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Interview with Blogger Ashley Hasty

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Hasty, a fashion history and marketing professor who also happens to be a booklover. She is the author of the Hasty Book List, a popular book review blog. What makes Ashley unique is she not only has a passion for books, but she also cares about authors and appreciates the hard work they put into writing their books. As you will read from the interview, Ashley is a book cheerleader, never employing wit or sarcasm to demean authors’ efforts.

1.) Q. Tell me about your background.

A. I studied fashion marketing in undergrad and went on to get my Ph.D. in fashion history. For seven years I taught fashion courses at Indiana University, two years at Indiana State, and now I teach marketing and retail courses at Loyola University in Chicago. 

2.) Q. How did you begin the Hasty Book List?

A. Hasty Book List started out as a hashtag on Instagram as a way for me to keep track of the books I read. It was an easy, visual list for me to reference when my friends asked for book recommendations. For years my friends suggested that I start a blog so that I could expand my reviews beyond a short IG caption. I resisted because I thought the time I spent writing about books would take away from the time I could spend reading books. Eventually, my husband set up a website for me and said, “If you want to start a blog, the site is waiting for you.” He (correctly) thought I needed a creative outlet to distract me from my day job at the time, which was growing increasingly stressful. 

3.) Q. What genres do you enjoy reading the most?

A. Given my Ph.D. in fashion history, it will come as no surprise that my go-to genre is historical fiction. I wrote my dissertation on WWII War Brides, so I tend to gravitate toward WWII novels. However, I find when I read too many WWII novels, I get weighted down by the heaviness and sadness of war so I have to mix in other genres as palette cleansers. I also enjoy reading literary fiction, contemporary romance, mystery/thrillers, women’s fiction, and biographies.

4.) Q. What is your format for reviewing books?

A. I have a three-paragraph format for reviewing books: how I found out about the book, what it is about, and what I thought of it. It is important to note that I am not a book critic – I am a book cheerleader. I see the value in all books, I’m keenly aware of how difficult it is to write a book, and I have no interest in cutting down authors who poured their heart and soul into the book. 

5.) Q. What factors influence your decision on whether you are willing to review a book?

A. Time is the number one factor influencing my decision on whether I am willing to review a book. I wish I could sit around and read all day. As with most book lovers, my “to-read” list is already longer than I’ll ever be able to finish in this lifetime (and it continues to grow!) It breaks my heart every time I have to tell an author I can’t read their book. 

6.) Q. What trends in publishing have you noticed in the last few years?

A. One trend I’m dying to talk to someone about is how so many historical novels show the back of women on the cover. I have theories about why – perhaps so we can project any face onto the woman? But sometimes this trend extends to books about real women – why not show us her face? You know what she looks like. Why make me Google her for a picture? This could be because they couldn’t pay for an actual photo of the woman so they used a stock photo of a woman from the period. Or it could be that they are trying to stick with the trend of showing women from behind on historical fiction. I’m not really sure – I would love to discuss this with a book jacket designer sometime!

Any book jacket designers out there who are willing to answer this for me, please contact me! 

7.) Q. During COVID, have you received more book review requests or less? Has the pandemic affected your ability to work on your website on a regular basis?

A. So. many. more. requests. I went from receiving (on average) 5 books a week to receiving 10-20 books a week. It is really overwhelming at times. When the pandemic first hit, the publishing industry was in chaos. No one had prepared for this kind of scenario – publication dates were pushed back, shipments were cancelled, everyone was scrambling. My email was blowing up with requests from authors and publicists to either promote books now and push them hard or to reschedule for a later date. Eventually, around the middle of summer things started to settle down and we all got into a groove. But I think I’m just now finding solutions to the new challenges of promoting books during a pandemic.

Interestingly, the pandemic has given me more time to work on HastyBookList.com. My classes at Loyola moved to fully online in March of 2020, so I had extra time that used to be spent commuting. I had quite a bit of experience teaching classes online so I didn’t struggle with that learning curve like so many of my peers who had only taught in-person. 

8.) Q. I saw on your website that you have a Literary Travel Guide? Please explain what that is.

A. Back when we could travel I would put together a list of places that had literary-themed destinations of the cities I visited, including famous authors’ homes, libraries, bookstores, literary-themed restaurants and hotels, etc. I haven’t written one in awhile, due to the pandemic, but I’d love to start that back up again someday. I’ve completed nine literary travel guides for the cities of Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Kauai, Palm Springs, St. Louis, Bloomington, IN, Cabo, and Sedona. You can check them out here

9.) Q. You also have a link “5 Books to Get You Out of a Reading Rut” on your website. Please explain what that is and how that began?

A. This is a post I put together of 5 books, each from different genres, that I couldn’t put down. If you ever find yourself in a reading rut (not loving what you’re reading, feeling like you’re reading the same book over and over again, starting books but not finishing them, etc.) then you might want to give one of these books a go. I was trying to think of a post that readers could keep in their back pocket for whenever they needed a little inspiration. I hope you’ve found it helpful!

10.) Q. What are your future plans for your website?

