I haven’t been here in a while; I’ve been doing lots of reading, but little writing. Right now, I’m listening to a good podcast by Rob Bell (Wisdom, Part 2). Thanks, Kenny, for sending the link.
Writing reviews on Amazon can be fun. And, if written honestly, your reviews can help others make better decisions. I’ve written a few; I was even a top 1,000 reviewer for a year or so. Here are some tips for those who care. I’ll focus on book reviews—that’s primarily what I’ve written—but you can apply the concepts to reviews of any products.
1. Only review books that you’ve read.
This seems too obvious. But every day someone posts a review that starts off with something like, “I can’t wait to start reading this book,” or, “I haven’t read this book, but judging from this idiot’s talk show…” These reviews are useless, unfair, and dishonest.
2. Review the product itself.
Don’t give a book a one-star review because it arrived on your doorstep late or banged up, or because the seller was rude or you saw someone with purple hair and a nose-ring reading it at Starbucks. None of these things have to do with the book itself.
3. Be honest.
Don’t be afraid to criticize a book; just be fair. If someone has done a horrible job of writing a book, even if you agree with their premise, don’t give it 5 stars. On the other hand, if someone has written a book you disagree with, but done an outstanding job, be fair:
“Although I disagree with this author’s belief that all men are idiots, she has written a compelling book.”
4. Proof-read and edit your review.
Please take the time to capitalize and use punctuation. Please do not use all caps. And please do not bang out a few sentences and then hit “publish” without reading what you’ve written.
5. Don’t overstate.
You can get your point across without going crazy. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t write, “This is The Best Book I’ve Ever Read. Seriously.” Or, “Stunning, breathtaking, riveting. THE MOST EXCELLENT BOOK EVER!!!” Or, “The worst piece of crap ever written,” (which was actually written about one of my reviews.)
6. Make the review as long as it needs to be.
My review with the most helpful votes happens to be one of the longest I’ve written. But I’ve also found some very short reviews to be very helpful. In general, shorter reviews are more likely to be read. Just make sure you follow rule 7.
7. Give specific examples.
Instead of just saying, “Hated it,” tell us why you hated it. Do you hate the book about dogs because you hate dogs, or because it was obvious to you that the author hates dogs? Was it poorly written? Was it unfair? Or, why was it great? The fact that you gave it 5 stars tells us that you loved it; the review is where you tell us why.
8. Remember the meaning of the stars.
Five stars means, “loved it.” Do you really love every book you read? If you have some criticism of the book, even if it’s written by your favorite author, maybe you should give it four stars (“liked it”). One star means “hated it.” Don’t give it one star and then say, “This author really had some great things to say, but I found a spelling error on page 329.”
9. Be fair when you criticize.
I’ve already mentioned this above. But it’s worth a little more space. Don’t attack the author or make fun of them or the people who are likely to agree with them. Try not to get too sarcastic. If you truly hate a book, you can still write a helpful review if you tell prospective buyers why they might be better off choosing another.
Here’s an example of one of my most negative reviews that some readers still found helpful.
Also, don’t be surprised when you get an unhelpful vote on a negative review. Authors don’t like being told that their book is not The Best Book in the World.
10. Keep the buyer in mind.
Imagine that you are writing to your friend or mother. Or, tell the reader what you would have wanted someone to tell you before you bought the book.
11. Have fun.
By Dave Draper
In this age where everyone is an instant expert, and self-publishing has become easier and more popular than ever, buying a book can be risky business. Especially when it comes to books on weight training. I’ve bought my share of books that claim to hold the secrets to getting ripped and huge all at once—“secrets” that could easily be read in Men’s Health, but written by someone who apparently never made it through high school English. Recently, I knew I was in trouble when I flipped to the table of contents of a muscle building book to see, “Intorduction.”
Maybe I’m old and cranky, but I’m not interested in what some dude’s “five years of personal training experience” through the internet has taught them. Nor can I tolerate horrible writing. So, I’m suspicious of most new books on strength training or fitness.
Dave Draper’s new book is an exception, in every way.
If you are looking for a book full of training plans (Draper prefers “schemes”), this isn’t it. While there are plenty valuable tips with some schemes thrown in, Draper’s book is not a how-to, unless you want to call it a “how-to” for life.
And, regarding secrets, Draper says, “The secret is there are no secrets.”
