“Get outside, hang the lights round the chimney with care,
Get it done! Hurry up, before Nicholas gets there!”
The children are no help all sleeping in bed,
No visions of sugar plums, but iPads instead.
While Mama dictates I put on a cap
I slip on my boots and a coat with two snaps.
I opened the door and stepped in a puddle.
Then slipped on the lawn and now I see double.
My wife’s in the window, she doubles and laughs,
I staggered and tumbled, tripped over the trash.
My keys pierce my breast, as I’ve fallen you know.
The wind how it blusters, then swirls and blows.
My eyes start to water, some would say tear,
I’ve fallen on Rudolf and other reindeers.
I’m a little old mind you, but lively and quick,
I’m up in a moment all covered in sh…shtuff?
The poop from a beagle had made a large stain.
And I yelled and I shouted and called it bad names.
Doggone it, dangblasted that dog of the Nixons!
Uncommon, dumb stupid, ah darn it I’m freezin’.
I hobble to the porch, then lean against the wall,
Ah-choo-a, ah-choo-a, I sneeze, almost fall.
“Change to dry clothes! You’ll catch a cold and die!”
My wife how she shouted. Her voice how it flys.
So into the house, off trousers and boots,
My coat with two snaps all covered in poop.
And then in a twinkling I knew what to do,
For hanging and dangling of lights from my roof.
I’d wear tightie whities that’s all that I’d wear!
Outside on the ladder I just didn’t care.
It’s only tightie whities on my birthday suit,
As I climbed up the ladder midst laughter and hoots.
‘Twas the neighbor named Floyd who lives just out back.
“Hey Santa!” he said “Where’s your clothes and your sack?”
My eyes they were stinging, the rain made them blurry.
My cheeks were like roses, my nose like a cherry.
My fingers were freezing, my toes were so cold.
As I worked from the ladder, hang lights, as I’m told.
The ring of a hook I held tight in my teeth.
My hands worked the cord, the lights and the wreath.
I hold tight to the ladder with my face and my belly.
The ladder it shakes! It’s my wife and she’s yelling.
“Hey chubby! Two lights, both match, you need help?”
And I laughed as yelled, “A go #%*%#€ yourself!”
With the blink of an eye I’ve set the screw head.
Hang green lights together, her anger I dread.
She spoke not a word, didn’t go berserk.
Then I climbed down the ladder, “I’m finished work!”
Then laying her fist aside of my nose,
It felt rather odd, then my face met my toes.
I then sprang to my feet, gave Floyd a whistle.
We hopped in the car, drove to town ore the trestle.
And I heard her exclaim as we drove out of sight,
“Two green lights together, together green lights!”
PS. #%*%#€ spells bite kids. It’s an old ancient spelling.
— Bob Niles
Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.
You know, the ones where a novice cook forgets to defrost the turkey, or didn’t remove the bag of innards out before stuffing the bird. Or they burned a pie or the rolls or put too much seasoning into a side dish or dessert. Every family has a disaster story, and most are shared over and over each year in the name of tradition, much to the cook’s chagrin.
We have very few Thanksgiving disasters to share because my mom is such an excellent cook. However, every year we relive the moment in our family’s history known as, “When Turkeys Fly.”
One of the best things about holidays is that one usually remembers all the sights, sounds and tastes. From the decorations to the mood music or games on in the background, the day is ripe to heighten the awareness of one’s senses. What better smell is there than a pie baking or a turkey roasting? And what better sound is there than an electric knife that is cutting up slices of juicy turkey? To this day, whenever I hear an electric knife, I think of Thanksgiving.
To really appreciate this story, you’d have to understand my dad. He was a character in every true sense of the word. He was a sports nut — watched anything that moved — and other than assisting with the setting of the table, his only other responsibility on Thanksgiving was carving the turkey.
Anyhow, back to the disaster story. It was a Thanksgiving Day like any other. The turkey was huge, and hot out of the oven. Dad was getting prepped for his annual carving gig. He let the turkey set a few minutes while he grabbed the serving tray, meat fork and the electric knife. Most importantly, he got the channel set on the TV in the kitchen so he could watch his football game while slicing. And since he was an expert carver, the only cuss words we would hear while he was in the kitchen were directed at his favorite football team, the refs or coaching staff.
