Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, June 05, 2013 71 comments
by PK Hrezo

Thanks so much to Laurel for letting me take over her blog today! If you’re a reader, you probably have your favorite book reviewer blogs, and if you’re a writer, I’m sure you frequent all the great writing blogs for craft tips and techniques, as well as publishing insight. Since most writers are readers, you probably have a combination of the two types, or maybe even blog about them both like I do.

But today I want to single out the book reviewer blogs, and how you can improve your own craft by reading their every post. I know there are a lot out there, and I try to visit as many as I can, but one blog in particular holds the top rank for my visits. If you’re a writer who doesn’t visit it frequently, you should.

Steph Su Reads is one of those voracious readers who has such a keen reader’s eye, and is so knowledgeable, that she’s hard to impress (one of the pitfalls of being exposed to so much great work).What I like best is the fact she’s not a writer—she simply reads books for what they are without that writer critique eye, but with a seasoned reader’s appreciation for good literature. She reads mostly YA, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t write YA, you cans still gain a benefit from reading her reviews.

My favorite posts of hers are the negative reviews. She’s never crass or distasteful, but she breaks down exactly what’s not working. The other day she reviewed a book she didn’t love, and as usual, I devoured it for everything it was worth.

As I do with all her negative reviews, I copied down what it was about the story that DIDN’T work, into my handy dandy word doc for writerly things to remember, entitled, "The Usual Suspects." These are words of wisdom I’ve copied down from various writers, agents, editors, etc. Things I need to check for whenever I think my manuscript is ready. By reading all Steph’s negative reviews and having what didn’t work in the back of my mind, it helps me breathe real life into my story and characters while tweaking my story.

Here’s what Steph Su said recently that stood out for me:

“The fact is that the author did not succeed in making her characters come alive with personality quirks and turns of phrase and all those things that make a person unique.”

Now most writers have heard or read something to this effect before, but paired with the complete review of why that particular story didn’t reach out and pull her in, those specific words sunk into my skin. I thought, “Am I doing this with my story? Have I made my characters come alive?”

Steph’s review of this book was not all negative. She goes into detail on what works and what doesn’t, which is why her reviews are so valuable, but the fact was, it was this sole neglect from the author that did not win Steph over. Therefore the story failed.

Ever since I started reading Steph’s blog, I decided that if I can one day earn a positive review from her, then I know I’ve become a good writer. That day remains to be seen, but it’s a goal worthy of obtaining.  When I think my story is ready to submit, I ask myself, “If Steph read this right now, what would her review be like?”

If you’re a writer who doesn’t already have a strong book reviewer you read regularly, find one, and make it a point to apply what they say to your own work. I highly recommend visiting Steph Su Reads and scrolling through her review posts—especially the negative ones. She’s never rude, but always honest. You know when she says something is good, it’s really good.

About PK Hrezo:  My last name is Czech in origin and pronounced with the H silent. I'm a wife of a firefighter, mom of two and international airline agent. In between all that, I write stuff. Fiction mostly. I'm repped by Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Agency. I've always wanted to go on a cruise where everyone has to wear roller skates and listen to James Brown. You can stalk me at my blog (pk-hrezo.blogspot.com) or on Twitter (@pkhrezo).

How about you? Is there a book review blog you fancy? Share it in the comments and tell me why. Are you familiar with Steph Su Reads? What do you like or dislike? How have you learned from any book blogger’s negative or positive reviews? 

71 comments:

  1. Such great advice, PK. I read a number of book review blogs to find out about books and see what they think of the ones I like. And I learn from the reviews like you, though I don't take notes. Mundie Moms and The Story Siren are two of my favorites.

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    1. I will have to check those out, Natalie! THanks so much for stopping by!:)

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    2. I'm taking notes on the review sites to check out. Thanks, Natalie!

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  2. I follow a couple that review YA or NA books. Usually I just skim to the rating. After reading this post, I'm now going to read the reviews. And I'm going to follow Steph's too.

    Thanks, PK, for the great advice. Until now, I was just using those blogs to figure out what books to buy.

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    1. Stina, you're welcome! So glad you found it useful. I guarantee you will find them beneficial! Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Brilliant, right? Not just what to read, but what does and doesn't work in a story. It's all right there in a thoughtful review.

