What: Benoît Lelièvre is a pop culture blogger and author who is also a gigantic basketball nerd. He lives with his better half Josie and his dog Scarlett. You can read him on Dead End Follies, BallBallBallBall and in Zelmer Pulp anthologies.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
DEAD END FOLLIES turned six this week. What was the inspiration for your site? How has it evolved in six years?
Late 2008, I started working the night shift at an IT helpdesk in Montreal. It was a brutal job and a crazy schedule. In many ways, it was the beginning of my adult life. I had spent my early adulthood sheltered in academia and I thought I was being clever for doing so until I began a master’s degree and started losing faith in the process. The time where someone looked over my shoulder and mopped up my messes was over, I was on my own.
I’d started a couple of blogs during my downtime at work, but I got quickly frustrated and bored because nobody was reading it. Then, I met David Dupree from Atheist Media blog, who happened to be working on my floor. He’s a very successful blogger who got millions of visitors. He taught me everything he knew about the business and soon enough, people were paying attention to me. It began as an author blog, but every expert on author branding recommended that I write reviews in order to display expertise, so it’s what I did. Novels and movies. I found out that authors were starved for quality feedback so I’ve quickly become a trusted source and, next thing I knew, I was being quoted as an expert. I built upon that.
I was all over the place in the first year or so. I was writing fiction, reviews, opinion pieces, I was making every mistake in the book. I was talking to my colleague Jarrod Galloway one day (who became one of my best friends), telling him about this new crazy intense essayist I had just discovered named David Foster Wallace. He suggested that I read Chuck Klosterman. He said: ”it’s a little hipster, but I think it’s right up your alley.” The same week, I bought Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and it changed my life. I had found a guy who cared about the same things I cared about and who was infinitely more eloquent than I was about them. It was like I had found a big brother.
Klosterman helped me structure my thoughts, gave direction to my blog and helped me understand myself better. If he is not my favorite writer, he is on my goddamn Mount Rushmore. The Dead End Follies you know today is directly influenced by Chuck Klosterman. I try to deconstruct and get at the heart of everything I read/watch. I let go of pretty much everything but the reviews. I’ll do an authorly update whenever there is something to say, I’ll write an opinion piece once in a while, write about the things I’ve learned, but the core of the site is (and will always be) reviews.
Every morning I wake up at 6:30 AM, walk the dog and then start working on my blog post. I do that 5 days a week and recharge my batteries on weekends. I’ve established I can read two to three books a week at long as I keep them under 400 pages, so the book reviews have never been a problem, but sometimes I force myself to watch two movies a week, so I can have stuff to write about. Josie understands that, so that’s why sometimes I’m reviewing weird compromise movies. I’m a curious guy and I figure my audience is too, so I just go ahead and “hammer down,” like my friend Ryan Sayles would say.
Otherwise, I keep a list of subjects on my phone that I want to address when I have nothing to talk about. It was easy finding inspiration at the beginning, but it’s a muscle that develops. I guess I’m organized, but Dead End Follies became a ritual like the morning piss for me. It’s not a conscious effort anymore. It feels natural. One thing I’ve extremely self-conscious about though is keep up quality and perspective—and I know I’m writing way too much in order to constantly write great stuff. It’s something I’ve been working on though, and I’m working on some solutions that won’t affect the output of the site. I want to keep posting 5 days a week, but ramp up the quality of what I do.
Let’s talk about some of your recent posts. One of my favorites was “10 New Generation Genre Writers You Need To Read“. How did you come up with that list? What is the common thread among those writers?
It’s funny you ask that because a lot of people get butthurt every time I do lists, like my preferences were offensive to them. I had dozens of emails from authors I’ve reviewed in the past asking why they weren’t featured on that one. Even authors I’ve negatively reviewed. There WERE pretty strict guidelines for my choices. What most people don’t know about Dead End Follies is that I have a lot of white-haired readers I’m exchanging emails with. These guys don’t use social media. I’ve started making lists because a recurring conversation with them is that nothing good is being written anymore and that literature peaked with John D. McDonald.
