L. Avery Brown has an awesome book blog called The Magnolia Blossom Review. She is a former secondary level educator with over a dozen years devoted to the fields of history, special education, and curriculum development. Since 2007 she’s been a devoted writer, something she’s loved to do for as long as she can remember.
She says, “Professionally speaking, when I’m not busy working on my own writing projects, I am a freelance editor, publishing consultant, and digital media promotions consultant. I also pride myself on being a solid reviewer of books! I am about as Southern as Southern can get which is why I started my first blog, When a Southern Woman Rambles. That blog actually helped me set the back drop for a series of books with the same name.”
Ms. Brown does a little of everything. She has published five titles of her own. She also created BrownHousePrintWorks.com where she offers editing services, publishing consultation, and digital media promotion.
What got you interested in blogging about books?
I actually caught the reviewing bug several years ago when I ran an international blogging group (Real Bloggers United) and decided to review blogs to help point out the site’s highs and lows and things the blog owner might want to consider polishing. That’s how The Magnolia Blossom Review (I thought the name fit nicely with my personal WASWR blog) Sadly, RBU sort of fell apart when, as I call it, the ‘shiny’ of the concept wore off among the members. I decided to take a hiatus and focus on my own writing.
And when I did, I joined BookRix.com. That’s when I started to see a pattern – GREAT indie books by passionate writers with NO reviews! I thought what a shame. That’s not right. These folks are just as dedicated as ‘Signed Authors’ and they write books that are just as good as – if not better than – the SA’s. Then I decided to check out some reviews of IA books on the internet.
What I found – broke my heart! There were lots of sites that claimed to be ‘review’ sites but most of them had little substance with no ‘reasoning’ behind their reviews. So, I decided to do something about it.
I pulled up my MBR page and did some revamping. I created a solid rubric that explained clearly what I was looking for in a book. (Having been a teacher – I think rubrics are awesome … they keep ME in check as I review.) Once I had everything set up, I RElaunched the site at the beginning of 2013. And I’ve been trying to review at least 2 books a week since then!
Tell us about how things work at Magnolia Blossom Reviews.
As I mentioned earlier, the revamped MBR has been up and running since January of 2013. As far as books go, I don’t have a specific genre I prefer. A good book is a good book. I will say that I’m simply not comfortable reviewing erotica. Not that there is anything wrong with it – after all, if it’s written well, it’s simply a good romance that’s a heck of a lot more ‘visual’ and ‘direct’ than your typical Harlequin Romance! I just think it would be weird to comment on the way someone writes a sex scene!
The MBR is a one writer sort of review site – but perhaps, I might be willing to let another person help me out so long as they follow the guidelines I set up. I try to post a new book every 3 days. (Maybe if I found someone willing to put in about an hour to write a solid review, I could put up more!)
With each book I’ve been asked to read, after I’ve read at least half of the book, I’ll send the author a series of questions specifically geared towards their book. After I’ve finished writing the review, I find the places where the responses fit the best and insert them. I try to not read the responses until after the review is written – so that I’m not swayed by the words of the author.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
I’ve got a ‘Request for Review’ form on my website that authors can submit and when I get the request I open up my matrices for each month going up through February and try to work the book in around the scheduled Book/Blog tour stops that I’ve been asked to do by a couple of Book/Blog Tour companies. I’ve not had a problem fitting people in thus far. (Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep on providing reviews in a timely fashion)
How deep is your TBR pile?
I’ve got 10 books in my book review queue! That’s why I put 3 days between each book…so I have plenty of times to read them.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
Each book reviewed at The Magnolia Blossom Review is read from cover to cover, so to say…even the books that are only on eReaders! I pull out my notebook and jot down my thoughts about each of the 10 items listed below.
1. Book Title
2. Book Cover
3. The First 500…
4. Age Recommendation/Genre Classification
6. Theme and Originality
10. Overall Impression
Granted some of them obviously require that I wait until the book is completed, but the first 3 are scored immediately. Each topic can receive up to 10 points. When the review is completed, I total up the scores and bestow blossoms.
90-100 = 5 Blossoms
80-89 = 4 Blossoms
70-79 = 3 Blossoms
60-69 = 2 Blossoms
Anything UNDER 60 gets 1 Blossom.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
Yes. I remember thinking – Geez, this is going to be so dumb. It wasn’t. I couldn’t put the darn thing down once I started!
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Absolutely. I remember reading the blurb to a book then looking at the cover and thinking – This is going to be SO good. It wasn’t. I was annoyed with it. In fact, if I hadn’t had my rubric to follow, I probably wouldn’t torn into the author. But, I was able to hold back and stick to the guidelines I had set. (Love those guidelines!)