A. Well that is the million dollar question. For the past couple of years and a half I’ve had a lot going on personally – buying a house, moving to a new city, rebuilding after a fire, the pandemic. My plan was just to hang in there. Ha! Now that we are back into the house we bought, almost done rebuilding, and there is an end to the pandemic in sight, I find myself looking more toward the future. I would love to focus more on book jacket designers and audiobook narrators – these are two series that I started that I haven’t seen many other book bloggers focus on. They are a bit more involved to put together, so I haven’t done as many of them lately, but I’d like to put more time and effort toward those in the future.

I am also hoping to do more in-person events once we are on the other side of the pandemic. But I think that is a bit further into the future.

11.) Q. What advice would you give authors based on your experience reviewing books?

A. Not being published myself, I hesitate to give any “advice.” I haven’t been through what authors have been through. Advice I’ve heard:

  1. Be patient. Be persistent. The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is often perseverance.
  2. Write the book you want to read.
  3. Hire a professional editor/book doctor, if at all financially feasible.

12.) Q. Promoting a book is very challenging for authors. If an author asked you for advice on promoting their book, what would you tell them?

A. Now this is something I’m more qualified to speak about. Haha! Being an author is so tough, you’re asked to be so many things, including an author, an editor, a social media expert, a salesperson. Likely, you won’t be confident at all of these things. If you feel your weakness is promotion/social media, here are a few tips:

  • Start your social media presence early. As in now. If all of the social media platforms are overwhelming, choose one: Facebook or Instagram are the two biggest. Invite all of your friends to follow you. Don’t be shy about this. Then start following authors and engaging with them. Comment on their posts, celebrate their book launches, etc. Do the same for book bloggers/bookstagrammers. If this is not something you enjoy, do it for 30 minutes a day and then go back to something you love. Share your successes, no matter how small on this social media platform. Readers will want to find you somewhere, so having some sort of social media presence is key.
  • Reach out to book bloggers/bookstagrammers as soon as you know a publication date. The earlier the better – their schedules will fill quickly. Make their posts as easy as possible – by giving them as much information as you can. Or even offer to write a guest post if they say their schedule is full. Guest posts tend to take less time for them to put together. Like, comment, and share any posts bloggers write about you – they’ll remember your support next time.

13.) Q, Do you have anything else you would like to add?

A. Idelle, thank you so much for asking these questions! I’ve so enjoyed working with you on my blog and I loved having the opportunity to turn the tables and be the one answering questions for a change. Wishing you and all authors the best of luck promoting their books. I know it isn’t easy, but you really did the hard part by writing and publishing a book! We already know you can do hard things. 🙂 

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is also a copyeditor and proofreader. Both books are available on Amazon. True Mercy is also available on Smashwords and The Book of Revelations on Draft2Digital. Please contact Idelle through this website for your editing and/or proofreading projects.

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Meet Amy Shannon—Writer, Blogger, Book Reviewer

I am pleased to interview writer, blogger and book reviewer Amy Shannon. She is a prolific author who is dedicated to providing book reviews for indie authors on her website, Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. On her second website, Amy Shannon: The window to my soul, starts with a blank page, she promotes her own work as well as provides promotion services for other authors, When I sent her my new novel, The Book of Revelations https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088F1P1SY, Amy promptly read it and posted her review. She also included my book review among a group of her other reviews in a special section of the e-magazine, Uncaged Reviews (www.uncagedbooks.com). As you will read in this interview, Amy’s work in the writing world is extensive and has recently expanded to podcasts.

1.) Q. Amy, please tell me about yourself and your writing career.

     A. I have been writing since I was a young girl but telling stories long before that. My mother used to call me her little storyteller because I was always making up stories or giving my own version of stories I have read. For a long time (and still do sometimes) I wrote poetry and short stories. In 2004, I started writing what I thought was a short story but ended up being a full-length novel. I published my first book Unwritten Lifein 2005 (since then it’s had several printings and updates). After that, stories were so much easier to write and they came to me so easily, but I kept going back to the characters in my first book, Unwritten Life. To date there are 67 volumes plus nine bonus books (it’s called the MOD Life Epic Saga).

 2.) Q. Tell me about your blog.

      A. I have two blogs. The first one I call my author blog, which is where I promote my own work and I also offer services to promote other authors’ works, especially indie authors. My second blog is Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews and that was started in 2014. To date, I have served over 1200 authors (and read and reviewed over 1800 books since then).

 3.) Q. What made you decide to become a book reviewer as well?

      A. At the beginning of the year 2014, I met an author online through LinkedIn. We were thinking about doing some book reviews together. At first, we were going to read each other’s work and write honest and unbiased reviews. Renee wrote children’s books that focused on children having cancer. I read all of hers but she was only able to read a few of mine. Her books were something very close to her heart. She herself had cancer and lost her battle that September. We were going to open our own blog together doing reviews but then she was gone, so I continued to do what we were going to do. The original blog was very raw and eventually, I found a new home with a better blog, which is what I have today. 

