Monday, September 22, 2014

Break into Book Review Writing

In my recent post on How to Pitch a Book Review, I said the first step is to choose a book and the second step is to choose a publication to write for. Where to start? Many book review publications assign reviews, which means they already have a stable of reviewers. The book editor decides who will review what, then shoots an email to a reviewer asking, “Hey, would you like to review this new title?”

But how to nose your way into the stable? First of all, if you’re interested in writing reviews, you darn well ought to be reading them. And the review publications you read may well become the publications you write for … eventually. If you want to write for the New York Review of Books, you’ll need to work your way up.

Here are some accessible book review markets with a good reputation. All of these will consider pitches and would be a great place to start.

Make sure to read the submissions guidelines carefully before crafting your pitch, and you should already have a good idea of what a good book review is (and isn’t). Here are some rules of thumb.

  • Don’t review books by friends or colleagues (I’ll talk about this more in my next post)
  • Quote from the book’s content not the flap copy (flap copy or sell copy is the descriptive text on the back of the book or on the bookseller’s website)
  • Cover the book’s strengths as well as weaknesses (a pan is no fun for anyone and only displays the reviewer’s superiority)
  • Be respectful, not condescending
  • Stick within your area of expertise (I won’t review fiction or poetry, for example)
  • Read the book you’re reviewing (duh, right?). Cover to cover
  • Write a review, not a report. Don’t just summarize the book’s content. Respond to style, structure, effect, and contribution to the larger cultural conversation on the subject of the book you’re reviewing.

Here are a handful of publications accepting pitches from reviewers. If they like your work, you’ll be added to their stable of reviewers, where you can receive assignments, write and publish reviews, and gather clips for future use when pitching reviews to new publications.

Can you suggest other publications where a writer might break in with a first book review? Please mention them in the comments section, and I'll add them to the post. 

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