Category: On reading


The magic number of Amazon book reviews — and the rules of the road

By John Yunker,

I almost always read customer reviews before I buy something on Amazon.

Of course, I’m well aware that you shouldn’t always trust these reviews. I’m well aware that authors often review their own books anonymously and that a few nefarious folks go out and buy positive reviews.

But by and large I find that if there are enough customer reviews, you can get a pretty good idea if a book or product is worth it. And sometimes even the bad reviews are highly entertaining. Consider, for example, the many one-star reviews of Moby-Dick.

The key however, is having “enough” reviews. I believe 20 reviews is the magic minimum threshold that every author should aim for. Getting to this number can be challenging. It may require asking anyone who tells you they loved your book to get online and provide a review. Trust me, I hate asking people, but more often than not people are happy to do it.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post — the rules of the road when it comes to Amazon book reviews.

Here is a handy Q&A from Amazon on what is and isn’t allowed on book reviews.

Q. Are authors allowed to review another author’s book?
A. Yes. We very much welcome Customer Reviews from authors. However, if the author reviewing the book has a personal relationship with the author of the book they are reviewing, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.), that author is not eligible to write a Customer Review for that book.

Q. Can I write a Customer Review of my own book?
A. No. You are not eligible to review your own book, but there are other ways to communicate with your readers on Amazon such as Author Central.

Q. Can I post a Customer Review on behalf of someone else?
A. No. Customer Reviews are meant to provide customers with feedback from fellow shoppers. For this reason, you should use the Editorial Reviews section of your book’s detail page to share content that is posted on other sites or from individuals who do not have an Amazon account. You can update the Editorial Reviews section of your book’s detail page through your Author Central account.

Q. Can I ask my family to write a Customer Review for my book?
A. We do not allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book. Customer Reviews are meant to provide unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers.

Q. Can I pay for someone to write a Customer Review for my book?
A. No. We do not allow any form of compensation for a Customer Review other than a free copy of the book provided upfront. If you offer a free copy of the book in advance, it must be clear that you welcome all feedback, both positive and negative.

Q. A Customer Review is missing from my book’s detail page. What happened?
A. Reviews are removed from Amazon for one of three reasons:

  • The review did not meet our posted Customer Review Guidelines.
  • The customer who wrote the review removed it.
  • We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.

For more information, here is the full list of Amazon Customer Review guidelines.

The Tourist Trail is the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Book Club pick for May

By Midge Raymond,

I am thrilled to announce that John’s novel, The Tourist Trail, has been chosen by the Animal Legal Defense Fund‘s Animal Book Club as its May book club pick!

The ALDF is an amazing organization that has been fighting since 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system — and in addition to all its great work, the ALDF is encouraging readers to engage with these important issues through literature.

In its review, the Animal Book Club calls The Tourist Trail a “brave novel” that “demonstrates the importance of fighting for justice for animals within the bounds of the law in a moving show of compassion for all those who advocate for animals.”

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Click here to read more — and don’t miss this Q&A with John in which he discusses penguins, activism, veganism, and animal advocacy in literature. You’ll also learn about the inspiration for the penguin character Diesel, whose identity has long been fiercely protected. (Kidding: Turbo actually has his own Facebook page.)

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The Animal Book Club is also giving away three copies of The Tourist Trail to lucky readers — and you can qualify to win in two easy steps: visit the website and leave a comment, and join ALDF’s Animal Book Club by signing up here (it’s free, of course!). If you love animals, it’s well worth joining — the book club will features fiction, nonfiction, short stories, and films, not to mention author interviews and fantastic giveaways.

Happy reading!

Edit the World – a guest post by Ed Battistella

By Midge Raymond,

Today we welcome Southern Oregon University professor Ed Battistella with a piece that is close to my own heart: editing. (I confess to being much like his friend in the first paragraph.) Enjoy!

Edit the World

A friend of mine recently explained that she edits everything. Memos, posters, billboards, menus, skylines, faces. Her mind is continuously making improvements in the world around her.

When I hear this, I think “wow,” and wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad one.

I’ve been an editor and I’ve been edited. I’ve learned the hard way not to read with a pen in my hand, but also not to fight with editors who are more objective than I am. But my friend’s practice makes me wonder how much editing of my students’ work I should I do, and what kind.

