Today I am excited to be taking part in the blog tour for Ninja Book Box! Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog will know that I am a fan of subscription boxes so I was very excited to hear about Ninja Book Box, a new quarterly box. To find out more about the box, I have a Q&A with its creator, Bex!
Hi Bex, thank you for joining me on my blog to talk about the Ninja Book Box! Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Hello! I’m Bex and I’ve been blogging about books for over five years at An Armchair by the Sea. I also organise bookshop crawls in my spare time and work part time in retail as well as parenting two little people. I’m slightly obsessed with the concept of self-sufficiency and can mostly be found in my allotment with my husband, or watching far too many hours of Gilmore Girls on Netflix! (when I’m not obsessing over Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time that is!). I’ve always been a reader and am a more than slightly obsessive book collector as well!
Prior to setting up Ninja Book Box you have run a Ninja Book Swap. Could you tell us how this came about and how it works?
The Ninja swap was actually the brain child of myself and my blogging friend Hanna of Booking in Heels. We both had participated in a bloggers secret Santa one year and neither of us wanted to wait until Christmas to do it again so we decided to start the Ninja Book Swap! You make a parcel of book/s and gift/s for someone and someone else (hence the ninja, since you never know who you’ll receive from!) makes one for you! We run a full swap twice a year, in February and October, and a mini swap in the summer which is just a book. The swap is international and I have met so many amazing book-lovers through it!
What was it that inspired you to start Ninja Book Box?
I’m a big fan of subscription boxes but when I was looking at ones to get for myself I couldn’t find many here in the UK which weren’t primarily focused on YA titles. There are several in the US of course but the cost of shipping made them prohibitive to me. Combine that with my own personal challenge to read and buy more independently published books, which I often find is difficult to come by in high street bookshops, and pairing the two together just seemed to make sense!
Subscription boxes seem to be getting more and more popular with everything from books, food, cosmetics and collectibles being sent worldwide each month with new boxes appearing all the time. What do you think it is that makes them so appealing? And do you have any favourites?
For me there’s a couple of things that make subscription boxes appealing. The first thing is the element of surprise. Most of the boxes I’ve tried don’t tell you what the title is that’s included and because I’m such an eclectic reader I don’t really focus on any one genre so for me it’s always quite likely that the book included will be one I don’t have. Also getting post is really fun! Even if you get it a lot, books are always the best thing to unwrap, and a subscription box is something that’s just for you – it comes with no obligations to review or otherwise deal with the contents of your post, so that’s very relaxing I think. Plus, somebody else has picked the book for you, so you don’t have to go through any agonies about whether you should really buy it and choosing between it and other titles, it’s just there.
Personally there are a few that I like… Book and a Brew is lovely – a mystery book paired with tea! I also like Fairyloot, which is a great box for YA fantasy fans, and Prudence and the Crow is great for lovers of obscure vintage books. They also have an option where you can choose which genre you’d like! One day when I’m feeling rich I’m going to buy myself a Willoughby Book Club subscription too. They’re just a book a month subscription rather than a box, but I love and adore their Instagram and I will give it a go someday!
What do you think it is that sets Ninja Book Box apart from other boxes?
Ninja Book Box for me has two very important distinctions from other boxes. The first is of course that the books included will all be published by UK based independent publishers. The second is that the box is genreless. By this I just mean that the books included could come from any genre. Before I embarked on the project I did some market research and the most popular genres people wanted to read more of were science fiction and fantasy, historical fiction, graphic novels and mystery, so all of those will be included over several boxes, as well as contemporary fiction and other genres. All of the other subscription boxes I’ve come across which are based in the UK cater specifically to a certain genre or type of book, and it’s important to me that the Ninja Book Box breaks away from that. The box is very much about discovery and although I know that every box won’t succeed for every single person I’d like to be bringing people books, authors and publishers they would otherwise not have heard of, and I’ll also be pairing the books up with beautiful, useful and sometimes quirky gifts to enhance the reading experience made by small businesses and designers who I hope people will love and become firm followers of!
