Call me old-fashioned, but I do love a good postcard.
While most of the rest of the world has turned to texting and social media to update their friends when away from home, I still send physical postcards to my family when I’m away on holiday, even though the combined cost of postcard and stamp can be eyewateringly expensive these days. (Denmark, you win the prize for priciest postcard option on our recent family tour of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark – but more about that trip later.) Continue reading “For the Love of Postcards”→
A post about book reviews, reading, writing and authors
I strongly believe that all authors should review the books they read. Some authors prefer not to share their reviews in public, not least for fear of revenge against their own books if they give someone else a less than glowing review. But even if they never publish their reviews, they should still write them, because the process of digesting and responding to a book will contribute to their development as a writer. (More about that idea here.) I’m more brazen than that. I review books not only on my own book blog (www.debbieyoungsbookblog.com) and on Amazon, and for various publications and organisations, such as Vine Leaves Literary Journal, founded by my multi-talented author friend Jessica Bell.
About Vine Leaves Literary Journal
Vine Leaves specialises in the vignette, so called to indicate a piece literally short enough to be written on a vine leaf. I don’t review the vignettes in the magazine, but books by those who have had vignettes accepted for publication by this prestigious magazine.
These contributors write in many different genres, from poetry and flash fiction to children’s books and adult fiction. Thus reviewing for Vine Leaves also helps me take another piece of my own advice to authors, which is to read outside your comfort zone. Yes, writers should also read widely within the genre in which they’re writing, but if that’s all they read, they’ll quickly become blinkered to the rest of the world of literature – not good news for any writer. As indicated by the title of the latest book I’ve reviewed for Vine Leaves, their bookshop of contributors’ works is a great place to find interesting and unusual books. Here’s my review of Ben Nardolilli’s Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained. If you’re interested in submitting a vignette to Vine Leaves, or would like to know more about this distinctive literary form and enjoy some first-rate examples, hop over to the Vine Leaves website. Having work published by magazines like this is a great way to gain confidence and exposure as a writer, whichever form you usually write in, so if you’ve not yet tried it, why not give it a go?
Why Authors Welcome Reviews Too
Like any author, I always welcome new reviews of my books. Gaining personal, thoughtful feedback from a reader, even if it’s only a few words, encourages any writer to keep writing and to try to please more readers. There’s also a commercial advantage, in that the more reviews an author has online, the more likely it is that other readers will find that author’s books and buy them. So if you’ve read any books that I’ve written, please consider leaving a brief review on any website of your choice – whether the site from which you made your purchase, on your own book blog, or via Goodreads, the global social network for readers. You’ll make my day. Well, provided you enjoyed my book, anyway! To keep informed about new book releases, you might like to sign up to my occasional enewsletter, which includes a free short story with every issue. I’ll be sending out the next one in the next few days, so now’s a great time to subscrbe! Just add your email address here.
(Rewards that reinforce my delight in reviewing other authors’ books)
As regular readers of my blog may know, I love reviewing books and do so in a professional capacity for a couple of magazines in two completely different genres – a British parenting magazine called Today’s Child and an international literary journal called Vine Leaves.
For Today’s Child, I pick books that will sit well in a feature with a different theme each month (the next one will be children’s diaries). For Vine Leaves, I’m sent a list of books to choose from, all of them written by contributors to Vine Leaves. I’m also able to pick a book a quarter from the Historical Novel Society’s list, as I review for their website too.
Of course these aren’t the only books I read. I get through at least one a week, often more, and I review these books for pleasure, usually on Amazon, sometimes on Goodreads (a site that’s hailed as social media for readers, but to be honest I find it a frustratingly clunky site so don’t go on there that much – and as it’s now owned by Amazon, it may only be a matter of time before my Amazon reviews are accessible from Goodreads anyway). When I have time, I also review books on my own website here.
Rising up the Ranks of Amazon Reviewers
The more books you review, the higher your ranking on Amazon’s list of reviewers. Exactly how it calculates reviewers’ ranking is a mystery, but it is certainly influenced by a mix of the frequency of your reviews, the quality, how often readers click the “helpful” or “unhelpful” button underneath each published review. It is not clear whether it also favours you if you bought the book you’re reviewing on Amazon.
About a year ago, I realised that I was swiftly moving up the list, and I’m now edging towards the top 1,000 (#1,307 today, though I’ve been higher), which earns the reviewer a special label alongside their reviews. That badge is about as meaningful as a child being given a sticker at school for good work or behaviour, but aren’t we all big kids at heart? I’m looking forward to the day I get mine! You can find more about the rules of being an Amazon reviewer on its website.