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
There are a couple. First, they don’t make use of those First 500 words! Those are make or break words! The title, the cover, and the blurb – those are the bait. But the First 500 words – they’re the HOOK. If your readers are 2 pages into the book and still don’t know what the heck is going on (or where the book is headed) they won’t care about what happens. Second, in their attempts to be ‘eloquent’ they find weird synonyms for words and come off as obnoxious and readers typically don’t like to feel like they need to pull out a dictionary to understand what the author has written.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
The overuse of – words. Yes, words. It sounds crazy because a book is nothing but words; however, there comes a point where you want to go slap the author especially when they say something like: Alisha stood there like a statue; too afraid to move. She wanted to run only her legs felt like lead and she couldn’t summon the strength to lift her foot, let alone run to safety.
That entire blah, blah, blah section could have been written like this: Alisha was terrified and too afraid to run. See what I mean?
It also drives me crazy when an author tells me everything they want me to see/know like I’m not bright enough to figure it out. I think they’re afraid that if they’re not specific people will think they’re being lazy. But no.
And then there are the dialogue issues. Geez, sometimes I feel like I’m reading the transcript of a boring reality TV show. Keep the conversations to a minimum – that way, when someone says something that goes on a bit longer because they need to, the reader will go ‘Gosh, whatever he’s saying must be important.’
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
Lucky for me I do NOT hunt for book reviews on a book before I’ve read it and not only written but also posted my review. If I did I might be unwittingly swayed to either like or dislike a book. Once the book is posted, especially if it’s one that I simply didn’t enjoy, I do go to see if I was completely out of my mind. Inevitably I always run across a lot of ‘review sites’ where EVERY book is fabulous and totally worth the investment. I loathe kiss up reviewers! Eventually I run across a few sites where it sounds as if the reviewer used my rubric to come up with their opinion – in fact, sometimes I read the review and it sounds as if I’d written it because they’re critiques are so on target with what I’ve said.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
Be nice. It’s as simple as that. They’ve got to realize that there are always going to be some people who don’t like their work. If a writer is passionate about what they do – even if the review cuts them to the core – send a pleasant thank you to the reviewer. Tell them thank you for taking the time to read the book and that you wish they had enjoyed the book more. Ask them what they think you could do in the future to appeal to more people.
This way the author is saying ‘I read your words. I know you didn’t like this particular book and I’m really not sure why. Could you please point out what didn’t appeal to you.’
By doing this they remind the reviewer that there is a real person behind the words and that their goal is to grow as a writer. 9 times out of 10 they’ll find that the reviewer respects the fact that you acknowledge their opinion – even if you might not agree with it. And then, perhaps, when your next book comes out, they’ll be a bit more receptive.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
I don’t write the review. I contact the author via email and I let them know the issues I found and I try to do it as painlessly as I can. I ask them first if they had beta readers to iron out any rough spots. Most of the time, they didn’t. They just wrote the book and figured it was perfect. Of course it was perfect in their eyes.
I suggest that they ask a few other people they trust to read it and to give their honest opinion but I mention this with a caveat. I say, don’t tell them that a reviewer didn’t like the book because these readers need to look at the book without any preconceived notions. This usually works wonders. (Those beta readers are SO valuable) I have even suggested to some IA’s that, if it’s possible, they pull the book from the market to address the issues. And then put it back up when it’s polished. I say, taking it off the market for 6 weeks to make it as close to perfect is better than leaving something halfway good online.
What was your worst experience with an author?
OMG! I read this book that was SO out there and riddled with utterly impossible concepts it actually made my head hurt. (This was a book I was editing – not reviewing) The story started out with an almost ‘accidental’ suicide scene, went to a dream state where there were pink castles, ogres with baby doll heads and deadly unicorns (no joke), and music that could make color drip from the walls. Then it returned to the scene of the pseudo-suicide and the person wakes up…with a unicorn’s horn in his hand so he paints it black to hide it. Then, to wrap it all up, the author ended with a weird ‘funny’ statement.
I tried my damnedest to make the story make sense. And when I finished with the edits and contacted the author he read my edits and comments and told me I obviously didn’t ‘know how to read the book the right way’. (His exact words) Then he proceeded to tell me how to read the book and what each item mentioned was meant to represent. Finally I had to tell him, “If you have to write a book to explain the book – your book is no good. End of story.”
That did not please him. Oh, well, can’t please all the people all the time.
Thanks for a great interview. Please check out The Magnolia Blossom Review and make it a regular stop on your trip down the information highway.