Gary Roen is an interesting man. He’s an author and a poet. He’s a sci-fi aficionado. And he’s a nationally syndicated book critic. I thought my writer friends and blog followers might like a glimpse into the mind of that mysterious being that strikes anxiety and terror into writers’ hearts . . . The Book Reviewer. (See Gary’s bio after the interview.)
So—Hi, Gary! Let’s commence.
You're a respected book reviewer/critic. How did you get started doing that & what are some of the outlets/sites/journals you submit reviews to?
I began as a book critic, back in 1979, when a friend Pat Flanigan asked me if I wanted to do a science fiction show on WPRK of Rollins College. I had the background of publishing, while Pat worked for WDBO radio. So, for two years we did the show Spaceship PRK.
To promote the show, we expanded our coverage by doing sci-fi book reviews for a weekly publication in Winter Park—while including author interviews on the show, and also alerting listeners to sci-fi events in the Orlando area.
Later I did the reviews by myself, looking for new places to publish. I then aimed higher by writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Today I write for others. Among them are Midwestbookreview.com, Bivouac Magazine, Lake Legal News, The Beach Side Resident, and bUneke Magazine.
What do you like best about reviewing books?
Several things. Of course, the books. I accept all genres from publishers, authors, and PR firms. Meeting authors at events like Fandom Kissimmee, Oasis, and Necronomicon Science Fiction conventions, or library events to promote reading and authors, are a few of the things I really enjoy.
How many books are submitted to you for review? Do you review them all? If not, how do you decide which ones you'll read?
The number would be staggering, if I took a count, because there are so many that come in from all kinds of different avenues. No, I do not review all of them, but, yes, I do read all of most of the books I write about. The only time I don’t is when it’s too confusing for me to understand, as many self-help books often are. I will state, ‘I did not finish this book because . . .’ and I explain the reason.
As to how I decide? Several things are important to me. First—is the cover. (Okay, Victoria here. Please reread that last sentence. As a cover designer myself and, having conducted presentations on effective covers, I know this to be true. It's so, so important! Sorry. Back to you, Gary.) It has to entice me to want to open the book. Then the first paragraph has to grab me, and the author has to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
After reading one, do you ever decide to not review it? Why?
No. Once I have read it all, I go with a review. Sometimes when I’ve read a bit of one, I decide to not write about it, because it may be poorly written, be too confusing for me, or use certain words too many times and slows down the progression. I call it the Danelle Steele rule of thumb, because she uses and, but, and suddenly too many times each page. Last time I counted 18 times on the first 3 pages. Another problem I see is too many characters in a novel—or with the same letters for first names. Example: Sara, Sally, Shannon, and Sue. All female characters causing me to go back and figure which one is which.
How would an author approach you for a review? Or do you only accept books from trusted sources, say a publicist, agent, or publisher?
The first way to not get a review is come to my house and present it to me at my door or in my driveway.
(Sorry folks—interruption. That sound you hear is Victoria spitting out her coffee with laughter. Eh-hem. Okay. Better now. Carry on, Gary.)
Now, I will accept in many ways. PR firms like Maryglenn Mccombs’ Dowling Press—who sent me your book, JORDAN. I also talk to authors through social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Or friends of mine, who are authors, have new books out, and they ask if I would review it.
Now, another way to not get reviewed—very simply—is constantly sending me the question of, “What do you think of my book?” or “When are you going to review it?” Sometimes, in a heartbeat, I will send it back to you. In two cases, I did, because of the lack of courtesy on the part of the author. One author did not like that it took over two months from the time he gave me his book at a library event. Later, I gave his book back to him when we were at the same event.
Another thing that will not get you anywhere is attacking me on social media because I have not immediately reviewed your book. Authors have to understand when dealing with anyone of the press—that it takes time, and they are not the only person a press person deals with.
You're a writer yourself. How does reading so many other books affect your own work?
I believe it made me a better writer. I grew up reading the Ian Fleming James Bond novels, Andre Norton, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and many different genres, instead of just the science fiction that I write in.
Your newest is Slotski's World. Tell us about it and when it will be released.
Slotski’s World, and its companion, Journey, are available from
https://www.legacybookpublishing.com/prime/authors/gary-roen/, any bookstore, or
Amazon.com for ordering or in Kindle format. Both collections of science fiction short stories have been a lot of fun to write and promote. Much of my work comes from things I overhear from people or what I’ve seen of news events.