One memorable Thanksgiving, we heard an odd noise coming from the kitchen and a stream of curse words that would make a sailor blush. Voices were raised to a fevered pitch. As we all ran to the kitchen, our dog included, we saw my mother’s hard work sliding across the kitchen floor. If you have never heard a hot, 26-pound, buttery turkey hit the floor, it sounds a bit like a slithery thud enhanced with splattering smacks and muffled a bit by stuffing tufts hitting the cupboards.
Emotions were running high. My mother looked like she was about to cry, and my father and maternal grandmother were escalating their voices in a shouting match. Grandma could finally prove to the world her daughter married a putz, and he could prove to the world that his mother-in-law harbored a grudge.
Now, there are two versions to this story — his and hers.
Dad insisted Grandma was in his way at his carving station, and because of her, the turkey landed on the floor. Grandma insisted that Dad’s torso was completing contorted as he was twisting and craning his body to see the game, and that he wasn’t paying attention, and he knocked the turkey to the floor. Considering their history, she could have purposely blocked the TV, never knowing how bad the drama would ensue. To this day, we don’t know the truth and probably never will. The only live creature who wasn’t upset with the poultry problem running afoul was our dog, which enjoyed her happiest Thanksgiving ever as she assisted in cleaning up the floor.
Thank goodness for all the side dishes because the little bit of turkey that hadn’t landed on the floor didn’t go far among the 20-plus gathered for dinner. Supposedly my dad cut off the portion that hit the floor and tossed it out — though I believe he probably saved it and ate it out of spite, under the guise of proving it was safe to eat.
For years afterwards, every Thanksgiving this story was resurrected, and every year we were guaranteed the debate would continue as to whose fault it was. And whether it was divine intervention or my mom’s stealth coordination, my grandmother was never in the kitchen again when Dad carved the turkey.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with memorable moments and may it be a no-fly zone for turkeys.
— Lynne Cobb
Lynne Cobb is a metro Detroit freelance writer, with articles, essays and blog posts featured in major and local dailies; national and niche magazines; and various Websites, such as Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, HuffPost50 and Midlife Boulevard. Recently, a blog post was published in the popular anthology Feisty after 45 — The Best Blogs from Midlife Women. Keep up with Lynne and her “Midlife Random Ramblings” at lynnecobb.com.
My friend, Pia, wrote on Facebook yesterday, “Last night: a lovely, long chat on the phone with my fashion designer daughter, Ms. Rachel, all the way from Manhattan. Her voice was gleaming with happiness. Mine was the hungry ear.”
Well, mine too, Pia. My two Manhattanites left my building last Monday — leaving a decided hole in my Michigander week. Back to their Brooklyn coops, their Manhattan projects.
For me, back to the hungry ear.
I envy Pia her frequent telephone talks with her five children. Although one of my daughters loves to talk, I don’t often get the information I want. Is the neighborhood safe this week after the shooting outside your building, for example. My children take up the conversation with anything but how they are surviving. And more often they insist on texts and tweets as their lives are oh, so busy. An ear could starve via Internet as well.
Mary, user experience researcher who travels, wife and recently, mother, makes my ear hungry. Everyone knows Mary doesn’t talk on phones when not at work. Her husband, Steve, confirms that. My ear would starve if I waited for phone calls from Mary. Her busy schedule allows a few texts or emails a month. I miss the verbal communication, but I am getting better at reading between the lines of the two- to five-word cryptic messages I do get.
Mary: “Austin tomorrow. Back end of week.”
Me: “Take care.”
I feel I now have successfully taken on the shorthand of texting.
Me: “How is Steve? Cats? You?”
Mary: “OK. Hotter than hell here.”
When the texts get so short I can’t discern the topic, or texting ceases for a week or two, I text, “Hellllllooooooooo!” That always gets a rise out of both my daughters.
“You do know I am in a meeting, in meditation, feeding the baby, ranting on Facebook? Pleeeeaaasse! Have a heart.”
