How to be a Book Reviewer and Other Things to Consider

I love books.  As a writer, reading books is a livelihood.  It is a way to become inspired by other authors who are honing or have already honed their crafts.  I want to know what people think, create and escape to when they put a book together.  It is not just the stories they are telling.  The words.  The words are the most important part.

Without words, we would have no story, no way to express the tales that linger within our souls.  Words may be elegant.  They can be sharp.  Each word tied together can create something beautiful that may inspire or enlighten us.  Done right, it can even warm our hearts to love even greater.

As we move further into this age of technology, people are spending more time connecting with the internet than connecting with life.  Their eyes are constantly on their devices instead of absorbing the pages of books.  More and more people claim they are too busy to read books.  They read Facebook, Twitter and headlines, never clicking on the story to get further information.  The headlines, tweet or meme tell them whatever they need to know in a few words or less.  To them, that’s all they need to know everything.

In reality, this method is dumbing people down.  For instance, yesterday, when the Supreme Court of the United States released their opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al. the only thing people read was that the court sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop in their right to deny service due to their religious beliefs.  But that is not what the Court said.

If people took time to read the opinion, they would have found that SCOTUS believed that the baker’s rights were violated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The baker was accused of heinous things by the Commission.  They were hostile towards him and persecuted him because of his religious beliefs.  Instead of listening to both sides of the argument in a neutral manner to decide if it legal or illegal for a business to deny service to someone due to religious beliefs (a question that SCOTUS would have answered), the Commission chose to be hostile and punished the baker for his religious beliefs.

That, right there, is illegal under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  The decision on Monday addressed only what the Commission said and did to the baker.  They did not address whether it was legal or illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ persons.  That question became irrelevant when the Commission (the government entity) decided to persecute the baker for his religious beliefs.  No government can persecute or act hostile to anyone because of their religious beliefs.  In this case, that is what the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did.  If they had been neutral in their decision, SCOTUS would have discussed the question of whether businesses can discriminate against LGBTQ persons due to religious differences.  But because the Commission persecuted the baker, that violation of the First Amendment took precedence.

To sum it up: The Supreme Court did not say it was ok to discriminate against LGBTQ persons.  It was not part of the decision.

But the only way you would know that is if you read the opinion or got your news from someone who actually read the opinion.  It’s like flag burning.  Most Americans have no idea that burning the flag is perfectly LEGAL because it is protected as free speech…just like taking the knee during the national anthem is free speech, whether you like it or not.  They would know this if they did a quick Google search.

It disappoints me that people choose ignorance over truth.  They choose a meme over the real story, even if the meme is completely wrong.  They believe the meme!

But what disappoints me even more is that people don’t read books anymore, at least not like they used to.  There are so many people out there with so many stories to tell.  From the good to the bad to the ugly…stories connect us.  As we grow as human beings, reading books allows us to learn from others who are different from us (or just like us) so that we can better understand who they (or we) are.

The narrative does not belong to just one race anymore.  It belongs to all of us, including that dreamer crossing the border from Mexico into the United States.  That kid you bullied because they were transgender?  Even they have a tale to tell to you about themselves.  But you will never know if you don’t take the time to enlighten yourself.  You may find that you have more in common with them than you thought you did.

Pick up a book.  Learn.  Become enlightened.  Whatever answers you are looking for in life don’t always just happen to you.  Sometimes the answer can be found in someone else’s story…in their own words.

Are Book Reviews Dying?

Not only are we moving towards an age where people are not reading books, but we are also moving into a time where promoting books is a dying business.  While Amazon is taking over the market (books are actually their biggest seller), many booksellers are struggling.  But it’s not just the booksellers that are struggling.  The book reviewer is finding a shrinking marketplace to tell you about the book they read that you really should read too.

Very few newspapers give space for book reviews these days.  Even magazines give a short blurb about the book they probably got directly from the publisher.  But the funny thing is, depending on the paper, the more intelligent the publication, the more likely they have space for book reviews.

Now, ask yourself…how many intelligent publications are left?  Look to see if that media material you are reading has book reviews with 500 words or more.  If not, it’s not an intelligent publication.

During Book Expo America 2018, a panel of book reviewers discussed the industry as a whole.  Are book reviews dead?  Even moreso, is the livelihood of the book reviewer becoming non-existent?

First, when I went to this panel, I had no idea people were paid to write book reviews.  I generate income in a different way when I write book reviews.  Sure, I could see being a book reviewer was a realistic job back before the turn of the century.  But today?  We are lucky to find people that actually read books!  Getting kids, let alone adults, to read a book is a struggle for every parent and educator.  Even adults are finding it more difficult to find time to read books.  Where is Oprah’s Book Club when you need it?

At the panel, Christopher Carduff, the Books Editor from The Wall Street Journal spoke about how he was considered the White Rhino at WSJ.  When he leaves, book reviews in WSJ will disappear with him.  The people that read the book reviews and the weekend book section are the most intelligent readers of the WSJ.  They are also the ones that stay on the site the longest to read more articles.

When the WSJ writes a book review, they are looking for the jewels to share with their readers.  Believe it or not, finding those jewels are becoming harder to find as the book industry becomes watered down with so many stories from everyone wanting to be a writer (even if they can’t write).  Trust me, I’ve read my share of crap books and I had to ask myself just what in the world publishers were thinking asking me to read this crap.

When you read a review in the WSJ, they have sifted through a lot of shit just to find something that wasn’t a piece of shit to share with you.  Their reviews are thought provoking and written by a good writer.  Believe it or not, book reviewers are all writers.  Every good writer reads a lot of books.  Just look at Stephen King.  He writes and then he reads every single day…and he reads a lot of books.