For the New Generation list, I wanted young high-profile authors who were rather easy to find in book stores. They all are except Tiffany Scandal, but I don’t think she cares about ever being high-profile and I thought she was too talented to be left out. I’ve read and reviewed so many writers that I can do lists all day and I’ll keep doing that because people have been responding very well. Next one is scheduled for September 30th, so keep an eye out.
Given the amount of books you must read, do you think it has gotten harder or easier for you to differentiate between what you think is great and what you think is just okay? Do you ever burn out?
It’s a good question. I’m a good audience in general, so you really have to insult my intelligence to get me going. But I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to differentiate good, very good and amazing. It’s sometimes EXTREMELY difficult to express it though, and I think most of my reviews fail at that. Right now I’m trying to review everything without mentioning whether it’s good or bad and it helps. I have to dig deeper and really try to understand what I’ve just read. I found that people are less interested in knowing my opinion about a book and more interested in being given reasons to read it.
I don’t experience burn out, per se, but I have these periods where I feel like my reviews are not interesting. When it happens I go back to my favorite non-fiction writers: Klosterman, Wallace, Simmons, Henry Rollins—they help me power through what I call the white noise in my head. A couple good nights of sleep and a stimulating novel also helps.
Last week you published a very informative piece called “Social Media Promotion Tips for Writers and Indie Publishers“. When it comes to social media, what are most Indie authors and publishers doing wrong?
Fuck, where do I start? Most people are a mess on Facebook. They try to yell ”buy my book” louder than their neighbor without telling me why I should. When you go to a bookstore, do you look for novels from authors you don’t know? I don’t. I have a list of names I want to try. Right now it features: John Connolly, Smith Henderson, Wiley Cash, Robert McCammon, Cory Doctorow, Jonathan Mayberry, Ed McBain, Barry Gifford, James Crumley, Joe Hill and Matthew Jones. Whoever is not on that list will be thoroughly ignored.
Don’t get me started with the authors and publishers who play hard to get for review copies. I have about 60 books in my TBR—do you want a review or not? Don’t wait for me to buy it because I am a fickle bastard with my money and review copies keep coming every couple of weeks.
Being on Facebook or Twitter is not enough. It’s not going to magically help you sell books. It might hurt your brand if you behave like a needy asshole. It’s not that different from real life, you know? You need to be networking and becoming friends with the right people and not be afraid to get your work out there. Social media are just a tool, but you are wielding it. You need to understand what the tool’s purpose is and integrate it in a broader strategy. For example, Facebook is a networking site where people seek entertainment and inspiration. You’ll alienate everybody if all you do over there is force feed your book to everyone. Facebook is a platform for you to stand out, be your best self and improve the daily life of your audience. Most people don’t get that and lots of book promotion people don’t.
Not using Goodreads to its potential is a huge mistake too. It’s full of sexy, smart and challenging readers who want nothing more than enlightening conversation and review copies of upcoming books. If you have to choose one gang to mingle with, mingle with these guys, they are the one spending money on books. There are considerably more people on Facebook, but readers are on Goodreads.
The heavyweight king of social media for authors is Chuck Wendig. I do not know an author, not even among best sellers, who did so much with so little. He’s leveraged his blog terribleminds into a tremendous marketing machine and I’m sure it works even better now that he shares his posts on social media. I remember when he started. He was leveraging his experience as a staff writer for White Wolf and was marketing a self-published short story collection called IRREGULAR CREATURES. Where did that lead him? He got signed by one of the best agents in the business, became a writing advice mogul and published a whopping 14 novels in 3 years or so.
