Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog Critique: Kid Lit Reviews

In this series I give constructive feedback about the look and function of an author blog from a marketing perspective. As always, I rely on help from graphic designers Tom Barnes (my hubby) and Joe LaRue. To review the blog elements we look at or to submit your own blog for critique, go here.

Today we look at the other side of book blogs - the reviewer blog. Sue Morris of Kid Lit Reviews has been kind enough to offer up her blog for this week's critique. Check it out, spend some time, and meet below.

Overall, I really admire your site's extensive depth. You have a lot of reviews and information available and your navigation makes it easy to access. I think this is a much better option than a word cloud for this type of site. 

There are a few picky things I have in regards to your menu. The Contests/Giveaways button has a drop down to exactly the same thing. It should be like your Contact button - no drop down. 

Also, the navigation needs to use a bigger. bolder font. It's a little hard to read some of the info.

Your header is absolutely beautiful. It's a whimsical design that fits your site's topic without being literal. I like the bottom graphic as well. Problem is we can't see it very well. Additionally, that beautiful header needs to extend into your site more. Right now we see beautiful header, then we scroll down and it's kind of  "meh". 

A great place to add more of that whimsical design would be in your sidebar. Currently your sidebar has no separation from the main part of your blog, a common error we see in blogs. To really highlight your posts, make your post area a lighter color. Then carry some of your design elements down through your sidebar.

The use of fonts and styles is really inconsistent. This is a little off-putting when the rest of your site is so organized in terms of structure and review policy. Making it uniform will give you a more professional presence. 

Giving each book title a different color, for example, makes the page too busy. I see they match the books you are reviewing, but a lot of the colors are just hard to read against the background and making it uniform will really class you up. Try pulling some of the colors from your header as your colors in your posts. Keep them consistent and you'll look really sharp.

One of the biggest font issues we have is withe the Times Courier font you use for your star ratings. This font is really outdated and not bold enough for such an important part of your posts. Choose a prominent, heavy font and a bold color to show your star reviews. This should be the item people see right away (after the title of the book) when looking at your posts.

Your sidebar could use some clean up. You have a great deal of items and that makes me want to ignore the whole thing. I love that you have the search box right on top - this is essential in a site like yours. Under that I'd like to have a way to subscribe and follow you. You want me to come back, right? Make it easy for me to do so. Your RSS feed is in a good spot, but it's tiny. It needs to stand out. 

Awards and past events you've been involved in are fun and entertaining, but I'd lose those. Weed out anything that isn't essential to keep the blog clean and easy to read. You could always make a page for "fun stuff" and put them all there.

What I really like about your blog is the organization related to the reviews themselves.You make it easy for people to ask for a review and you are really consistent and detailed in the information you provide in your reviews. Since this is what your site is all about, this is great. 

I know you mentioned increasing traffic to your blog in your email to me. The first step is to really make your site unified and up to the next level of professionalism. Then I'd suggest doing some blog tours to get the word out about your site. Do you let authors know when you've reviewed their books? Do you invite them to share your reviews? These might be some areas you could buff up. Great reviews should earn you some shares if you properly get the word out. Hope that's helpful. Shoot me an email if you have more questions regarding this.

Anything from you folks? How do you suggest driving traffic to Kid Lit Reviews?


A Daft Scots Lass said...

I just love the colours she's used.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Good tip on the use/overuse of fonts and text colours - they can distract the reader more than draw them in. I love the header graphic too - it looks awesome!

Beth Stilborn said...

Book review blogs do a great service for authors, and so Sue is certainly filling a need. I really like her drop-down menus that aid in navigation.

Is there any place where Sue tells us who she is, and what her reasons/qualifications are for reviewing books? Is she coming at this from the perspective of a reader, a librarian, a teacher? Those are things I'd want to know if I were considering sending a book to her for review. There are a lot of book review blogs out there, and a writer/illustrator needs to know why they would ask this particular blogger to review their book.

I wonder about her inclusion of illustrations from books. If they are posted with the author/illustrator's permission, there should be a note to that effect. Otherwise, that might put some author/illustrators off sending books to be reviewed.

Is there any way to tidy up the "share this" buttons at the end of the posts? They look rather haphazard at the moment.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd like to see a different color background for the posts and sidebar. It's all one color right now.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Thanks for another great blog critique, Laura. i enjoyed looking at Sue's blog - she's been over to my site but in the craziness that was this summer I had yet to visit hers. I'm interested in how people do review blogs because I'm always looking for ways to improve the Perfect Picture Book section of mine.

Mina Lobo said...

The colors at the top are lovely, and I love the swirls. The blog title, though, seems a bit bland and stark. Obviously you want the title to be in harmony with the artwork nearby, but, for me, it seems like it fades out. I feel like I'd like it to be a wee bit bigger, in a slightly curvier or gentler font, and filled in with (one) color...maybe that pretty light blue under the "Review Requests and Policies" tab text?