Jenny, my yoga-bending, health care system planner, will talk on the phone, but not about surviving or her welfare. She can kill 90 minutes covering New York real estate trends and her plan to retire at 40. (Two years to go.) When I do get a word in, I ask, “How is your health?” I get “Fine.” For fun, I introduce my brilliant plan for she and Mary to purchase a condo in the tropics for which I will be live-in proprietor. That discussion is considerably shorter — maybe five minutes.
The most frequent and heated discussion with Jenny involves her financial advice for my slim retirement pickings.
Jenny: “Invest, Mom. It’s the only way. You have to take a little risk.”
Me: “I’m past investing, dear. I’m spending it to live.”
Jenny: “Send me your portfolio. I’ll look it over and advise.”
Me: “Not going to happen. My Michigan advisors tell me to lay low and spend judiciously. By the way, where’s my condo at the beach?”
As grateful as I am for these communications with my grown children, short or long, they really are not enough for me. Hungry ear, indeed. How about hungry eye? And touch? And smell? I want to see their faces every day. I want to gaze into their eyes and detect whatever urban trauma I can wish away. (Facetime or Skype are out — God forbid anyone should see them ungroomed.)
I want to touch their bones. Check their hearts for murmurs. Move in with them.
Can an ear be that hungry? You betcha.
— Kaye Curren
Kaye Curren has returned to writing after 30 years of raising two husbands, two children, two teenage stepchildren, three horses, umpteen dogs and cats, and several non-speaking parakeets. She used to write computer manuals but now writes humor essays and memoir, including the essay, “Bumps in Whose Socks?” on this site, humorwriters.org. Find her musings at her website/blog at www.writethatthang.com
Appointments. Especially medical checkups. I hate ’em. What’s the point? We all know how doctors notoriously stray many minutes past the scheduled time. Probably on purpose just to bug us.
Most of the time, the hapless patient sits among a modern contagious coterie. Between coughs and sneezes, they chatter on their phones or chortle to themselves maniacally as they read their text messages.
But even the vexatious patients pale by comparison to some irksome receptionists. Busy? Oh, come now. As a former receptionist myself way back when, I can assure you that it’s a dream job.
So, it’s understandable why it bewildered me beyond all measure when my supervisor fired me after only two hours on the job, informing me that I didn’t have the right “public temperament.”
Temperament! I totally reeked mojo. She should see some of today’s receptionists. Mostly pushy power-trippers sporting tattoos. Sometimes even nose and tongue rings.
And good luck booking an appointment for a specific time. When requesting a particular time, I’ll say sweetly to the modern hobgoblin with attitude: “The doc wants me to do a followup in about six months. I’m not picky about which day or which week. But I DO need it to be at 4 p.m.”
The worst receptionists are the males who cop the tone of a snooty waiter: ”The closest time I can allow would be a 3:30 or a 4:30.”
“Hmmmm,” I’ll sigh. “Oh, 3:30 is fine.”
Being a rascal at heart, I like to boggle their minds. Six months later I’ll show up promptly at 4 p.m. in a deliriously charming mood, feigning a sadistic smile.
No one ever chastises my notorious tardiness. Not anymore. I choose to believe it’s not because they suspect that I’m psychotic.
I recite my standard line: “Three-thirty? Oh, no, honey. It was for 4 p.m. Honest. Remember? I SAID 4 P.M. ANY DAY, ANY WEEK. Remember?”
(Strangely, the women receptionists seem to resent my using the word “honey,” but the men seem to like it. Go figure).
My funnest moment ever with a receptionist happened recently at a dermatologist’s office. It was my third visit. This narcissistic physician had never spent more than a couple of minutes with me. No wonder this dimpled dunce couldn’t clear up my rash. After he had whizzed into the examination room, smirking at something on his smart phone, Dr. Dimples glanced at my rash, then quickly shot off a prescription to my pharmacy, without so much as an hello.
Though I had already decided that I would try uglier, smarter dermatologists henceforth, I stopped by for some fun with the receptionist to pretend I had a followup. (Oh, Stevie Boy. Never grow up).
He was talking on the office phone. The man also managed to text on his own phone while reading the office computer screen. In addition, Wonderboy balanced his ever-present beverage on his lap as he texted, read and talked. Such talent!
