Saturday, March 7, 2020

Tobi Alfier - There are Reviews, and there are REVIEWS….

You don’t have to be a social media addict to know that every day someone posts information about their new book. They may be friends of yours, or writers you like. They may be your publisher on your behalf.

Here’s the question: do reviews sell books? Who knows? Sometimes I buy books to support a friend I may only know on Facebook. Sometimes I buy books because I love the author. I do read reviews but they don’t necessarily make my decision for me. Sometimes they do.

I’m not talking about “official” book reviews published in journals, I’m talking about the “from the heart” reviews on Amazon, when someone finishes a book and can’t wait to tell everyone about it. These are easy to write and can be done quickly. As I’ve said before, please support your local independent bookstores, but if you’ve ever bought anything on Amazon, you are a customer and can write a review.

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You all know my friend Susan Tepper, whose novel “What Drives Men” came out last year. Susan is brilliant about asking people to put reviews on Amazon. She’d read “that after 35 you get pushed up somehow on the Amazon chain and they will do certain things.  For instance, my novel was run as a sponsored ad on Facebook a lot, and ran for several weeks. I can only assume it had to do with the # of reviews”.

We may complain about the ads in our Facebook newsfeeds, but don’t you find it amazing that something you were looking at on Amazon shows up on Facebook that same day? And I do look at them, I admit. I think it’s a fact of life, so let’s do what Susan does and use it to our advantage.

Reviews can be short, or they can be long. My review of “What Drives Men” said:

“Susan Tepper is a skilled and masterful magician. I could not get “What Drives Men” out of my head, the equivalent of not being able to look away. While diverting our attention with a mad and crazy journey in a borrowed car, with “borrowed” kids, weather, waterfalls, and geography, she slowly, quietly, out of our sight, builds a beauteous redemption for a man who could previously only keep guppies. It took me a few days to “get it”, but I loved thinking about it and I will continue to do so for a long time.”

This was actually very short, even though it looks long here. Other reviews were much longer, but I said what I wanted to say.

Simon Perchik’s book “The Gibson Poems”, published by Cholla Needles, has five reviews. One review says:

“Even if you have read many of Simon Perchik’s poems in other collections, you will find much that is new and fresh here. You will think you are reading about something familiar and a surprising insight will reward you. This book simply adds more beauty and insight to often everyday subjects. You’ll be glad you didn’t pass this one up!”

Now that didn’t take long to write. Simon writes beautiful poetry every single day and people should know about him.

This is not an ego thing. This isn’t like looking yourself up on Google. This is looking to see who read your book, who took their time to write a review, and what they thought of it. I must confess I often forget to write reviews. I also forget to read my own. There is something so humbly gratifying to know that not only did someone pay money for something of yours, but they took the time to let other people know. Bless them.

You probably know that Cholla Needles published my “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” the end of 2018. This is a book that my mom bugged me for ages to publish. Rich said “your mom is right”. Really? I thought it was such a departure for me as a writer, it was hugely important to know what people thought. Holy cow, there are four reviews! And they’re good! Showing once again that moms and publishers know best.

The Hard Part – What if You Don’t Like a Book?

Remember, this is not a commissioned review for a journal, this is a voluntary review on Amazon. It’s not anonymous; some people put their full names and others don’t. Mine are written as TA, mostly because I feel what I’m writing is not about me.

All writings are reviewed by Amazon staff before they’re posted, and mean writings aren’t approved. But if you’ve just spent hard-earned money on something you didn’t care for, you are allowed to say.

As the chicken in our family, I admit that I probably would not say anything at all. I probably would not buy another book by that author and move on.

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I asked Jeff what he does. He’s more articulate than I am and he’s written more reviews than I have. He’s a brilliant writer who stands well on his own, and has no reason to take anyone off at the knees. If he doesn’t care for a book there’s a reason. He says don’t get personal when describing the writing in total, a specific piece, or the author.

Jeff also says to offer the readers an alternative. For example, if a book is about a particular subject, and you find the writing flat, or lacking in something, suggest other books or authors you think tackle the subject in a more satisfying way. This can be done gently, always keeping in mind this is not about you. This is about people spending their discretionary income, who are looking for opinions.

Back to Positives:

  1. Susan Tepper has a new chapbook out – “Confess” from Cervena Barva Press.
Described as “elegiac and lyrical”, it has a lovely, welcoming, wonderful cover. Take a look. Please be sure to add a review once you’ve read it.

  1. Simon Perchik is just back from a warm weather vacation in Costa Rica. He said he wrote every day. Keep your eyes open for Simon’s poetry written in Costa Rica in the upcoming May Cholla Needles issue. I know there are Young Writers And Artists and Poetry Month - Local Writers issues coming up, as well as the brand new March Issue #39. And Dave Maresh's The Future is Out To Get You. And I’ll bet money that somewhere in between those newest poetic joys you’ll find Simon. Cholla Needles has recently put into book form "The D Poems" which was previously only available only in e-book form. Simon's latest book is "The Rosenblum Poems."

  1. Jeff Alfier has a new book out – “The Shadow Field” from Louisiana Literature Press.
Described as “a decidedly impressionistic collection about revisiting old roads and the wanderings of an elegiac kind”, the gorgeous cover photo was taken by Jeff. Take a look. Please add a review once you’ve read it.

  1. I don’t know everything going on so I’ve only included information about the people I talk about above. If you have a new chapbook or book just out, please add it to the comments below. Likewise successes with art. I check for comments all the time and I will publish the information. Writing and art is hard work. I know one of our fiber artists sold a piece before a show even opened. I know one of our artists has two years of commitments /commissions on her plate. Everyone deserves to be congratulated. 

Have the very best week. I heard it may rain. Stay safe xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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