Between the Lines: Lessons Learned on Reviewing Writing

August 18, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.


 

Over the last year, I’ve had the honor of getting to know a number of local writers. All of these writers have been connected to me personally in some way– budding new writers! No one famous, and no one with a fully published novel (I’m looking at you and your magic, Krysti!), but people I am hoping will become famous. Good writers. In fact, this led me to develop a relationship with a local writing club: Empty Pages Writing Club. They asked me to act as an impartial judge for a writing competition they wanted to host amongst themselves. I said yes, and it was an honor I took very seriously!

 

For this competition, members of the Empty Pages writing club submitted a short story which was 30 pages or less in length. Any genre. I read and reviewed these based on 6 criteria: Plot/Conflict, Setting, Character, Symbolism/Theme, Point of View, and Writing Style. Check out my reviews for all 4 submitted short stories below:

Recyc

One Sentence at a Time

Madness of the Midnight

Just a Drive in the Country

I am so glad I was able to participate! This whole process was fun and challenging. In fact, they even gave me the best compliment I think I have ever received.

Everyone really appreciated how thorough you were, and that you were critical without being soul crushing.

The feedback led me to be asked back. That’s right, today is submission day for the Empty Pages Writing Club Summer Writing Challenge! 

In preparation for this new challenge, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the experiences I had last time. Just as much as I’m sure it was a learning experience for the members of the Empty Pages Writing Club, it was also a huge learning experience for me!

Lessons Learned

I don’t have an English degree. Yes, I know that sound weird. But I went into this hoping that I could provide some serious literary critique. But, well, I just don’t have that in me. I don’t really understand the technical aspects of literature enough to be as impartial and detailed as I’d like.

Being a mood reader affects my ability to critique literature. This should be no shock to anyone who thinks about this for a hot second. But, somehow, it never occurred to me. I found that this trait made it harder for me to be impartial. Shocker. Also, relatedly…

Take your time. I don’t need to zoom through these. If I am not in the mood to read it right now, I shouldn’t force myself. I can set it aside and come back later. That’s what should be done. It’s not just for me, but also for the author.

It’s okay to just be me. I started out last time trying to be very intellectual and distant. But, honestly, that just isn’t me. What I ended up with (in the reviews linked above) sounded a bit stilted. I need to find my own voice, even when I’m trying harder than usual to be specific, intelligent, and impartial.

Book blurbs are SUPER important! Jumping into these short stories with no summary sometimes left me confused as I tried to figure things out. I ended up writing my own summary blurbs for my reviews, however. But some stories might have been better received with a blurb giving me some context.

Formatting and font are also SUPER important. I definitely had some feedback for the club based on my experiences with their variation in font, size, and paragraph spacing.

 

Thanks to these reflections, I hope to improve my process and feedback for the Empty Pages Writing Club this go around. Since I participated in this last time, I also have been paying closer attention to how my blogger friends construct their reviews and discuss some topics.

Finally, it’s obvious that the Empty Pages Writing Club took some of my feedback into consideration as well! This time they are all writing the first act in a novel: 30 pages, double-spaced, size 12 Times New Roman or Courier New. Plus, they are including a single-spaced 1-page novel overview cover page.

I am super excited to be able to participate in this again! Plus, a few other friends have now reached out to me and asked for feedback on their writing samples. It’s an honor that you think so highly of my writing and reviews. 

So, that’s it! Time to roll up my sleeves and get back into this. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for me!


What do you think?

  • What do you consider when writing book reviews?
  • Do you have aspiring writer friends? Is this something you’d consider doing for them? Why or why not?
  • Do you ever work with authors through their writing process? Share your experiences below!

18 Comments

  • KrystiYAandWine August 18, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Hahaha! That made me laugh. It’s all the luck of living where I live. No magic! But this is awesome! You’ll get to see and help some writers through their journey, and that’s really amazing. You’re a very thoughtful reviewer, so I’m positive you are a great asset for them.

    • Jackie B August 21, 2017 at 9:10 am

      Pft, totally magic. I mean, you’re right, part of this has to do with where you live for sure. But it’s like a superpower that you know of so many local authors, have connections with them, and develop these relationships. Like magic. Meanwhile, I meet an author and I just blink at them. O_o Oops.

      Thanks for all your kind words, Krysti. I hope this time can be even better!

      • KrystiYAandWine August 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        Hahaha. I think it’s just the fact that I’ve met so many now. I used to get so nervous and totally not know what to say other than, “I love your book!” LOL.

        Well, I definitely mean that. You’d be one of the first people I went to if I ever needed a beta reader. 🙂

        • Jackie B August 23, 2017 at 9:46 am

          Well now. That’s one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. Thank you, Krysti! <3

  • hannahpotamus August 18, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    When I write reviews, it literally feels like I’m vomiting words up in a page and then trying to string them together in a way that kind of makes sense. I try, though!! :’)

    I also agree– formatting is SO important. It’s not just about the aesthetics; it’s about making it easier for the reader to actually read. From personal experience, I know it’s pretty annoying having to squint your eyes trying to decipher tiny font on a page.

    • Jackie B August 23, 2017 at 9:13 am

      That’s all we can ask for, honestly. Putting our best foot forward! 😀

      Agreed! I’ve actually been having some conversations with Dani @ Perspective of a Writer about how I am struggling with the paragraph spacing on my blog, but the theme is overriding my CSS changes… so, I need to futz around with it. I feel like reading my posts might be a bit of a challenge. The next step is a new font. We shall see!

