Having realized that you are a victim of readaholism, one solution is to go to a help group and be cured– another, far better, solution would be to become a professional book reviewer.
Book reviewing (as if you did not already know) involves giving a concise, informed, clear and truthful opinion about a book you have read. For that, if you play your cards right, you can have a steady stream of free books and perhaps a paycheck as well as the opportunity to gain exposure for your own writing and opinions. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to start as a book reviewer, here are some guidelines to becoming a published book critic.
This article is supported by the output of many informed advisors from around the world. For all original sources, see end.
First – the most common of the common sense wisdoms: read.
Obvious, it may be, but false it is not. Once you have the opportunity to pick and choose what you review: read widely in any genre you plan to focus on and be capable of charting, to some extent, the growth of that genre. The simplest way to do this is to start with the oldest classic of that type that you can find then move forward in jumps of about ten years stopping off at the ones that everyone seems to talk about. As you reach the modern day and hone in on the current most popular and critically acclaimed (or even just your personal favorite), work backwards along that writer’s career so you can really get a sense of their progression, find out who their influences are and move back to them. Apart from this, a general awareness of pertinent culture is a bonus as is knowledge of news related to your chosen genre and instances of your genre in other mediums. [This is suggested as a minimum, in the current culture of increasingly cross-referential productions, the more you know the more you can contribute]
Second – social networking is your ‘friend’
Twitter. Facebook. Google groups. Any medium through which people can update you on the inane and the insane, the mediocre and the massive – it is important that you are up to speed. You may argue that book reviews should occur without prejudice: to that I will respond that whether you stay up-to-date or not, you have no option to be unprejudiced, only uninformed.
Staying up to date will also allow you to write more interesting and relevant interpretations, to make connections with other current works and news and to show off your immersion in the industry – further, following on twitter the editor of a literary magazine may give you the opportunity to expose them to your work, a potential boon to your review-writing career.
Write on your laptop
Write on pads of paper
Write in the margins of the book you’re reading
Write while you eat breakfast
Write while you eat dinner
Write in the shower
Buy a new pad of paper because the last one was destroyed from writing in the shower
Some say that quality is better than quantity. This is certainly true when you are submitting a review for consideration or if (hallelujah) someone actually requests one. In fact in those situations, no matter the quality, someone will often require half of the quantity to be cut out. However, when you are not submitting a review you should write as much as you can, in as much detail as you can with as many connections as you can. If you decide to polish what you’ve written into something you send off – then start cutting it down. Obviously as time goes on this will become less and less necessary but never stop yourself from writing, as Cory Doctorow has said recently – Write even when the mood isn’t right. You can’t tell if what you’re writing is good or bad while you’re writing it.
Fourth- post on forums and Amazon
This gives you a great chance to practice and means that others are reading your reviews with minimal work from yourself. If you’re feeling particularly brave, find a forum that seems to be filled either with the most garrulous and self-important or the most angry members of the literary community. Post your review there and develop a thick skin – once you have sifted through the expletives and obviously irrelevant references to world war two you could receive some very astute criticism.
A more hospitable environment can be found in places like Helium http://writing.helium.com/how-to/3106-how-to-become-a-book-reviewer ). These sites provide the opportunity for your hard work to be rewarded with a per-review paycheck and are one of the thankfully many routes you can take to getting your reviews looked at seriously.
If you want something even less burdened with structure, you can start a Blog or even post video reviews on Youtube. If you are only interested in the free books and less in being paid for the review then magazines like RealSimple provide a great opportunity through their ‘user reviews’ programs to slip into a free and steady stream of literature that admittedly expects you to swim with a current of one book (fully read) and one review every two or three weeks – it’s up to you whether you think that is within your capability.
The following links are good places to look:
Fifth – don’t cut corners
You may have read in one of my earlier posts about the GettingBooksReviewed.com outrage. Some say that wildly misinterpreting a work or supporting an offensive work are the best ways to be reviled on every blog and forum from here to Timbuktu. An even better way is to be found fraudulently selling positive reviews to authors. You could go down this route for some quick cash – wouldn’t recommend it.
Sixth – To be positive or critical?
Some believe that, once you reach a certain stage in your career as a book reviewer you should not be reviewing books you dislike and that those who enjoy taking artist’s ‘down a peg’ are not good reviewers. Others argue that being negatively critical about the work, when warranted, is a responsibility to your audience. That said: none posit that Simon Cowelesque displays of intentional cattiness or outrageous criticism is a mark of good writing. In fact, the ‘others argue’ article gives an excellent argument for the criticism itself being criticized. While the position that you should focus on what you enjoy is understandable, a recent Times piece by Jacob Silverman, which despairs over the almost homogenizing effect of ceaselessly positive reviews, is pretty hard to refute conclusively.
Up to a point, whether you focus on positivity or an objective attitude is up to you, but you will be hard pressed to find support for a policy of unwavering negativity or positivity
PageTurners posts book reviews! If you are interested in submitting a review for our blog, contact our Blog admin (my own ‘umble self) at firstname.lastname@example.org while we cannot pay you or give away books for reviews it could be a great chance to have your writing publishing on a literary company’s website!
Helium site, admittedly probably a little biased in their own favor but a brief overview of what you can do with the bonus of linking to helium’s submissions page
A brief video tutorial from e-how, mostly supporting the ‘read widely’ attitude
A written tutorial, again from e-how, but with a slightly different perspective
An article on the benefits of being a reviewer particularly from a writer’s standpoint, also the source for ‘only review books you like’
Some more in depth tips on what it takes to be a reviewer for a publishing house
A ‘how to’ article focusing on book reviewing specifically as a way of saving and making money
Finally, someone who reviews for the love of the books sent to them