Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview: Pat St-Denis of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Pat St-Denis is the man behind
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, one of the most popular book review blogs in the fantasy/science fiction genre.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! How did you come up with the present format of the blog (book reviews, interviews, contests, etc.)? Which feature do you think is the most popular among your readers?

Anyone who's been visiting the Hotlist for a while is aware that the blog has always been somewhat of a work in progress, especially during the first two years. Book reviews were my bread and butter, of course, but gradually I was able to secure more and more interviews with SFF authors.

Then came the occasional book giveaways, which in time became more numerous. I toyed with a few ideas and some articles saw the light. I try to post all the relevant and important stuff, but I also make an effort to keep things fun and interesting with the quotes and funny images.

What it comes down to is that I'm posting the sort of material I would like to read. It's not for everyone, but I can live with that. And so can a lot of people, it seems!

As for the most popular feature, I would like to believe that my reviews are still the principal reason people are still stopping by.

What are your criteria when reviewing books?

Hmmm, do you mean what makes me decide to go for a novel in particular? If so, then it's more a question of mood than anything else. One of the perks of receiving so many books from so many different publishers is that you get your hands on stuff from every conceivable subgenre. So when I'm tired of epic fantasy, all I have to do is switch to scifi or space opera or whatever appears to be what will scratch my itch.

Understandably, there are specific books I'm eagerly awaiting, and when they finally reach my mailbox they trump whatever I'm reading at the time.

If you are asking me what I'm elaborating on when I review a particular work, it's not complicated. I always try to break down a book based on world building, characterization, rhythm, and storylines. These, in my humble opinion, are the most important facets of a novel, which is why I expound on each aspect.

Some refer to it as a «no-frills» approach, while others consider what I post to be in-depth book reviews. Whatever the case may be, things have been working quite well for me since the creation of the blog, so I just continue to do what I've been doing from the beginning and hope for the best!

How do you decide who to interview? Like are you consciously targeting authors who have a book that's going to be released, selecting between what authors/publicists/publishers offer you, anyone you feel like, or some combination?

Unless it's a high profile author, it's basically based on what I'm reading. If I like the book, chances are that I'll be interested in conducting an interview. Especially when I'm reviewing new or midlist writers, it's always nice to give them the opportunity to introduce themselves.

I always go with what I want and what I feel my readership would be interested in. Given the blog's popularity, publicists would have me interview just about everyone.

Of course, timing is key. To provide maximum exposure, an interview must be posted just prior to the pub date, or shortly thereafter. But things don't always work that way. Some authors are happy to take time off their schedule to answer interview questions, while other will only do so during a certain period around the time of the book's release. In the end, you learn to go with the flow.

You win some, you lose some...

After years of doing interviews, do you still feel nervous or go fanboy over the authors you interview?

Other than my first interview with Tad Williams, I've never been nervous when the time came to do a Q&A. And even then, it was more a question of this being only my second interview ever, and there I was interviewing a New York Times bestselling author!

You have to be professional and serious when you conduct an interview, unless you have a more personal rapport with the author. Of course, when you have dealt with a writer for a while, it's easier to keep things a bit more informal. I take certain liberties when I'm interviewing people like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch that I would never dream of when I'm doing a Q&A with authors like Stephen R. Donaldson or Dan Simmons.

Though I'm a big fan of the genre, I do my utmost not to be a fanboy. But still, I do get that giddy feeling sometimes. I had to call George R. R. Martin last week regarding a project on which I cannot disclose any information at the moment. Emailing my favorite SFF authors is one thing, but calling them is another. When I hung up, I just shook my head and said, "Fuck man, that was GRRM at the other end!"

In the Fantasy Library Online interview with you last year, you mentioned that the goal of the site is to share your love for the genre and increase awareness. Is that still the goal? Are there other goals you want to accomplish with the site?

Yes, that's still the Hotlist's main and only mission. That and to have fun blogging.

Early on, what steps did you take to promote the site? These days, what would you say is the best way to not only gain the attention of readers but publishers and authors?

Early on, it was extremely difficult because blogs were considered virtual turds on the internet. Editors and publicists laughed in my face when I requested review copies or asked about the possibility to conduct an interview with their authors. As you can see, I got the last laugh, but it's still rankling to think about those first 18 months or so.

Hence, for me it was never about getting the attention of publishers, for I thought that my little sandbox on the web was beneath their notice. As one of the first SFF book-reviewing bloggers, it was easier to get noticed by SFF fans on various message boards. Somehow my readership grew progressively, in no small part aided by the fact that I had virtually no competition.

Today it's the opposite. There are simply too many blogs out there. I can't even keep track of what's going on in the Blogosphere, so imagine how hard it must be for those publicists! I have no idea what would be the best way to get noticed, other than to make your review as good and as fair as you possibly can.

What would you say was the biggest hurdle Fantasy Hotlist had to overcome in the beginning? What were some of the most frustrating moments?

As I just mentioned, the lack of respect due to the medium I was using. I elected to go with a blog because the program does everything for me and it's free. Way back when, you need a website to be taken seriously, as if paying hosting fees was synonymous with quality of content.

I guess I did spend a lot of energy trying to make blogs respectable in the eyes of the industry. Thanks to those efforts and those of other people like me, we now have countless blogs everywhere. Kind of makes you wonder if it was really worth it, eh!?!

Is the website currently self-sustaining? (Does it pay for itself? Are you earning money from it?)

The fact that it's a blog means that there are no hosting fees. What little money I'm earning out of the Hotlist right now is nothing to write home about. I'm hoping that the new ads will help monetize the blog a bit more.

Currently, who do you think are some of the underappreciated writers of the genre?

For my money, the most underappreciated fantasy authors are Guy Gavriel Kay and L. E. Modesitt, jr. Everyone should buy their books!

Aside from fantasy and science fiction, what are the other types of books that you read?

I like a good thriller or mystery from time to time.

Other than that, what I usually read has to do with traveling, politics, or history.

What's the current status of your own writing?

We're going to hire a professional editor to work with me on the final polish of my fantasy manuscript, THE EYE OF THE SERPENT. My agent feels that the manuscript needs this in order for us to find a taker.

I will soon by sending out query letters to UK agents regarding TIME OF YOUR LIFE, my non-fantasy manuscript following the misadventures of 4 undergrads traveling around Europe for one summer. Matt, my American agent, feels that the manuscript would work better across the pond, so I'll be testing those waters soon. Interested agents and editors, please get in touch with me!

I've also been approached by a publisher to work on something, and we are in the process of turning this into a reality as we speak. Which was why I needed to speak with GRRM the other day. Can't say anything right now, other than I'm quite pleased with the way things are progressing. Stay tuned for more. . .

If there's anything about the publishing industry that you'd change, what would it be?

It would be nice if editors and publicists and other marketing folks would return my emails in a more timely fashion. . .

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, keep writing, and don't give up.

Advice for aspiring book reviewers?

Be honest and fair when you review something. Remember that you're doing this for fellow readers, not publishers.

Anything else you want to plug?

Everyone should read more stuff written by Canadian authors. If you haven't already, pick up novels by Guy Gavriel Kay, Peter Watts, Steven Erikson, and R. Scott Baker. One day Canucks will take over the SFF genre!

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