Today I’ll be hanging out with Michael Senft of Relentless Reading, a blog providing Sci-Fi and Fantasy news, reviews and interviews from the Arizona desert. “A Veritable Paladin of Blogging” according to Elizabeth Bear, he is generally an obsessive sci-fi and fantasy reader, annoying his friends and family with this latest project since 2014. Now if he could just find someone to design a decent website… and maybe incorporate that quote from Bear into it…
SCy-Fy: You have already attracted quite a bit of attention with your blog in just one year. How did it come about?
MS: I was a journalist for 10 years before the newspaper industry went under and I miss it more than you can imagine. Phoenix Comicon is really what inspired me to get off my ass and start writing again. I was sick of seeing news coverage of the Con focusing on b-list celebrities that you had to pay $100 for an autograph, or the hottest cosplay costumes, while ignoring the major bestselling authors it was bringing in.
So I decided to do something about it. And it’s been enormously fulfilling.
SCy-Fy: It’s nearly Phoenix time again, isn’t it?
MS: Keep checking my site over the next month or two, with Phoenix Comicon around the corner I’ve got lots of cool interviews in the pipeline!
For those who don’t know, Phoenix Comicon has an incredible author presence. Last year we had Pat Rothfuss and Jim Butcher, the year before we had Brandon Sanderson and Terry Brooks. And there’s usually a couple dozen other name authors and a lot of cool programming. Sam Sykes’ Batsu game is a thing of wonder. Or terror. Not sure which, but it’s a certainly a spectacle.
This year I’m working on Phoenix Comicon’s author track and am planning a ton of author interviews to correspond with the Con. Kevin Hearne is hosting a big signing with over a dozen authors and I’m trying to get some interview time with most of them, plus some other big guests like Ann Leckie and Pierce Brown.
SCy-Fy: Where do you hope to take this, Michael?
MS: My ultimate goal is to be able to write full-time in some form or another – but the sad reality is that full-time writer is not going to be feasible any time soon. I would like to find opportunities to freelance about SFF outside my local area, maybe do some guest writing on other blogs or for some larger sites.
For my blog, I’m just trying to build it up as a go-to for SFF book events in Arizona, while providing cool interviews and info that people everywhere can appreciate.
SCy-Fy: Arizona events have already produced some of your most popular posts, haven’t they?
MS: Yes. The one that had the biggest impact was my interview with Scott Lynch last month. I met him at the Tucson Festival of Books and ended up hanging out with him and Elizabeth Bear for most of the festival – I was sort of their pet blogger. They were both gracious with their time and Scott really opened up about his depression. It was an interview that I knew would have an impact, and I knew it was important for people to read. I’ve dealt first-hand with depression myself and I wanted others who suffered to read it. It made me wish I had a larger platform to share it on.
And it was big — I had more hits on that story in a day than I’d had in three months total. Over the past few weeks that single post ended up doubling my page views. And it was wonderful seeing comments on my blog and places like Reddit.
SCy-Fy: Is that part of a general trend regarding your blog content?
MS: I’ve noticed that my blog has gradually shifted from primarily reviews with some news and interviews, to primarily news and interviews with some reviews. The reality is we’re playing for page views, and I’ve found people are more interested in an interview with Scott Lynch or news about the Hugo nominations than my opinion on a book. But I also see plenty of hits to my reviews whenever I post a news story, so it works out.
Come for the Hugo controversy, stay for the rave review of City of Stairs.
SCy-Fy: Where do you fit your blogging into the rest of your life?
MS: It really depends… I work a full-time job and do regular freelance for our local newspaper as well, so blogging is third priority. The ideal day is as follows: I get home from work around 5 and start dinner, then write until about 9 p.m. – depending on my freelance deadlines – I then read for a couple hours before bed. If I’m lucky I can squeeze some writing in during downtime at work as well. The sad reality is that there is usually several hours of farting around on the Internet mixed in there.
Saturday mornings tend to be my most productive — my dogs get me up earlier than I’d like so I usually spend a few hours reading or writing before getting started on household chores.
SCy-Fy: What do you think is the major challenge for SFF blogging?
