Feedback Frenzy

My pocket chirrups as I descend the steps from my bank. The text message asks me to rate my recent customer experience. This happens to be one of a hundred or more perfectly routine transactions I’ve made at that bank.   

FreeImages.com/Simon Stratford

Irritated, I delete the text.

At school, there was a girl who was forever checking what people thought of her. Sadly, the answer was ‘not much’, but this didn’t stop her beaming at everyone and trying to decipher their expressions.  When she couldn’t read the emotional temperature, she would ask what we thought. I wince to report that we thought our classmate stupid. Looking back, however, she was well ahead of her time.

These days, Waitrose sends me emails asking how my groceries were. Would I rate and review them?

waitrose-redcurrant-jellyI get similar requests after almost every commercial interaction of the day. If not during it. A text thanks me for travelling with Addison Lee, and invites me to rate the driver. I get this message before I’ve even reached the destination.

Ditto Moonpig, who want to know how everything went with the card I ordered. It’s not even scheduled to be delivered till next week. Stop asking me!

Now an email thanks me for collecting my parcel from the Spar in Chesterton Road, and asks me how I would ‘rate the service in store’.

The bottom line? It was fine. I got my parcel. Had the guy behind the counter not found it, or handed me a damaged parcel or something entirely different like a Mars Bar or a lottery ticket, you can be sure I’d have let someone know, loud and clear.  FreeImages.com/Tony CloughFeedback can certainly be useful. Book reviews, for instance, help guide the author as well as people looking for their next read – though it’s worth noting that the most useful reviews have actual words in them, not just a star rating.

Evaluations from the students I teach can also be valuable, if they help improve the outcome for the next lot.

For feedback to be most useful to others, it pays to ask the right questions. One pension provider invites me to rate my recent dealings with them. A more pertinent point might be whether I was happy with the return on my investment.

Nowadays, detailed feedback from patients is an integral part of a doctor’s appraisal process. It’s a two-page form that demands a certain level of literacy and attention. That makes it difficult for many patients, especially those who’ve just had bad news or been sent to hospital.

Feedback from colleagues is even harder to come by. In smaller practices, family doctors may resort to asking people they haven’t worked with for years, just to make up the numbers.

National Health Service logo

Feedback shouldn’t be just about collecting all the data we can, because we can. To have any value, it needs to be more selective, and to ask the right questions at the right time.

***

If you’ve read a book you enjoyed lately, please think of leaving a review on Amazon or your favourite reading site. It doesn’t have to be long, just your overall impression and anything you’d like the author and prospective readers to know.

Here’s more detailed guidance, should you feel like it: How to write critical book reviews – and why I think you should, by Debbie Young.

bookshelf crop

Advertisements

How to Write a Book Review

For starters, what tempts people to review books at all? If it’s for a prestigious magazine or newspaper, it could be money, though rookie reviewers are often happy to review in return for a free book and a chance to raise their profile.

bookshop

It can also be a chance to preen, to get in as many bon mots as possible, and to dazzle readers with a vertiginous vocabulary. If there’s room to slip in a lethal knife wound as well, so much the better. Will Self’s review of Julie Burchill’s Unchosen is often quoted as the epitome of this type of review:

“I can’t really dignify her latest offering with the ascription ‘book’, nor the contents therein as ‘writing’ – rather they are sophomoric, hammy effusions, wrongheaded, rancorous and pathetically self-aggrandising.”

He goes on to cite “Burchill’s repugnant gallimaufry of insults and half-baked nonsense.”

One snag is that it wasn’t a review as such. Still, it’s pugnacious stuff, and entertaining to read. Unless, perhaps, you are Julie Burchill.

Accusations are the stock-in-trade of many reviewers. In The Scotsman, Allan Massie says of Craig Raine’s oeuvre The Divine Comedy: 

“It isn’t a novel, no matter what author and publisher choose to call it. There is no real narrative interest and the characters are no more than names.” 

He goes on to give evidence for his view, leaving the public in little doubt that Allan Massie is a more riveting read than the book being dissected.

FreeImages.com/Davide Farabegoli

For a short while there was even the Hatchet Job of the Year Award. But several things have happened since then. Firstly, jokes about hatchets are a bit tasteless in a troubled world. Secondly, there are now more reviews on blogs and book review sites, far more than you’ll find in mainstream publications.

Online reviews like these are more workaday, and may serve their purpose better than the virtuoso variety. old-books1

Reviews just have two main tasks: guiding potential readers to their next book, and helping authors write what readers love most.

More readers could leave reviews, but I know that many feel inhibited from doing so. Yet the rules, such as they are, are pretty simple.

1 Short is OK, though preferably not as short as the one-word review “Book”.

2 Never include spoilers.

3 You don’t have to be a smarty-pants. In fact, it probably detracts from the value of your feedback. Just concentrate on what might help readers like yourself. 

4 Did you like the book? If so, say you did. You could also describe briefly what kind of book it is. “It’s a fantasy story about a girl who finds herself in an alternative reality which contains talking animals, strange new rules, and a lot of fun, some of it clever.” That’s not the most erudite description of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it’s enough to guide people, and it doesn’t give away the plot.

5 If you didn’t like it, don’t be rude. 

6 By all means add whether, in your opinion, the story is fast-paced, has lots of characters, is full of suspense, contains wonderful dialogue, and so on. It is your opinion, not the opinion of an English Lit professor, but it should be founded on evidence.

Your evidence should come from the contents of the book, and not depend on whether you liked the shoes on the cover, or whether Amazon delivered it to the wrong address. Here’s what one recipient wrote of a second-hand book:

“The book was in much worse condition stated, it would have been nice to have been warned about the blood stain that ran through several pages. Not happy at all as had to buy a second copy.”

7 If you feel like it, you could say which characters you liked in the book. Were they well drawn? Did their dialogue ring true? And so on.

8 Try to mention who might be the ideal reader. “Fans of cosy mysteries may enjoy this book.” It doesn’t hurt to mention other authors of books along the same lines, if any come to mind. But there’s no need to wrack your brains.

There’s a lot of really helpful advice on this blog post by top 1000 Amazon reviewer (and author) Debbie Young. If you’ve never written a review before, just come on in. The water’s lovely.

***

I still have a soft spot for this spoof review of Orwell’s 1984, by a reader called So-Crates. As feedback it’s not that useful, and you need to know something about 1984 to appreciate it, but it does show that jokes don’t have to have a butt.

“Do not buy this book if you’re expecting to find out anything at all about 1984, as this writer seems to have been living on a different planet. I was trying to do a bit of research into the influence of New Wave on cross-over dance music in the Mid-Eighties, but I found “1984” a complete waste of time… Jackson’s “Thriller”? (the soundtrack of the summer, and the biggest selling album of all-time) – not mentioned; Frankie Goes To Hollywood (their breakthrough year leading to world pop domination) – not a whisper.”  

You can probably guess what he says of The Road to Wigan Pier.

bookshelf crop