Book reviews are essential for getting books noticed, and people who love books often decide to write book reviews, either as professionals or just by posting their opinions online. Getting started as a book reviewer is not difficult, although a few guidelines should be followed.
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?
Book Reviewer Qualifications
In this Internet age, anyone can be a book reviewer, but some basic qualifications are needed to become established as a reputable and reliable one. You don’t need a Ph.D. in English, you don’t have to be an expert in anything, and you don’t have to be an author. But you do need to have a good command of the English language and be able to express yourself well. You also want to have a professional attitude, be fair, and be thoughtful about how you express your opinion, not only reacting based upon your own preferences but also considering the book’s intended audience and what you think the majority opinion may be toward the book. In short, being balanced yet honest are key qualities for a successful book reviewer.
People get started reviewing books in numerous ways. Many authors begin by swapping books and writing reviews for each other as a way of mutually supporting their fellow authors. You might want to begin by writing reviews and posting them at Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s websites, or any of the reader/book lover sites such as LibraryThing. You might even decide to set up your own blog or website where you can post your book reviews. Today, many bloggers are their own independent book reviewers. If you don’t want to run your own blog, you might connect with bloggers to be their guest book reviewer. Don’t overlook the possibilities of reviewing online or in print—potential homes for your book reviews are endless.
If you really want to learn the ropes of book reviewing, you may want to start out by writing reviews for an established book review service or publication. While print publications are phasing out book reviews, many magazines and newspapers still carry reviews. Some of these publications have an established book reviewer or book review team while others solicit reviews. Send a query to the publication and ask whether it would be interested in a review of a specific book, or whether you can write reviews for them—many of them receive books in the mail that they might be willing to send you. Online review services, including Reader Views, Review the Book, and Feathered Quill Reviews also have book review teams. Many of these services are set up so readers can choose the books they want to review. Some of these services offer monetary compensation for reviewing books while others offer only a copy of the book to be reviewed as compensation. In either case, it’s a great way to get started earning your book reviewer credentials.
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.
Reviewing for Money
When you start out being a reviewer, you probably want to review some books for free just to get your name out there and build up your credentials. You might offer your services to the members of an authors association and give a special low price for a review. Many authors are not going to pay $50, much less $600 for a book review (yes, there are reviewers who charge $600), but they might be willing to give you a copy of their book and $25. As you become known and increase your credentials, you can always charge more. Don’t be embarrassed about charging to write reviews. You are committing your time to reading the book, and it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to more than twenty to read a book, not to mention the time you spend writing the review and preparing it for publication, whether online or in print.
Good and Bad Reviews
Be prepared that if you decide to write negative reviews, some authors and readers will be angry. If you are charging for a review, you may especially have problems here. You will need to decide whether you will only write reviews of books you like, or be honest regardless of whether you like the book. You should always be ethical and not write good reviews just for the money—readers who find you have praised a book that is poorly written will quickly quit reading your reviews. Be upfront with authors and let them know you will be honest in your opinions. You might establish a policy that if you can’t give three stars or higher in a review, you’ll still write the review but not publish it, and that the author can consider the review as an evaluation with pointers for making the book better. You’re bound to have someone not like a review you wrote, but while reviewers should be professional in what they say, reviews are also subjective and understood to be based in personal opinion.
Let the Book Reviewing Begin
I hope these few tips will help you get started on your career as a book reviewer. You will find that book reviewing can be time-consuming, but it can also be enjoyable and enlightening; you will probably become much more knowledgeable about topics that interest you while your horizons expand as you read new books you otherwise never would have experienced. Books can change the world, and by helping readers select the best books to read, you are doing your part to make the world a better place.
Irene Watson is the founder of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.