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Interview with Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

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Started in 1992, the New Mystery Reader  is a web-based magazine featuring information on new mystery releases in both hardcover and paperback. Each monthly issue features book reviews, short stories, articles, and author interviews. Founder and Editor Stephanie Padilla considers freelance reviews and is currently looking for quality reviewers. If you'd like to review for New Mystery Reader or would like to submit a book or short story for consideration, please read the submission guidelines. Padilla also offers Author Services in the form of manuscript evaluation. For Padilla, the toughest part of being a reviewer is being able to keep own's honesty and integrity when writing a negative review while not being unkind to the author.

Thanks for this interview, Stephanie. What do you look for in a book review?

The most important aspects that we try and share with readers is both a synopsis of the book as well as an intelligent opinion of the overall quality of writing inherent in the book. Of course, we hope that it will be honest, insightful, and offer something fresh and different than the many others out there.

What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?

It seems that many new reviewers tend to give a much more positive review than sometimes deserved, but the worst mistake might be in giving away too much of the plot. Simple, I know, but you'd be amazed how often new reviewers tend to forget that they're speaking of a book that people have yet to read.

Do you think there is much value in being unkind but truthful when a book really stinks?

That's a tough question that I grapple with daily; integrity is very important to me, and I feel the main loyalty should be with the readers of our magazine. However, I think that one can express a truthful, albeit negative, opinion without being unduly unkind. This is one of the most difficult aspects of reviewing, and it's always a fine line to walk. There are ways to suggest that certain aspects of a novel are lacking in a diplomatic manner, and I know that I, and most of my reviewers, feel really bad when faced with such a situation. I have found that a good way to approach is to remember that while it may not be the type of book that personally strikes you, it still may have a quality or two worth pointing out amongst the bad.

Do you take into consideration the feelings of an author when you review or do you refuse to be swayed by them?

I have a very deep respect for those that have the courage and creativity to attempt to put something "out there", and so I approach most books with that in mind. However, I must admit that I will give "a break", so to speak, to the newer novelists for the same mistakes that I will point out coming from a better known author. With the kind of support staff these guys have, it seems that they should be long past certain types of mistakes that you will all too often still find in their published works.

What style of reviews do you think have the most value?

Personally speaking, I would appreciate an honest review that explains WHY the book was either liked or disliked, along with a detailed synopsis of the book. Although, of course, not TOO detailed.

Do you think many independent reviewers on the web tend to give “facile praise” to books?

Actually, yes I do. The web has opened up a way for anyone and everyone to express their opinions, and while I'm not saying this is a bad thing, it can be misleading in a way. The entire publishing industry works much like any other industry, and so there is some pressure on to keep a positive outlook in order to continue being on the give away list. But I have found that this may be more of a misconception than a reality, as most publicists are very accepting of the occasional negative review. But nonetheless, one should be wary of any site that is too positive.

Do you look on reviews as a critique or just your opinion of the work?

Another tough question! I would say both. I hate to be so bold as to suggest that I could possibly know of a better way to write, because wouldn't I be doing that if I did? But as one who reads a massive quantity of books, and who knows the genre extremely well, I do think I, and those on my staff, are indeed qualified to know the difference between quality and the lack thereof. But basically, the bottom line is that it is truly just an opinion, albeit an educated opinion, just as is any critic's opinion, whether it is for movies, television, books, etc…

Do you get feedback from readers?

Oh, yes! Sometimes it's not always nice either. But it's always welcomed. I've had my reviews critiqued just as closely as I've critiqued the book and it's always an eye opener. And in reference to your previous question, I always point out that it's just an opinion after all. When one reads, or watches, ANY review, whether it's on television, the New York Times, or the Internet, one should always keep in mind that no matter what the credentials of the reviewer, it's still only an opinion, and opinions are subjective no matter how one tries to argue otherwise.

Apart from celebrity reviewers who work for major publications like The New York Times, can a reviewer make any real money from writing reviews?

Maybe back in the day before the Internet there may have been a chance. But now with the pervasiveness of so much information, most of it free, and the decline in newspaper and magazine readership, it seems highly unlikely. If you can get something for free, and there are many quality sites out there willing to provide exactly that, that means the paying jobs are going to become even more rare, so no, I don’t' think one can make a lot of money out of reviewing, unfortunately!

What advice would you give to beginner reviewers who wish to make a career in this field?

That there really is no way to have a career entirely in this field, unless you're willing to do more than just reviewing, but you're going to have to be willing to dip your feet into a other areas in order to make living, such as editing, publishing, representing, or promoting. But it it's just reviewing you want to do, do it with a commitment and love for books, nothing more.

Do you consider/publish reviews by independent reviewers?

Oh, definitely. Anything that's well written will be looked at and most likely accepted if it falls within our general publishing guidelines, which are really very few.

Do you read reviews to select your reading material?

Actually I do sometimes. It's funny to see how, after reading a book and writing a review, it measures up to different opinions. I try and represent any and all genres within the mystery framework. So just about any type of mystery is welcomed and so it's a mix of what is sent, and what I feel that we "should" include. But always welcomed is new authors from the small publishing houses. I have added a page to the site devoted entirely to "small press" and only hope that readers will continue to give these authors at least a glance.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • http://www.christopherhoare.ca c hoare

    I notice some of those interviewed look for a synopsis while others seem to look at that as a sign of a weak review. Perhaps the synopsis might be considered as something of a ‘menu’ that might allow a reader to decide whether they might want to ‘order’?

    Chris H.

  • http://afallon.bravehost.com/ A. F. Stewart

    Great interview.
    Reviewers certainly have a great many considerations on their plate. I never realized it was so involved.

  • http://www.perilouspauline.com Pauline Jones

    Very interesting and enlightening. As an author, it is hard when someone doesn’t like your work, but it is also part of the business. I always appreciate a reviewer who tries so hard to be fair.

    And to learn about a new publication is an additional bonus. :-)

  • http://www.margotfinke.com Margot Finke

    I LOVE a mystery!! So I was very interested in how Stephanie Padilla, of The New Mystery Reader, answered Mayra’s questions. Seems to me this would be a great place to check our new mysteries, before you splurge big bucks on a hard copy for yourself.

    Thanks Mayra Calvani for asking Stephanie Padilla the hard questions readers of mysteries want answered.

    Margot Finke –
    Rhyming fun with
    “Rattlesnake Jam”

  • http://www.myspace.com/margay1122 Margay

    Great advice for aspiring reviewers.

  • http://zooprisepartyfiestazoorpresa.blogspot.com Joy Delgado

    Mayra,
    It’s interesting how there are so many different ways to wrtie a review. This series is helping to point out all these varied ways. Thank you

    Joy Delgado