I don’t know that you’ll find a better voice in the blogosphere for YA books and SFF books that Thea and Ana from The Booksmugglers. I’m not the only one who believes this. The Booksmugglers are one of the most trafficked book blogs on the internet. They are bloggers at Tor.com and are now the featured writers for Kirkus’ SFF section. They are not writers but cool ass readers. So cool ass, Ana was one of a select few bloggers invited to Alnwick Castle to have tea with Duchess of Northumberland in the Castle’s State Dinning Room. I asked them to tell us a little about how the two met, what they think about blogging and what books we should be excited about. Here’s what the duo had to say:
DA: How did you two meet/set up the blog
TBS: We love it when we are asked this question as it gives us a chance to geek out! We met on a LOST Forum (yes, the television show LOST). We were (ok, still are) huge LOST fans and we used to spend hours every single day posting on this forum, geeking out with other fans, searching for spoilers online, creating theories about the showsand its characters. (Seriously, Thea came up with an awesome Grand Theory of Desmond which is basically a long essay about how important the character was for the show. Let’s pretend the actual ending didn’t happen.) Anyway, we met online and for the most part talked about LOST until we decided to create a Books thread…and then realised that the two of us were the most assiduous visitors to said thread. We then started to exchange private messages in which we realized that, unbeknownst to each other, we had both developed a sneaky habit to circumvent the angry, prying eyes of our significant others. Both of us had, independently and simultaneously, developed the perfect con – we would buy ridiculous amounts of books from Amazon, have them delivered to our respective offices, and then we would smuggle them home in enormous handbags and covertly hide the contraband on our ever-growing TBRs. All this was done to avoid the incessant complaints from our significant others about lack of space and how our books were taking over the house. Hah, you should see our houses and offices NOW. (Obviously, four years deep into The Book Smugglers, the proverbial cat is out of the oversized handbag! Our respective partners have learned to deal with the inevitable pile of books. Mostly.)
Around this time, Ana started reading and loving Romance novels – in a single order from Amazon, 10 Julia Quinn books were delivered. While searching online for more romance recommendations, she discovered the awesome world of blogging through blogs like Ramblings on Romance, Smart Bitches, an many more. With each passing day, Ana discovered more and more blogs until she was convinced that it would be a great idea to start her own blog to write about all the fantastic books she had been discovering, buying, and reading. She told Thea about this crazy blogging idea, Thea got super excited, and four years later, here we are.
Given our aforementioned smuggling activities, picking a name for the blog was the easiest thing in the world.
DA: What type of content you feature and how are books allocated for review?
TBS: We review a lot of different genres. When we started there was definitely a heavy focus on Romance (Ana) and SFF/UF/Horror (Thea). With time, we expanded our genres of coverage, changing to a heavier focus on Speculative Fiction and YA. Ana still reads the odd Romance novel (favourites remain Loretta Chase, Julie James, Rose Lerner, Meljean Brook), but her tastes have gone through some pretty dramatic shifts over the years!
In addition to reviews, we also do interviews, guest posts, cover spotlights, giveaways, as well as essays and other assorted ponderings. We also have regular seasonal features, such as our annual Halloween Week and our end of the year celebration, called Smugglivus (name inspired by Seinfeld‘s Festivus, of course). We also started a monthly newsletter this year.
Because we usually read different things, allocating books for review is pretty simple: we each pick what we want to read and put it on the calendar. When we both want to read the same book, we do a joint review. Simples! The only real problem arises when just one of us has a copy of a book that we both want to read (this usually happens when a book is released on just one side of the pond), or if one of us goes rogue and reads a highly anticipated book before the other. It has happened a couple of times. No one is pointing fingers but Ana is usually the culprit.
While we do receive a number of review copies and galleys from publishers and authors, we still purchase a shameless amount of books (both ebooks and print books).
DA: Did you have a vision for it or did your vision evolve?
TBS: When we started the blog, we had *no* vision whatsoever. The original plan was to post one review per person each week. We never kept that “plan” as we are both equally anal and obsessive about doing things. This is actually one of the most awesome things about us as a duo: we are equally engaged and dedicated to the blog and we have never had a single fight about one of us slacking off. Heck, we usually tell each other off for trying to do too much.
