This evening, I’m lucky enough to be welcoming to the blog Bethany from Subtle Melodrama, one of the darlings of the Scottish literary blog scene, Subtle Melodrama reviews the very best of literary fiction from around the world but with a particular focus on Scottish writing. If you haven’t visited her blog before, go now. We’ll wait.
Ready? Although we conducted this interview virtually, I like to imagine us chatting over rounds of Aviators in a small shanty bar downtown. Rain pours down and the gutters are filled with colours from reflected neon. After sharing some truly scurrilous gossip about a writer we both know, Bethany waves a hand, indicating I should start my questions.
Me: How did you get started on your blog? What were your aims when you started?
B: The blog idea came about because I needed a place to rant and rave about the books that I read. Not too many of my friends read much, and I needed some way of chatting about the stories I loved, the characters I hated, etc. So the blog was born. I didn’t have any real aims, just maybe a hope that someone somewhere would read my reviews.
Me: How has the Subtle Melodrama blog changed since its inception? What have been some of the highlights of compiling your blog?
B: It’s gotten so big! I never thought so many people would read it, or make comments. I have around 700 subscribers in all, and nearly 100,000 page views. It’s been running for two years now, and I’m just impressed it’s still alive. The biggest perk of doing a review blog is being given review copies by publishers. I frequently get sent books from Harper Perennial and Simon & Schuster, and I’ve reviewed several books for We Love This Book. It’s meant I’ve read a lot of books I might ordinarily never even have looked at, so expanding my literary horizons has been a real bonus too.
Me: What lies in Subtle Melodrama’s future?
B: To keep on going! Subtle Melodrama Book Reviews has moved from being just a blogspot to having its own .com domain. In the summer months (June- August) I’ll be running the Scottish Summer Reading Challenge, the idea being that readers explore Scottish literature. During that time, I’ll have Scottish writers talking about their favourite Scottish reads, and I hope that my little website will be able to promote all this Scottishness.
Me: What impact do you think Subtle Melodrama and book review blogs in general have on the book-buying public? Does genre make a difference to this?
B: The most flattering thing is to have someone tell you that they went out and actually bought a book based on your review. It’s happened to me several times, and mostly the reader has enjoyed the book. So blogs definitely have a little slice of influence. As far as genre is concerned, I think the job is much easier if you have a genre related blog, especially a young adult one. YA is all about hype, and blogs are essentially just hype, and teenage excitement can generate a lot of sales. YA blogs tend to have countdowns to the launch of the most recent book in a trilogy, they include trailers for new releases, and there are always giveaways. I’d like to think there’s a little bit of excitement at Subtle Melodrama too, but literary fiction readers don’t usually squeal quite so easily.
Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to set up their own book review blog?
B: Just do it! Why not? But developing and networking does take time. Not only do I have to read the books, I have to write the review, I have to spread word of the review, and I have to somehow convince people that my words are worth reading. The offers from publishers, writers, and magazines to do reviews didn’t come from nowhere – some I had to chase, others wouldn’t have approached if they didn’t think anyone was listening/reading. So make sure you have the time to really invest in something proper, and enjoy it!
Me: Can you give us some recommendations of other review blogs you enjoy?
B: Journalist Ali George’s 12 Books in 12 Months is an insightful read, with fun musings and author interviews.
Schietree is a brilliant blog. Helen McClory is a writer living in Edinburgh, and her blog is probably one of the most exciting; I read it on a very frequent basis. She posts about the books she’s read, about her own writerly adventures, and is a fantastic photographer too. Never a dull moment there.
Robert Burdock has one of the busiest blogs out there. If there’s something exciting going on in the world of books, then it’s there on Rob Around Books. I have no idea how the man keeps up with it all, but it’s hugely useful and a great place to pick up some recommendations.
Me: Who are the authors you have most enjoyed blogging about?
B: The living ones! There’s nothing so brilliant as having an author thank me for a review. Robert Shearman, Alan Bissett, Doug Johnstone, have all been in touch after finding a review and expressed thanks. I might only be a teeny tiny part of the web but, as I said before, blogs get people chatting and, more importantly, buying and reading books. And though Thomas Hardy can’t ever thank me, I have a brilliant time using my internet space to declare his greatness.
A low black car purrs up and Bethany gets into it. A final wave and she is gone. I get the attention of the barkeep and settle our bill before heading out into the night.
See, it’s not all pyjamas and coffee. Many thanks to Bethany from Subtle Melodrama for sharing her wit and wisdom .