Once, there was only one way that most of us could ever share our opinions with a wide audience: the humble Letter to the Editor.
The Letters page in every newspaper was the closest thing we had to a public forum. If you felt that your opinion was worth sharing, that’s where you went.
My first newspaper letter appeared in late 1969, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, as recounted in Some Way Outa Here. Years later, I became a regular contributor on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Letters page. It wasn’t so different from writing comments on a news site – there were even trolls who sent nasty letters by snail mail or left creepy phone messages. (When I wrote about gun control, I inevitably received anonymous death threats – always full of misspellings and tortured grammar.) Many fascinating discussions – in the paper and in person – grew out of those letters.
When a friend asked how I got published so much, I realized it was simple, but not obvious: All you needed was a single idea, an interesting way to present it, and well-tuned, clear writing. Easy, right?
Now we can publish pretty much anything, any time. Whether it’s Facebook or a blog or Yelp, you tell lots of people what you think. But beyond your Facebook friends, is anybody listening?
I think the answer is emphatically YES, and here’s why…
Sites like Yelp have a huge impact on businesses. The threat of negative reviews drives business decisions. One bad review can hurt – something that, sadly, competitors and trolls know and abuse. And good reviews get read and bring in customers.
Authors – or at least their books – live and die by reviews. They help a book become more visible: Amazon’s search engine promotes books that have lots of good reviews. If you read my book, or anyone’s book, I encourage you to write a review online. Even just a few words. Think about how much these reviews influence your choices about what to read or buy: you’re helping people like yourself make decisions about how to spend their time and money.
Since I published Some Way Outa Here, many readers have posted their literary criticism on Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook. It’s been gratifying to me, as an author, to see the kind words people have written about the book. And I’ve learned some amazing things about the era, the places and people that I wrote about.
Whether it’s an Amazon review, a Facebook post, a news article’s comments, or a blog like this one – share your thoughts. If you keep it simple, people will read it. A well written comment can influence someone else in ways you can’t imagine.