Q&A: Rebecca Schinsky of BookRiot and Bookrageous

If you’re not already familiar with our Q&A series, it’s basically where we find really, really interesting people, and ask them all the questions we would ask said cool person. We try to ask all the things we’d ask if we got to kidnap them and take them to a coffee shop, and had their attention all to ourselves for about 30 minutes before the police busted in. But since that is a crazy, crazy thing that we’ve absolutely never had any desire to do, we just send them an email and ask politely. 

This week in coffee shop kidnappings our ongoing Q&A series, we’ve managed to steal a few precious seconds of Rebecca Schinsky’s time. She’s the director of content and community for Riot New Media, and works on one of our favorite literary sites, Book Riot. If that weren’t enough, she’s also one of our favorite people on Twitter. (No seriously, she’s hilarious.) When she’s not working on Book Riot, you might find her on her Bookrageous podcast, or… Really Rebecca, is there anything you don’t do? 

Photo by P.J. Sykes
See what we mean about being funny? (Photo by P.J. Sykes)

 

First things first Rebecca, what’s your favorite drink to settle down with after a long hard day of reading books for a living? (Presumably, drinking it as you read some more.)

I’m a whiskey girl through and through. Most evenings, I can be found curled up with a whiskey ginger–whatever the bourbon of the moment is in my home bar + ginger ale. And because I’m a Real Southern Lady, I drink it in a Mason jar with a snoring hound dog at my feet.

 

Can you tell us about your work with Book Riot? We’re huge fans of your content, and especially the Quarterly box!

My official title is Director of Content and Community Engagement. Which, well, that kind of says it all and also doesn’t tell you much. In the early days, it meant that I had a hand in everything, from the big picture to the tiniest details. These days, I work with the managing editors of our sites (Amanda Nelson at Book Riot and Paul Montgomery at Panels) to guide our content philosophy and planning, help oversee social media strategy, and do a whole bunch of other stuff.

My job sits between the editorial side of the company and the operations side, so my days are a nice mix of creative work and practical/technical/business stuff. Projects like the Quarterly box and the new Book Riot Store live in the Venn diagram of those–they’re both creative and business-focused. I also co-host the weekly Book Riot Podcast with Jeff O’Neal (the CEO of Riot New Media and Executive Editor of Book Riot and Panels), write a weekly column about my reading life called Inbox/Outbox, work on our YouTube channel, and, well, whatever else pops up. I joke that my job is totally different every six months, but it’s pretty true. We move fast and grow quickly, and there’s always something new to learn. It keeps me engaged and excited.

BR_Logo copy

How did you end up working for Book Riot?

You know that saying “Luck favors the prepared”? (Is that a real saying, or did Usher make it up on The Voice? I’m not sure. But let’s go with it.) My career can be summed up by that.

I had been blogging on my own for about 3 ½ years  and had made something of a name for myself when I started seeing buzz about a coming-soon site called Book Riot. I remember DMing the Book Riot Twitter account to ask who they were and what was up, and getting a super-mysterious answer. I had known Jeff online for a few years because of our blogs, and at some point, we started joking around on Twitter about writing something together about The Jersey Shore and books. He sent me a DM saying that he was one of the people launching Book Riot and asking if I’d be open to running the piece there. I said yes, then I started poking around Book Riot, and I saw that they were looking for a community manager. So I asked if the position was open, and then he and Clint Kabler (our COO) interviewed me, and then I started working part-time after the site’s first month.

It was good timing, and I was lucky to have known Jeff for a while, but I won’t say it was all (or even nearly all) lucky. I’d been working hard on my blog, my relationships in publishing, and my social media skills for years. I wanted to make a leap, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. With Book Riot, I saw an opportunity, and I asked for it. I was lucky to see the opening, and I was lucky they said yes. I feel lucky every day that I get to work with such an awesome group of smart, passionate, funny, supportive, people who push me in a zillion ways.

 

You’re uniquely suited in so many ways to comment on new media and the publishing industry. Do you think new media is the way of the future for the book industry? And for someone who wants to work with books and authors, what would you recommend to them?

You know, I love the internet. I really do. New media and social media have changed the conversation by giving all kinds of people–not just those with fancy educations and connections and conferred authority–the ability to share their opinions, have voices, and build audiences and communities. It’s incredible, and its impact on books and reading can’t be overstated. Readers who have never seen their favorite kinds of books in the pages of important newspapers don’t have to feel excluded, judged, or alone because they can come online and meet other people who are into the same books. The future of the book industry can’t help but be affected, and I think that’s a positive thing.

