I have struggled over the past 15 years with multiple incarnations of my book reviews online. These aren’t your typical amateur string of consciousness reviews, I am far too anal for that. I don’t know how many times I’ve read a review by someone else on a site like Amazon and when I was finished the review, I thought, “What the heck does any of that have to do with the book? Was it good?”.
Some of the worst ones say “five stars, just ordered it, haven’t read it yet”. Or “I’m giving it one star because my aunt Bernice said she heard from a friend that their Minister was told by a parishioner that it has a bad word in it somewhere”. While reviews of those types are easy to dismiss, I am equally troubled by the people who do plot summaries with no review, say only what they like and yet give it 1 or 2 stars, say only what they hate and yet give it 4 or 5 stars, and a host of other equally useless content like “good book”.
And I confess that I have a small dream. Not huge, because I don’t have the time for huge, but small. It is to have people send me their books as advance reader copies (ARCs) because they have read my reviews somewhere else and now want me to review THEM. This isn’t that far-fetched, it has happened multiple times already. I particularly like when someone reads my review and comments on it. It’s like creating my own time-shifting book club for introverts.
The problem, of course, is if I want to build any sort of brand, I have to actually figure out what that brand is going to be. And I think I’m close. Certainly closer to final than I have ever been before. I have a layout — a link to the book’s cover on Amazon, brief summary of plot or premise, what I liked, what I didn’t like, an overall one-line/tweet review, some boilerplate info on the book’s publication, my rating of course, and some verbiage to address the mandatory US disclosure requirements i.e. if I received the book in exchange for a review or am friends with the author (yep, I’m in Canada, but I think the disclosure is not a bad idea and wouldn’t be surprised if other countries adopt it too, plus as you’ll see below, some of my reviews get posted on US sites, so easier to include it up front rather than go back and add it later).
Posting it on my own site has always been relatively easy. Figuring out how to create an index, however, which allows people to see the list of reviews by author, title, rating, year, or review order is not as easily accomplished on a simple WordPress site, particularly if I don’t want a lot of back-end programming and data entry nor front-end delays in rendering. The simplest option on both ends is to maintain the various lists as separate static pages that I just update from time to time. I found some nice buttons I like, easily added them, with some bright colour coding, and it’s good to go (Book Review Index). I even managed to include my full approach to book reviews so if anyone wants to know if they want to risk me reading their book and doing a review, they can easily see what I do.
The “building my brand” idea though has frequently overwhelmed my approach as there are lots of places to post reviews, and most of them require the same info for posting, but they all have the info in slightly different order. I was playing with Microsoft Access to create a simple database for entry and saving of the data, with the idea that I would then generate multiple reports in the format/order that the various review sites needed, but Access was not playing nicely. Part of the problem is that what I’m doing is not really that complicated, and while Access will produce reports out the wazoo, what I really needed was it to produce a single page at a time for the latest single record, and preferably without doing look-up queries to do it. Particularly as there are multiple sites to generate reports for, and I didn’t want to create multiple reports with multiple queries all competing for my attention. I’m sure it can be done. I’m sure it can be made quite simple. But not by me without learning way more about Access than I ever want to learn. There’s something strangely ironic and equally disturbing that I could probably do it in dBase IV or COBOL more easily than I was finding my attempts in Access.
So I switched to Excel. Really, honestly, it’s a flat file database, and there is no relational element in my usage. Exactly what Excel was originally designed for, albeit I’m using text rather than financial numbers.
My new layout is working AWESOME for me. I have:
- a primary page which is my master index…it’s not what I work with most of the time, but it does have the complete list — if I lose everything else, this is the master page;
- Sheet 2 is my simple data entry page — 22 fields, although technically 9 of those get combined into a big tag field later, it’s just easier to group the tags separately when I’m writing the review;
- Sheet 3 is a temporary paste / staging page — this is a lesson I learned a long time ago to paste into a page that everything else pulls from, rather than pulling from the master or the data entry page…that way if something messes up on the other two pages, or I change some setting or layout, the whole set of subsequent pages are not messed up;
- Sheets 4-14 are what would have been separate reports in Access but just are “links” to different sections of the staging page and are in the exact order I need to paste my reviews into:
- my PolyWogg pages;
- Amazon.com (they don’t link and push to .ca anymore)
- Kobo books (different set of reviews for paper and digital, unlike Amazon)
- Barnes and Noble
- Nook books (as with Kobo, different set of reviews for paper and digital)
- Google Play Books
- Good Reads
- Library Thing
I’ve already automated a bunch of stuff on the browser front too, so that I can open all those sites with one click, find the book, and start uploading the review. Some of them are already on Amazon, I uploaded them previously, but most of the other sites are new and relatively virgin territory (I’ve only uploaded reviews of four titles so far, and many of them had no previous reviews or ratings). It has taken a bit longer than I would like to upload the first few, but I’m getting a bit faster now that I’m used to the page interfaces.
Once that is done, I copy the final text from data entry over to the master list, and that first page has some calculated fields on it that also generates and formats my index entries for the website and the basic outline for my tweet update that the review is posted on my own site.
Automation should help streamline the review process somewhat, and I had to figure out my business process to get to this stage. Now that it’s done, and I’ve tested the model on the first four reviews, I’m excited to upload a backlog of another 30 old ones and get started on my goal of 50 new ones for the year.