So yeah, in the beginning, there was no real vision or plan. We just read and reviewed what we felt like. Then something extraordinary happened: an author contacted us and offered an ARC for review (cue us, frantically googling the term “ARC”). At that point in time, we had no idea what an ARC was, nor were we aware of the fact that bloggers could have relationships with authors or publishers! With time, we began to learn more about the industry and eventually were contacted by authors and publishers about review opportunities, interviews, giveaways, blog tours, and more.
As we continue to grow (and as Thea now works full time in the publishing industry), the possibilities for The Book Smugglers in the future are endless! We have a vision of a future in which we’ve somehow helped the existing publishing industry figure out how to connect with bloggers and readers (without being alienating or, well, stupid about it). We have a vision of a future in which we – bloggers, not just The Book Smugglers – are a vital, vibrant part of an increasingly digital book ecosystem,spreading the word about the best books, and finding new ways to connect with other bloggers, readers and authors.
Vision is tough. Agenda is another matter. If you ask what our agenda is, that’s easy: world domination, one review at a time.
DA: What do you think that sets The Book Smugglers apart and/or what’s your favorite Book Smuggler feature?
Ana: Personally, I think what sets us apart is the same thing that sets Dear Author apart: we take any book seriously, regardless of its genre and review it in depth, critically, honestly and always with the aim to help our readers making an informed decision about which books to read. My favourite Book Smuggler feature? I have a soft spot for Smugglivus. It is always so much fun and there are so many awesome guests with great book recommendations.
Thea: Ditto to what Ana said about our – sometimes awkward and painful! – reviews. We aren’t happy-go-lucky bloggers that give five froot loops to every book we feature. We strive to be as detailed, critical, and personally honest about each and every book we review, and I think that is huge differentiation factor.
As for my favorite feature, I have to go with our “On the Smugglers’ Radar” posts. I have so much FUN scouring the interwebs for new pretty covers and fascinating forthcoming releases.
DA: What do you love about blogging? And is there anything you hate about it?
Ana: This might sound crazy but I love how busy we are with blogging! I love it when Thea and I have one of our “Organisation Parties” in which we list all the books we have, add them all to our shared calendar, and decide which joints we will be doing.
As for anything I hate about it…there isn’t anything really.
Thea: I love our Organization Parties, too (seriously, that’s what we call them. We are DORKS.)! Most of all, I think I love the feeling of reading a truly excellent book, writing a review, and then (hopefully!) watching the comments come in from people that haven’t heard of the book and now want to buy it, or from people that have read the book and also loved it, or from people that have read the book and hated it. The discourse and the different reactions to reviews are so intensely awesome, and I love seeing the range of opinions. It’s wicked cool.
DA: How much time does it take to keep it going?
TBS: Honestly? The Book Smugglers is a second full time job. We blog from work, we blog from class, we blog whenever we have an iota of free time, and we check emails CONSTANTLY. We read other blogs all the time, we (well Ana) tweets constantly, we tumblr blog, and we obsess about what to feature in our next newsletter or what else we can be doing to keep growing as a platform and make ourselves bigger, better, and stronger. We read and write whenever we have free time: when we wake up, before going to bed, on lunch breaks, during our commutes, while watching TV, on the treadmill, on weekends and when travelling, Thea has perfected the art of reading and walking at the same time while carrying multiple handbags AND an umbrella…well, you get the picture. It is a lot of work. It is ALL the time.
And we love it.
DA: What is the one thing you would do for your blog if you had unlimited funds?
TBS: If we had unlimited funds, we would probably just quit our day jobs and dedicate ALL OF OUR TIME to the blog.
DA: Books we should be on the lookout for?
Ana: There is this one book that I have been raving about and thus far it is the BEST book I read in 2012. It is called CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein and it’s about two women – a pilot and a spy – and their friendship during WWII. It is just SO amazing in terms of story but also in terms of narrative. Just one thing: make sure to have tissues at hand.
Thea: The best book I’ve read in 2012 so far is N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, which is a truly marvelous fantasy book set in a world inspired by Ancient Egypt, with a POC (persons of color) cast, and a remarkable sense of politics, action, and worldbuilding. Book 2 in the duology is out this summer! Also awesome: Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince, which is an unexpectedly fantastic twist on a Prince and the Pauper type of sensibility and should appeal to fans of Megan Whalen Turner.