Often the problem solves itself. Some assignments are short and don’t demand extensive feedback—their purpose is to check comprehension. On longer, more complex assignments where the goal is to develop, defend, and refine an idea for a particular audience, I try to match my editing to the effort that the writer makes. Most of my students are pretty conscientious, so the editing is usually pretty intense.

What I end up doing is developmental editing, with a dash or splash of copyediting. For me, the challenge is to make my comments useful for the long haul and tie them to bigger concepts we’ve discussed in class. “Does the reader have enough information here?” I ask, confessing that “I’m confused.”

When writers stray into textbook jargon and paraphrase of academic articles (because they are unsure of the specifics), I try to remind them to “give a concrete kitchen-table example along with the theoretical point.” “Remember,” I scribble, “show AND tell.”

When the writer tosses in a point and runs away from its implications, I try to offer a choice: “Develop this point more or omit it.” When there are too many unconnected ideas in a long paragraph, I want them to “Think about how you can make this all about a set of related topics.” When long bits of reasoning take over the exposition, I implore the writers to “add a short summary sentence to balance out the long ones.”

Sometimes too, the need or impulse to copyedit and correct arises. Here I try to refer to concepts rather than corrections. A clunky sentence is not just AWKWARD, it’s one that could be “stronger if you put the subject and predicate together and the new information at the end.”

For me, editing is about concepts rather than corrections. But some corrections are inevitable: affect and effect, its and it’s, eggcorns like “chuck it up” for “chalk it up.” I ask, “Do you mean chalk it up?”

But sometimes a simple scolding that says you’re better than this: I cross out the apostrophe in the possessive its and add a smiley face. When the writer does it again, the smile turns to a frowny face. I’ve even got a shocked face for the third time. The message is: you are better than this mistake. Work with me!

When I was in college, I remember seeing Warren Beatty playing in Reds, and laughing with my friends at Jack Reed’s line “Nobody edits my stuff.” We laughed because we didn’t appreciate what editors did. Now, I think about editing all the time.

Ed Battistella teaches at Southern Oregon University. He is working on a book about the linguistics of apology.

A Q&A with SURVIVAL SKILLS author Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

Q&A with Jean Ryan, author of SURVIVAL SKILLS: STORIES

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book, and how long did it take you to write it?

A: These stories were written over a period of several years. As they began to gel into a collection, I was able to understand what interests me most as a writer: the natural world and the vulnerability and interdependency of all living things. I enjoy exploring the connections, the synchronicities, the quiet miracles underlying the world we see. Fear and the relative fragility of the human mind fascinate me in particular.

Most of the stories were inspired by something I had read or a show I had seen. “Migration” issued from the real story of a Toulouse goose that lived in a park in Los Angeles and became smitten with one of the visitors. “Looks for Life” also came from real events—a co-worker told me about a friend of his whose life changed after a plastic surgeon rebuilt his face. “Waiting for Annie” followed a special I had seen on coma, the “silent epidemic.” Improved emergency response techniques and sophisticated life support machines are keeping more and more lives in this eerie state of suspension. Especially intriguing to me is the mind’s ability to make connections by itself, to persist without the complement of consciousness. “Paradise” emerged from a program I had watched about intelligence in birds, parrots in particular. One bird had acquired a prodigious vocabulary and this stirred my imagination. I thought it would be fun to work this creature into a story, to use him in fact as a main character. In order to create conflict, the parrot in this tale is malicious as well as brilliant. The extravagance of Palm Springs, its artificial overlay, seemed an apt parallel to the various indulgences that Max enjoyed in his man-made abode.

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Q: Do you have a special routine or place in which you write?

A: I write in the mornings, in my living room, using a laptop computer. However, I think about my stories anywhere and everywhere, so you might say that I am always in the process of writing—either mulling over scenes in a particular story or absorbing ideas for future stories.

I usually start making notes for a story in longhand. After I have a few paragraphs down, I  switch to the computer. I love the ease with which text can be manipulated, and paper saved, using a computer. I edit as a I write. Manuals on writing will invariably instruct you otherwise, but my method is more like a stone mason’s: A sentence must be as strong as I can make it before layering on another. I am obsessive about finding the right word. Occasionally a word that perfectly defines an idea is not a word that fits rhythmically, so I will use a slightly different word in order to achieve the right sound. The rhythm of a sentence is very important to me, and I hear phrases as I write them.

Q: Do you prefer writing short stories over novels?

