One of the keys to becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. If you’re not reading books, chances are your writing will not improve. And I don’t mean just reading books in your own genre, but all types of books, fiction and non-fiction. One of the ways you can facilitate increasing your reading is by becoming a book reviewer.
The task then becomes how to break into the book reviewing business. One way is by simply emailing a book section editor explaining your interest in becoming a reviewer, your specialty (genre), and some titles you’d like to review. Also, send some samples of your work. What if you have no samples? You can build a body of work by starting a blog and reviewing books on it, or if you’ve been a regular reviewer on Amazon you can use the reviews you’ve written there.
Another method is reading the publication or website you’re interested in querying to get a feel for what they’re looking for, if they’re looking for reviewers, or do they simply pick reviews from the wire. Many local papers use local reviewers, while others choose experts in certain fields, e.g. politics, national defense, law enforcement, etc. Also, if you know of someone who does write reviews, ask them to contact the editor on your behalf and then email the contact explaining your interest. Make sure you send follow up emails. And remember, depending on the publication or website, review editors may get hundreds of emails per day so be prepared for a long wait to receive an answer.
Temper your expectations. Don’t think the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, or other big city newspapers will hire a newbie. The point is to start somewhere and a get a handle on writing reviews. You can always work your way up to a more respected publication or website. And speaking of reviews, you’ll need to review pre-publication books. Once a title is released, chances are slim that a newspaper or site will review it. If it hasn’t been reviewed before the release date, the big sites aren’t going to be interested. A simple method to search for pre-pub books is to use the Amazon feature, “New Releases Coming Soon.”
If you are fortunate enough to break into book reviewing, it’s important to build a solid reputation. Always meet deadlines and get your review into the editor in time for editing. Don’t create conflicts by reviewing books by friends, or one in which you have a vested interest. If you establish your credibility as an expert in a particular field, chances are the editor will come to you with certain assignments he knows you can handle. When that happens, you’ve established solid footing and a dependable reputation.
I’ve been a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books for six years. Reviewers for the NYJB include bestselling and award-winning authors, journalists, experienced publishing executives, tenured academics, as well as highly experienced professionals across a number of disciplines and industries. I’m also a member of the National Book Critics Circle, which has nearly 600 member critics that honor outstanding writing and foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. I highly recommend becoming a book reviewer, it’s a new adventure and experience every time a new title arrives in the mail or on my Kindle. As an author, I recognize the importance of reviews and I strive to always be objective and honest in my assessment of my fellow author’s work.
John M. Wills