This is a kinda-sorta Throwback Thursday post. I was online yesterday and a bunch of people were discussing reviews (specifically how reviews in some parts of the world were very spare—like how there are dozens of reviews on the “dot-com” version of e-tailers, but less on the “dot-ca” mirror site). The conversation moved to discussions of why, and someone pointed out that there was a healthy contingent of people in her area of the world who didn’t feel comfortable writing reviews.
Which brings me back to my ‘Throwback’ post.
Every year on my birthday, someone will ask me what I’d like for my birthday, and I always reply that I really don’t need anything. I’m forty, I’m happy, we don’t need more “things” really, and other than your time or well-wishes, I’m not sure what to ask for.
Except one thing: noise.
Books can live or die by word-of-mouth. And today’s digital version of word-of-mouth is the online review. Now, I say this not to suggest I want you to write reviews of my stuff specifically. I always feel sketchy asking for reviews. So I generalize: the best gift you can give me is a review of a book you loved. It doesn’t have to be mine. The love of reading is the thing for me, and always will be.
When I first started working as a bookseller, mumblety-mumble years ago, the online world of reviews wasn’t really a thing yet. Reviews were written with – gasp! – ink on paper, be that in a magazine, a newspaper, or on little cards tucked beside the books we’d just enjoyed right there in the bookstore. I loved doing that.
Most of the rest of the staff loathed it.
“I hate writing reviews,” they’d say, even after I saw them just hand-sell a book with perfection to a browser who wasn’t sure what they were looking for.
“Why?” I asked, honestly baffled.
“I never know what to say.”
These reviews I’m talking about writing? They’re not essays. In fact, writing a positive and helpful review can be broken down into three small pieces, to my mind. If I don’t have time to write a long and in depth review of something, I’ll often put in a placeholder until I can. But those placeholders can be just as effective, as long as they’ve got pertinent information.
So let’s talk a short review, in three pieces.
First, tell me the basics. What is this book about?
One of the most unique gay young adult books I’ve read in years, Cub is the brilliantly moving story of Travis, a young man on the edge of growing up in rural West Virginia who knows full well he might never find a place—or a partner—that’s right for him.
Second, tell me why you loved the book – specifically, what was the single thing that was so unique or fascinating about the story. Like this:
Jeff Mann’s Cub finally brings a voice to gay young adult fiction that I’ve never encountered before. Travis is not a slim, fashion-conscious guy waiting to escape to the city, but a stocky (and sometimes surly) young man who is far more comfortable on his farm.
Last, tell me who’d like the book. (Bonus points for comparing it to another author or series that might be better known, to help make that connection for a reader who has read that other work).
Cub is for anyone who wants to see a different side of gay youth that hasn’t been written about before, especially those of us who grew up gay and didn’t fit in even with the gay crowd that was supposed to open its arms and welcome us. Like what Steve Berman’s Vintage did with a goth gay, Mann’s Cub delves into new territory for young adult fiction and brings us someone different and rarely seen.
I’ve mentioned before the writing of a three sentence review (image below), and though in this example I’ve written more than three sentences, you can answer those questions as briefly as a phrase each. If you’re being honest, and you’re writing from your own experiences with the book, you won’t go wrong.
So, to recap, an image:
It’s enough. And every review might help someone else find the book you just loved.
When I talk about spreading the noise, I mean taking a second to cut-and-paste that review everywhere it can help. Post it on Goodreads, post it on the big-A (across as many “dot-whatevers” as you’ve got access to), blog about it…where you can make some noise, make some noise. And if you’ve got a local brick-and-mortar store, maybe the next time you drop by you can gush a little face-to-face with one of the booksellers.
Because that’s still the best way we learn about new books.
Then we sell them.
And if even that seems too much, there’s still stuff you can do. Many sites have a way to mark a review “helpful” or “like” it. Take a second when you’ve read a book that you’ve loved and if someone has written a great review of that book, click the “helpful” button. That nudges that particular review a bit up the stack, and makes it more likely to be the review the browser sees first. (And on places like the Big-A, finding a decent three-star review and marking it as helpful means it is more likely to appear as the most helpful “critical” review, which is far better than a one-star “I hate teh gayz!” review appearing on the screen).
So there you go. No wrapping required. No card necessary. Just take maybe five or ten minutes, type out a quick review, and let it fly. And hey, please let me know where it is—either by linking it back here or Twitter or Facebook or whatnot.
(The original “how-to” parts of this post were taken from various Livejournal posts from my birthdays of years past.)