Finally our eyes met and he raised his eyebrows. ”Doc wants to see me in three weeks,” I lied. “I need an appointment around 4 p.m.”
What happened next shocked me. He not only had my desired time available. He provided many options.
“Well,” he said, slurping at his beverage, “I have 4, 4:05, 4:10, 4:15 4:20, 4:25 or 4:30.”
“Well, let’s see,” I said. “The doc spends only about 45 seconds with me, so let’s make it 4:03 and 15 seconds. That’ll give him a breather both before and after he checks me out.”
A guy waiting gave a belly laugh.
That caught Wonderboy off guard. He started to speak but instead gasped, forgetting the beverage on his lap, managing a spectacular spill. The sticky liquid soaked both his laptop and the office keyboard. But his biggest tragedy transpired when he dreaded that his hypnotic but not-so-smart phone had drowned.
Ah, my very own perfect storm. A great sense of happiness overwhelmed my wicked soul and Eskew quickly left the building.
Phooey on becoming mature. In my wild fantasies, men in white coats carried Wonderboy out on a stretcher to a sanitarium, kicking and screaming. Eventually, they treated and released him into the wild. The smart phone arrived DOA.
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website eskewtotherescue.com.
A while back I decided that we’d all had more than enough of this grief and cynicism and sarcasm and pretty much everything else that makes me the charmer that I am, please and thank you very much.
It was time to get happy.
So I started where anyone seeking true inner happiness would start: by shopping. Specifically, kitsch shopping. I wanted to fill my house with visual reminders of this new life goal, and I set out to find the perfect inspirational handmade art. And ended up with baby blocks that spelled out the word “happy.” Whatever. Directness is a virtue and I hate shopping and they were cute and there’s no worry about a possible copyright violation when and if I needed to write about them.
Anyway, I wanted to see them often and especially when I was in a mental space that left me vulnerable and open to suggestion, so I put them on a shelf directly in front of the toilet. This is perfect for so many reasons, not the least of which is I think placing inspirational art in front of where you go to the bathroom is an upscale European decorating trend I’m coining dung shui. But also I spend a lot of time there, considering (a) my bladder is like a deflated wrinkly walnut thanks to a hundred pregnancies and (b) the bathroom is like the only place in the house where I stand a chance of being able to spend some time apart from these sweet little blessings that are supposed to be making me happy.
Except it didn’t really work that way. I found that in actual practice the blocks served as less of a whimsical echo of my new life-zest and more of a snarky, passive-aggressive reminder that said, “Seriously, it’s been months, can we get happy already? I mean, girl, sh** or get off the pot!” The blocks then chuckled at their own potty humor in that annoying self-satisfied way of people who laugh at their penny jokes. And while no — of course — the blocks did not have a voice because that would be crazy. If they did, it would be somewhere in between Fran Drescher’s and my mother’s. It was enough to give you (me) performance anxiety.
Then a few weeks ago I went out with my friends to celebrate my birthday. It was one of the lovelier evenings I have ever had, despite some increasingly frantic texts from Nick about something to do with the toilet that I found easy to ignore because there was ’90s hip hop on and mom-dancing to do. Thankfully by the time I came home everyone had fallen asleep and there was a sign in front of the bathroom door advising me not to enter, which I assumed was because they were storing my REALLY big birthday presents in there. I was happy to oblige because who doesn’t love a good birthday surprise, right?
The next morning I realized that the surprise was sh**. And I don’t mean that in a “Gee, thanks again for the Kenny G Christmas album” kind of way. I mean that there was sh** all over the bathroom, running down the walls and pooled on the floor and soaked up by the one and only Pottery Barn towel that we own because the previous owners mistakenly left it here when they moved out.
It seems all those texts the night before about “the toilet” and “WE NEED A PLUMBER FOR REAL LIZ I’M NOT KIDDING STOP IGNORING ME” were not metaphoric declarations of love and were — in fact — actually about the toilet. It was hopelessly clogged.
“What the hell even happened here last night?” I asked, mustering all the righteous indignation someone can who herself spent the night in question singing along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while drinking draft beer.