I like the way the dates are over to the left of post titles, giving clean lines to that side of the page.
Some Dark Romantic

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Thank you for your comments and concerns. First let me say that all of the illustrations are with permission. If you scroll over the illustration it will say copyright and then the author and publisher's name. If I understand what you are saying, you would like to see something at the end of the blog giving those permissions. If I changed the roll-over to say with permission of . . . would that ease your mind, or do you need a statement? I have never, and would never, post an illustration without permission, but I do understand the concern.

You are also correct in regards to an About page. I spent the first year getting books to review and doing those reviews. This year I have started looking at the blog and the things that are missing. An about page is on that list.

I love the idea of making the font on the header a color coordinating with the design of the header. Unfortunately, I have little control over the design and the basic look of the blog. It is run on a free site from WordPress and I do not know enough css to change what I am allowed to change. But--I am learning about css just so I can change the design and have more control. Those changes are probably a year away.

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

The idea behind color coordinating the title with the book was two fold. One, I wanted the title to stand out. Second, I wanted to add some color to the post. I had received some suggestions that the posts were too bland. That was when I began asking for samples of illustrations and colored the title.

Then, I received a complaint that the title was sometimes difficult to read. It always looks great on my laptop, but I know it matters not what it looks like to me. It matters only what it looks like to those that read and follow it. So that was a learning process that I am still going through. :)

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Thank you. I wish I could take credit for this but I did not develop the theme. I choose it from a huge selection of possible themes available for the Wordpress community.

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Alex, I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of control over the theme I am using. I am learning css so I can try to make some of these suggested changes, but that will take a while.

I have also considered changing the theme to something that would have that division of sidebar and posting area. I just love the theme I have and an informal poll of readers said they do not want me to change. So, I am confounded at the moment over what to do.

I would love to have the design in the header extend down the sidebar and appear more at the bottom, closer to the fold. I am hoping I can make those changes. Wordpress is funny about people making changes to the themes, yet does not let us upload our own themes unless we are on a hosted platform. Hosting is another thing I am seriously considering, simply for the control it would afford me. But, if I do that, I lose the wonderful wordpress community I have been linked to this past year and half.

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Well, welcome to Kid Lit Reviews. I must say, it is about time you popped over and checked it out. I do understand how it can be difficult to make the rounds when your own site is time-consuming or your life is filled to the top. I am simply happy you came over and had a look.

I do hope you return and maybe give me feedback on a review or two. I envy the number of comments your posts get nearly each time you write. Your posts are well-done and always interesting. I like to think my reviews are interesting and not simply "I like this book because . . . " Is there a secret to getting the people who read your blog to comment? Maybe I need to "steal" one of the great ideas you use to get people involved. Do you have a secret for reviews?

I do enjoy the things you have us do on your site.

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Hi Mina,

I only recently changed the font in the header. The reviews you see above are the first time they are used. I guess what I thought was a nice change might not be the best choice. I am not a graphic artist or even know much about building websites. So anything anyone can offer in suggestions is greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, I cannot add color to the font. There are restrictions on what can be done with this theme. I can change it back to the more curvy font that was originally used on the header. I am not sure if I can make it much bigger without having the sub-heading bleed into the tabs, but it is a good idea that I will try.

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...


Thank you for the thoughtful critique of my book review site. Your suggestions are all good ones. Some I implemented as I read the rest of your critique, because I think you are spot-on with some of your suggestions. Actually, they are all great ideas, I just cannot implement them all due to restrictions at the free WordPress platform.

You gave an even handed, fair and balanced review and I appreciate it very much. This is the first time anyone as ever really done this for my site, except for me and I do not always get it right.

The sidebar clean-up will be done with a page added for the "awards" others have bestowed upon me or the tours and challenges I have entered. The Twitter follow button was right under the follow by email sign-up, which was right below the search engine. I moved those down only a few days ago to announce the new reviews that will soon be offered. It will go back where it belongs shortly. I had not thought it would be a big deal. So much to learn! :)

Thank you again for taking the time to review my site. If I can ever help you, please let me know. And a special thank you to all of the people who commented below. I do appreciate all of the suggestions and thoughts you so generously offered.

Susanna- thank you for visiting Kid Lit Reviews for the first time. I hope it will not be the last.

Suzanne (Sue)

Sue @ Kid Lit Reviews said...

Susanna, so sorry, my reply to went away tnto cyberspace, I guess. I am happy you finally had a chance to get to Kid Lit Reviews. I hope you liked what you saw ad will return. I love your blog. It is easy to read and I usually have no trouble finding what I need. I love your colors.

Thanks for joining the conversation. I need to learn a lesson from you on getting readers to comment. That is one area that I have trouble with.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

No worries :) And I'll be over! I'm excited to see you're going to be having Storybook App reviews - I need to learn much more about those :)

Post a Comment

I love hearing from you! You can choose to comment as a guest or use any of the other login options available after you hit "Post As". Thanks for contributing to the conversation :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...