Andrea Sisco is the co-founder of Armchair Interviews and the author of the forthcoming mystery novel A Deadly Habit, to be released from Five Star in 2009. Started in 2005, Armchair Interviews now has about 100 staff reviewers who review an average of 200 books a month. This popular review site receives about 2 million hits a year and has been named by Writer's Digest one of the Best 101 Websites for Writers for three years in a row. Armchair Interviews has a lot of offer authors and readers, from audio interviews, to audio blurbs, to contests, to ads, to a whole range of resources on books and writing. It also publishes a monthly newsletter. Sisco is always on the lookout for quality reviewers. Just drop her an email at [email protected] and she'll get you started. Armchair Interviews reviews most type of books in about 43 genres, with the exception of ebooks. In this interview, Sisco talks about the challenges of running a big review site, and about her forthcoming novel, among other things.
Thank you very much for this interview, Andrea. Tell us a bit about Armchair Interviews.
Our knowledge of books and our excitement and passion for the idea of Armchair Interviews was the beginning of creating a great site. We placed ourselves in the able hands of Paul Larson of Creative Arc in Minneapolis and he patiently worked with Connie and me to design an attractive, user friendly site. We then began to add other things like audio and written interviews, contests, a reader's page, an author's page, etc., for our visitors.
But it's the reviewers. They're passionate about the written word. They're good writers, responsible people and oh so much fun. They work hard. They work with us, not for us, and that's the difference I think. They are Armchair Interviews. And we've gained new friends from around the United States and the world through Armchair Interviews. They simply are the best. Check out our site and then other sites and you'll see what I mean.
What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?
Time. It's primarily two people (Connie and I) running Armchair Interviews with some help from Paul Larsen (our go-to guy for web help) and Jeff Foster who does some marketing for us. Connie has a business (that pays the bills) and must give that time. I am a writer, I travel a great deal with my husband, we live in Minnesota and Arizona (which is a time and logistics challenge) and we have numerous children and grandchildren I want to spend time with. Connie and I always want to do more and wonder where we'll get the time.
But money is another important aspect. It takes money to create a good site and money to maintain and improve a site like ours. Authors often don't like paying for ads, interviews, etc. The problem is, if the site isn't paying for itself, it goes away. They don't understand the number of people we reach and what it costs to maintain a site like ours. Some authors are appalled that sites like ours would charge to promote their titles. Hey, think New York Times, People, USA Today… We may be small, but like them, we have to have revenue to survive. I can never understand why they don't blink an eye at the idea of a magazine, television or newspaper ad, but believe that the internet should be free.
Note: We don't charge to review a title.
How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?
An author should go to www.armchairinterviews.com and click on our FAQ for review submissions and follow the directions. You'd be amazed how many people don't think the rules apply to them. Often though, they read? the directions and send me an email and a link to their web site so I can gather the necessary information myself. That will not get an author a review. Time is short; we have about 400 submissions a month and can't fill them all. It's easier to go with the people who follow the directions. So read the FAQ and follow the directions! How to get that review or interview is another Q & A interview and one every author should hear if they want review coverage. But that's for another time.
Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites? What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?
Criticism is okay. And we criticize books. But we will never, ever trash a book or an author. We want to celebrate authors and their work. If a book (and unfortunately it's almost always self-published) is so awful (poorly written, edited, etc.) we won't review it at all and inform the author of the issues. But we'd like authors to remember: A review is one person's opinion.
In your opinion, what defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer?
I'm not sure I can give you a definitive answer. It's like art; I may not know what good art is, but I'll tell you when I see some. Peruse the sites. What do they look like? How many titles have they reviewed? Do they offer anything besides reviews (nice for building traffic and authors want traffic)? If you contact them do they respond in a timely manner and are they professional in their responses? Ask them how long they've been in business and what their stats are.
But the bottom line is: Print publication continues to reduce their coverage of books. Internet is the coming wave and is even now, becoming the place to go for learning about new books. If I had a small promotion budget, I know I'd get more bang for my buck with Armchair Interviews than with a magazine or newspaper. Why? Because other than USA Today, most newspapers are local or regional. And I could never afford USA Today. Magazines? Well most are out of the price range also. Television and radio are usually local (budget restraints). That leaves the internet and it is huge!
