Book people are some of the best people, and NetGalley members are in a class all their own. Our community is rich with reviewers, book trade professionals, librarians, booksellers, educators, journalists and members of the media who excel at helping books succeed and promoting a love of reading. Each month, we like to take a moment to highlight these members and share their stories, tips, and recommendations with you.
This month, we’re pleased to introduce Lili, the book blogger behind Utopia State of Mind!
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Can you describe your book blog in two sentences?
Utopia State of Mind was founded in 2016 and is a book blog that focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and YA books. I am deeply committed to celebrating diversity, seeking out adoption representation, and reading almost a book a day.
What’s your blog’s origin story? When and how did it start?
I began my blog in 2016 when I was in the middle of writing my master’s thesis on cyborgs. I was having trouble balancing reading for fun and reading intense, scholarly journal articles. A friend of mine suggested I start reviewing books because she thought I’d be good at it, and that was it!
The name Utopia State of Mind is a mix between a song title and my mindset at the time, which was focused on the idea of a utopia, the topic of my research. Utopia State of Mind has really taken off since then and turned into something more precious, but also very different from where it first started. While my first book reviews were mostly adult fiction, I quickly began focusing on YA in my search for diversity.
What are your favorite genres to read and review?
My favorite genres have to be science fiction and fantasy. I’ve always envisioned my blog focusing on both of these genres, or the speculative fiction genre as a whole. Speculative fiction has this fantastic ability to shed light on our current societies. By transporting us to new worlds, we can see our own world and our own humanity more clearly.
How do you approach writing a review, and does it change depending on how you rated the book? Has your style changed over the years?
My writing style has definitely changed and I’m glad it has! I’ve gotten better at figuring out what I want to say in a succinct way, while remaining a bit flowery. It takes much less time to write a review now.
I never write a review just after finishing a book. I need to let my feelings about a book sit for at least a day to gain some clarity. Sometimes after finishing I can be too emotionally charged in either direction, so time to filter my thoughts is essential. My writing approach doesn’t change depending on what I rated the book, but what does change is the structure of my review.
When I write a review, I begin by looking at my notes, which are normally a mix between plot notes (which has helped when reading sequels) and reading notes. These notes can be phrases I want to use, themes I observed, and general insights. I start writing my review by looking at the notes chronologically. At this point, I divide my thoughts into different sections and the rest of the review just flows after that. If I have a lower rated book, I can determine where I want to place critiques. I think this approach is very helpful because towards the end of the notes I’ll summarize my feelings and that’s the perfect way to naturally end a review.
Which upcoming books on NetGalley are you most excited about recommending to your followers?
I have so many upcoming releases to recommend: Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto, The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee, The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow, Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim, and The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi. Most of those are sequels that I haven’t read yet, but I’m so excited to recommend them because I adored the first books in these series!
You’re the host of the Backlist Bookworms book club on Twitter. What inspired you to start this group? How do you decide what you’re reading next and how do you structure discussions?
I’m so glad you asked! I was inspired to start Backlist Bookworms because I needed an incentive to read more backlist books. My blog focuses on upcoming releases, so Backlist Bookworms is a reminder to pick up books on my shelves I haven’t read yet. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest releases and forget all of the fantastic books that have come before and have paved the way for some of our most-anticipated reads.
The book club suggestions normally come from me or my co-host Vicky and then we let people vote on which book they want to read next. After finishing the book, I’ll type up some preliminary questions and Vicky and I will discuss which ones we may want to add (typically 10 in all). They are always spoiler free, so we discuss a lot of characters and other book recommendations.
You’ve lived in both New York and now Germany. What differences do you see in book culture between these two places?
This is such a fascinating question. It’s a hard comparison because in New York City there’s such a strong reading culture. I basically lived in Books of Wonder. Living in Germany, one of the things I miss most is author events. I’m sure there are plenty of German book events, but since I read in English, and those authors don’t normally tour here, I miss going to events to support them. It also makes it hard to find other readers of English books because there isn’t an opportunity for us to meet. In New York City, if you went to a book event you could start talking to anyone there. That’s actually how I met two really great friends–through book launch events!
The internet seems to help bridge some of that divide. Do you think book blogging helps bring readers around the world closer together?
Book blogging definitely brings readers around the world closer. I started my blog while I was living in Germany and I immediately found all sorts of international friends. Twitter is a fantastic place to meet friends and I have so many I’ve made through book blogging and a shared love of reading! We’ve made shirts together, we send each other Christmas presents, I’ve even met up with some of them or made plans to visit. A shared love of books has the ability to bridge distance.
In addition to your blog, you run a Bookstagram account. How does reviewing a book change if you’re talking about it on Instagram versus on your blog?
For me, the biggest difference is length. Not everyone has the time to expand the caption, so I can’t present the full review there. I try to condense it into a paragraph of concise ideas so that if someone does expand the caption, they can quickly get the SparkNotes version of my review. I wish I could include some of my favorite lines from the reviews, but often these are just too flowery and they’re not concise enough.
What advice do you have for NetGalley members who are new to blogging and reviewing?
Here are some general tips for new NetGalley members because I know that it can be so exciting and overwhelming!
– Try not to request everything! It can be overwhelming so only take on what you can reasonably handle.
– Always remember why you review. Keep what matters to you in the forefront of your mind to help keep things in perspective.
– Hold yourself accountable. Balance what you take on with your own sense of commitment. The reason why you shouldn’t request billions of arcs is that you want to take it seriously. They’re designed for review and to help promote the book and author.
How do you organize your TBR list and NetGalley review schedule?
I have written a whole blog post about how I organize my book schedule and review calendar, which can give an overview of the nitty-gritty organization. In general, I have a Trello board of all my NetGalley ARCs organized by review month to make sure I am prioritizing newer releases. I schedule reviews around two weeks before the publication date, which I can keep track of through Trello. The blog post goes into detail about which Trello lists I like to make and the entire process from approval notice to content calendar. I schedule my reading because that works best for me, and I create my monthly TBR organized by priority and release date. My biggest tip is to be organized! Whether you prefer a handwritten list, which is what I used to do, or a spreadsheet, figure out what system works for you and stick to it.
It’s clear from your blog you love fantasy books. If you could spend a day in any fantasy world, which would you choose and why?
This is such a tough question because I think I would die so fast in my favorite worlds. I would love to be in the world of The Reader. I love Traci Chee’s world building, not only because of the powers and tension but also the concept of a world where barely anyone can read is fascinating. Reading is powerful. It’s an avenue for dreams and stories, for legends and inspiration, for fears and exploration. I am currently co-organizing a January through March readathon with Fadwa and Laura for this series because I love it so much! We have a Goodreads group you can join and if you follow me on Twitter you can see all the updates on the Twitter Chats.
Thanks for chatting with us, Lili!