Excerpted and expanded from the recently released 415-page book in Carolyn Howard-Johnson's multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically
Writing great professional reviews (as opposed to writing more casual reader reviews which I also cover as part of my newest how-to book for writers!) will probably entail tackling a slight learning curve. It isn't as steep, however, as the curves required when you switch genres from, say, experimental genres to literary or poetry. With a few basic guidelines, you can write reviews to be proud of for your blog or other online review entities. Different media outlets have different style guides.
Here is why you might choose writing reviews as a way to give your writing career a nudge (you can read that market if you want to!).
§ 1. Writing reviews is fun. It is, after all, writing. And it allows you to market by doing what you like to do.
§ 2. Writing reviews will help you network with all kinds of editors, authors, and others in the publishing industry who may be in a position to help you market your own books.
§ 3. Amazon and its links to your author's profile page are waiting for you! Each review you post there contributes to your exposure on the one place in the world where the most readers and writing professionals hang out.
§ 4. Your reviews lend to your credibility in the publishing world.
Here is a style guide similar to Midwest Book Review's guidelines for their reviewers:
- Your review should begin with metadata including:
- Publisher's address.
- Publisher's Web site address (if they have one).
- Publisher's e-mail address (if they have one).
- Retail price.
- Page count.
- Your name (that would be you as the
- To write an engaging review, consider:
- Including why you selected this particular book for review. Perhaps it relates to your work, hobby, avocation, a particular area of interest, your expertise, or just for fun.
- Adding how the author uses language and structure, illustrates his/her points, develops characters. Use brief quotations from the book to support your observations, opinions, and comments. When writing poetry reviews, include an excerpt from a poem that illustrates a point; when writing a review of a cookbook, include a recipe that appeals to you.
- Who the book is intended for. Address how well the material relates to that audience.
- What the author is trying to accomplish? Entertain, instruct, persuade, inform, train, teach, alarm?
- suggestions for the author to consider next time his or her work appears in print.
- Including a bit about the author's background, credentials, or other titles.
- Including relevant titles that might interest the readers of this book.
- To submit a review to journals, follow their formatting guidelines. Lacking those, type your reviews in single spaced paragraphs with double spacing between the paragraphs. The review can be a few paragraphs or a few pages—take as much space as you feel is necessary to say whatever you want to say, unless you are writing for a specific journal, blog, or review website. In that case, follow their suggested word count.
Above all, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down. The best reviews are those that you would like to listen to while driving along in your car or chatting with friends over lunch. I interpret this as meaning that this journal would prefer a casual tone rather than too much formality.
Here's one of the most important guidelines for authors who choose to review for the good of their careers. Do you remember what Flower, the skunk in Disney's Bambi said? "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." We'll just amend that to, "If you can't find anything nice to say, don't write a review."
If a book is badly written or not worthwhile, send the book back to the author with a polite explanation that you are not a match for this book rather than slash and burn. It will look a little like the rejection notices we authors must become accustomed to in the submission process. This doesn't mean you can't include some criticism. You should. Studies show that a review that is tempered by critique sells more books than rave reviews because they are viewed as more credible. Further, just as a critique group can make a difference in an author's technique, so can a critical comment from a reviewer.
Hint: If you plan to pursue reviewing for pay, I recommend you read Mayra Calvani and Anne Edwards' book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing or Magdalena Ball's The Art of Assessment. It turns out that some writers carve entire careers out of reviewing. And others manage to make enough money from it to support their poetry or fiction habits until they become rich and famous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community's Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly's list of "Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen" and was given her community's Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.