Got Opinions? Love Books? You Can Become a Book Reviewer!
Whether your writing style is entertaining, informative, or insightful, you can learn the building blocks necessary for creating unique reviews, and become a desired book reviewer. Learn where to post your reviews to get more exposure. A well-respected publishing house stated I was one of their “favorite and most trusted” book reviewers. Here’s some of my secrets.
ARCS ARCs are Advance Review (or Reader) Copies. These are printed a few months prior to the release date, to allow reviewers time to read and write the book reviews. ARCs do not have final editing complete, so don’t comment on editing or formatting—it will be changed before the final release. Don’t quote any book passage in your review without prior permission—there’s no guarantee any specific quote will be in the final version of the book. Publishers and writers ask you to please refrain from selling ARCs. No one wants an early draft of their book circulating.
Etiquette Don’t give away any plot points—and try not to comment on storyline past third chapter. If you don’t like the book, it’s okay to say so, but mention what sort of reader MIGHT like the book. If you don’t keep your books, give them away rather than selling them—whether they are ARCs or retail, if they were given to you, you shouldn’t profit off of them—use this as an opportunity to be an influencer (library, church, friend, hospital, etc.). If you sell the book at a reduced price, it competes with retail sales, and early statistics are vitally important those first few months after release.
Choices You can choose to only write positive reviews. Positive reviewers have as their motto, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” If you decide to only state positive reviews, when you come across a book you do not like, you will need to decline reviewing it. Or write balanced reviews that include what you do not like about the books as well as what you like. These reviewers believe they are providing a service to readers so they should mention both the good and the bad. These reviews are similar to consumer reports. Some will decline to review books they can’t read all the way through, and they won’t finish reading a book they end up not liking. Find out from the one providing review copies if there is an obligation to review the book even if you didn’t care for the book.
What Reviewing is NOT Book reviews aren’t your reactions to the books you read. It’s not merely writing what you thought of the book. Readers of reviews don’t care as much about how you liked the book (unless they know of you), as much as they care if THEY will like the book. A book review is not a book report! Rather, you should introduce major characters, themes, the setting, and the broad outlines of the story without falling into a tedious retelling of the entire book.
The Role of the Reviewer The reviewer is an advocate for the reader. He or she provides the reader with enough information and analysis for the reader to make a buying decision. It is important to go beyond whether a book is good or bad, and be able to dissect the essentials AND the essence of the book for the potential readers.
Elements of a Review
Book Information At the top of the review include: author’s name, book title, retail price, publishing house, ISBN numbers, and date of publication. Book titles should be in italics.
Summary Early in your review, give the reader a basic sense of the content of the book free of commentary. For a fiction book, this means giving the basic premise for the plot and maybe introducing the main characters. For nonfiction, it means to give the general theme of the book and a summary of the topics covered.
Avoid giving a summary of the entire book. It’s a balancing act. You want to give the reader enough unbiased information to decide if the content is of interest or not, without giving away too much of the story line in fiction or too much detailed information in nonfiction. This should take 1-3 paragraphs.
Analysis and Critique This is where you evaluate the book according to your criteria. The notes you made while reading the book will come in handy. Focus on 3-4 things the author did well, and explain why you were impressed. If you found some things that fell short, mention them, and why you believe they didn’t deliver.
Recommendation This is usually the last paragraph. In it, you give your recommendation concerning the book. It can be an unqualified recommendation or a qualified one. An unqualified recommendation is one in which you state without reservation that the book is a “good read” (although that phrase has been somewhat overused) or that the book is not worth reading. Be sure your analysis backs up your opinion.
You can also give a qualified recommendation if you do not whole-heartedly endorse the book, but realize it has merit with at a specific target audience.
Ideas and Styles Perhaps your reviews will provide a comparison of the reviewed book’s style to another book title or author. Some reviewers enjoy making their book review style mirror the style of the book. This is a fun writing exercise that also captures the reader and gives them a taste for reading the book. Another option is to be your version of the Moral Police—it might be your calling and style to point out the reasons why a Christ-follower of Family-Friendly audience should avoid certain titles (in the flavor of Focus on the Family). Here’s an article I wrote about various book elements that will help you when you write up your review: HYPERLINK “http://digg.com/u1TVLH” http://digg.com/u1TVLH (April 2010 Issue of Christian Fiction Online Magazine).
Got Opinions? Love Books? is written by Kathy Carlton Willis, owner of the same named communications firm. Kathy and her team get jazzed shining the light on their clients and their Lord. Read her article, Are Book Reviews Profitable, at: http://digg.com/u1TVKr.