      • hannahpotamus August 23, 2017 at 8:01 pm

        True, true!!

        User-wise, I think your blog is super easy to read (and also super pretty to look out!!) But yeah, playing around with formatting can be a real hassle.

        Hopefully you get everything figured out to your liking!! (I’m still playing around with mine to, but unfortunately as you can tell it’s not really :’) working :’))) out :”’))))

        • Jackie B August 25, 2017 at 8:32 am

          D’aw, thanks Hannah! I appreciate the compliments! I hope we both get things settled how we want them ASAP! 😀

          • hannahpotamus August 25, 2017 at 7:49 pm

            HAHA, it’s true though!! <3

            And hopefully… I'm still fiddling around with everything though, so I probably won't get my blog completely to my liking anytime soon. *sigh*

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 19, 2017 at 12:01 am

    I agree with Krysti!! You will be a definite benefit to them! <3

    I LOVED your categories for the reviews! Very spot on (Sometimes I wish my own way of speaking / writing were less complicated…)

    I LOVED your blurbs! LOL! I felt like I totally understood the story while at the same time wanting to read them due to your evaluation. I can see where a blurb was necessary and how you would be confused without one. I am always shocked when reviewers say they went in with out reading the blurb! WHAT?! lol…

    I think it was super great that you shared something as basic as formatting advice! All book submissions must meet certain standards so you would have thought they would know this… you didn't assume and I'm sure, very kindly passed on this advice!!

    I personally think you NOT being a literary focus was a good thing. You read and decided from your heart based upon what was on the page. That is what every writer needs… someone to tell them if it struck them where it counts… in the feeeelllsss!!

    So cool you sharing everything you learned! <3 Keep up the excellent work!

    • Jackie B August 23, 2017 at 9:20 am

      You know, finding you was the greatest thing to ever happen to my ego, Dani. Thank you. Please stick around! 😉

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your kind words! That means a lot to me coming from an active, aspiring writer. I will admit, I am sometimes that person who doesn’t read the blurb before picking up a book, though… I do most of the time, but when it’s “assigned” literature, I don’t always. Such as for book clubs and work. I figure I’ll need to know it anyway. And, no offense to my amazing friends at Empty Pages, these books were published as a cohesive unit. I have different expectations when I pick up a published novel versus something my friends sent me.

      Hahaha– it really is ALL about the feeeeelllllssss, isn’t it? <3 I'll definitely be sharing more after this experience. I can't wait to really dig in! I have some time set aside this weekend and I am super excited. 😀

  • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks August 23, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I’m surprised you said Times New Roman xD I hate that font! It’s like the ugliest font I can think of 😀 but I totally agree that font matters. I love being able to change it on the Kindle 🙂 there was this one ARC one time that was written IN GREY. On the Kindle. How was that even technically possible? It was the most torturous little ARC ever xD so much eye strain… ugh.

    You’re also right about the literature bit. But hey…we blog to be ourselves. Let’s leave the literary and writing critique to the professionals. It’s not what our blogs are for 🙂

    As for blurbs… I enjoy going into a book without one (or having forgotten it). Going in without knowing is a totally spoiler-free experience 🙂 (yes. I have been badly spoiled by blurbs, would you believe it :/)

    It’s awesome that you’re participating in something like this 🙂

    • Jackie B August 23, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      I mean, I personally didn’t *recommend* Times New Roman, the writing club selected the font. I think that’s mostly because it’s the default? Who knows. Personally, I don’t care what font it is as long as everyone does something similar.

      I totally agree with you about <3 Kindle fonts! I almost exclusively use Bookerly, but I'm a traditionalist, I guess. In the eBook for Sleeping Giants they show the variation in dialogue by having one character’s words always in grey and all the other characters this person speaks to in black. It’s actually really effective! I just had to change my brightness in order for this to really work well for me. Eye strain is so real.

      Thanks for reminding me that my blog is supposed to be fun. This is definitely about being myself– I just sometimes wish I was a bit more Rupert Giles and less… Xander Harris. 😉

      • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks August 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm

        Yeah, I think it used to be! Now the default is Calibri though. Been that way since maybe 5 years ago. I just have thus feud with Times New Roman, gosh it’s so ugly xD all pointy, makes me feel uncomfortable reading it, lol.

        Brightness? Huh. I’m not sure my Paperwhite even has that setting? I have used the Open Dyslexic font for a few good months xD boyfriend wondered how I could handle that one. But it was just so wacky, it made struggling through half of Middlemarch almost possible. Then I changed the font. Guess who never finished that book xD

        • Jackie B August 27, 2017 at 11:08 pm

          I love the idea of changing a font so that you can keep pushing through a book! I have a Paperwhite and I can change the brightness. I do it ALL THE TIME. It’s at the top under the Quick Actions icon. Check out the Kindle Help for some steps. Very important when reading after the BF has gone to bed. 😉

          • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks August 29, 2017 at 4:55 pm

            Oh, you mean the backlight xD I thought you mean like if the font is grey or black or something 😀

            • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 8:27 pm

              OH. Yes. The backlight. I dunno. Words are hard sometimes. 😉

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