Interview with the 2 Ja(y)nes of Dear Author

Interview with the 2 Ja(y)nes of Dear Author

My blog is still being uppity with me. It now has SEVEN categories, and it still says “meager.” Do you think Sébastien might have deliberately set it up to mock me? I wouldn’t put it past him. I made him out all nice in Blame It on Paris, but he’s got hidden depths.

But I digress. Or rather, I stick with the original topic: me. But TODAY is Not All About Me day. Today is All About the 2 Ja(y)nes.

Jayne and Jane are the authors of the popular reader blog Dear Author. Started in April 2006—only 10 MONTHS ago–, it has developed into one of the more popular reader blogs, with an average of 1600 hits a day. The Ja(y)nes focus particularly although not exclusively on fiction that is somehow romantic, although not always necessarily traditionally classified “romance”. For example, Jayne reviewed MY book, Blame It on Paris, which is actually a memoir, and proved that she had EXCELLENT taste in doing so. Although I believe she actually meant to give Blame It on Paris an A+++++++ but her finger slipped. Today they’ve joined us for an EXCLUSIVE interview.

Laura: I am fascinated by the phenomenon of reader blogs. How did you two get into doing yours?

Jayne: Jane really started the whole thing. She and I know each other from other reader/review sites and one day she emailed me and a few other people, told us that she’d started a blog and wanted to know if anyone else would be interested in blogging with her. I looked at the site, which was very different in layout than it is now (thank you Maili for doing our artwork!) and thought, “WTF, could be fun.” She and I stumbled along, learning what we were doing and how to pace our reviews (we average two posts a day plus news items). Various incarnations of layouts followed until we arrived at what we currently have.

Jane: I blog because I want to talk about romance books with other
romance readers. As much as I love my husband, he has no desire to talk about these books or issues that abound in the romance industry. I had been part of the blogging world in the form of a commenter for a while but it never occurred to me to start a blog until I had read two books by two favorite authors that made me feel like I was completely out of step with the reading world. I wanted to have a voice and thought that a blog would be a way for me to do that. I tossed around a couple of ideas and thought that I would blog in the form of a letter to the author, thoughts that I shared with other readers, like Jayne, in emails. Plus,
was an available domain.

I emailed about five friends and told them about it and Jayne was the only fool to say she would join me in blogging servitude. I would never be able to maintain the blog without Jayne.

Laura: I love the letter-to-the-author format. I always like having a conversation with readers, and the way you do yours really works. Obviously, given the success of the blog. What’s your reaction to the way Dear Author has grown since you started? Did you ever imagine it would become this successful?

Jayne: Personally, I had no idea it would grow this much. I just thought she and I would have some fun, post our thoughts on books and maybe a few people would stop by and comment. I remember when we were thrilled that 100 people stopped by in a day to read what we were doing and I’m still tickled pink when someone responds to one of my posts. As the NASA astronauts’ wives used to say, “I’m just thrilled, happy and proud.” 😉
I’m also happy to admit that it’s mainly Jane’s hard work which has gotten us the number of readers we have today. She’s the blog expert and the one who has tirelessly contacted editors, publishers, and authors to publicize us, request arcs, ask for interviews and get us noticed. She’s also the technical guru who fixes the glitches, arranges the format and makes us look good on your computer screens.

Jane: Ditto on what Jayne said. I thought it would be maybe 10 people who would visit the blog. I’ve been shocked but pleased at the growth. Jayne gives me to much credit. She is tireless in making sure that she always has timely blog posts, reining in my desire for more widgets and techy goodness, spell checking, generally making sure that I haven’t gone off the deep end.

We like the increasing readership. To some extent, I think its
affirmation that we are doing something right, bringing up topics that
need to be discussed, offering a forum for readers voices to be heard. We are always looking for new and better ways to do things.

Laura: What have been the positive surprises of doing this blog?

Jayne: The reader response and recognition. As I said earlier, I’m still amazed when people post that they stop by every day to read what we’re doing, catch up on our reviews and op/ed pieces. The free arcs we’re getting are a fantastic bonus as well. Keep those babies coming, I say!