The emphasis for Ninja Book Box is on independent publishers. Who are your favourite publishers and what is it that makes them stand out to you?
Oh such a hard question! Two that immediately spring to mind are And Other Stories and Canongate. I love Canongate because they make such gorgeous books and also because of their Canongate myths series. They’re one of the bigger UK independents and they publish a really wide range of titles so you can pretty much be guaranteed to find something you like. And Other Stories I only discovered at the end of last year. They’re a not for profit publisher and their books are mostly translated fiction. This year I became a subscriber which means that my money goes directly towards the printing of a specific title, so I now have two of their books with my name in, which is awesome. They also have reading groups where they encourage people to get involved with reading books in other languages and bringing them to their attention for translation. It’s excellent. Plus in 2018 they’re only publishing books by women, so that’s great too.
Independent presses have been responsible for publishing some amazing books some of which have earned huge critical acclaim and places on prize shortlists such as Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press) and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse (Salt Publishing) What are your favourite books and authors published by independent presses?
Well my most recent favourite I unfortunately can’t talk about because it’s going in the first box, but it is just so good! Absolutely stunning writing and beautifully surreal. But anyway, of those whose titles I can mention, my favourites are definitely all of Scarlett Thomas’s books, most of which are published by Canongate (start with Our Tragic Universe or The End of Mr Y), I also really love Icon Books for some excellent nonfiction – The Year of Living Danishly by Karen Russell and Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain by Emily Dugan were both big favourites this year.
What is it that makes a particular book stand out to you? And what can we expect to see from the books that will be featured within Ninja Book Box?
I think for me character and plot really trump everything. That isn’t to say that I only like likeable characters – not at all – but the characters have to be well developed and the plot has to be pretty gripping. Generally I won’t stick with a book if it’s just beautiful writing with no noticeable plot, or is all about being written in a weird format or whatever. That said there are of course always exceptions! You should probably expect the books in the box to be entirely random – I am the least consistent reader that I know in terms of reading similar books. I love to learn about and experience different things through the books I read so there’ll probably be a bit of everything. The most expecting you can do is to expect some strong, great and memorable characters I think!
You utilised Kickstarter to support Ninja Book Box and with 14 days left to go it had achieved over double the original pledge target. How have you found this experience and how important will this be in launching the box?
The experience of the Kickstarter has been incredible. Without it the box would have been nothing like what it can now be – silly things like due to the Kickstarter backing I can now afford to have a proper, decent website rather than trying to botch something together. When I launched the Kickstarter I thought I’d be begging people to give me a fiver and I’d get there bit by painful bit and maybe if I was lucky I’d make my target. Instead I launched it and had a couple of hundred in the first few hours. The project was funded in under 48 hours! The book swap community have particularly been amazing with their support and I really can’t overstate how much it means that they and others trust me to make something great. If the Kickstarter hadn’t been a success I would have had to really think about how to make the box work, and I’m not sure that I could have done it, but now, the sky’s the limit!
What do you feel will be your biggest challenge with running Ninja Book Box, and what are you most excited about?
Honestly I think my biggest challenge will probably be myself! I get such big ideas and they have a tendency to run away with me, so I’m a little concerned that despite the box being excellent it won’t be actually magic and so I’ll be disappointed in myself . Also for someone who’s worked in a customer facing industry for over a decade I am pretty terrible at having a thick skin, so I’m a little apprehensive about my reaction to other people’s reactions to the box! But basically, once I get over myself it’ll be plain sailing!
On the flip side of that, I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with amazing independent publishers and small businesses and talk to them about my ideas and hear their thoughts. I’m also so excited to try to make something new and exciting for all of you lovely people!
And finally, if you could sum up Ninja Book Box in just three words, what would they be?
Independent, beautiful, books!!
Thank you to Bex for joining me on my blog to talk about Ninja Book Box, you can check out the rest of the Ninja Book Box blog tour on the dates and blogs below!
And finally, for the chance to win the very first box, you can enter the giveaway here!