No one grows up saying “I want to be a book reviewer when I grow up!” Professional Reader isn’t a job like Veterinarian or Doctor or Pilot. We grew up having literature forced down our throats from the time we were first taught to read until we’re out of college, so we’ve all see the little blurbs on covers and introduction pages quoting some author or book-related group we’ve never heard of. Most of us never question these little snippets of opinions—we don’t wonder where they come from.
Two years ago, if you’d told me I’d someday be writing those little snippets of opinion, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. Professional Reader (which is a fancy way of saying Book Reviewer) is one of those jobs that we all know exists, but we never think about… like the people who manufacture toilets. Someone’s got to do it, but most of us have never met someone who does. Two years ago, I couldn’t even imagine how someone would become a Professional Reader. It was mysterious… unattainable. Two years ago, I barely read books.
Don’t get me wrong—I love literature. I always have. I’ve been writing and reading most of my life, and I’ve always enjoyed books, but somewhere between 18 and 30, life got complicated. It got busy. I didn’t have time to read. Before I knew it, years had passed and I hadn’t picked up a single book. That all changed a little over a year ago.
I was poking around YouTube when I stumbled across a book-club meeting that centered around Romance novels. I love Romance novels. Growing up, my mother always seemed to have a huge pile of Harlequin Romances stacked up beside her bed. My family had a cabin out in the woods that we spent weekends and summers at, and there was no phone, internet, or TV. So, we read. I have vivid memories of my mother sunbathing on the lake with her huge floppy straw hat and a book. When I was thirteen, my mother finally handed me one of her prized Romance novels and told me I was old enough to read them. I instantly fell in love… but Romance isn’t a genre most people are comfortable with sharing. Romance has this sense of taboo about it, and a lot of people think it’s straight out porn. A lot of people are embarrassed to read Romance, so when I stumbled across a group dedicated to reading Romance, I was floored. This—finally—was something I could really enjoy.
The group brought the passion of reading back into my life. It was so fun to finally be able to discuss my favorite literature with like-minded individuals. Reading became social to me for the first time in my life. I wasn’t just a bookworm, this was a community. Eventually, I wanted to share my opinions and reviews of the literature I’d read (and I began reading quite a bit), so I started blogging my reviews. This was the beginning of my life as a Professional Reader.
Professional Reader isn’t really a job. You can make money off it with ads or (heaven forbid) charging authors for your opinion, but for the most part, it’s a passion. Book reviewing is for those that truly love literature. It’s not just a hobby, and it is ridiculously easy to get into.
So you want to be a Professional Reader? All you have to do is read. Read and share your opinions. Now, I’ve made a bit of a list here of things you may want to consider, or know about as you venture into book reviewing. My opinion is of course, not the only opinion out there, but I learned a lot in the last year, and I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned.
- You’re going to need to share your opinion. I’d recommend having a blog. It’s a wonderful way of creating a community for yourself of readers, authors, and reviewers. You should also consider joining several book sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc where you can post your review opinions for other readers to find.
- Review everything you’ve read. Doesn’t matter if it’s a kid’s book you’re reading to your son or daughter, a book you picked up at the library, the store, etc. If you read it, review it. The more reviews you have, the more likely you are to get offers from authors and publishers to read their books.
- Authors and Publishers will approach you with Free books in exchange for honest reviews. Make sure they can contact you (which is another reason having a blog is a good idea. Make sure you have a contact page!) If you run out of books and don’t want to spend money, there are a TON of Free books floating around sites like Amazon daily. You can also sign up to review books at sites like NetGalley and StoryCartel. You don’t have to spend money to review books. Most people are thrilled to give you a free book in exchange for a review. Don’t be afraid to ask if you have to.
- Always be honest. It’s okay not to like a book. No one likes every book they’ve read, and authors generally understand that at least a percentage of their audience just isn’t going to like their work. It happens. It can be daunting to share a negative opinion, but don’t be afraid. Take the time to explain why a book didn’t work for you, and try your best not to be insulting about it. Understand that authors/publishers want to market their book. If you have a negative opinion, that’s great (negative opinions are just as important as positive opinions!) but if you want to avoid offending anyone, be polite about your negative opinions. It helps if you spin the negatives in such a way that it doesn’t inherently hurt the book or the author’s feelings. You can always make a suggestion for what sort of reader may enjoy the book more than you did, and even if you really hated a book, you can usually think of at least one positive quote to say about it.
- Have the ability to turn off your inner editor. There are times when it’s nearly impossible to get through a book unless you can turn off your inner editor. You should be able to look at a book, admit that it’s poorly written, and then enjoy the plotline and story while ignoring the typos. If you have a problem doing this, book reviewing isn’t going to be easy for you. We often get early drafts of stories that haven’t even been published yet, and there will be frequent errors. Find your inner Zen, and turn off the grammar Nazi for a little while.
- You’re going to need free time. It doesn’t take a lot. If you are an avid reader, you can probably finish a book a day (or every two days) without a problem (it takes me about two to four hours to read an average novel). Reading before bed is a great way to wind down! Take your book with you everywhere and read when you can find the time. Some Authors/Publishers will give you deadlines for posting a review because they want the review out before their book hits the shelves. If you can’t get through a book in a week, reviewing books probably isn’t for you.
- Take notes while you read, and promptly review a book as soon as you finish. Trust me on this. As a book reviewer, you will read a lot of books, and because of this, after a while your brain is trained to forget a book nearly as soon as it’s read to make space for the next one. Writing yourself notes as you read is a good way to remember points you want to bring up in your review and keep track of how you were feeling throughout the book. Reviewing quickly after you’ve finished helps to keep you from forgetting the plot and the character’s names.
- Keep track of books you’ve reviewed (I suggest making a list on your blog) not only is it handy for other readers to be able to skim through and find books they like, but it’ll also help authors/publishers see what kind of books you tend to enjoy (so they don’t waste time sending you requests for things you’ll hate), and it helps you remember which books you –don’t- need to re-read.
- Decide upon a post format and schedule, and then stick to it. It’ll keep you organized.
- Learn to entertain. Book reviewing can be an art form. If you want people to read your reviews, you’re going to need to write them in such a way that keeps people interested (it’s sort of like writing a novel!) You need to hook people into reading your review, and you need to make it clear, and engaging so they read it all the way through. This doesn’t mean you need to be rude, nasty, or over dramatic… but keep in mind that your review doesn’t do a bit of good if no one reads it.
- Use proper grammar and spell check. If you sound like a 16 year old sending a text message, or a YouTube troll, no one’s going to take your opinion seriously (and therefore no one’s going to request a review from you!)
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Book Reviewing isn’t for everyone either. It takes gumption. Sometimes authors will harass you and readers will argue with your opinion. There will be times when you’ll write a negative review and then hand it directly to the author—and that author will read it (and sometimes, e-mail you a response). It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you love literature as I do, you may really enjoy becoming a Professional Reader. There is nothing quite like losing yourself in another world for a few hours.