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Reviews can be intimidating to write, but I’ve got five quick tips for you.
Note that what you want to say and how you want to say it will also be determined by different factors like:
Time. You could be reading other books or trying other things. If you don’t write a review, that’s okay. If you do review, that’s okay, too. You’re busy, and even if you weren’t, your time is yours to spend as you wish. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise (especially authors—their job is to author; a reader’s job is to read).
Skill. Writing reviews get easier over time the more you write. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—it could be as short as a word or as long as you think somebody will continue reading what you wrote. Ask friends for feedback to help you improve—too much detail? Not enough? More evidence needed? Too mean? Too bland?
Audience. Who are you writing this review for? Yourself? The author? Potential customers? Fans of your reviews? Understand your target audience and you’ll know better how to say what you want to say.
Okay, here it is! Five simple tips for writing reviews:
- Less is more. “Loved” or “Hated” are two single word reviews that sum up in letters what Siskel & Ebert summed up with opposable thumbs. It’s a fine review (more of a rating, actually, but hey, words is words).
- Less is more but sometimes more is more. “I (dis)liked it because [fill in the blank: the characters, the plot, the action, the dialogue, etc] made me feel/think [fill in the blank: emotion, thought, belief, etc].”
- More than just the tip. Pretend you’re talking to a friend, and say more about the book—the ideas and events, what you thought of them, and what you felt. Save everybody time and don’t rehash the entire story or even the beginning—that’s what the blurb is for—and instead summarize distinct ideas or events, with spoiler warnings if you’re going to reveal something that might be important for readers to experience themselves.
- This time, it’s not personal. Review the story, not the author, and not other reviewers. It’s good to be frank and candid, but that’s not the same as blunt and brutal, and definitely not the same as making a joke at someone’s expense (shaming is a dick move).
- Review what’s in front of you. Buyer beware! It’s your responsibility to check the word or page counts, the blurb, and even other reviews so that your review doesn’t make you sound foolish (going into a vegan restaurant to order steak and then being upset you don’t get it would be your fault—sorry [not sorry]). Criticizing a short story for being short is like complaining that an apple doesn’t taste like an orange. A short story is not a story that couldn’t novel—it’s a literary form in its own right, with its own tradition and rules. If a story felt vague and undeveloped, however, do say that! Because then it’s not about length, it’s about development. If the story had stuff happen that you didn’t like, talk about that, but if you write what you’d rather have happened, well, then you’re writing your story, aren’t you? Remember, you were reading someone else’s story and what they believed should happen, and part of what you pay for is the lack of predictability (surprise = fun). However, if you felt misled somewhere along the way, state your expectations based on evidence (such as the blurb) compared to what you actually got.
What do you think? Any tips you’d like to pass on for writing reviews?
Title: Herc & Pyotr
Author: Atom Yang
Publisher: MLR Press
Publication Date: 03/24/2016
Cover Artist: Kris Jacen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Apocalyptic/dystopian, Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Gay Romance, Humor/Comedy, Romance, Science Fiction
Herc thought he had the perfect life: a great partner and a meaningful career as a psychotherapist—until his partner left him a week ago and Herc became too depressed to see his clients. When a random meteorite punched a tidy hole in his car’s engine, it seemed like the world had it in for him, but bumping into Pyotr, the handsome older man who’s moved in a couple of doors down and happens to study things like falling stars, life might be looking up for Herc—and more may be falling than the skies in this light-hearted, apocalyptic romance.
I took care of my car.
Regular maintenance, oil changes, carwashes–the works. I figured I’d sell it one day, and I didn’t want it to have a scratch or a sticker to drop its value, let alone anything wrong mechanically. Everything worked on it–the power windows, radio, CD player…until today.
“Great,” I said, staring at the fist-sized hole in the hood. I clicked my key fob and turned off the alarm. A few of the neighbors came out and turned off their car alarms, too, that had been set off by the very loud boom that shook all of our windows early this spring morning.
“Jeez, Herc, what happened?” Nestori, my friend and neighbor down the way, stood there with his blond bed head, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He wore a rumpled white tee, sweatpants, and socks–we were dressed alike except I had slippers. Maybe I appeared as lost as he did. Or worse, since I hadn’t changed my clothes since the beginning of the week.