The Book Reviewer aka The Writer

So if you are going to be an author who writes well, you need to read well.  You need to read a lot of books.  You need to learn from the masters, as well as the ones who are just horrible (in order to learn what not to do).  I also believe that you should share what you read.

They say blogging is becoming a dying art, but there are bloggers that miss it.  At least once a week, I see a blogger I love go on a rant about how they miss writing stories for their blog.  If you are a writer, don’t ever stop blogging.  Do not sacrifice to the whims of the world for a watered down version of yourself or your brand.  Keep writing.

There are people that still read book reviews.  It still remains to be one of the more popular sections of the Wall Street Journal both in print and online.  There are educators and bibliophiles that read book reviews.  There are highly intelligent people that read book reviews so that they can find their next great read.

As a book reviewer, it is our responsibility to find those gems out there to share with the world.  After all, it is the publisher/author looking for that opportunity to have their book reviewed and shared with the world.  They are looking for that sales push (aka free marketing).

Book reviews in the marketplace may be dying, but for those who have blogs and websites…keep reviewing.  It will make you into a better writer.  Read the classics and bestsellers, but also discover new voices.  They will all teach you how to be a better writer.

How to be a Book Reviewer

For those who want to start reviewing books, start by having 1) a blog or website where you can post reviews regularly, 2) an Instagram account and 3) a Twitter account.  Optional: Tumblr & Facebook.

The first one is self-explanatory, but keep in mind that if you want to be taken seriously as a book reviewer, you absolutely cannot write a short blurb about every book you read, unless you are doing a short summary promoting books like you will find on my PW Book Club page.  You can create a similar page, but make sure your actual site has complete reviews.

When you post a review, make sure to let the author and the publisher know about the review.  The easiest way to do that is to tweet it on Twitter.  Most authors and all publishers have Twitter accounts.  Add them to your tweet when you publicize the review.

On Instagram, take creative pictures of books you are reading, book hauls, bookstores, etc.  In other words, anything that promotes books.  Some book reviewers post a short review of the book they are reading on Instagram, encouraging people to click on the link in their bio for more.  [NOTE: Don’t do socks with books.  It was cute in the beginning, but now it is overdone and boring to publishers.]

For other social media accounts, I find that sharing books with friends on Facebook gets the most traction, because many of my friends read my blog and want book suggestions.  Tumblr is also very popular among the younger generation.

I also recommend posting a portion of your review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads (save time by linking your Amazon and Goodreads accounts).

How to Get Advanced Copies of Books

When you’ve built up a rather large amount of writing on your site, there are different ways to get review copies.  For newbies, I highly encourage you to post reviews on Amazon, but also make sure you create a public profile on Amazon [example] that allows authors and publishers the ability to contact you.

I’ve met many new authors this way and discovered some great books this way.

Also, for those starting out, get yourself to a Book Con.  Book Cons are designed for fans of books.  You can get advanced copies of books from many publishers for free.  If your blog has been around for a little longer and you’ve established yourself as a legitimate book reviewer, you can sign up for the Book Expo (which is strictly for those in the industry).  The Book Expo is generally more expensive, but they also include panels and MORE FREE advanced reader copies (aka galleys or ARCs).  You’ll have more access to what is expected to be the IT books of the year at the Expo.  It is also not as crazy as the Cons.

If you are at Book Expo level, you can also sign up for NetGalley.  You’ll get your ARCs delivered electronically through Kindle documents.  You will need to post your blog review to NetGalley, as well as on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a requirement to read ARCs from NetGalley.

If you are at Book Expo level, it is important that you develop relationships with the publishers.  Make sure you come equipped with business cards and a willingness to market your site verbally to the publishers.  I’ve developed great relationships with publishers over the years by marketing my site when I talk to them about my business plan in relation to promoting their books.

It is also very important to tag the publisher in your book review tweets.  They remember the review, especially if it is a very good one.  For instance, my most recent review was on Siri Daly’s cookbook. I tweeted the review to both Siri and her publisher.  At the Book Expo last Thursday, Siri was there signing her new cookbook.  I introduced myself and told her I reviewed her cookbook at Perfectionist Wannabe.  Both she and her publisher lit up, knowing exactly which review and which site I was referencing.  They both exclaimed how much they liked the review.

When you write reviews that are well received by both the author and the publisher, it helps in their decision making process on whether they will work with you in the future for future book reviews.  Those coveted titles you want to get your hands on before anyone else does…it helps if you have a good relationship with the publisher.

One publisher I love working with is Simon & Schuster.  They have created incredible opportunities for me as a writer to learn from their bestselling authors on how to write better and to just plain finish the damn novel!  They are usually the first to open up the door for me in both the writing and reviewing realm.

That is another reason why it is important to develop relationships with publishers, especially if you are writing a book.  They will help you develop as a writer by giving you the tools you need to learn how to become a better writer by learning from their best-selling authors on how to troubleshoot the writing process, develop techniques and inspire you to complete your novel.  For me, it also helps me in the decision making process on which publisher I want to work with to publish my book.  I look at each book they hand to me to review as a calling card of what their company can do in the editing, marketing, and talent handling processes.  To me, it’s not just a book to be reviewed, it’s an extension of who they are as a publishing company and whether I want to work with them in the future.

So if they hand me a lot of crap books to review, what does that say about the company?  Something to think about if you are looking to publish your novel.  I would prefer to work with a qualitative editor and publisher than just a company that will publish anything and everything.

There are other ways that book reviewers receive their advanced copies, but these are my ways that work very well for me.