Nick’s answer was only one word long, yet not only did it answer my question, it also answered my 14 follow-up questions that I hadn’t thought to ask yet, one of which could have been this, “Who likes to flush random sh** down the toilet when no one is looking?”
“Gotcha.” I nodded. “What did we lose?”
My mind scanned through all of my valuables, which didn’t take long because I don’t have any because instead of having money and nice stuff I have children. I looked around the terribleness that was the bathroom and fought the urge to puke, but the reality was there wasn’t a lot in there to lose because I don’t like clutter unless it is of the motivational variety.
I looked up. There, facing the scene of crime, was one word still spelled out whimsically in baby blocks:
“LUCA,” I yelled, and his golden curls peeked innocently around the bathroom door. “Where’s the PP?”
“PP GOES IN THE POTTY,” he yelled enthusiastically, clapping and echoing the past six months of failed potty training attempts.
Who could argue?
I put my head in my hands and stepped out over the defiled towel to call a plumber, who got the toilet working relatively quickly and to his credit did not stare too long at me open-mouthed when I asked if he had been able to retrieve the PP because it had sentimental value. After he left, I spent a few hours humming the happy birthday song to myself while cleaning the bathroom walls, and when it was all said and done and I could see my haggard and moderately terrifying reflection in the toilet lid again, I walked over to the three remaining blocks and started to throw them into the garbage. Clearly there was no room for happy in here.
Except… this wasn’t happy anymore. This was hay, which sounded just like “hey” when you said it out loud and didn’t come out in any harsh voice at all but sounded something more like Ryan Gosling. Like:
“Hay girl, way to (literally) clean the sh** out of this place. You’re a queen. Come take a load off and claim your throne.” Or:
“Hay girl, don’t listen to them. I think you smell just fine.” Or just:
“Hay,” which is maybe the best of all because in my head it’s like a gentle children’s block fist bump every time I sit down. It’s a reminder that sometimes true happiness might feel unattainable—like when you spend six months of your life that you will never get back sitting in this little room with your youngest, both of you crying because for some reason he can’t seem to get that the PP goes in the potty.
When really, he got it all along. Haaaaaay.
— Liz Petrone
Liz Petrone is a mama, yogi, writer, warrior, wanderer, dreamer, doubter and hot mess. She lives in a creaky old house in Central New York with her ever-patient husband, their four babies and an excitable dog named Boss, and shares her stories on her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.
My wife and I went shopping last night. Well, actually, she went shopping; I just went to buy something. We have a great relationship, but – like many couples – our concepts of the purchasing process are light-years apart.
Like most men, I believe that buying something should be like making a military air strike: rapidly approach the target (the merchandise), drop your ordinance (the payment), and then immediately exit the area. Women, on the other hand, seem to think that the shopping process is as important as the purchase and, therefore, that it is an experience that must never, ever be rushed!
‘Not convinced that I’m right? Just consider how each might buy a new pair of black shoes.
First, a man would have to be persuaded (by hint, suggestion or threat) that his 18-year-old black shoes really needed to be replaced. Only then would he proceed to the nearest shoe store. Time and convenience, after all, are important shopping issues.
Selecting a new pair of shoes would not take a man long as only three things really matter: Are the shoes approximately black? Are they approximately the right size? Are they approximately the same price that he paid for his old black shoes 18 years ago? If the answers to these three questions are all “yes,” he would purchase the shoes and be back home before the ink on his receipt is dry. To be really successful, of course, he would complete the whole round-trip shopping excursion during a single NFL TV time-out.
That, however, is absolutely NOT how any woman, including my wife, would buy anything! To begin with, what triggers a woman’s desire for new shoes is still a mystery. Once activated, though, only cardiac arrest and the last ten minutes of childbirth have ever been known to halt a woman’s shoe procurement process.
One thing is certain: a woman’s search for new shoes has absolutely nothing to do with time or convenience. And, while she might not visit every available store (probably just all within fifty miles of her home), she would ultimately try on enough pairs to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The final shoe selection, of course, could take a woman anywhere from a minimum of a few days to a few weeks. Eventually, though, after looking at nearly every style of black shoe ever manufactured, she would bring home a new pair of red shoes.
