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If you've followed book blogging at all, it's hard not to be aware of The Book Smugglers, a powerhouse book blog run by Ana Grilo and Thea James, that put talking about books front and center when they launched in 2008. They started in romance and spread out to young adult, middle grade, science fiction, and fantasy, and have been a great source for knowing what books are coming out and their honest thoughts about them. From their inception they have churned out tons of reviews, published fascinating columns by contributors, and every December they do Smugglivus, a celebration of media featuring posts from authors and fans from around the YA and SFF community.

Book blogging is much different now than it was in 2008, but although The Book Smugglers are still working hard every day to share reviews and commentary, they've expanded into publishing. Their first season of short fiction, on the theme of Fairytales, produced some excellent stories, and led to even more seasons—and ideas for new projects.

In the last few weeks, they've launched a Kickstarter to help them expand. I sat down with Ana to discuss the blog and their Kickstarter project.



Renay: I am so excited that The Book Smugglers as a project is dreaming big for its tenth year. I remember you as a baby book blogger all those years ago, before you even had your domain. *sheds single tear* How are you feeling about your upcoming ten-year anniversary?

Ana: Old. Like I can feel now that I a Dinosaur Blogger. Most of the people that started their blogs before or at the same time as us have moved on. But we are still here! So I am also feeling proud and happy to be able to continue doing something that I love.

Renay: Speaking of time, take us back to the beginning of the project: how did you get started book blogging and what were your biggest accomplishments with the blog before you became a publisher?

Ana: Time machine! It’s 2008 and Thea and I are over the Lost Forum where we hang out together, talking about books in the Book SubThread. It’s only the two of us here and it’s cosy and everything but I have been reading a lot of bookish blogs lately it looks like something that would be cool to start. So I invite Thea to start a blog of our own, with the idea of posting a review per week each. That plan did not work from the start as we just posted things every single day from week one.

Back to 2017, and looking back, some of what I consider our biggest accomplishments are: the amount of people we reached and the community we created; our first Hugo nomination in 2014 for Best Fanzine; the fact that we have so many blurbs from our reviews printed on books —there’s over 50 of them now.

Renay: You mentioned that you've been around so long that you've seen a lot of blogs come and go, which also means you've watched the publishing and fan writing community grow and change for a decade. What do you think would surprise the 2007-you about the 2017 field?

Ana: Probably how bookish talk would suffer a transformation. Imagine that Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr were baby apps and Instagram did not even exist in 2007 yet. Now imagine book talk without social media? Unthinkable. This also means that the number of voices out there is enormous which is a great thing. Back in 2007 and 2008, blogs were still finding their place in the world, then reached peak prestige and now are only but one type of platform. Diversity—more people different people being heard. This is awesome.

From a personal standpoint, 2007 me would definitely be surprised that I would be part of the field in the way that The Book Smugglers are.

Renay: Why did you and Thea decide to break out of publishing reviews and fan writing to publish fiction and nonfiction? Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to become publishers?

Ana: Not exactly. It happened in two stages. First, in 2013, we were invited by editors Jared Shurin and Justin London from a small publisher in the UK—Jurassic London—to be editors of Speculative Fiction 2013, their then annual collection of Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary. The idea behind the Speculative Fiction was really cool: rotating editors every year and profits donated to charity. We spent the whole of 2013 looking for the best of online nonfiction then edited the book for release in early 2014. That allowed us for a look behind the curtains so to speak and it effectively gave us the editing bug.

Soon after the release of Speculative Fiction, we had a meeting in May 2014. We usually have at least one of those every year to look at upcoming things we wanted to do with the blog, organise our calendar, create new features. At that stage, we felt we needed something different, something new, and something more. It felt very natural to us to decide and publish short stories on the blog. Our aim was to find new voices and debut authors of diverse backgrounds with different stories to tell. We opened submissions then, had an open call until August, read the stories, edited them and started publishing the Fairytale season in October.

I believe that the fact that this first short story season did so well—we even had one of the stories nominated for an award—is what made us want to do more.