An example is Cycles, in Slotski’s World, where a husband and wife return home from a day of shopping to find their home completely gone. That came from a brief news story on a local station about a couple in Texas who had that happen. I just expanded it a little bit. Or the story, Everything, came from something as simple as a girl I observed. She was on her cell phone and told me she would just die if she did not have her cell phone, because it is everything to her.
What advice would you give a new novelist?
Keep writing. Find someone you feel comfortable with to edit your work, check out writer groups in the area, go to book-related events of all genres, and stay in touch with other writers by social media. If you are in college, take courses. I took courses from Susan Hubbard and Pat Rushin at University of Central Florida and learned my craft so much better in everything I write. Carry around notepads to write down things when you are out and about. Much of my work comes from things I hear or see, and when something comes to me, I have it to refer back to. When you come in contact with an author on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram sign up to be a follower, because then you can get tips from authors and author-related sits. Do not write to be the next Stephen King or whatever—be yourself. Do not write to have it become a movie or TV show. Know who your target audience is. Example: Is this for kids, YA, Adults, or a combination?
How important is it to market your books? Isn’t that for the publicity departments and PR firms?
It’s crucial you learn to do some things on your own, because publicity departments of mainstream publishers have only so much time and money to devote to you. PR firms only work with authors who are doing a lot of this themselves. There is only so much you can expect from them.
At first it can be hard, but you can take the attitude I did so many years ago. What’s the worst that will happen? You will be told no. Ask yourself—what have you got to lose? If you are shy, get over it and take on a little at a time, because you control what happens to your books. I now use social media to promote my books and ask if I can be a guest on a talk show or event. I have been told no, so I look up somewhere else to ask. The internet is a great resource, but it is not the only place to promote your books.
I was amazed at a comic convention in Coco, Florida, that an author I talked to while waiting to be a guest on the show, Hanging With the Web, did not even consider being on because his books are on the internet. I think, duh, how do you get people to check you out, if they do not know how to find you?
I am a person who is always learning. It amazes me how many people think they ended their education in school. I will continue to do so as long as I can. Much of what I teach to writers are things I learned by getting out and doing it on my own. There was no classroom, no lesson plans, other than feeling my way back in 1973, when my parents and I entered the world of publishing with my dad’s true crime book, Murder Of A Little Girl. Later, I sold it as a paperback version retitled, A Little Girl is Missing. His next one, Evidence of Murder, propelled me to be an agent. I did so, but had too many writers with so much attitude, that I refocused my attention to my own work of short stories and being a critic, as well as a consultant. Most of all, I am pleased with the direction my life has taken and am on the course I’ve known since attending Boone High School.
Thank you, Victoria for having me. This has been a lot of fun.
Authors can contact me through:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/gary-roen-1a6261149/Log into Facebook | Facebook, Gary Roen (@bearbeatle) | Twitter
Gary S. Roen is the author of two collections of science fiction - Slotski’s World and Journey (Legacy Book Publishing)—as well as co-author of Cats, Cats, and More Cats (Royal Fireworks Press.)
He is the author of two books of poetry. The Forgotten Father Coping With Grief (Taylor and Seal Publishing) and Look at Me World (Chateau Publishing). His work has been included in the short story collection, Computer Legends Lies and Lores (Ageless Press), and online magazines including Anotherealm, and Mercury Sky. He is also the author of a satirical play entitled Vamp.
Roen is also a nationally syndicated book critic/writer/consultant, who has been writing for close to 45 years. His syndicated reviews have appeared in hundreds of daily, weekly, and monthly, publications that currently include Midwest Book Review, The Beachside Resident, Orlando Advocate, St. Cloud in the News, Osceola News-Gazette, Bivouac Magazine, and Arrhythmic Souls.
His articles have run in Living Well and Live Wisely, bUnike Magazine, The Beach Side Resident, Strange New Worlds, Crime Book Digest, Eleven Magazine, Backstage Pass, and West Orlando News.
Over the many years of his career, Roen has been a book salesman, a publicist for several publishing houses, and an agent working with authors and publishers in the true-crime field.
He has been a regular on-air contributor to many different types of radio and TV shows throughout the United States.
He’s worked for numerous companies in the field of market research, in Central Florida, as an independent contractor. This gave him many diverse experiences that have often found their way into his fictional stories.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.