I don’t always agree with his content. I think sometimes he’s ethically dubious, but he built himself a strong and loyal audience with his bare hands. I even bought and read a couple of his books because I wanted to see what the terribleminds guy had in the pants and guess what? The guy’s got game. He’s not James Ellroy or Philip K. Dick, but he can write better than most. I think the sky is the limit for him as long as he keeps producing quality books and quality content on his blog. I’d advise him to get a fan page on Facebook though. He’s got 43,700 followers on Twitter, there are no reasons why he shouldn’t have as many (or more) on Facebook and have quality discussions with them.
I think you’re doing just fine on social media too. Bad Citizens Corporation is a strong branding and you’re offering in-depth, personalized interviews like few people have been daring to do consistantly. You’re hard to miss in a newsfeed because of these quote cards you make. I’m rediscovering the crime fiction community because of you. You’re added great value to my day-to-day life. If I had one tip to give you is that you should diversify it. Keep doing the interviews for as long as you can, but start brainstorming how you could add value for your followers in different fashion. You have the wind in your back, a book coming out, use the momentum.
I am, like half of the people on the internet. I think it was Chuck Wendig who said ”half the internet is porn, the other are writers”. He was right. I haven’t been very productive lately and I’m trying to keep it a personal pleasure, you know? I want to do it for the right reasons. I guess you could say my influences are James Ellroy, Nic Pizzolatto, Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Piccirilli and my friend Ryan Sayles. I haven’t met a better person in the writing community than Ryan and our friendship was triggered by my reading of his detective novel THE SUBTLE ART OF BRUTALITY, which I still consider the best detective novel written in the 21st century. If you’re interested, you can read the whole enchilada HERE.
If you don’t want to go through it all, I’d suggest: The Devil’s Shinebone, Undead and Omega Man. Those are the three stories I’m the proudest of.
What publishing plans do you have for the rest of 2015 and 2016?
I had a short story coming out in Zelmer Pulp’s new anthology C’MON AND DO THE APOCALYPSE VOL 2, and that’s about it for publishing. I am working on a story I’m planning to pitch to Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s anthology LOST SIGNALS, but otherwise not much. I have the transcendent novel project just like everybody else, but right now it’s just an idea.
My plans for Dead End Follies are much more exciting. The blog is going better than ever, it’s only September and I already have over 150,000 unique visitors for this year. I want to change templates because this one makes it impossible to monetize the blog. I’m looking to involve a contributor in 2016, who I think is the best book reviewer in the business (aside from me, of course), and I’d like to generate revenue for both of us in the future. If I can figure out this template thing, I think 2016 will be an important year for Dead End Follies.
What is the best way for a writer to get their work considered for review by DEAD END FOLLIES? What’s the worst way somebody has ever tried to get a review?
Write good books and get the word out there. Write books that I’d want to read. Otherwise drop me an email offering me a review copy. It always helps to offer a paperback, it shows that you’re serious and you value my opinion. It helps if you’re referred from someone I trust, too. Plus, I love getting books in the mail.
Sometimes, patience is a plus, too. Take Jake Hinkson for example—he wrote several books I find intriguing, but he never approached me for a review. It’s a question of time before I buy one though. Sometimes you just have to write a good book and have faith that it’ll find reviewers.
The worst way to ask for a review is to contact me on social media, start conversation, gain my trust and then sneak your request in. I am terrible at saying no, but it doesn’t mean I don’t find it dishonest and annoying. You want me to be a business connection, then be straight with me. You want to be my friend? Then be straight with me. Nothing says we can’t be both—George Cotronis (Kraken Press) and Max Booth III (PMMP) are good friends of mine, but we’re always straight with one another. They’ve never been dishonest about wanting reviews and never gave me shit if I had negative things to say. They are both great guys and consummate businessmen.
If I put a gun to your head right now and told you to name the absolute best book you have read in the last twelve months, what would it be?
It’s a question that would require a deep analysis, but if I had a gun to my head I’d say LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS, by Jordan Harper. The prose, man. It’s so beautiful and tormented. It affected me physically.
S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.