Earlier this year, I wrote a detailed guide to Writing Book Reviews. You might not have read it. You might have thought it didn’t apply to you because, although you love to read and you love to write, you aren’t a book critic.
This morning, I want to share with you that you already are a book critic, whether you’ve ever written a book review or not. You have thoughts when you read a book—moments when you get some insight into something you’d never considered before or look at something in a new way. You have feelings when you read a book—emotions that bubble up as you immerse yourself in the story. You have opinions when you read a book—opinions as to whether the author accomplished what they set out to accomplish, or how well they were able to draw you into the world of their story and into the minds of their characters, or whether you would recommend the book to a friend.
Writing a book review is recommending a book to friends—your fellow readers—or doing them the favor of gently warning them away from the book.
You already have experience writing book reviews, in a way. Every one of us has written a book report in elementary school. We wrote papers about books in our high school and college English classes. Writing a book review isn’t all that different.
So I’ve convinced you that you can write book reviews, and I’ve given you a guide to Writing Book Reviews. Now I want to share with you five reasons you should be writing book reviews.
1. You’ll gain writing clips. Writing clips are things you’ve written that have been published, a portfolio of your work. They’re called clips because, back in the day, you physically clipped them out of the newspapers or magazines in which they’d been published. Today, your clips are usually in the form of links to the piece, posted on your website. Some of my first bylines were book reviews. As an emerging author, while I pursue getting my creative work published, most of my bylines are still book reviews. Thanks to book reviews, I had something to post on my sparse little website while I worked on getting some essays, stories, and poems published.
2. You’ll get free books. I don’t know about you, but I have a book buying problem. Guess what? If you review books, publishers will give you books for free! You can go online right now, go to NetGalley.com, and download a digital review copy of a book that hasn’t even been published yet. You can download the book to your Kindle, Nook, or Kobe reading device, to your iOS phone or tablet, to NetGalley‘s reading app, or even to your PC. You get the book in exchange for your promise to write a review of the book. If you fulfill that promise, you’ll soon be approved to download more highly anticipated books by big name authors. And if you like, once you have a few book review clips to showcase your work, you can email publicists and get paperback advance copies of books mailed to you.
3. You’ll gain a breadth of reading. When you read books to review, sure, you can stick to your preferred genre. But you can also branch out and try books you might never have purchased. They’re free, so what have you got to lose? If you absolutely hate it and can’t see spending hours of your life reading it, you can “DNF” it—mark it as “did not finish.” I don’t recommend doing this if you’ve been given a book in exchange for a review, however. It’s damaging to your reputation as a reviewer. Instead, finish the book and write a fair but honest review. But always be kind—as a writer, you know how much work goes into writing a book, and no matter what you think of the book overall, you can always find something to appreciate, and you can at least applaud the author’s effort. Reading outside your comfort zone may turn you on to a new genre or a new author, and you might learn something you can carry into your own writing. For example, I generally write literary, upmarket, or book club fiction. I don’t generally read horror. But after reading a couple of Stephen Graham Jones’s horror novels, I became fascinated with the tropes of that genre. I borrowed from the horror genre for my own novel, which isn’t a horror novel, but which I realized, after reading Jones, is subtly filled with monsters and ghosts.
4. It’s the next step in your writing career. A writer is a reader first, then becomes inspired to write in order to join the conversation. Writing book reviews can be the next step in your writing career. In addition to giving you writing clips, it gives you experience in so many ways. Not only does it give you practice writing, it sharpens your critical skills. It gives you the opportunity to read good books and to study what works in those books and what doesn’t work. It can be a huge part of your writing education if you let it. Reading books will make you a better writer. Writing book reviews will make you an even better writer.
5. You are a good literary citizen. Writing book reviews is a way of joining the literary community and becoming a good literary citizen. Someday soon, your book is going to be published, whether traditionally or by self-publication or a hybrid of the two. A publicist, whether it’s you or someone hired by you or your publisher, is going to work hard to spread the word and market your book. They are going to ask people to review your book. You can start earning good book karma now by reviewing the books of other writers. Caveat: Do not review the books of people you know or don’t know but admire, and when your book is coming out, don’t ask friends or family to review your book. Objectivity is an important part of being a good literary citizen.