A: Yes. I love the immediacy of the short form, the way it pulls the reader into a situation quickly. I think the quality of writing in literary short fiction is superior to the writing in most novels. Novels often carry too much exposition and padding. Short pieces must get to the point quickly. This urgency requires distillation, a challenge I revel in—delivering a scene or idea as clearly as I can.

Q: What was the most difficult aspect of your book’s journey?

A: Finding a publisher. Despite shrinking attentions spans in this information age, people are still inclined to buy a novel over a book of short stories. Publishers know this, so few of them will consider buying short story collections. I would like to think that as more people embrace the various digital platforms available now, with single stories more widely available, the short form will have a revival.

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Q: Do you have a favorite story?

A: “Paradise” and “The Side Bar” are probably my favorites. I had fun with the humor in “Paradise,” and I enjoyed creating a parrot with an agenda—I love Max! “The Side Bar” is a more serious story, which actually began as a novel. As the story expanded, I saw that it was headed in a direction that didn’t ring true, so I focused back in on the bar itself and the troubled characters it contained. The desert is a compelling backdrop for human experience, and I admire those who can withstand its haunting openness.

Q: Which story did you feel was most challenging to write? And were there any that came so naturally they seemed to write themselves?

A: “Remediation” was probably my most challenging story, inspired by a woman I knew and respected. Writing about her was difficult at times; I miss her very much. The story that came most easily—and this is so rare—is “Survival Skills.” The tone of this piece presented itself to me, and the juxtaposition of plant and human felt natural. Having worked at a nursery for several years, I’ve had ample time to witness, and envy, the grace inherent in the plant world. While we blunder through our human lives, plagued with questions, stalled by indecision, plants steadily assert themselves, taking just what they need and giving more than they take. For even a moment or two, I would like to possess that certainty.

Q: Who are your own literary muses?

A: My own literary muses are writers whose talent takes my breath away: Virginia Woolf, Jean Thompson, Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, Amy Hempel, Marisa Silver, Annie Proulx, Joan Didion, Stuart Dybek, James Lasdun, Rick Bass. In the genre of poetry, I am in constant awe of Mary Oliver. Reading the exceptional work of others gives me hope that I can achieve something close. I can at least try, can put forth my own ideas. There are countless writers in the world, and there is room for every one of us. No one can write your story but you.

Learn more about Jean (as well as ACP authors Mindy Mejia and Olivia Chadha) in the Book Divas Ask a New Author column, which began in January and runs until June. Find answers to such questions as how to keep the faith in your work, revision tips, and more. You can also ask your own questions by sending them to askanewauthor@bookdivas.com

Ask a New Author

 

An easy way to move files from your Mac (or PC) to your Kindle

By John Yunker,

When I tried out the Kindle Fire, the first thought that occurred to me was How do I easily get documents onto it?

Of course, any book, song, or movie I purchase from Amazon is automatically downloaded to the Kindle — and made available to my Kindle app on my iPad and Mac.

But what about PDF files or Kindle books that I’ve downloaded or made elsewhere, like Gutenberg.org?

I still use my (now ancient) second-generation Kindle, which shipped with a USB cable that allowed me to drag files over. That’s the old way of doing things.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t even ship with a USB cable.

These days, we have the cloud — that disk drive on the Internet somewhere that will hold all of your documents, songs, and other digital detritus.

But the cloud doesn’t always make things easier. If anything, I find that people are really confused about  managing all these Kindle devices, apps, and clouds.

So Amazon wisely created a simple application, simply named Send to Kindle, that allows you to virtually drag files to your Kindle. There is a PC version here.

Here’s what it looks like when you open it:

Pretty simple — you just drag a file onto it and it then displays a window like the following:

I just used a test document. What’s interesting is that it gives you a choice of Wi-Fi transfer (which means your device is on the same network as your Mac) or Amazon’s “Whispernet” network — which Amazon charges for. I’m cheap, so I opt for Wi-Fi. And as you can see here, the app has discovered my iPad (which has the Kindle app installed on it). If I had multiple devices and Kindles on this network, you would see those as well.

In this example, I’m transferring a PDF file, but I could also transfer a Word document, raw text document, or another .Mobi (Kindle) book.

The file is also automatically saved in my Kindle library — which lives up in Kindle’s cloud. If I were to click the “Manage your Kindle” link I would be taken to my Kindle library web page, where I can see everything in the library.

So far, I’ve used the app several times, and it works as advertised.