Meet Lauren Scharhag, the force behind Blue House Review. She is also the author of nine titles, runs a separate author blog, does marketing and PR at her day job, and freelance editing, proofreading, writing, and translating on the side. Whew. I get tired just writing down all the stuff she does.
Lauren says, “I’ve always been an avid reader of reviews—not just books, but films and TV as well. My first paid writing gig was reviewing back when I was in junior high—the Kansas City Star had a teen section and I did reviews on books, TV shows and films for several years there, as well as the occasional humor column. I have started reviewing again because, as an author, I understand how important reviews are. Besides my review blog, I’m a regular reviewer for Horror-Net and Urban Fantasy Land.”
Lauren, tell us about Blue House Review.
I just started up Blue House this summer. For the moment, it’s just me, and I’m trying to post a new review every week. I wanted to have a site that was completely devoted to indie authors. Most major newspapers and magazines don’t review indies yet. I’m hoping to lend some literary credibility to indies by giving them these in-depth critiques. Again, as an indie author myself, I know how hard it is to get people to leave comments about your work. When I post my reviews, I work with the author to get the review up on as many retail outlets as possible to help them promote their work. I plug it on all my social media channels. There’s a lot of talent out there, we just have to bring it to the fore.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
For my site, the books have to be self-published. I prioritize first by date submitted, then by what interests me most.
How deep is your TBR pile?
Eleven. Then there’s another twenty or so sitting in my inbox to sort through.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
I’m trying to keep it simple—just a five-star rating system:
1 – hated it
2 – didn’t hate it, but it might need some work
3 – liked it
4 – very good
5 – awesome sauce
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
I try really hard not to have any expectations at all when I pick up a book, so no, not really.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
When I read for pleasure—all the time. When I go through my to-review list, again, I try not to read more than the most basic description, so I can go into it with fresh eyes.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
The most common mistake I see is, quite simply, being a poor storyteller. They tell and don’t show. The characters aren’t well-developed, their motivations aren’t well thought-out. I also see a lot of poor imitations of popular works. Cribbing is fine, but throw in a unique twist, why don’tcha?
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
I HATE it when, in dialogue, the author has characters constantly refer to each other by name. Like when they say, “Hello, John.” “Why, hello there, Jane.” “How are you doing today, John?” “Well, Jane, I’ve had a very hard day.” People don’t talk that way in real life and it sets my teeth on edge.
My other big pet peeve is stupid characters. I understand that there are people who aren’t very bright, and even bright people do foolish and impulsive things. What I hate is when authors make characters, especially the protagonist, abandon all sense just to advance the plot. You shouldn’t have to deduct IQ points from the character to make stuff happen. Find some other way to move the action forward.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
I usually hate books that everyone else is raving about. I don’t go in for formulaic or sentimental.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
So far, for the most part, everyone I have reviewed on Blue House has been very polite, very grateful for the feedback and the opportunity for a little extra exposure. Professionalism goes a long way.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
I have reviewed a few already that I think are terrible. I rate them accordingly and then explain why. I try to stick to the facts. I use literary analysis to explain what I think the author did poorly. But if the author did something right, or if I think they have potential, I mention that, too. I try not to be derogatory about it, it’s not meant to be a personal attack on the author or anything. But the reality is, if indies want to be taken seriously, then they need serious critiques, which means taking the bad as well as the good. And I continuously remind other authors that just because I didn’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean others won’t. A critique, no matter how scholarly, is ultimately subjective. But good things come from bad reviews—the author might become a better writer because of it, or someone else might see the review and say, “This reviewer doesn’t like werewolf stories, but I love them!” I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s really no such thing as bad publicity.
What was your worst experience with an author?
Oh, I had the classic spiteful author who got upset when I gave her work a negative review, so she sent me a nasty message on Facebook, then started leaving negative reviews on my work whenever she could. She seemed to be trying to offset every good review I got with a bad one of her own, setting up multiple user accounts to do this. But that’s okay. I like that it makes my work look controversial.
Thanks for a great interview, Lauren. Now, everyone click over and check out Blue House Review.