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  3. Thoughtful and insightful reviews can reveal so much. They do make us think about our own work.

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    1. Definitely! It's easier to read a negative review on someone else's work than our own, but we still learn from it. Thanks for stopping by Alex!

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    2. Absolutely true. Just as I learn from critiquing (and watching others critique my CPs) I can learn from reviews too.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your insights with my readers, PK!

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  5. I never thought about reading the book reviewers blogs for this purpose, but it seems so obvious now that I don't know why I didn't! Great advice, Pk. And it's nice to meet you, Laurel! :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Julie! It really helps to instill it in the brain, and remind me what's important to the reader. :)

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    2. I thought it was pretty ingenious too. Thanks for the follow!

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  6. That is great advice, Pk, and not something I do on a regular basis.
    Will remedy that now. Hi Laurel, nice to "meet" you.

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    1. Thanks Karen! SO glad you stopped by! :D

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    2. Hi to you too, Karen. Thanks for the follow!

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  7. A review by a true book lover is like gold. And they are not easy to do, I know I've tried and failed!

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    1. It's tough giving negative reviews on books and a lot of peeps just don't do it, that's why I find Steph's negative one so helpful cuz I think it's equally important to know what's NOT working. Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth!

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    2. It is tough to do a quality review of a book that didn't work for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elizabeth!

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  8. This is excellent advice. As someone who reads and reviews for the pleasure of it, I appreciate what you wrote here. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, MJ! I'm sure your readers find value in your review posts as well. Thanks for stopping by! :D

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    2. Thank you for what you do, MJ. Reviewers are so helpful to us writers, helping us find audience and also encouraging.

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  9. Such great advise, PK. I've been missing this element in developing my writing. I will check out Steph. I like the idea of a book blog who isn't a writer.

    Hi, Laurel, your blog is lovely. I esp. like your header. I'll be back.

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    1. Totally! Writers reviews, altho valuable in their own right, can be remiss of how a story made them feel. Readers who arent, on the other hand, read for the joy of reading alone and since that's the biggest part of the book market, makes sense to know what they think too!
      Thanks for stopping by, Robin!

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    2. Thanks for the follow, Robin. I agree that the reader perspective is very important. Other writers can often be very hung up on pet rules. I always include some non-writers on my critique team. Their thoughts have helped me tremendously.

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  10. Good advice, PK. Thank you.

    Hugs and chocolate,
    Shelly

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    1. I love new tips too. Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Thanks for stopping by Shelly! :D

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  11. Hi, PK, Hi, Laurel,

    Thanks for hosting, PK...

    I never thought about this. Hmmm. Interesting. Perhaps I should check her out. I have such limited time and I us what little to read blog posts. Well... I guess a review is sort of a blog post... right? LOL.

    Thanks for the tip, PK.

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    1. Opens whole new vistas for helpful feedback, right? But I know what you mean about limited reading time. Pick just a few to follow, it shouldn't get too overwhelming.

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    2. Oops missed this Michael. A review is def a blog post! Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. One of my favorite book review sites is http://slatebreakers.com/, which reviews a lot of YA and MG with female characters. They're particularly interested in strong, independent characters like Anne Shirley (the slate-breaker their blog is named for).

    I actually prefer to read 1-3 star reviews first, since a well-written negative review can be more helpful than a glowing 5-star review full of mindless yabbering and canned praise. I've got some negative book reviews coming up on my own site, and I don't care if people think I'm the Devil for not liking certain massively overrated books. At least I point out in detail why I didn't believe in motivations or disliked characters, or hated a certain obnoxious narrator who keeps horning into the story to give away the ending and pivotal plot points over and over.

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    1. There are plenty of stories and movies that get rave reviews and I'm like, "huh?" I wasn't wowed at all. And I agree--as long as it's presented well, negative reviews may be the only way a writer learns what doesn't cut it.
      Thanks for stopping by Carrie-Anne! :D

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    2. It's funny, but I also tend to gravitate to the 2-3 star ratings. The one stars many times have axes to grind. The low-middles often are where the really interesting thoughts are.