But the internet is still really young, and new media is *really* new, and we’re just beginning to see what they can do. So new media is part of the story for the future of books, but it’s not the whole story. People who work mostly offline–booksellers, librarians, agents, editors, etc.–are still helping drive the industry as well, and I think they’ll continue to be.

For someone who wants to work with books and authors, well, there are a million possible ways to do that, and jobs that will exist 5 years from now that we haven’t thought of yet. Get involved in your literary community, whatever that means to you, and pay attention. Look for opportunities and ask for what you want when you see an opening. Do the work to get prepared, and then keep an eye out for the luck.

 

One of your more unique jobs (I think, anyway) is deciding what goes into one of Book Riot’s quarterly boxes. Have you ever put anything in that you absolutely loved? What about something that was a surprise hit?

Aside from the podcast, which is the best hour of every workweek, the Quarterly box is definitely my favorite project. All of the books in it have been books I love; that’s the perk of being the decider! I was really pleasantly surprised by the response to A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean. It was in a box with a bunch of books & items intended to help readers expand their horizons, and at first, we got a bunch of, “I’ll read anything but romance” messages. Then a few weeks later, they were followed up by a bunch of, “I tried the romance novel because Book Riot sent it to me, and I LOVED IT AND IT WAS AMAZING,” messages. That was so exciting and gratifying.

People put their trust in us to recommend books to them, and that’s huge. Reading is so intensely personal. I take it seriously and always hope the Quarterly selections will be received in that light. Oh! And we had a custom hat made for the winter box that just says BOOKS across it. I knew people would dig it, but they’ve gone bonkers over it. So much fun.

 

Similarly, you have some fabulous items for sale in the Book Riot store, how do you choose what to sell? Is there anything you were surprised to see was a big seller?

The guidepost we use for most things–the site, the store, the upcoming event–is “Is this the site/store/event we wants as book lovers?” So we choose items for the store that we and the Book Riot contributors love, and then I sit around thinking about what I want that hasn’t been made yet. We have a few original items to reveal soon that were born out of that impulse. No major surprises, but it’s been really great watching reactions as people have received their Book Riot hoodies. They’re the coziest things ever.

 

What kind of books did you read as a kid? Are there any fabulous YA books you love and would recommend?

I read anything I could get my hands on, and so many things that were too mature for me or went right over my head. I’m at the tail-end of Gen X (I just turned 32), and when I was growing up, YA wasn’t the big thing it is today. So I went from Baby-sitters Club and Fear Street books right into adult fiction. And adult fiction, for me, was whatever Oprah was recommending. Seriously! The internet didn’t exist yet, and school librarians certainly weren’t recommending grown-up books to precocious 14-year-olds, so I browsed bookstores and picked up Oprah selections. Oh, and Judy Blume. Of course, Judy Blume.

My favorite YA author working today is A.S. King. I recommend all of her books, but I especially love her latest, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. I’m deeply jealous of and happy for kids today who get to grow up reading amazing books that are written for them and their particular stage in life.

Is there any book you’ve read in particular that you credit with changing you somehow? Something that affected you so much after you read it, that you grew and matured?

Yes! When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams rocked my world in very real ways. She gave voice to thoughts and feelings I had been simmering on for a while, and when I read her words, things just clicked. I had conversations about Major Life Stuff that I wouldn’t have had if not for this book, and I said things I wouldn’t have said otherwise. And those conversations changed the directions, in positive and important ways, of some of the defining relationships in my life. I wrote about it for Book Riot when I was in the throes a few years ago.

Be honest: Do you sniff books?

Nope! The majority of my reading these days is digital. I don’t have much sentiment for the-book-as-object.

We’re shocked! Okay, okay, the soft glow of a backlit screen can be just as enticing… we suppose. Hey, did we hear correctly that you had your wedding in a library? Holy smokes that’s a book geek’s dream! We need to know all the details!

I did! In January 2008, I got married in the Grand Reading Room of the Kansas City Public Library. I didn’t even have a blog yet back then, so it was kind of foreshadowing about the direction life was going to take.

Photo by Kelley Walker Chance
A giant Catch-22 AND a kiss-dip?? Soooo dreamy…. (Photo by Kelley Walker Chance)

I grew up in KC, and when the wedding coordinator I was working with suggested it, I knew it was perfect. I didn’t grow up as one of those girls who dreams of what her wedding will be like, so the library helped with some of that — we named the tables after our favorite books, used literary readings instead of scripture during the ceremony, and had a gorgeous, nerdy location for photos.

Photo by Kelley Walker Chance
I’m not sure if I’d be more interested in the bouquet toss or all the lovely bookshelves! (Photo by Kelley Walker Chance)

 

So tell us a little about Book Riot Live! What’s that going to be?

