When I first left librarianing to set off on a writing life, my friend Beth Jacks offered up a suggestion. I could write book reviews about southern books, on her fun website USADeepsouth. Great practice and a good way to read new, interesting books. I love the South, I love reading. I accepted her offer.
About this time, I heard writer Betty Hicks at a New School panel on Writing for Children in New York City. I love these evenings and always take away a gem from whoever is speaking. Betty Hicks mentioned writing reviews as a good excuse to read all the latest kids' books, a way to keep up with the industry. Now that I'd left my connection to kids and books (said job as a school librarian), this seemed like a perfect fit for me. I followed her advice and applied to review books for a Children's Literature website.
Then I discovered Crescent Blues and Jean Marie Ward, editor extraordinaire. Jean Marie would force me to think about verbs like I hadn't thought about them since Mrs. Effie Glassco's senior English class (that would be Cleveland, MS. HIGH SCHOOL senior English). Too many "wases" and she'd reject. And forget that contrary helping verb "has." Passive voice= sinful! So I learned to write tight reviews that were interesting to read or I would be dismissed from the job. Crescent Blues is no longer publishing book reviews but I learned a lot there.
Did I mention the job of book reviewing is no way to earn a living? Just free books, free exposure, and a terrific way to read and think.
Sometimes getting a foot into a book reviewing door can be elusive. I just missed a connection to my local newspaper when they changed Book editors. I've had other near misses, which shall remain nameless. I queried the Christian Science Monitor's editor a couple of times before she accepted one of my favorite new books. Greetings from Nowhere.
So, like most other writing gigs, persistance pays off. It also pays to make deadlines, write well, be honest, stick to your word count, and watch out for all those "to be" verbs! Thanks, Jean Marie.
What I've learned along the way about book reviewing:
1. Read the book, maybe more than once.
2. Sticky notes are your friend.
3. If you review a book by someone you know, or by a publisher/agent/ publicist you are courting, be honest or don't write the review.
4. Book reviews, other than the short evaluations for industry pubs, should be well written and worth reading, even fun/challenging/ eye-opening, just like any good writing.
5. A good review contains a sentence or two about the author, mention of the plot, something juicy about the characters/setting/ style- Is it humorous? laugh-out-loud funny? Snappy dialogue?
Final piece of advice- When the pile by your chair teeters precariously higher than the dog, you have too many books to read.