Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Bloggers Talk: Sara Gundell

Today I’m really excited to have another Book Bloggers Talk with blogger Sara Gundell. Sara is the owner of the blog Novel Novice, an awesome book blog filled with reviews, blog tours, information about upcoming books and much more. This is definitely a blog you should check out! Let’s get to know more about Sara Gundell.

The Talk:

Tell us a little more about yourself?

Well, I’m told I am a grown-up, although I rarely act like one – and my perpetual reading of YA (and sometimes even Middle Grade) literature is exhibit A. I live in the Portland, OR area with my husband (who proposed in the YA section of our local bookstore). I graduated some years ago from Portland State University with a degree in English – which I pursued solely because I liked the English classes most out of the course catalog. After college, I spent several years writing and producing for local TV news – which was fun at first, but the lousy hours and soul-sucking nature of the business eventually ruined it for me. I left the industry just over three years ago, and started working for my dad. Together, he and I sell printing and promotional products – which sounds much less sexy than “working in TV news,” but I really do love it. And funnily enough, I’ve been able to combine my day job with my blogging life, since I now help authors create bookmarks and other swag to promote their books.

When did you learn about your passion for books?

I can’t think of a time when I WASN’T passionate about books. I think I’ve always loved them.

My parents certainly helped nurture that love. They read to me all the time when I was little, and as I got older, books were the one thing the never questioned buying for my brother and I. If we wanted toys or treats? Well, maybe we could spend our allowance money on that if we really wanted it. But books? My parents never questioned books; they just bought them for us.

We actually used to go to our local bookstore together as a family quite often. Though I live in Oregon now, I grew up near Kepler’s Books in the San Francisco Bay Area. At least once a month, we’d go there on a Sunday – getting pastries at the bakery next door for breakfast – and we’d all split up, browsing our favorite sections of the store. At the end of the day, my parents let us get whatever books we’d picked out.

We were lucky they could do that for us, and to this day, I hardly give a second thought to spending money on books (even if I maybe should)!

Which book was your childhood favorite?

When I was very little, I loved NOISY NORA and THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. As I got older, I loved mystery series – Goosebumps, The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew. And then in 6th grade, my dad bought me a brand new book called THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman; that trilogy has gone on to become one of my all-time favorites.

Which book (or books) is your favorite right now?

As I mentioned, HIS DARK MATERIALS Trilogy by Philip Pullman is an all-time favorite. It was a hugely influential series for me; we even had a reading from the third book at our wedding. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the HARRY POTTER books (because duh). And my other all-time favorites include THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. It’s really hard for me to narrow down my favorite books, because there are SO many. But these four books/series are always at the top of my mind when someone asks me that question.

What’s your favorite book genre?

This is always so hard for me! I read a lot of genres, and love different things about them. I think lately, I’ve really been grooving on contemporary. But I’m also a sucker (haha, pun intended) for vampire books. I know a lot of people got burned out by vampire books after the TWILIGHT craze, but I never have. I still love them. (That’s why I picked up TWILIGHT in the first place!) So I guess you could say I love paranormal romance and contemporary the most. This year, I’ve also been reading a lot more fantasy than I have in the past, and I’ve been enjoying those books immensely. I enjoy the occasional historical fiction, as well – depending on the specific subject. I’m a bit pickier about Sci Fi, and I’m especially burned out on dystopian these days, though I have enjoyed quite a few of them. I tend to stick pretty regularly in the YA section, though, regardless of genre.

Do you prefer paperbacks or eBooks? And why?

Paperbacks, hardbacks, just give me BOOKS. Physical, real, hold-it-in-my-hands books. I can’t stand e-books or e-readers. I don’t mind them in the sense that, hey, if they get more people reading, cool. And I can understand their appeal to some. But they just don’t do it for me. I spend enough time looking at a computer screen every day, I don’t want to do that when I’m reading.

I also enjoy the tactile experience of reading – seeing and feeling the pages as I turn them, placing my bookmark between the pages and seeing how many I’ve read and how many I have yet to read. And of course, I love collecting my books and seeing them all stacked prettily on my shelves.

I’m definitely a book hoarder. My husband & I are in the process of moving, and I can’t wait to get set-up in our new house with my new bookshelves. The husband is still just horrified by the number of boxes it took to pack all my books (about 30), and that’s AFTER I did a very thorough purging.

Tell us a little more about your blog ‘Novel Novice’? You’re the founder and editor in chief but there are also other reviewers on your blog. When did you decide to add other reviewers as a part of your blog? And was this a difficult decision?

It’s funny, I actually don’t really have any other reviewers right now – these days it’s pretty much just me, although I’m hoping to get some more guest reviewers back on board soon.

That said, the decision to add other reviewers was one I made from the beginning, and it was always an easy one. I wanted a lot of content, and knew I couldn’t do it all myself!

When I created Novel Novice, it was a sister site of Novel Novice Twilight – a website that was originally started by author and teacher Tiffany Truitt, who was chronicling how she was using the TWILIGHT books in her middle school classroom to get her students more engaged. It was an incredibly inspiring story, and that’s why I started helping with her site.

But as the TWILIGHT craze started dying down, I wanted to find another way to channel my passion for books and using YA literature in the classroom. My dad actually helped me brainstorm the original idea for Novel Novice – which would feature YA books, and show ways (whenever possible) that these books could be used in the classroom, in some way. As a teenager, I know I was always more engaged in my schoolwork when I could relate it to something I loved outside of the classroom (in my case, that was The X-Files). So I wanted to apply the same principle to the YA books that were becoming so hugely popular.

Anyway, with Novel Novice Twilight, the website had become a huge collaborative effort between myself, Tiffany, and a handful of other “staff members.” When I launched Novel Novice, I wanted to use the same model (it had been quite successful for us) – and so started out with a few key people who helped write reviews and generate other content for the site.