“I don’t know.” I gawked at the smoking hole. “Lightning?” I pieced together the evidence I had, and only came up with a timeline that started with a crash, followed by my car alarm, then a couple of minutes later the aforementioned boom, and finally the other cars being triggered. “A frozen turd from an airplane?”
“Are you serious? Holy shit.”
“What?” His golden eyebrows crinkled together, and then he grinned. “Oh.”
“To be fair, it did fall from the sky.” Everybody huddled closer to peer into the puncture. “I don’t know. I don’t even know who I should call about this.”
“What about Jason?”
Nestori’s innocent question should’ve felt like a sucker punch, but the numbness from seeing my killed car protected me. “He left last week. We’re not together anymore.”
“Bro. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Because you would’ve wanted to get me drunk and laid.
“I would’ve totally come over with a bottle of Jack and helped you get some D, man.”
“So that’s why I haven’t seen him jogging for a while.” Pihla, the widow who lived across the street, had the perkiest personality–and breasts–in our neighborhood. “I thought he left on a business trip.” She wore a pink satin robe over a pink nightie with matching pink slippers. A small, thin, gold cross on a gold chain stuck out sideways from her cleavage and wobbled back and forth, unable to rest flat. Her son, Sami, clung to her leg, his head just above her knee, avoiding eye contact like some toddlers do. This suburban Madonna in pink held a mug of expensive coffee I could smell and envy from where I stood, and rested her French manicured hand on her shy boy’s head. By the way she had batted her eyes at Jason during block parties, or how she happened to pick up the morning paper from her driveway when he’d jog past, I always thought she had a crush on my partner.
Ex. I meant ex-partner.
“Yeah, he didn’t leave on a business trip. He just left me.” I wondered if I died inside my home from choking on a chicken bone while eating, single and alone, how long it would take for my neighbors to notice my dead, bachelor body. I thought I smelled something funny, one would say a week later. Jeez, what happened? another would ask. Who the hell cares? my ghost would spell out on a Ouija board, life sucks.
“Meteorite,” said a faintly accented voice from the crowd. Slavic, I would guess.
“Whoa! You think a meteor hit Herc’s car?” Nestori asked. “How do you know?”
“Meteorite,” the voice gently corrected. “It’s a meteorite when it lands. I saw everything as I was jogging this morning.”
“Meteorite,” I mumbled. My geek brain fetched a personal wiki page from when I wrote a report in sixth grade about asteroids crashing into Earth and destroying all life, because I’ve always been a cheery person. The word “disaster” comes from the Italian disastro, meaning “ill-starred event.”
Why couldn’t it have been a pretty shooting star that vaporized all sparkly in the atmosphere, so I could make a wish? Instead, it’d dropped a deuce on my perfectly maintained car.
The hole in the hood gaped back at me, and I thought about the day Jason left. He had requested I park on the street instead of in the garage, so he’d be able to get his things out of the house without too much trouble.
I should make a wish anyway.
Something realistic, not like true love and a happy-ever-after ending with a handsome, emotionally intelligent man, because that obviously doesn’t happen. How about a nice pair of shoes? Good shoes are more reliable than men.
“I’m sorry this happened,” the voice said, this time to my left. “There have been worldwide reports of meteor strikes over the past few weeks.”
I turned and came eye to eye with the concerned face of a middle-aged man only slightly taller than me. He wore a red baseball cap and his black hair, lined with a few strands of gray, escaped his hat around his ears and a little over his forehead. His color-coordinated stubble, speckled with silver, defined a square jaw and framed full lips. Perspiration darkened his loose, gray shirt, forming something like a Rorschach inkblot in the center of his defined chest. Despite the smell of engine oil and gasoline coming from my mortally wounded car, the scent of his clean sweat cut through and woke me from my daze.
“Hi, I’m Pyotr. I moved here last week.” He offered me a firm handshake and a smile, and returned to surveying the damage to my car, his hands on his hips. “You should probably call your insurance and not your ex. I work from home a few days a week, so if you need a ride, let me know? I live down the street.” He started running lightly in place. His feet were bare, which I hadn’t noticed.
“Thanks for the offer…Pee-yo-ter. I may take you up on it.”
“Please do.” Pyotr smiled again, nodded a succinct farewell, and trotted off.
“Yeah, if you need a ride…” Nestori and a few neighbors offered, but I didn’t pay attention.
I was busy making an unrealistic wish. And it wasn’t for shoes.
About Atom Yang
Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too–so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.
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