You read, you write, why not review? Book reviewing for beginners

By Erin Dorney

Are you looking to take your first step towards publishing opportunities? Love to read but can no longer afford trips to your local bookstore due to a tanking economy? For both beginning and established librarians, book reviewing comes to the rescue. Let's face it, chances are that we will be reading in our spare time anyway (what little of it we have) so why not get some free books out of it? Book reviewing is not new to the library profession. For ages we have been making collection development decisions based on book review publications like Booklist magazine, CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the like. However, librarians have the unique opportunity to both contribute to and benefit from such publications. In making day to day decisions about the library collection, we have to be objective. We have to consider a broad scope of materials and decide what will be best for our user base. When writing a book review, all of these things are taken into consideration.

So what is a book review, anyway? Basically, it is a brief recap of the title in question, covering major plot points without giving things away to future readers. Depending on which publication/organization you are reviewing for, they may ask for different things to be included, such as comparisons to other books on similar topics, style comparisons to previous works by the same author, suitability for public or academic library collections, etc. Reviews can run from a single paragraph around 250 words or may be unrestricted, allowing the reviewer to uncover even deeper contextual nuances. Most reviews include the book title, length, format (hardcover, paperback, electronic), ISBN, and price.

Most reviewer agreements follow the same typical procedure. First, you apply to become a reviewer for a particular publication, usually following instructions found on their website. Sending a writing sample is one requirement to keep in mind; if this is your first time reviewing, you may want to try writing a few practice reviews on your own using books in your personal collection. Sometimes, publications will accept other writing samples like blog posts, articles, or class papers. After reviewing your application to become a reviewer, the publisher will likely write back to tell you whether or not you have been accepted (based on your writing style and their availability of books to be reviewed). If you have been accepted, they will ask you to send them a list of subjects you are either qualified for or interested in reviewing. This can range from general topics like non-fiction, biographies, and sports, to more specific topics (if you are reviewing for a library-related journal) like web 2.0, electronic resources, or website usability. They will also ask for your mailing address, so they know where to send books for you to review.

After the publication knows about your interests and strengths, they will put you on their master list. When titles come in to be reviewed, they consult their list and send out books to the appropriate reviewers. When your book arrives in the mail, it will likely include information from the publisher as well as guidelines from the publication regarding your review. These guidelines (which are different for every publication), will go over style, word count, important things to include in your review, directions for submission and your deadline. Typically, you have about a month from the time you receive your book to submit your review and you are allowed to keep your copy of the review book as compensation for your time and work.

After your review is published (either in print or on the web), most publications will allow you to post your review
in your blog. Published reviews can also be listed in your resume as publications, and can be a nice lead into more involved articles for different publications. Once you are familiar with the process of pitching yourself, receiving an assignment, and meeting a deadline, you will be in a better position to seek out and complete bigger publishing projects. And in the meantime, you get to read some free books, hone your writing skills, and stay abreast of current publications of interest!

Some things to keep in mind are that every publication handles reviews in a different way, so pay close
attention to instructions. Also, if you see a book review section included in a publication you enjoy but don't see any information about becoming a reviewer, contact the publication editor. They will likely be able to shed some light on the process and point you in the right direction. Below are a few places you can learn about the book reviewing process for a number of different publications. Happy reviewing!

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Group: Get free advance copies of books just for writing a brief review
Historical Novels Review Online: Get complimentary historical novels in return for 150-300 word reviews
Library Journal: Receive galley book copies in return for 175-200 word reviews
Mini Book Expo for Bloggers: Claim, receive, and review free books on your personal or professional blog

Erin Dorney is the Outreach Librarian at Millersville University, the Pennsylvania Library Association sponsored
2009 ALA Emerging Leader, and a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University. She blogs at
Library Scenester.