- Caitlyn Lynch
So You Want To Be A Book Reviewer, Huh?
How do I get into reviewing books? (By which I mean, how do I get people to listen to me and respect my opinion? I can do the actual reviewing part.)
Someone asked me this question on my Tumblr blog. I think they may have mistakenly thought I am someone with, y'know, a following. Hah.
Even so, I did my best to answer the question, and figured that I should put it up here too, for anyone who's interested.
I think you just have to start doing it. I’ve only been reviewing books ‘professionally’ by which I mean reading books I didn’t pay for, by opting in to get ARCs (advance review copies) from authors since the beginning of the year, and I’m still building audience. Here’s what I’ve done so far:
I created a Trello board to keep myself organized. All books are sorted by the date their review is due - in some cases, that is release date, in some cases I have assigned an arbitrary one. You can see my board here. Trello is free to use and very handy to keep yourself organized for all sorts of tasks.
I joined a shit ton of author and reading groups on Facebook. In many of them, authors will post a Google Form asking you to fill it out to request for a free ARC. Then you review. BEWARE. I got Triple Princes this way and it was one of the worst piles of dogshit I’ve ever had to review.
Search Facebook Groups for ‘book’ ‘review’ ‘reader’ ‘author’ etc. There are literally hundreds, including genre-specific groups. So if you want to review YA, find some YA groups and start hanging around in there and offering to review for authors. You'll soon find yourself in demand and will probably be invited to join 'street teams' and 'review groups' which aren't even visible to the general public, where authors will offer you more free books than you could read in five lifetimes.
Goodreads has similar groups, but I admit I'm not as active on there. You may prefer it to Facebook. It's entirely up to you.
I post reviews on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Goodreads and Amazon as well as here on my own blog. (Friends and followers on all of the above are VERY welcome). This maximizes my social reach as far as I can possibly manage. If you use Instagram or Pinterest then you might want to use one of those, too.
Some friends are currently trying to talk me into doing a YouTube channel where I vidcast my reactions to some of the worst books I have to read, along with reading samples of the awful. I’m considering it :D (feedback and opinions would be good here…)
Once I’d done a few reviews to the best of my ability, I applied to join NetGalley, ReadingAlley, The Romance Reviews and Readers Favorite. These are the four ‘professional’ reviewing sites that I know of. Basically, authors put their books on the sites for review and then you request to review them. This gives you a lot more control over what you review, because you choose the book rather than saying yes or no when a book is offered to you. It's now my preferred way of picking up books to review.
I’ll give you a quick rundown of the four so that you know what to expect.
NetGalley is the ‘professional’s choice’. It probably has the highest average quality of books, which does NOT mean that you won’t pick up stinkers. It also has ‘big names’ - I’ve reviewed a Lois McMaster Bujold off there, and I requested to review one by Seanan McGuire but got knocked back. And that’s the downside with NetGalley; they can and do knock you back, especially in the early days of being a reviewer. You kind of have to start small with the little indie presses and work your way up. These days I probably get accepted for four out of five that I ask for.
ReadingAlley is largely populated by indie authors. You can actually get ‘paid’ for doing ReadingAlley reviews; you collect RA points which, when you have enough, you can exchange for Amazon gift cards or other good stuff. The quality of stuff you get on here can be a bit hit and miss and there isn’t a huge amount of choice. Like NetGalley, you request a book and the author/publisher decides whether you get it or not. That said, I have never, ever been turned down. (Yet.)
The Romance Reviews is pretty much what it says on the tin. You’re only going to get romance books. You ‘assign’ books to yourself to review; you get a limited quota. You have to pass a ‘review assessment’ to get in. They are quite picky and you are not permitted to post low-star reviews publicly; it’s considered ‘author feedback’ only. Quality; all over the place, from superb to poke-your-eyes-out awful.
Readers’ Favorite is by FAR the hardest site to get accepted for. You have to pass an reviewer's assessment written to their guidelines, and you aren’t allowed to post reviews below 4 stars publicly. Populated by indie authors, again the quality is WILDLY variable. HOWEVER. The one big positive for RF is that they pay you. Normally $1 per review but there are often Express reviews available which are worth $10 if you can complete within a couple of weeks. They pay out to PayPal once you’ve amassed $50 in credit. So yes, you really can get paid for reading books.
If you don’t want to get stuck with an awful book, do your research. If the book is already published, you can preview the first 10% of it on Amazon. That’ll give you a pretty fair idea of the quality of the writing. I also use Goodreads a lot because readers there tend to be a bit more honest; check out any low-star reviews for the book you are reading or other books by the author.
Review consistently. I read really, really fast and average 5-7 books a week. If that’s not you, that’s OK, but you need to be able to do at least 1-2 books per week. Consider teaming up with other friends maybe? You can always create a reviewer blog with a team of reviewers! (If you get popular, do ask me to join! :P)
Wow, I’ve ranted on a lot for such a short question... but I hope some of this has been useful info, for you or anyone else who’s considering becoming a reviewer. There are a lot of good articles out there on ‘how to write a book review’ (just Google) but you do need to develop your own style. I’ve gone for blatant, sometimes brutal, honesty. My Amazon page is actually called Brutally Honest Reviews, and I try to live by that code. Many reviewers state that they won’t publicly post 3* or lower reviews; I think that’s dishonest to potential buyers.
Good luck. If you’d like to post a guest review on my blog, do ask! The worst I can say is “no thanks, not this time” after all!
A few additional remarks
Reviewing on Amazon can be a little bit fraught. They have two categories, 'Verified' and 'Unverified'. Your review is only verified if you actually bought the book - this does include if you downloaded it when it was on offer for free on Amazon, but NOT books you borrow through Kindle Unlimited. If you received an ARC of the book or received it in some other way than from Amazon, you should include a disclaimer. You'll find one at the end of most of my reviews which looks something like this:
"Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley*."
* or whatever reviewing site I got it from
"Disclaimer: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the author."
Amazon's terms and conditions mean that it's illegal to give a book in exchange for a review, so NEVER have a disclaimer that says something like "I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review". You'll end up with your reviews getting deleted.
You can post a maximum of 5 Unverified book reviews per week to Amazon. Their week resets on Sundays. You can't use swear words in your reviews or they will be rejected.
When you set up your Amazon account, it's possible to edit your reviewer page to include contact details and give permission for authors to contact you. See mine for an example. I get at least a couple of emails a week from (brave) authors asking for a review. If you aren't as harsh as me when you get a crappy book, you may get more!
I will say that if authors approach me privately and ask for a review, and I think the book is bad, I usually email back with a critique and don't post the review publicly. I just give it a star rating on Goodreads to record that I've read it, and leave it at that.