Book Riot Live is a 2-day event in Manhattan later this year (November 7th and 8th). It’s going to be, basically, the book event we’ve all been wanting to go to. There will be panels, signings, games, live podcast recordings, parties, and who knows what else. I’ve been pitching it as “Imagine the website Book Riot comes to life, and you get to hang out in it.” We’ve just started working on the programming–headed up Jenn Northington, our new Director of Events and Programming (who also happens to be my best friend…see what I mean about lucky?), and it’s looking rad.

 

And you’re pulling double—triple—we’ve lost count by now—duty with your Bookrageous podcasts. What is a typical Bookrageous show like? Tell us why should we tune in.

Bookrageous is now my longest-running bookish project, since I’m no longer blogging on my own. It’s a show Jenn and our good friend Josh Christie decided to make in 2010, and I basically invited myself along. Last year, we asked Paul Montgomery and Preeti Chhibber to join the family. So! It’s a show about books and why they’re awesome. As we say in the intro, “We’re serious about books, but not exactly serious.” Each show begins with us talking about what we’re reading now, then we take on a theme or a game, or have an in-depth conversation about a title we’ve picked for our book club. It’s fun and silly and sweary (for a long time, we were the only book podcast to earn the iTunes “explicit” rating), and I’ve gotten more book recommendations from it than anywhere else in the last 4 ½ years. Bookrageous has expanded my horizons, challenged my ideas about books and reading, and introduced to me to countless favorites I might not have found on my own.

 

Okay, speed round!

Favorite fancy liquor: Hmm. I dream of getting my very own bottle of Pappy Van Winkle someday.

Favorite genre of books: Hm. I read tons of litfic, so I probably have to say that. But I really, really love short stories.

That one song you know all the words to and bust out at karaoke (Bonus points if there’s a rap in it): This is one of the places where I’m a viking. “Shoop” by Salt n Pepa is a go-to, but I also know all of “Bust a Move.” And I once spent a whole weekend in high school learning all the words to “End of the World as We Know It” by REM.

Favorite method of bookmarking: I dog-ear and underline in print books, but man, I love the ease of tapping the top of a digital page to mark a spot.

Do you prefer the crack of a new book’s spine when you open it, or the smell of an old book, and why: I find few things in life to be as satisfying as bending a new book into the shape my hands want.

 Name a book you didn’t think you were going to like, but did: Fahrenheit 451. I was so suspicious when it was assigned in high school, and I ended up loving it so much that now I have a tattoo with a quote from it.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish: I bailed out on Night Film by Marisha Pessl. It just wasn’t for me.

Do you need perfect silence, or background noise when you’re reading: Doesn’t matter! I can read in just about any situation, as long as the background noise isn’t something I’m tempted to pay attention to.

Name one fabulous woman we should all be emulating:  There are so many! Amy Poehler is probably the obvious answer here. Her, for sure. I love Roxane Gay’s candor and willingness to engage big, difficult questions and the courage she has to do her thinking out loud in front of the internet. I learn things every day from the brilliant, brave women I work with at Book Riot and Panels, most especially Amanda Nelson, who is my working life partner and the Laverne to my Shirley.

Photo by Jacquelyn Pascucci
Schlemiel! Schlimazel! (Photo by Jacquelyn Pascucci)

 

If you were a cocktail, what would be your ingredients: This one’s easy! I’d be a Seersucker from my favorite restaurant, The Roosevelt. It has bourbon, sweet tea syrup, bitters, and a charred lemon cube. It’s strong, bold, and just a little bit sweet. 


Thanks for joining us!! Before we part, can you depart a little wisdom to the lower echelons? Anything you find particularly inspiring?

I’m really inspired by the notion that the way to build a career you love isn’t to find a passion and try to build around it, but to focus on getting really good at something you can enjoy, and let the career go from there. I could never have imagined or engineered my career up to this point, and I expect that to continue being true for whatever comes next.

Every day, whatever I’m working on, whether it’s exciting and shiny or boring but necessary, I try to give it everything. That’s how you get better, and getting better is what it’s all about.

 

Thanks for all your great answers, and cheers, Rebecca!

Admin R is currently reading the biggest book she’s ever seen, tweets avidly @Drunk_Austen, and spends way too much time with yarn.
 

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27 thoughts on “Q&A: Rebecca Schinsky of BookRiot and Bookrageous

  1. This is a great mix of fun and smart, I enjoyed reading it a lot. I’m now off to listen to the Book riot podcast, your interview got me interested!

  2. Amazing interview. I hope to see more interesting interviews like this one.Rebecca is an inspiring Personality for all struggling writers and his famous Book Riot is enough for motivation.

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