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  13. I'm unfamiliar with Steph Su Reads! I'll have to check it out. I like that you say she isn't rude or unkind with her negative reviews. I tend to read reviews on Goodreads after I've already read the book. It's really interesting to see how different some people's opinions are than mine. Sometimes I wonder if they even read the same book! It just goes to show that with reviews, what's not working for one reader could be the best part about the book to another reader.

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    1. No doubt! Thats what makes the world so wonderful--all those differences of opinion. And while some are simply personal preference, Steph is great at nailing what part of the craft didn't work.
      Thanks so much for stopping by, Laura!

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    2. Audience really is everything. There is such diversity out there stylistically and subject matter wise. I always appreciate reviews that say, "this book didn't appeal to me because I don't care for this or that topic/style/approach/theme". Then I can better align myself with books that will captivate rather than chafe.

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  14. oh, yes! This is so true! A respectful, "negative" review can be a huge help to craft! I'm pretty old-school b/c I still like reading the book reviews in Entertainment Weekly... LOL! :D <3

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    1. Hi Leigh! Doesnt matter where we read our reviews if we're getting something out of it. *highfive for old school* :D
      Thanks for stopping by! <3

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    2. No school like the old school. :-)

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  15. Such great advice PK. I've actually visited her blog a couple of times, but I write lit fic so I didn't go back....but now I think I'll make a point of visiting to read her reviews from time to time.

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    1. Yeah when it comes down to story science, doesn't matter what genre it is--the basics have to work for the story to.
      Thanks for stopping by Johanna! :D

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    2. That's an interesting point, Johanna (love your name by the way. It was in my top three when I was expecting my daughter.) Genre expectations and tropes do play into what works for one story but doesn't another. There are some things that are cross-genre, but not all. Historical fic readers demand loads of detail. They want setting and lots of it, while that is frowned on in thrillers, for example.

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  16. the usual suspects. I like that! Great advice PK. We do learn from every critique. Especially the negatives! I'll have to check out Steph Su Reads. It sounds like an awesome blog.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Thanks Nutschell! I'm sure you'll love it. She's one smart cookie. :D
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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    2. Even critiques of others can teach us. So true!

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  17. Really great advice... I will be taking a ton of notes of reviews now :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by SK! That's what I do--take lots of notes! :D

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    2. It is fun to find new sources to help one grow. Thanks for stopping by!

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  18. Some great advice, I'll have to check out Steph Su's blog...thanks :)

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    1. You're welcome, Mark! Thanks so much for taking time to stop by! :D

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    2. Hi Mark. I've seen a few other review blogs mentioned in the comments that sound great too.

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    1. Thank you, Nas! Glad you stopped by! :D

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    2. It was a thrill to have her. :-)

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    1. Thanks Jacqueline! Glad you stopped by. :)

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    2. Hi Jacqueline! Thanks for stopping by.

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  21. I do read that review site, Steph Su has a great blog. And very wise advice to see what the readers want.

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    1. Totally! I knew there had to be some other Steph Su followers around here.
      Thanks for stopping by, Charmaine! :D

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    2. Knowing readers' likes and dislikes is so helpful.

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  22. Awesome post! I recently started a separate blog list for reviewers. Yes, I have a favorite one: Kim @ YA Asylum. I'm always fascinated by her take on things. :-)

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    1. Good plan for keeping up with the review sites. Thanks for stopping by, Lexa!

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  23. Not sure I know that one. I'll check her out! Thanks, Lexa!!:D

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  24. Great post and great advice! I need to check out Steph's blog.
    Thanks ladies!
    (It never ends, does it? Now to find time to read reviews... besides writing, reading, blogging, and there's still life to be lived... sheesh... and some people do it with small kids plus full time jobs...? Amazing!)
    Writer In Transit

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    1. No kidding! I have to divide my time by making priorities and sacrifices.. and of course everything in moderation. Since I dont have time to read tons of blogs, I found the one book reviewer that worked best for me and stick to that one.
      Thanks for stopping by Michelle!!

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  25. Keeping in mind that every reader/reviewer has quirks, I do like the idea of learning how to sharpen our prose from the failures of others. Specific, constructive criticism is always helpful.

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    1. No kidding! Less painful as well, right?? Thanks for stopping by, Milo!

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  26. Negative reviews are instructive and inevitable. I always say, "The next reader will see it differently."

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    1. So true, Lee! Thanks for stopping by and welcome back!! :)

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