Steps on Becoming a Book Reviewer

By Sigita Kim


So you want to be a book reviewer. You love to read books and you think you can make some extra money by writing book reviews, or maybe you're an author who is a bit frustrated that you can't get reviews so you decide to start reviewing books yourself, or you think by writing reviews, you might get people interested in reading your books. Those are all great reasons to become a book reviewer, but how do you go about it, and what standards or guidelines do you need to follow?

Today fewer publishers are willing to pay for live book tours and few authors enjoy the hassles of 21st century air travel followed by impersonal hotel rooms. These days more and more authors and publishers are turning to online reviews, especially reviews published in the Amazon online community. Amazon has become so critical to book sales that publishers now send ARCs to ordinary people who are the most prolific and effective online reviewers. Authors allocate a hefty portion of their publishing budget to getting online book reviews.

Of far greater importance is the second step to be taken - expanding customer base to increase the value of the enterprise. Usually, this cannot be effectively done without first implementing the third step - that of changing enterprise' entire business model. In fact, book reviewers need to completely re-orient themselves, switching to an altogether different set of customers.

Finding Your Niche as a Reviewer At first, you might want to review any book you can to earn your credentials and become known as a book reviewer, but over time, you might decide you want to become an expert reviewer for certain types of books, such as romance novels or self-help. Several reviewers/bloggers exist who focus solely on one type of book. If you are already an author, you may want to review books similar to yours, whether they are mysteries, thrillers, or cookbooks. If you have certain credentials, such as being an archeologist, a history professor, or a licensed psychologist, you may want to focus on reviewing books in those fields. If you're a stay-at-home mom, you may want to review children's books or parenting books. And by all means, don't forget the self-published authors. Yes, you might like to read John Grisham's novels, but he probably doesn't need your book reviews to boost sales, so consider writing a review for a self-published author who just wrote his first thriller and is trying to get exposure. That way, you will both be doing each other a favor, promoting the book together through your review. Self-published authors can be extremely grateful for your help and then refer their friends to you so you can quickly build your credentials and clientele.

Third, after someone agrees to review your book, simply send the book. You do not need to send promotional material. Editors of print book review sections and managers of book stores will be concerned with the book's publicity plans. Most online reviewers are ordinary people who just want a good book. Do not write to the reviewer asking, "Where is my review?" Reviewers tend to have stacks of books on their coffee tables, all awaiting review. They may choose not to review a book if they realize they would have to write a negative review, especially if the book appears self-published or from a very small press.

About half a year ago, during a panel discussion by the New York Times book review staff, I had a more direct confirmation that this is how book reviewers operate. I was eager to ask a simple question - "if all review submissions were made anonymously, leaving no clue as to the identity of author or publisher, wouldn't an altogether different set of books be chosen for review?" My turn to ask the question never came, but I buttonholed two members of the panel as they mixed with the crowd. Each one answered in the affirmative, even suggesting that this might be a vastly superior way of doing things, and confiding that a recent novel by a household-name novelist would have never been reviewed under such selection policy. Interestingly, this is precisely how book reviewers used to work in the past. In early 1900s it was possible for a book anonymously published by its author to get some half dozen magazine reviews simply on the merit of its provocative ideas. (Far later, "What is Man?" proved to have been written by Mark Twain.) In the current book review climate, however, this would be inconceivable, reviews being an exclusive prerogative of publishing establishment, and having nothing whatsoever to do with book's quality and merit.

Some authors actually write reviews of their own books to respond to reviewers. They write comments on reviews to defend themselves. These efforts nearly always backfire. If the reviewer was wrong, others will jump in to make corrections. As an author, you would not make a favorable impression by attacking the reviewer (although it can be tempting to do so).




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