Complimentary Products for Top Reviewers
Anyone who reaches a certain level in this ladder is likely to start receiving offers out of the blue from sellers keen to have you review their product. At least, that’s if you’ve made your email address public on your profile, which I did a few months ago.
The smart seller goes through the list of top reviewers to search a match for their product – those who have written great reviews for similar products – and emails you a polite request, offering a free product in return for an honest review. You’re obliged to declare in your review that you’ve received the product this way. Since I made my email address public a few months ago, I’ve received some unexpected but appreciated products: a new card game, a bathroom scales, an in-car charger for multiple phones, and more. My latest Amazon package was a compelling autobiography by the American artist Marcia Gloster, 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction. I was hand-picked by her New York agent. for the quality of my previous reviews. Gosh!
There’s no obligation to accept anything you’re offered this way, but it’s a bit of fun to receive the gifts you like. I can understand why some people become obsessed with reviewing and make it the focal point of their life. One of them has even written a book about it. And yes, of course, I reviewed it!
The More Important Rewards of Reviewing
But public recognition and free gifts are not the rewards I meant to focus on when I set out to write this article. What makes my heart sing after I’ve filed a new review is to receive a message from the author saying that I totally “got” their book. To know that I’ve read and understood and connected with their purpose feels like a creative spark has passed between us. Reviewing doesn’t get better than that.
Without wanting to sound like I’m showing off (ok, so I AM showing off), here are two quotes from authors whose work I’ve recently reviewed:
And that brings me to another bonus of reviewing: the discovery of new books and authors that I’d otherwise never have come across. My introduction to both Charles and Joanna came from Vine Leaves, which does an amazing job in drawing attention to great authors who deserve to be better known. (Vine Leaves is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support their work – if you’d like to do so, you can contribute here.)The same can be said of the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Review programme, for which I review books written by self-published authors. The HNS scheme is now blessed with a new Award, thanks to the pioneering campaign by my lovely friend Helen Hollick, herself a bestselling historical novelist with a heart as big as a house.
Speaking of hearts, there’s one last reward of reviewing that I’d like to mention: that as an author myself, I know how heartwarming it is to receive an enthusiastic review for my own work, and the arrival of not one but two glowing reviews for my latest book, the collection of very short stories (aka flash fiction) has made my week already – and it’s still only Tuesday.
So if you’re a keen reader who hasn’t considered reviewing the books you read yet, do please consider it. They don’t have to be long or smart or original – the minimum length required by Amazon is just 20 words. And if you do, I’m sure you’ll find, as I do, that it’s not only the author who will reap rewards.
If you’re wondering about the origin of the jigsaw puzzle photo at the top of this piece, click on the link to read the post in which it first appeared on my blog:
A post about my latest book review column in the parenting magazine Today’s Child
Every two months I have a great excuse for getting stuck into children’s books: the review pages that I write for the parenting magazine, Today’s Child. Available on free distribution in London, this colourful and lively magazine may also be read online via one of those cute widgets that lets you flip through the pages as if it’s a real magazine.
Why I Write for Today’s Child
I started writing for Today’s Child when I worked for the national charity Read for Good, which runs sponsored Readathons in schools all over the country, and which also sends free books and storytellers into children in hospital via its ReadWell programme. Approached by an advertising sales executive to place a paid ad for the charity, I countered with the offer of a piece of editorial as an alternative, and the editor liked what I’d written so much that the arrangement has morphed into a regular gig as their book reviewer, with occasional features on other issues thrown in as the opportunity arises. For the next issue, for example, I’ll be writing a feature on Type 1 Diabetes, to coincide with World Diabetes Day on 14th November, and promoting the new paperback edition of my family memoir Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to be launched on the eve of World Diabetes Day.
Today’s Child is run by a lively young team with big ideas and a great sense of colour and design. The magazine recently had a makeover, and its new look is bright, cheerful and upbeat. Each issue has a particular theme, as does my book reviews page. I include some new books, but I also often refer to classics and old favourites that remain in fashion, and I think that approach adds value to my feature – I’m clearly not just regurgitating the big publishers’ PR campaigns. I’m also happy to feature books from small independent presses and self-published authors, if I like their books and think they’ll be enjoyed by the magazine’s readers.
The September/October issue was, not surprisingly, all about Back to School, a theme that is front of mind for most parents at this time of year. Next issue I’ll be writing about diaries and journals, providing ideas for Christmas gifts and inspiration for children to start or keep a diary-writing habit when the new year kicks in. From childhood, I was an avid diarist, and I still have all my old diaries on a high shelf on the landing, much to my eleven-year-old daughter’s amusement – time to hide them, I think, now she can reach the shelf! My blog has now replaced my diaries, and as any regular reader here will know, I do love to blog! But I wouldn’t be without a paper diary too.