Renay: This suggests that publishing is addictive, so excellent backstory and also a public service announcement. Now that you've been publishing short fiction, your excellent almanacs, and even novels, what is the one thing you wish you knew then that you know now and want to call your past self to go, "THIS!!!"?

Ana: I would give myself some pretty basic self-care advice. Right at the start, I was working so hard. I barely slept, didn’t take care of drinking water, eating properly, or spending time just chilling out. I even worked through all my vacations. I literally got sick and had to rethink how I did things. I can’t say I don’t stress anymore but I am doing much better at making down time.

Renay: In the post-blog world of media consolidation, it's common knowledge among people familiar with the medium that they're work. You've balanced a high activity blog for a decade now, so you're old hat at this. But you're still very new at publishing; how is the workload between the blog and the publishing business the same? How do they differ?

Ana: You are absolutely right. I always considered The Book Smugglers to be work. They are the same in terms of amount of dedication and seriousness. However, the amount of time dedicated to these projects are not the same, as I have so much more work to do for the publishing side, while still trying to maintain a wealth of posts for blog. The main difference now is that while before it was just the two of us, we now have a responsibility to the writers who signed up with us—we need to always do our best by them.

Renay: And now you've moved on to Kickstarter! This is a big project and it's really exciting. What made you decide to launch a project like this (besides world domination, of course)?

Ana: We celebrate our tenth anniversary next year and we wanted to level up: to pay more to our short story writers, to have regular paid contributors to the blog so that we can continue to grow and expand. Any money that comes in from this Kickstarter will go straight back into the community.

Renay: How terrifying has running the Kickstarter been? Are there things you've learned that you would pass on to other Kickstarter hopefuls?

Ana: VERY TERRIFYING. Imposter syndrome is alive and kicking. One thing that we never knew but should have expected: how generous people are when they believe in your project. I have seen so many people propping us up, spreading the word, and generously taking on pledges.

The things I’d like to pass on: prepare your project well in advance, calculate the costs of shipping and Kickstarter fees before deciding on pledge levels and don’t be afraid to ASK FOR HELP.

And yes, the dreaded Kickstarter middle weeks plateau is a thing.

Renay: To wrap up, what are some of the stories you've published that you think Lady Business readers might like to check out?

Ana: ALL OF THEM.

Just kidding. Here are five I think your readers might enjoy:

"Hunting Monsters" by S.L. Huang — Our first ever story, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast except Red is now named Rosa and she and Beauty are married and have a child. The child is the story’s narrator and this is a YA story and it’s beautiful.

"Superior" by Jessica Lack — A superhero’s intern falls in love with a villain’s apprentice and this is cute, funny, lovely and queer as fuck.

"Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live" by Sacha Lamb — This is another supercute, queer story which we have called a happy fairy tale for trans boys. It’s about finding family, dealing with depression and it features lots of queer characters. Lots of adorable moms.

"How to Piss-Off a Failed Super-Soldier" by John Chu — This is yet another cute queer story about a super-soldier who hates being what he is and has this huge baggage that he has to settle with his brother (also a super-soldier). Meanwhile, he is totally crushing on this dude who may or may not know what he is.

"The Life and Times of Angel Evans" by Meredith Debonnaire — This reminds me so much of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett! It has that same vibe and I love the writing - plus, it’s about Angel Evans, who once saved entire universes but at a huge cost and now what else can she do with her life? It has a fuckton of queer characters too - Angel herself is pansexual and in a relationship with a girl-ghost.

We publish a lot of LGBT stories ♥




You can support The Book Smugglers project over at Kickstarter and help them bring more diverse stories and creators to the SFF field! You can follow them online at thebooksmugglers.com and on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] booksmugglers.

Date: 2017-09-27 09:24 am (UTC)
goodbyebird: Captain Marvel: Close-crop of Carol and Chewie, looking pissed. (C ∞ grumpycat IN SPACE)
From: [personal profile] goodbyebird
Already snapped up the Leckie pledge, but really looking forward to seeing what the 48 hour rush brings. Best of luck!

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