Jane: Yes, the response. I have been astounded at how smart and articulate the readership is. There are so many interesting topics to discuss and it seems that people feel like that they can agree and disagree in equal fashion. I think the discourse between the readers keep people coming back. The free books are also a bonus. I got to take a look at one of the Dorchester Shomi books coming out in the fall and it was just great. Edgy, fresh, hot and romantic. These are perks that I love.

I am of two minds about ARCs. On the one hand, you do get to read a book early, but on the other hand, once you’ve read the book, you still have to wait same amount of time as the rest of the reading world to read the next one. It’s like a blessing and a curse all at the same time.

Laura: I am taking down notes here. ARC for next book to Ja(y)nes. OK, OK. Maybe I should include truffles. I happen to know that some reader bloggers are susceptible to chocolate. Other than insufficient chocolate appreciation, have there been any negative surprises?

Jayne: After reading the message boards at the major review sites, I
expected negative responses to reviews. But if you post your opinion in public, you have to expect that an equal number of people will think the opposite that you do about a book or issue. We haven’t had too many trolls trounce us but it helps that Jane pounces like a sleek jungle cat when someone tries. But seriously, I think we’ve been lucky in that most people who post an opposite opinion are polite and articulate with well thought out responses.

Jane: I think the negative surprise is how people assume that we have power over an author’s career. That is an incorrect misconception. For the most part, I think we can convince readers to buy books but not necessarily deter them from buying a book which is probably as it should be.

Jayne: I agree about any supposed power we have over book sales or an author’s career. I never set out to write a review to try and dissuade anyone from buying a book. I think of what we do as supplying readers with just one more opinion they can use to help them make up their own minds.

Laura: I was so hoping to hear something scandalous about some famous author with that question. Black roses delivered with a poisoned needle hidden in the flowers at the very least. Or was that a Nancy Drew? So, even without poisoned black roses, have you ever been tempted to quit, or are you having too much fun?

Jayne: So far so good. We’ve worked out a schedule of posting reviews/op ed pieces that doesn’t make us work too hard to stay ahead. I generally try to keep about 15 finished reviews on hand for times when my real life slows down my reading time. So if you see a “Now Reading” cover come down and don’t immediately see a review for that book, it probably just means we haven’t gotten around to posting the review yet. We also have a part time reviewer and long time friend, Janine, who supplies Dear Author with some great reviews and things a few times a month. A couple of other
friends have contributed reviews as well.

Jane: Only every Sunday before the Op Letter goes up. I seem to not be able to blog ahead for those babies and they take about 2 hours to write. I am not as good as Jayne about blogging ahead which is another reason why I am so grateful for her partnership.

I think that whenever you feel overwhelmed by blogging, it is time to ask for a guest blogger. That gives you time to recharge your blogging batteries and feel good about continuing. Having Janine come aboard and offer up her smart reviews and her insightful opinions is a welcome relief.

Laura: Yes, Janine IS great. I like her reviews a lot. If we are lucky maybe she will join us in the comments? (Janine?) As for you two, do you feel a real split between your blogging life and your “day job life”? Do you try to keep them separate? If you do, is it a little bit like being Batman and Bruce Wayne?

Jayne: Yes, I do feel a major difference. My “day job life” has nothing to do with reading or reviewing. I doubt most of my friends and co-workers even know about this aspect of my life and that’s just fine with me. It allows me more freedom to say what I want. People who pay attention to my posts and responses may have picked up some personal facts about me but I deliberately try to be vague about who I am.

Jane: I try to keep my blogging life and day life separate. If anything,
though, its probably Clark Kent and Superman with only a cheap pair of black eyeglasses separating my identities.

Laura: Speaking of superheroes, we’re going to be interviewing one later on this month. Which super hero or super villain would you like to be and why? Or are you one already?