 4.) Q. Which writers are your role models and why?

      A. I am a big fan of classic work such as Walt Whitman’s poetry and stories, as well as William Shakespeare’s tragedies, but I really love his sonnets the best. I still read Edgar Allan Poe’s work, but I also read current authors such as James Patterson and Stephen King. I also think of all the authors that I read as role models and their writing as learning experiences because I can see a variety of writing styles. It’s not only shows me what I could challenge myself to write like but also a way that I would not want to write.

 5.) Q. What genres are your favorites? Do you turn down certain kinds of books?

     A. If I had to say I had a preference for specific genres, I would say crime genres and crime procedurals, as I like James Patterson’s Alex Cross series and his Women’s Murder Club series. I’ve also started reading Kathy Reich’s books and her Temperance Brennan series. I also like to read biographies about presidents and first ladies, interesting persons, whether it be someone famous or just an ordinary person’s memoir.

 The only books that I’ve ever turned away were books that were not in a published-ready state. Some authors in the past have sent me their rough drafts to read and I had to turn them away, but I’ve given them the option to resubmit for a review after the book has been edited thoroughly. I read genres of all kinds from any author. I’ve read everything from erotica to self-help to religion and politics, plus all types of fiction and all types of nonfiction. I’ve even reviewed books that I personally didn’t agree with the content, so I wrote the review based on the writer’s ability to write. I can pretty much deal with any subject matter, so it’s more about how it’s written than what is written.

 6.) Q. Being a writer, a blogger, and a book reviewer, have you noticed any latest trends in the publishing industry? 

     A. I know that trends come and go, but I think one of the biggest trends is being an indie author. In some cases, there is still a stigma to being an indie author. I hope with my reviews that I can show that most indie authors deserve to be read because their stories are great. Sometimes I find a gem that I wouldn’t have normally sought out.  I think the digital version of books is a trend that won’t go away and will get better with the different types of technology, but I think that paperback or print books will always have a place on someone’s shelf. I do see an increase in audiobooks and if I have read a paperback or a digital version and they want me to also review their audiobook, I will get the audiobook and listen to it, so I can also review on the narration and tone of the story. 

 7.) Q. You have accomplished quite a bit, including providing a valuable service for authors. What are your career goals for the next few years?

     A. I try to do what I can for any author. Sometimes I have to charge small fees for editing, proofreading, or other promotional services. I do take part in blog tours on my author blogs. Unfortunately, this past year I have been diagnosed with a tremor disorder which affects my ability to hand write and type. Actually, I’m filling out this interview using voice recognition and dictation. I hope in some way to be able to still tell my stories and I’m getting used to dictation software. Though I have thought about disbanding my book review blog, I don’t see it ending anytime soon. I would love to write again, even if it is short stories or poetry because writing is my passion and telling stories is in my soul.

I also co-host a podcast with author McKensie Stewart and it’s called The After Show. It runs on most Fridays except holidays and breaks between seasons. We are always looking for more guests and ways to increase our audience because it’s an outlet to help authors, especially indie authors, tell their story.

 8.) Q. How has the pandemic affected your business? I know the publishing industry has been hard hit. As someone who published a book this year, I am finding it difficult to promote. I must add that unlike you, many reviewers are not reviewing books now.

      A. I don’t think the pandemic has affected my business. However, I’m not getting as many requests for doing promotions, but I’m getting requests for reviews from authors who have written more than one book during the pandemic. 

 9.) Q. Before the pandemic, were you attending writing groups on a regular basis? Do you attend writer conventions? How do you network with other authors?

      A. Actually, I don’t really attend writing groups or conventions. I’ve network with other authors and make connections through email and social media. Usually we meet because I’ve read their books. I also connect with editors, publicists, publishing companies, and other author representatives. Usually once they send me one author, they send me more authors. 

 10.) Q. How many books have you written? Tell me about your books and what inspired your writing.

       A. In total and under three pen names I have written 114 books. Last year I retired two of the pen names and this year released as their final release a collection of all my books for one purchase. Under my name, Amy Shannon, I have written over 96 books and that is including poetry and my large epic saga. I have probably written my last full-length novel, but I have enough books written that I can continue to just publish those books until the year 2034 or more, depending on my releases. I have actually scheduled all my releases up to that year.

 As for inspiration, everything inspires me: my surroundings, other authors, and my observations of people. 

 11.) Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?

A. I am a big supporter of the indie author community. And basically, my goal for my life is to be an inspiration for someone else. I am a lifelong learner and I like to share what I’ve learned with others.

I would like to thank Amy for participating in this interview. I must also add that she works quickly. How do I know this? I gave her my interview questions in the late afternoon one day, thinking I would hear back from her in at least a few days, but she sent me back all her answers early the next morning!

 To learn more about Amy, including her contact information, the following are her links:

Author Blog: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/amyshannonblog

Website: https://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/stories

Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews: http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/bookshelfreviews

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amyshannonnovelist/ and https://www.facebook.com/bookshelfreviews/

Twitter: @amyshan_author

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and proofreader.

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