What does your site offer readers?
Armchair Interviews offers readers well-written and comprehensive reviews in approximately 43 genres. What’s really nice is we have ‘experts’ reviewing for us. Authors, engineers, medical doctors, veterinarians, professors/teachers, you get the picture. So if we have a book that fits into a particular field, we can usually find someone who is ‘in the know’ about the subject matter. And for fiction, well, we have some well read, talented writers who can give a ‘spot on’ critique of the book. Without our reviewers, we couldn’t exist. They are simply the best in the business.
Armchair Interviews also provides readers with written and audio author interviews. We’re branching out in our interviews and including industry professionals such as publicists, editors, agents and the like. While contests and give aways are not a big part of the site, we also do a number of those yearly. We try and keep up with and report industry news and let people know who has won the various writers’ awards.
But most importantly, we have grown to a point where our site is filled with information for readers, but it’s also a great place for author’s to be seen, because our readership continues to grow.
What promotional opportunities does your site offer authors?
We offer ads, audio author interviews and written Q&A interviews. They are really reasonable in cost, given our audience. We can provide an author with tailored packages to fit their needs and pocketbook. Connie and I are very conscious to remember that most authors do not have a huge promotional budgets. Contact us for promotional information.
We have authors, publishing houses and publicists that regularly work with us to promote their authors. Oh, and sometimes, for fun and to help, we'll do a give away for an author we feel strongly about. That's a freebie in conjunction with the author or publishing house.
Tell us about your new 'Audio Blurbs.' What are they and how can they help authors and publishers?
Armchair Interviews wanted to do something different to help promote authors. After some thought, Connie Anderson and I decided to record audio ads. This is like a movie trailer, but with the audio only. They are approximately one minute in length and if the audio interests readers, they can click on the book cover icon and purchase the book.
It’s simple, fun and unique. We’ve just enlisted several professional actors to help with the voice work.
I understand you're also an author with a mystery novel coming out soon. Tell us about that and how you find the time to write while maintaining such a demanding review site.
Yes, my agent recently guided me through the first time novelist contract. I am so happy that is done. Now I’m in edits. And I’m happy to report they were miniscule, but still demanded time. A Deadly Habit will make its appearance in 2009 and will be published by Five Star (a part of Cengage Learning).
I don’t know how I find the time to do all that I do. Perhaps I’m overly organized. But let me tell you, living in two different parts of the United States, having a large number of children and grandchildren, traveling, running Armchair Interviews, writing a mystery series and now coauthoring a Young Adult Fantasy series with romantic comedy author, Kathleen Baldwin is like negotiating a mine field, time wise. Frankly, I do what I can and to the best of my ability.
There is one thing I know for sure; there will not be a second Penelope Santucci mystery published exactly one year from the publication to A Deadly Habit because I’m just plotting it now. I also think that it is helpful to have a supportive and understanding husband (Bob Pike). He is the author of 21 business books, a professional speaker, runs our family consulting business and is the chairman of a non-profit faith organization, so he knows what a full schedule is and he pitches in and helps when needed.
I also have some great kids and in-laws. They’re helping with the promotion of A Deadly Habit. My actor/screenwriter son, Guy Wegener is producing a video trailer of A Deadly Habit. Not the still shot videos one sees, but a real ‘movie’ video trailer. And my son-in-law, Alan Pranke is building my personal author web site, www.andreasisco.com. It will be up sometime in late summer of 2008.
And Connie Anderson, my best friend and co owner of Armchair Interviews feeds me info, helps out when I’m on a deadline and keeps me sane. I could go on, but you get the picture. I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life who want me to succeed. Oh, and I don’t watch a great deal of television and I don’t sleep a lot. But at my age, I’ve heard we need less sleep. I love all the things that I do and they are so exciting. I don’t want to let any of them go. I might miss something.
Anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
We'd invite you to check us out. We've got almost 3000 reviews, numerous audio author interviews (they change all the time), contests and a lot of scrumptious information. And the newest thing is: We have a member's only site. For a very small amount of money monthly, we have a place where members can go for 'stuff' that's not on the regular site.
Thank you, Andrea! I appreciate your time!