MS: Getting your voice heard above the noise! There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sci-fi blogs out there. Promotion seems to be by word of mouth and interactions with other bloggers — things like this interview, or some of the blog memes I’ve seen. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Twitter and Reddit help, but I’m still trying to learn proper etiquette for those as well!
SCy-Fy: Do you have any tips for bloggers based on your experience so far? For reviewers or writers?
MS: I don’t know if I can offer specific blogging tips, I’m not even sure I’m doing it right! But the ultimate tips for all of these is to read and write. A lot. Read books, read blogs, see what they are doing that you like and be willing to take advice from others. And continue to write, honing your craft as best as you can. Study your favorite writers and learn from them. There are some great writing resources within the community as well; Brandon Sanderson’s “Writing Excuses”, Chuck Wendig’s blog… .
Also, get involved in the community, both the blogging community and the larger SFF fandom. I decided when I started all this last year that I wanted to be more involved with fandom, so I registered for a Hugo supporting membership, being completely ignorant of the controversy surrounding it. So I was kind of floored by the Puppy campaigns, but they’ve provided a lot of material to write about.
SCy-Fy: Which resources do you find most useful?
MS: I’m still trying to find a lot of resources myself, so I’m always open to suggestions!
Netgalley and Edelweiss are great places to get eARCs, but I’ve found that they cater to different audiences. Lately I’m trying to go in a newsier direction with my blog as opposed to strictly reviews, so Edelweiss seems to serve me better. But both really work best as a guide, if there’s something I really want I go straight to the publisher’s PR flak. This could just be from the newspaper background, but a good introductory e-mail and maintaining communication (sending copies of your reviews, that sort of thing) will build a good relationship and get you more opportunities for interviews and such.
I’ve found that following authors on Twitter also pointed me not only to new authors to explore, but to trends and news stories in SFF, better than visiting some of the bigger sites like Tor.com and Suvudu.
SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging to watch out for?
MS: I think the biggest trap I’ve fallen into — and I’m not sure when exactly I’ll get my head out of it — is only writing about new releases. Publishers are sending books for review, and I don’t want to lose those contacts, so I’m concentrating on newer releases. Part of that also comes from my newspaper instincts, wanting to be fresh and timely in my writing. But there are a ton of older books I’d love to read and expound upon. It’s finding time to do both — as it is I’ll never finish my reading list in my lifetime!
It’s also a difficult balancing act between being a fan and being a blogger. I want to share what I love, I also want access to what I love, but I don’t want to become a shill for what I love in order to get access. I admit it, I have fun talking with authors, and I appreciate them recognizing me from my writing, and for just being a regular at events.
But there has to be a line between fan and reporter, and it can be a difficult balancing act to maintain.
SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?
MS: Honestly, my blog has kept me going through some of my darkest times. Writing is a joy and a release compared to my day job! It’s still work though, not just a hobby, and it does require discipline.
Writers are narcissists. I want to know people are reading my work and I want the occasional pat on the head; without those you can feel like all your work is for naught. I’m sure that causes a lot of bloggers who have great things to say to fall by the wayside. If no one hears your voice, what’s the point in speaking? So getting a retweet from an author who liked my review, a comment from a fellow blogger, an invitation to be interviewed – those things make my day.
SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?
MS: Grace of Kings by Ken Liu is at the top right now. Beautiful blend of history and epic storytelling, and completely alien to me, I didn’t know anything about Chinese history going into it. I just finished Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty from last year as well, I discovered him from We Are All Completely Fine and Harrison Squared, and have been delving into his back catalog. Afterparty is a cool futuristic riff on designer drugs and religion, and the writing is positively electric. Wish I’d read it earlier…
SCy-Fy: Which upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
MS: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, I’ve loved the Imperial Radch books so far, and I want to see how they end.
City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Again, City of Stairs was head and shoulders my favorite novel last year and I want to see how this one ends as well.
I understand Connie Willis is working on a new novel, I’ll be excited to see what she has to offer. The Doomsday Book is probably my favorite Sci-Fi novel of the past 30 years.
And there’s the long term ones, Patrick Rothfuss’ Doors of Stone, George R.R. Martin’s Winds of Winter, Brandon Sanderson’s Stones Unhallowed. But those are still a ways off, and there’s plenty to see me through till then!
SCy-Fy: Thank you, Michael – and best of luck!
MS: Thank you for inviting me!