While neither concept of shopping is necessarily wrong, these significant differences can create considerable relational stress between men and women. This problem could be forever eliminated, however, if some wise entrepreneur, attempting to meet the needs of both, would simultaneously build a chain of strategically-located, drive-thru clothing stores and 80-acre shop-‘til-you-drop theme parks.
Which would be for men and which for women, you ask? If you’re breathing, you should know the answer. If you’re not sure, though, I’ll give you a clue: There would be absolutely no need for men’s restrooms in the shopping theme parks.
— Jerry E. Tobias
Jerry Tobias is an aviation writer who flew everything from supersonic military aircraft to Boeing 747s during a 40-year career as an Air Force, corporate and airline pilot. He also speaks as an aviation safety specialist and as a motivational speaker discussing life lessons learned through aviation.
(Excerpt from Tales from the Crib: Adventures of an Over-Sharing, Stressed-Out, Modern-Day Mom by DeeDee Filiatreault.)
I remember one Christmas when my mother had it all together. Just one.
That one fine year, I’d come home from school most December afternoons and find something new under our tree, topped with a cheap stick-on bow. This level of advance preparation was something new and rare in our house, something peaceful and enchanting. I loved that year.
Every other Christmas of my memory involved Mom’s traditional Christmas Eve scavenger hunt for the Lost Treasures of Yule followed by a late-night wrapping frenzy of flying Scotch tape and dime-store paper.
My mom’s holiday hurriedness would reach its crescendo on Christmas afternoon when she would let out a gasp, dash off to the underbelly of the spare bed, and unearth a tambourine or a latch hook kit she’d tucked away and forgot ever existed. (I wonder if that’s where the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine is that I never got…)
As dearly as I’d hoped to usher in my own motherly Christmases all cool, calm and curling-ribboned, history has a way of repeating itself — like the day 30 years later when my kindergartener and I thoughtfully brought cookies to the school bus driver.
I was commiserating at the bus stop with another mom friend, recounting all that was frazzling us this Christmas. She had a ticking time bomb of a sickly husband, ready to stick the stomach bug in everyone’s stockings. I had all these wildly insurmountable work deadlines, stacked on top of my towering pile of unwritten Christmas cards. Neither of us had wrapped the first gift — cheapie bows or none. Together we threw aside O Holy Night and sang a rousing chorus of O Holy Crap.
On that day’s to-do list, the single solitary item I’d checked off was one little bag of Christmas cookies for the bus driver. (Never mind that I bought them from the school bake sale.)
My daughter, Lucy, wanted to present the cookies herself, which I told myself would be a lovely way for her to act out the spirit of giving…or some baloney like that. Why were my Spidey senses not tingling like mad as I placed this precious cargo into her wee hands?
Oh, you know what happened next.
Lucy heard the bus coming. She ran. She tripped. She fumbled the bag, which fell to Earth in a crumbly crash.
Then my darling daughter — like Godzilla trudging through Tokyo — staggered, stumbled and stomped all over my pretty bag of cookies.
There lay my one yuletide accomplishment in pieces on the ground, the bag busted wide, its sugary entrails sprinkled with grass and sand.
I suddenly morphed into Marlon Brando, hands on my head, crying heavenward in holiday agony, “LLLUUUUUCCCYYYYY!”
Then like some inept schlubby Magi, I toted my humble gift back home in defeat and added these words to my to-do list: “Get bus driver a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.”
The death of those cookies felt like the last straw — as if gnarly green fingers had come along and snatched my last can of Who Hash. But once I stopped my glowering, all I could do was double over and laugh.
My Grinchy heart grew three sizes that day. Because ready or not, perfect or not, Christmas was coming…and not from a store. (Or someone else’s oven).
Christmas, I mused, must mean a little bit more.
Therefore, in the true spirit of the season, I did what had to be done. I smiled. I reflected on my many blessings. Then I flicked the grass off those cookie shards and ate them for breakfast.
I’m sure it’s what the bus driver would have wanted.
