Book Reviews

Book reviews come in all shapes, sizes, and venues, but they can provide very helpful feedback to writers. Certainly other writers should always make an effort to review what they read in some way; that’s just being a good literary citizen and is a way to “pay it forward.” But writers also want to hear from casual readers and professional reviewers.

First, a word about full reviews (as opposed to casual reviews). Although most newspapers have eliminated their book review pages, there are still a lot of print and online venues for book reviews. Several years ago, I joined the National Book Critics Circle because I was interested in staying on top of trends and markets. But, while I enjoy writing reviews, I’m a slow reader and writer, so I can’t produce a lot of reviews without stealing time from my fiction writing. As a result, I haven’t pursued all the opportunities that are out there for publishing reviews.

Still, over the last couple of years I’ve had several reviews published:

Inland by Téa Obreht, in New York Journal of Books

Growing Things by Paul Tremblay, in Washington Independent Review of Books

Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa in Washington Independent Review of Books

Eveningland by Michael Knight in Washington Independent Review of Books

Village by Stanley Crawfordin Washington Independent Review of Books

Refuge by Merilyn Simonds in New York Journal of Books

Then there are casual reviews. I like to keep track of the books I read on Goodreads. Some people keep a reading journal, which is nice, but the public nature of Goodreads provides information to other readers and authors that can be valuable. I don’t always write a review of the books I read, but I almost always provide a star rating, five for excellent books, one for terrible (or even zero stars, although those ratings don’t get included in the average). I might not comment about a book by a big-name author who has hundreds or thousands of ratings or reviews—my voice isn’t going to matter much in those cases—for a friend or an emerging writer, I usually do. It’s helpful to lesser-known writers to have more ratings/reviews on Goodreads. (Ahem. I’d love it if you’d dash over to Goodreads and leave a rating and/or review on any of my books, all of which are listed there.)

Reviews on Amazon.com require slightly more effort because a star rating isn’t enough. You have to write a sentence or two and give your review a title. Consequently, I usually only do this for emerging writers or friends and typically I copy the review I did on Goodreads and post it on Amazon. (And if I’ve blurbed the book in advance of publication, which I do sometimes, I might just post the blurb as if it were a review.) Amazon reviews are extremely helpful. The more reviews a book has, the more likely Amazon’s algorithms are to recommend it to other readers. (Apparently, you have to be an Amazon customer to post a review, but you don’t have to have bought the book you’re reviewing on Amazon.)

In a slightly different environment, there are reviews on blogs and social media. Lots of readers use their personal blogs as reading journals, posting reviews of varying lengths that their blog subscribers see. On my blog I do a single monthly post about my reading for the prior month, usually devoting a paragraph or two to each book. My blog posts also show up on my social media feeds, so my followers may see my commentary there. Then there are the more dedicated book bloggers who write longer reviews on their sites and may even do them on the basis of advance reader copies (ARCs) sent to them by the publishers or publicists. Book bloggers aren’t exactly professional reviewers, but they are unquestionably part of the publicity machine for books.

Reviews in general periodicals—newspapers, magazines, literary reviews. Book review space in newspapers is shrinking, so few books actually get reviewed there. These are often assigned reviews, so a writer usually can’t simply read a book, review it, and submit the piece for publication. (Having said that, I recently did just that, and two months later I’m waiting for the magazine to either accept or reject the review.) Reviews in the most prominent newspapers are highly sought after, but there are millions of publishers and publicists chasing that space on behalf of their writers.

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