Friday, 14 October 2016

So, You Want To Review Books

A couple of friends have recently asked me how I became a book reviewer, and if I have any tips for folks who might be interested in starting their own reviewing blog or becoming an independent reviewer. So, I thought I’d post a little blog with some basic ideas and tips.

Top Tip: Read. Just read. Read a bunch of different authors from a bunch of different genres. Find books that spark something within you. Find books that intrigue you and interest you. Find books that set your imagination soaring. And then share them with the world…because really, that’s the beauty of what we do.

1. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to reading and reviewing work. This will help you shape what kind of review work you want to apply for. If you have more time, you may want to approach authors for beta reading or to help with editing. If you have less time, you may want to approach authors you already know and love to review published work.

I love editing and beta reading. It’s awesome to see a book constructed from its early phases to its shiny published stage. But I’m a full time student so I don’t always have time to properly offer the thoughtful and constructive criticism needed for beta reading so it’s not something I offer unless I’m genuinely sure I can dedicate the time and effort required for that kind of thing. There are also long stretches of time, usually during assessment periods at university, where I don’t have the time to review books regularly, so I can’t contract directly with publishers to review books weekly or even monthly because my schedule needs to be more flexible than that. Generally, I review books via third party services such as NetGalley or directly from the publishers or authors on a book by book basis.

2. Don’t be in it for the free books. It’s a great perk when it does happen. But guys, authors put a ton of work and effort into their books and if they’re asking you to review their book, they’re providing a product in exchange for a service. It’s not an excuse to get a free book before it’s published, and if you treat it like it is, authors will stop giving you their books. Most authors are awesome people and it’s a pretty amazing thing that they trust us with their work, so try not to take advantage of them. Likewise, most authors will be pretty unhappy if you just cold-contact them and ask for a free book. Well-established authors have a system for providing books for reviews, read their websites and

2.1 It may be a while before you’re at the stage where authors are willing to supply you with free books for reviews. It’s a great idea to start early by reviewing books you’ve already read or have an interest in. Basically, just don’t expect free books. Most authors have a very limited supply of advanced and free copies to give out for reviews and they tend to go to people with established sites, or who can prove a history of reviewing. So it’s likely, especially at the beginning, that most of the books you review will be books you’ve spent your own money on or have borrowed from a library or from a friend.

3. Start reviewing on bookseller sites and Goodreads and on your own blog. Most authors and publishers will require proof that you regularly review books, and some will require proof that you do so outside of sites such as Amazon or Goodreads. It doesn’t have to be an amazing professional site, most publishers just want to see that you’re actually producing reviews and that you’re not just signed up to review something to get a free book. They also will want to try to maximise the amount of potential readers who will see your reviews, so it’s a good idea to have your own blog to help spread the word.

4. Respect confidentiality. If an author has given you access to an advanced copy of a book, don’t share it with other people and definitely don’t publish it anywhere else. It’s not just really disrespectful behaviour but the author/reviewer community is pretty chatty and that kind of behaviour is super frowned upon and it’ll definitely get around to both authors and other reviewers. As a reviewer, you trade on your integrity and honesty and people need to know that they can trust your opinion, so not acting like a jerk is generally a good thing.

5. Follow reviewing rules. I personally don’t allow authors or publishers to put constraints on the opinions I put into my reviews. But I do respect specific requests such as not including copywrited graphics or quotes in reviews without permission. It’s also a really good practice to check those rules prior to agreeing to review a book, especially if they have timelines that need to be adhered to. Some publishers, particularly for advanced copies, will provide the book and then follow up later with guidelines or things they’d like to be included in reviews. It’s always a good practice to check those out, to make sure you can live with their requests, prior to agreeing to review the book.

6. Be honest. As harsh as this sounds, while you’re technically providing a service to authors and publishers, your job is not inherently to boost the sales or egos of the authors. It’s actually to provide readers with an honest opinion so that they can make informed decisions about their book purchases. I actually got into reviewing books because I was so sick of seeing fake or dishonest reviews on Amazon. I wanted to read reviews that I could trust. And your readers will want the same. And realistically, your readers need to trust that you’ll give them an honest opinion otherwise they won’t be your readers for long.

How you actually review is up to you, everyone as a unique voice and you should honour yours. But review with integrity. You’ll find that, as long as you’re not a jerk about it, authors and definitely readers will appreciate your honest approach.

7. Branch out. Try lots of new authors and styles. Approach different publishers and authors. Try different third party services (NetGalley and Above the Treeline are both great but there are plenty out there). Even speak to your local libraries, book clubs and bookstores. Sign up for pre-release and release-week blog-trails and cover reveals. Talk to other reviewers. Join readers and authors groups on Facebook and check author pages regularly. Get involved in the community and get your name out there. Establish yourself as a trustworthy, honest and engaging reviewer. Every little bit helps and if authors see you engaging and working hard and generally not being a jerk, chances are you’re going to find some success, and a whole lot of enjoyment, out of reviewing books.

8. Be realistic and compassionate. Don’t offer services you can’t provide and don’t accept a free book if you have no intention of reviewing it. I know a bunch of authors and they’re tremendously lovely, hardworking people. They put a whole lot of heart and soul and hard work into their books and that’s really something that should be appreciated and respected. And while reviewing books can be rewarding and great, chances are it’s not going to make you a million bucks within the first month of running your own blog. So be realistic about what you want to achieve, what you can provide and what you want to get out of it.

9. I do this for fun and because I love helping to promote amazing authors and the books they produce. So I can’t speak to the economic side of reviewing books, because I just don’t do it for the money. I’m also not particularly tech savvy so my blog isn’t designed to be a genuine website with tons of options. It’s just a space where I give honest reviews for the books and authors I love and it’s a space where people can share their thoughts and opinions.

My way works for me, but it may not work for you. So look around, talk to different people, ask questions and do your own research. You may find an approach that is completely different and infinitely more awesome than my own approach. Find your voice, find some books you love and then start sharing that with the world. 

Good Luck! And Happy Reading! 

If you have any tips or questions you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.

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