Over the years, those people have gone off to do their own things, and it’s dwindled down to pretty much just me these days. I’ve learned what I can and can’t handle on my own, and I’ve adjusted the type and quantity of content I produce for Novel Novice as a result of these changes. (For example don’t try and produce your regular amount of content while ALSO planning your wedding. Or buying a house and moving.)

You have a lot of followers on ‘Novel Novice’. How did you achieve so many followers and what do you do to keep them interested in your blog?

Slowly and steadily. I was lucky when I launched Novel Novice that we had a built-in following from our sister TWILIGHT site, and a lot of those readers followed us to the new website. But we’ve also just grown organically over the years – I think, by continuing to produce unique, quality content for our blog and proving ourselves as a reliable source of information in the YA world.

Also, contests never hurt. People love the contests.

How many books do you read in a week?

On a slow week, I’ll read one book a week – on a good week, I can get through three or four. It really just depends on (a) how much the book sucks me in and (b) what else is going on in my life that week.
And also, how willing I am to be sleep-deprived on any given day. (God bless my husband, who has learned to sleep with my bedside light still on into the wee hours of the morning!)

If you could live inside one book world, which world would it be?

Harry Potter. I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.

How do you plan your time for your blog? And how much time do you spend on your blog?

I love the scheduling feature in (which is the platform I use for Novel Novice). I will usually carve out a few hours on a weekend at least once a month, and crank out a few weeks’ worth of blog posts at a time. My life gets so busy during the week, that this is the only way I can stay on top of my blogging commitments.

When I still worked in TV news, I worked a graveyard shift, and as a result, I had a LOT more free time (when friends and family were on their day jobs) to work on blog posts. As a result, I produced a LOT more content for the blog when I had that job. Since getting married and working for my dad, my free time for blogging has diminished significantly. But I still love Novel Novice, so I don’t mind making the time for it. It just requires much more dedication and planning! (Fortunately, my husband has always been very supportive of my work on Novel Novice – even when we first started dating, he thought it was “so cool.”)

Also, Google docs have been my saving grace. One of my former staff members had the idea to start using Google docs to track and plan blog posts, and who was creating what content on any given day. It made collaborative blogging SO effortless ... and even when the other staff members went I away, I have continued to use Google docs to schedule and track my blog posts. I’m a paper calendar person in real-life and in business, but for Novel Novice, I rely on a Google doc spreadsheet to plan everything.

What do you love most about book blogging?

The community. Being able to talk about books that I love with other readers who are as passionate about books as I am. Getting to work with the publishers and authors who create the books I love.

Also, making some amazing new friends. Portland (and the greater Pacific Northwest, too) has an
amazing community of writers, readers, and book lovers. Through Novel Novice, I’ve been able to make really wonderful friendships with other local bloggers and local authors. We always try and get together before or after author events, or to see the latest book-to-movie adaptation together. Last year, we had our first ever author-blogger Christmas party, which was a blast! I even had a second bridal shower before my wedding with my author-blogger buddies, which was really incredible.

Being asked to moderate author panels and local author events has also been a BLAST – I LOVE doing these!

And this is one I never expected: being a resource for friends and family, when they want a book recommendation. I LOVE giving book recommendations. I have one friend who often comes to me when he’s buying gifts for his wife; he’ll tell me what she read recently that she loved, and I’ll give him a list of books to check out for her. It’s so much fun.

Some book bloggers out there are also aspiring writers. Do you also write?

Ehhh, this is such a hard question for me to answer. I love writing, and I’ve often dreamed of being an author ... I just don’t know what I want to write about! So ... maybe?

In the meantime, I will cheer on my friends who ARE authors and champion their books to the world.

What would your advice be for beginning book bloggers?

Don’t be afraid to ask for anything; because the worst you’ll hear is, “No.” Don’t be afraid to hear, “No.”

Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers. Be yourself, and be genuine. Do what works for you and your blog, and don’t be afraid to change that if you need to.

Be willing to pay your dues. It takes a lot of time and hard work to establish a successful book blog – with a good following, and good relationships with authors and publishers. It’s also a process that never ends. After 5 ½ years of blogging, I’m still looking for ways to improve Novel Novice, and cultivate better relationships with authors and publishers.

If you go to a conference like BEA or ALA, don’t be a greedy jerk and grab as many books as can. Take only what you want and will actually read.

Don’t sell your ARCs.

Don’t go into blogging just because you want ARCs. That’s not the right reason. Blog because you love books & want to share that with others.

And this should be obvious, but (sadly) it happens: don’t plagiarize. Just don’t. 

About the SMART Event:


In addition to my day job, and my work on Novel Novice, I am also on the Associate Board for SMART (Start Making A Reader Today), an Oregon nonprofit that pairs volunteer readers with PreK-3rd grade students in struggling schools across the state. The goal is for these volunteers to help children develop the literacy skills they need to read and succeed in the rest of their education and beyond. 

This year, we are holding our first-ever SMART Author Fair, which will feature several children’s & YA authors signing books and meeting with readers. It’s a free event, and all are welcome to come. Here’s what you need to know: 

SMART Author Fair
Saturday, August 22nd
Powell’s Cedar Hills Crossing – Beaverton, OR

For more details, and the author line-up, keep an eye on this page:



Curious about Novel Novice ? Please visit the blog here.

You can also follow Novel Novice on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and YouTube.

Follow Sara on Pinterest and Instagram.

I would like to thank Sara for being a part of the ‘Book Bloggers Talk’.

Are you also interested in being on 'Book Bloggers Talk'? Please sign up here.

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  1. Thanks so much for having me -- this was a blast!!!

    1. You're very welcome! Thank you for participating ;)


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