Jayne: Can I be a supervixen? I’d be Catwoman, definitely. She’s a hot babe, she gets to wear leather and my cat would be pissy if I wanted to be something else. My dog is happy most of the time anyway but you know you gotta work to keep the cat happy.

Jane: Hmm. It depends on whether I would have to wear a lycra jumpsuit. (Note: I consulted with Ned, the dear husband, who nixed Wonder Woman because she seemed so motherly to him despite the gold boots and skimpy strapless swimsuit attire). How about Lara Croft? She looks hot, is very athletic, and shoots with two guns. TWO! Plus, I know her pretty well having played all those games on the playstation.

Laura: I think I’d be Super Mom. I want to be able to do a Super Time Out. But I’m not too into that spongy hand part. Do you have any future Super Blog Ambitions you would like to share or are
you happy with where it’s at now?

Jayne: Jane is always looking for ways to expand the blog and bring in new readers. I’m sure she’s got something in the works. I also want to get back to reviewing different epublishing sites. Jane and I want to promote ebooks as much as possible plus the discounts and free books that the publishers offer to our readers are a great way to reward our faithful fans.

Jane: I think that in order to be relevant, we need to always look to be doing things differently. If we remained stagnant, we can’t expect to maintain readership or grow. I’d like to be syndicated more. I am not sure how to go about doing that but I think syndication is one way that Jayne and I can help the new and midlist authors we love find an audience. It doesn’t require millions of readers to make a book successful, only thousands. The internet, I believe, can reach those thousands in ways that haven’t been possible in the past.

We love ebooks and want to continue spreading ebook goodness all over the internet and into the paperworld.

Laura: Any other stories you would like to share from the trenches?

Jane: I just would add that I love reader blogs. I visit more reader blogs than any other kind of blog out there. A positive reader mention will make me notice a book more than all the cover quotes and publisher directed ads will ever do.

[Laura: Through the power of technology, I am editing this post to make it look like the first time I posted it, I remembered to say: “Me, too, I love reader blogs, too! Thank you both for doing yours! It is fabulous. And thank you for this interview–I am, I think, even more intrigued.” The reason I did not say this the first time is either a) because I am just that self-absorbed, or b) I realized how late it was and hurriedly posted while running madly in all directions. Thank you, Ja(y)nes.]

  • You called, I’m here. You guys are so good for my ego.

    February 8, 2007 at 11:24 am
  • Forgot to add: Great interview, Laura! And great answers, Jane and Jayne.

    February 8, 2007 at 11:27 am
  • Hello, Janine! I always enjoy it when your reviews show up on Dear Author.

    OK, now is the time to dish the dirt. Do Jayne and Jane treat you like Robin or do you get to be a superhero of equal footing? If so, what superhero/super villain are you?

    And has anyone ever sent YOU poisoned black roses because of a review? Tell all!

    Also, do they make everyone change their name to one like Jane? Is your real name Hildegard?

    February 8, 2007 at 11:43 am
  • readerdiane

    I love reading their reviews and they have put me onto some new authors. I can’t say that I always agree with their reviews but sometimes it can be pretty lively. I loved it when Nora Roberts chimed in.
    I think I remember a controversy or two. 😉

    February 8, 2007 at 12:22 pm
  • ReaderDiane – we love adverse opinions, truly, because it helps readers make buying decisions. We are only one opinion and having others chime in, good or bad, makes the blog much more meaningful for everyone.

    February 8, 2007 at 1:26 pm
  • Nice interview. And for directing me to another cool place to hang out!

    February 8, 2007 at 1:39 pm
  • Dear Author is by far one of my favorite sites. It’s the first one I click into in the morning, just to see what’s up, new and interesting.

    It’s how I found BIOP. One of my favorites from last year, which you already know 😀

    Nice interview ladies.

    February 8, 2007 at 1:53 pm
  • Laura, they treat me wonderfully. I get to be a superhero of equal footing. Since Catwoman is already taken, I’ll say I’m Storm from the X-Men. I’ve always wanted to be able to control the weather.

    No, thankfully no one has ever sent me poisoned black roses because of a review. I wouldn’t mind black roses sans poison; they would be striking, don’t you think?