Draper writes about his long history with the iron (over 6 decades)—his beginning, his progression, the gyms he trained in (the original Gold’s, for one) and the people he knew. And, though he’s appeared on TV shows, hung out with beautiful TV stars, and trained with the likes of Arnold, you never get the impression that he thinks much of himself; he writes with wisdom and humility.
He tells some stories from the good old days, like the time he and a training partner trapped six local drug dealers in a basement, duct taped them together, and burned their drugs in front of them before letting the local police know where they could find them.
Draper goes from no nonsense to philosophical in the same paragraph, with a good dose of humor thrown in:
“I’m not the type to smile broadly and offer assistance. I’ve practiced that routine in the past and received a frosty reception, total rejection or abysmal defeat. I tried my best. I recall the gals looking at me like I was a creep (Hey, babe, you train here often?) or the guys ignoring me like I was a jerk (Hey, fathead, you’re doing that exercise wrong!). Kids, I could tell, wanted to be left alone (Hey, runt, if you’re going to lift weights, do it in the corner).
No, thank you. No more Mister Nice Guy. I’m looking out for numero uno.”
Regardless of our age, any of us can learn from someone who has as much experience as Draper, and his solid advice is scattered through every chapter.
On working out:
“The lifter who foregoes workouts is a loser,” and, “Rushing workouts is for children.”
“It has recently occurred to me that I’m not as young as I used to be…Well, it’s about time. Youth gets to be old after a while.”
“We don’t lose our health and strength; we throw it away. We don’t slide out of condition; we’re tossed out for lack of participation. Fitness is not lost; it’s squandered like thankless treasure.”
“Muscles are the fool’s gold crown of false glory.”
With all of today’s complicated training advice, diet plans, fitness gadgets, and gym selfies on Facebook, reading Draper is a great reminder of what it’s really about. Go to the gym, work hard, eat right, love life. Be strong and look great, but remember that nobody else cares; this is for you. So stay humble.
My only criticism of this book is that, since it is a collection of columns, there is some repetition. But that’s not necessarily bad—we learn through repetition, after all.
I could go on trying to convince you that reading Draper is worth your time, but Dan John sums it up nicely in the forward:
“No one else writes like this. No one else has the life experience, the insights and the intuition. Trust him.”
If Iron in My Hands doesn’t make you want to go to the gym, nothing will.
By George Sheehan
Edited by Andrew Sheehan
Dr. George Sheehan was a cardiologist, runner, writer, and philosopher. Yet no label is sufficient for him. And of all that’s been written about him, I wasn’t truly impressed until I read this book and heard from Dr. Sheehan himself.
There is something in his writing that makes this book hard to put down. It’s honest and insightful, direct and inspiring. Sheehan’s voice is like Thoreau’s (whom he often quotes): calm and wise, inviting us to walk along with him. In the process, he stirs our deepest desire to be great. This is the kind of writing I always look for, but seldom find.
Sheehan loved running. He loved running in every season, and in any condition. He loved the soul cleansing affect it had on him, he loved the agony of pushing himself to the limit in every race, and he loved both the solitude and the camaraderie he found in running. And he wanted others to share that love.
Sheehan believed that life should be simple, that people needed to free themselves from the things that squash creativity and play. Play, he believed, was serious business, and people should make time for it:
“Certainly, a case can be made that the true object of life is play.”
For Sheehan, running was play.
Throughout these writings, we hear the importance of becoming the best we can physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sheehan urges readers to be heroic, something he believed could happen through running:
“This stage on which we can be bigger than life is a place where we can exhibit all that is good in us. Courage and determination, discipline and willpower, the purging of all negative impulses–we see that we are indeed whole and holy.”
The Essential Sheehan is a treasure for runners, especially those of us who are getting older. Here’s a man who ran competitively into his 70’s, who could break a five minute mile when most men his age wouldn’t walk a mile, who ran a 3:01:10 marathon when he was 61. We want to hear everything he has to say. But his wisdom can be applied to any sport, or art, or even life.
The writings are taken mostly from the 70’s and 80’s, so some of the descriptions of shoes and clothes are dated. I don’t see many runners in turtle necks or leather tennis shoes today. But the writing is timeless. As David Willey writes in the introduction:
“There are things from the past–even forgotten, old-school things–that still matter today….In our over-digitized and under-exercised culture, George’s writing may be more urgently needed now than when it was originally published.”