— DeeDee Filiatreault
DeeDee Filiatreault is all about finding the funny in family. She has spent the last decade writing witty, warm-hearted essays about the foibles of family life, beginning with a humor column for her local weekly newspaper in Shoreline, Connecticut in 2007 and now for her blog, www.TalesFromTheCribBlog.com. She is thrilled with the publication of her first book of essays, Tales from the Crib: Adventures of an Over-Sharing, Stressed-Out, Modern-Day Mom, which she hopes will bring a sense of solidarity and healthful snorts of laughter to other woefully inadequate parents who read it. She has spent her entire adult life as a writer for all kinds of people and places, including a New England art museum, a Southern mega-church and former South Carolina Governor David Beasley as his chief speechwriter. A transplant from the Carolinas, she now lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, a cat, a fish, a rabbit and an odd little mutt who never stops staring at her.
(Excerpted and adapted from Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s new How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career.)
Authors rarely get the most from their reviews. Surprised? I think it’s because the idea of extending a review’s value doesn’t occur to them. Reviewers have the same problem because these days so many reviews are written by superfan readers. They aren’t professionals, so they have no idea how to distribute content beyond posting their review on Amazon.
Reviewers can get more mileage from reviews by getting them reprinted in more venues than just online bookstores. Authors can do it for them, too. And, no, it isn’t stealing or plagiarism if you get permission from the reviewer first. In fact, it can benefit the reviewer.
When you distribute reviews beyond their original placement, it’s like getting a little marketing bonus for your book. Here’s how authors can do that.
• If your reviewer doesn’t normally write reviews (these reviewers are often called reader reviewers), suggest she send her review or the link to her review to her friends as a recommendation.
• If your reader reviewer lives in a town with a small daily or weekly newspaper, suggest she send her review to one of the reporters or editors. She may realize the thrill of being published the first time.
• Ask professional reviewers — the ones who review for journals — to post her review on Amazon.com, BN.com and other online booksellers that have reader-review features. I have never had a reviewer decline my suggestion. It is ethical for a reviewer to do it or to give you permission to reuse the review as long as she holds the copyright for the review. (Most reviewers do not sign copyright-limiting agreements with the medium who hires them.) Get more information on Amazon’s often misrepresented review policies in chapter 11 of How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically under “Managing Your Amazon Reviews.”
• After you have permission from the reviewer to reprint the review — whether she is a pro or amateur — post it on your blog, on your Web site and in your newsletter.
• Once you have permission to use reviews, send copies of the best ones to bookstore buyers and event directors as part of your campaign to do book signings, to speak or do workshops in their stores. Click here for a starter list of bookstores.
• Use quotations from the reviews to give credibility to selected media releases and queries.
• Send quotations (blurbs) from the reviews you get to librarians, especially the ones in your hometown or cities you plan to visit during book tours. Include order information. Click here for a list of libraries.
• Use snippets from positive reviews as blurbs in everything from your stationery to your blog.
• If your reviewer doesn’t respond to your request to post the review on Amazon, excerpt blurbs from them and post them on your Amazon buy page using Amazon’s Author Connect or Author Central features. They will appear on your Amazon sales page. Yes, that’s ethical, too!
• Include the crème de la crème of your reviews on the Praise Page of your media kit and inside the front cover of the next edition (perhaps a mass market edition like the pocket paperbacks sold in grocery stores). See my multi award-winning The Frugal Book Promoter for the complete — and I do mean complete — lowdown on media kits.
Hint: Occasionally authors get reviews on Amazon that, shall we say…don’t thrill them. Reviews like that can be minimized by asking others for reviews. As new reviews are added, the old ones tend to get buried in the lineup of reviews. We can also (pleasantly!) refute a position a reviewer takes using the comment feature — or thank them for bringing something to our attention. We can also dispute their validity with Amazon, though that rarely works.
You can use some of these suggestions as part of your keeping-in-communication-with-reviewers effort after their reviews have been published. As long as it’s nearly impossible to do without Amazon and still have a successful book campaign, we might as well get Amazon to return the loyalty we show it in as many ways as possible.
— Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer and retailer to the advice she gives in her award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renowned Writers’ Program. She loves to travel, has visited 89 countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.