    I’ve only been privately contacted by an author in response to a review twice, and both were appreciative of positive reviews. But as a caveat, I have to add that so far I haven’t had occasion to give a lower letter grade than a C, unless you count the DNF I wrote about in my op-ed piece, “The DNF Dilemma.” I don’t try to soften my grades but it so happens that I generally select books I think I will enjoy, and don’t finish the few that really aren’t working for me.

    For example, we were offered an ARC the other day. I found an excerpt from that book on the web and could tell from the writing style that it probably wouldn’t work for me, but I mentioned to Jane and Jayne that I thought Jayne might like it because it had an unusual setting, and she loves those. I decided not to review the book, but Jayne said she’d take a look at it.

    To answer your last question. Ahem, ahem. I hope I don’t get in trouble for this. Part of the fun at Dear Author is that everyone who contributes to the blog has a J name. Like Bookseller Jolie. My real name isn’t Hildegard but you can call me that if you like it better.

    February 8, 2007 at 2:31 pm
  • Yep, Laura, if you ever guested, we’d have to call you Jaura or something really sneaky like that. Or maybe Janaura.

    February 8, 2007 at 2:48 pm
  • Ah-HA. I knew there was some sneaky conspiracy to steal all the J names. J names are the best. ALL my fictional main characters get J names. Probably about 5 books down the line some editor will be saying, “I’m sorry but DID your dog eat all the other alphabet letters in your baby name book or what?”

    February 8, 2007 at 2:54 pm
  • dee

    Great interview, Laura. Like some other people mentioned, I heart the Ja(y)nes. I visit there pretty regularly, though I don’t always comment. And honestly, I think they are the only other review site I’ve ever linked to on the review blog. Their reviews are generally spot-on, and yet they refrain from being mean. I really LOVE that about their site. Thereis such a difference between snark and cruelty, and I just don’t think you have to be cruel in a review in order to try to be funny. They don’t, unlike many othr review sites I’ve come across. If they don’t like something, they are very specific about what it is that they didn’t like, but still find a way to say something nice about most every book. I feel like this is a Fan-girl-Squee-Moment about the Ja(y)nes, but really, it’s all true. I really enjoy their site!

    And now I feel like some two-bit hustler, because I know JUST what you were getting at with this comment : “I happen to know that some reader bloggers are susceptible to chocolate.” I’ll have you know that my appreciation for your book had nothing to do with that box of truffles. Nothing at all. And just FYI, there are NO pics of me actually licking the cover of your book. None. I destroyed every last one of them!

    February 9, 2007 at 1:20 pm
  • dee

    You know, I’m looking at my post and seeing all of my typos, and trying to figure out where they’re coming from, as I’m usually pretty good at the spelling thing. Then I glanced down at my keyboard and noticed that I actually have LITTLE FLAKES OF CHOCLATE stuck between the keys. So I’m totally going to blame all of my typos on YOU, Laura, since the only time I’ve eaten chocolate at my desk in ages was that one truffle, but your book spent a LOT of time on my desk.

    Plus, I had to add another comment because I forgot to mention how much I also enjoy reading the stuff that Janine writes. “The DNF Dilemma” is one of my favorite threads, and I keep going back to it to re-read some of the things that were brought up. I don’t agree with some of the comments, but it was very interesting for me, as a reader and as a blogger.

    Am I FGSM on them again? Sorry!

    February 9, 2007 at 1:39 pm
  • You know I will always doubt, dee. Was it my book or was it the chocolate? I will require CONSTANT reassurance.

    And even I don’t have chocolate flakes on my computer, I’ll have you know. And I’m eating chocolate at my desk RIGHT NOW. One of the last of the truffles that were too fragile to mail.

    Isn’t that evil? I shall adventure into less fragile truffles this weekend. (Making them, I mean. Although I might eat one or two. EXTRA ones, not the ones that I’m supposed to pack and mail.)

    February 9, 2007 at 3:48 pm