More Information about Today’s Child
Today’s Child has regular competitions and shares lots of fun stuff on its Facebook page and on Twitter, so if you’d like to follow them there, here are the links:
Today’s Child isn’t the only magazine that I review books for – I’m also a regular reviewer for Vine Leaves Literary Journal, equally beautiful and valuable to a completely different audience.
I think all writers should not only be avid readers but review books too, whether or not they choose to share their reviews in public, in magazines or online. (I’m also a top reviewer for Amazon, by the way, steadily approaching the Top #1000 badge and aspiring to climb higher!)
I also try to include book reviews on this website, by way of recommended reading, but am way behind just now, due to other commitments. I’m now planning to allocate an hour every weekend to updating my site and elsewhere with book reviews, and hope to catch up eventually – though reading an average of 2-3 books a week, this will take a while! If you’d like to see the reviews I’ve currently got on this site, you’ll find them here: My Book Reviews.
Like to Review My Books?
Of course, I do have a vested interest in reviewing books – as an author myself, I know how rewarding it is to receive a review of one of my own books! So if you’ve read and enjoyed one of mine, I’d be very grateful if you could spare a moment to post a quick review somewhere – whether on Amazon, Goodreads, your own blog, or anywhere else.
And if you’re a book blogger or journalist who would like a free review copy of any of my books, just send me a message via the contact form, specifying which book you’d like and where you intend to review it. Thank you so much – and happy reading to one and all!
In the last 48 hours, I’ve stepped way outside my reading comfort zone.
As a frequent book reviewer, I’m often asked to consider books that I’d never choose in a bookshop or library – unlike the Ladybird book pictured here, which I snapped up in a secondhand bookshop the other day for the sake of its bizarre cover, and because I adore vintage Ladybird books.
Sometimes the publications I review for send me copies of books they particularly want me to consider, other times authors or publicists approach me on spec, after finding my name on Amazon’s list of top reviewers.
Admittedly they have to trawl for quite a long way to reach me, as I’m currently ranked around the 1,400 mark. If they’ve got that far, I so admire their staying power that I’m likely to agree to their request for a review, provided they ask me nicely. There’s nothing that hacks off a book reviewer as much as an author’s assumption that sending you a free book entitles them to a review. Except authors who do that and then reel off a long list of sites on which they expect you to post your review, including some that you’ve never even visited.
Why I Review Books
I love book reviewing. For one thing, it prevents me from slipping into a cosy habit of rereading old favourites and their clones. It’s too easy to treat book buying like clothes shopping, being drawn like a magnet to those you already know and love. (And I really don’t need to buy any more knee length boots, denim jackets or cordoruoy leggings.)
I therefore made it my policy long ago to keep an open mind about review requests, turning down only anything featuring violence or unnecessary tragedy.
Two New Reading Experiences in One Day
So it happened today that I found myself reviewing both a YA (young adult) steampunk thriller (sent to me by the debut author) and a collection of Polish poetry in translation (received from Vine Leaves Literary Journal, for which I’m a staff reviewer).
Now, I have a lot of books in my house, including a floor-to-ceiling to-read bookcase in my bedroom. But until this week I didn’t possess a single steampunk thriller or Polish poem. In fact I only recently worked out what steampunk is. (If you don’t know either, check out the Urban Dictionary’s definition here). Although I enjoy poetry, and still treasure some of the poetry books I had from school and university, I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly read a Polish poem.
But what a joy these books have been to read, filling my imagination with new adventures and images, and changing the way I look at the world, just a little, as every good book should. It was also satisfying to write their reviews. Formulating a book review always helps me mentally digest what I’ve read. By doing so, I extract far more pleasure than if I’d just closed each book on finishing and moved on to the next one in my to-read pile without any further thought.
How To Make An Author Happy
I also gain pleasure from knowing that the book’s authors will appreciate my response. As an author myself, I know the warm glow that comes from spotting a new review of one of your books.
Strangely, in the time it’s taken me to read and review those two books, two more new reviews have come in for one of my own books (Sell Your Books!, now with 42 reviews on Amazon UK, average rating 4.6*)) – not from the authors of the books I reviewed, but from two completely different readers. Is there some kind of book reviewer’s karma at work? To any writer who also reads books (as all writers should), that’s got to be a comforting thought.
Whatever you’re reading just now, if you enjoy the book, take a moment to thank the author by leaving a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other site that you prefer. I guarantee you’ll make the author’s day.
If you liked this post, you might like these others about books and reading: