing process?
Oh man. I used to fight myself on this sooo badly. When I first started blogging, I would review everything that was sent to me, in the order it was sent. I accepted everything that was pitched to me because I was honored that someone would want me to read their book and send it to me for FREE. But I quickly found myself reading things I had no interest in reading, let alone reviewing. And it felt like work. I wanted it to be fun. I mean, we don’t get paid for this so why treat it like a job, right? So I started cutting myself some slack. I’d jump around the TBR pile and read what I wanted, when I wanted. My review policy has been updated countless times. And each time I’ve updated it, it’s made the process easier and more comfortable for me and for the authors who pitch me.
I’m at the point now where I am reading exactly what I want to be reading. And I’ve built amazing relationships with publishers and publicists and authors who are incredibly understanding and generous. I review from the heart. I tell it like it is. And readers and authors alike seem to be appreciative of that.
How do you decide what to read next?
It all comes down to the moment. And it’s usually influenced by what I just finished reading. If I read an amazing post-pandy novel, I might be jonsing for more, so I’ll dig through my review pile and pull out another one. Or maybe I just finished a collection of short stories that was just kind of ‘meh’, so I’ll try to switch things up and go with a novel next. It really all depends on my mood.
What do you love most about reading, and why is it important?
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book. And it’s the perfect pastime. You can do it anywhere, any time of day, in any weather.
Reading keeps your brain active. It increases your vocabulary. It’s a history lesson, and a geography lesson. Reading exposes you to places and people and ideas you might not otherwise have experienced.
Why are book reviews important?
Book reviews help point readers in the right direction. Depending on the person doing the reviewing, they vary in tone, taste, and personality. And they offer an honest look at the book from a bunch of different angles. I’m more likely to connect with a reviewer’s style and discover that I tend to like what they like (or like what they don’t)… without them, you’re left with the jacket copy and a quick read through of the first page to test the story’s voice. Booooring…
What’s been your favourite read so far this year?
Oh, there’ve been a few. I really loved Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star. And Two Dollar Radio put out an awesome novel from Carola Dibbell called The Only Ones. Both were exceptional post-pandy novels. Fiddleblack’s A Shelter of Others was kind of breath taking. And JW Bouchard’s The Z Club was a fabulous campy zombie novel.
Oh, I’m sorry. Was I supposed to pick only one?
What five books should everyone reading this add to their TBR pile?
All of the books I’ve just mentioned. And these:
Above all Men by Eric Shonkwiler.
Threats by Amelia Gray
My Only Wife by Jac Jemc
Blindness and The Cave Jose Saramago
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson
If you could live inside a book, which one would you pick?
That’s a tough one. Just because I like a book immensely doesn’t mean I’d necessarily want to live in it. Then the book would cease to be fiction.
What advice would you give to new and aspiring reviewers?
Find your voice and be true to it. Find your audience and be true to THEM. Don’t be gimmicky just for the sake of being gimmicky, because that gets old fast. And have FUN!
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
As both a book reviewer and freelance publicist, I caution new writers to pitch their books carefully. First, do your homework. Take the time to find reviewers who WANT to read your book – that means reading the reviews they’ve written to check for compatibility, and reading their review policy. Are they open to accepting books right now? Is your genre on their “don’t pitch” list?
Once you’ve found a match, then work on personalizing your review request. Tell them why you would like them to review your book, mention the books they’ve reviewed that are similar to yours, and link them to your book and your website so they can have a look for themselves. And never, ever, refer to them as “dear book blogger” or “editor”.
You’d be amazed at how much these little things mean to us!
A huge thank you to Lori for chatting with us! You can join her in talking books over at The Next Best Book Club on Goodreads, check out more of her reviews at The Next Best Book Blog and keep in touch via Twitter.
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