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The Writer as Reviewer; The Writer Reviewed

Sunoasis continues its long climb up to respectability. I was contacted by a publicist for the Carnegie Mellon University Press asking if I would review two new books of fiction they are publishing. If Sunoasis has that much credibility with a decent university I couldn't say anything but yes.

Some of those reviews are here if you're interested.

Reviewing is both an intelligent act and one useful in the marketing side of the writing business. The writer is a reviewer but there comes a time when she wants to be reviewed.

The reviewers job is simply to experience the work as best she can and then write honestly about what "comes up." Do that fairly, honestly, with intelligence, and you can be a decent reviewer.

Reviewing often has a reputation as being a slightly corrupt enterprise, especially in old literary cultures like Great Britain.

But in America, where everyone is slightly naive and democratic, the reviews tend to be earnest and sincere. In America the attitude is, "will this book make me do what I want to do better?"

There is hardly any opinion about the literary merits of a book.

Just as in writing the admonition is to read and read more, so too with reviewing it is necessary to read that which fascinates you and then go review books written on subjects that fascinate.

Editors run reviews because they see it as part of the journalistic function to separate the wheat from the chaff. The editor also knows that people hate making decisions and want other people to do it for them.

According to Scott Pack, writing in the Bookseller, "Book reviews should inspire reading. They should excite, stimulate, agitate and empower readers to discover new books and avoid bad ones. They should turn you on to undiscovered authors, prompt you into finally reading the writer you have never quite got round to, and make you wonder at the world of delights that remain unread."

Who needs book reviews? How about academics, students, consumers, people who read for pleasure, parents, professionals in technical arenas, and certainly librarians.

First law of the reviewer: "Trust the tale not the tale-teller."

Book reviewing is one of the keystones that holds the literary system together. It necessitates a kind of rare honesty. After reading a reviewer do a hatchet job on some poor guy's work you think more about what is wrong with the reviewer than with the work under review.

>>>>>>>Y e a h,  b u t   i s n ' t   b o o k   r e v i e w i n g   d e a d?<<<<<

In the past reviewers have made a decent living in large-circulation publications such as newspapers and magazines. As with many other aspects of the literary system it is being challenged by the internet.

"Book criticism is an increasingly endangered beat in a chain-dominated newspaper industry," says Kevin Berger of Slate. "Its pleasures are too quirky and cerebral to fit newspapers' marketing formulas."

Reviewing, in my opinion, is a professional obligation. Poets should review poets, novelists should review novelists, journalists should review books that journalists write. Lawyers should review books written by lawyers, school superintendents should review books by school superintendents and down the line.

In doing so the professional or knowledgeable amateur undercuts the vapid press release put out by pure marketing types that undermines the credibility of language. Book reviews build up a credible foundation that is useful to many types of people.

We all know the internet is a great catalyst for change. It has two large impacts on book reviewing. One is the tsunami of information that people can tap into and get substantial opinions about books, beliefs, ballet and everything else. Why one opinion about a book? Why not a dozen from both known and obscure sources?

And people chat on the beast. They discuss and recommend. If you are in a community of chatters a recommendation can sometimes be more potent than a review.

Damian Horner, a freelance marketing consultant, has termed it a new "recommendation model." He points out the arrival of focus groups, bloggers, and reading groups coming in to play a role in the new reviewing game.

Look no further than that strange, awesome beast Amazon.com, which quickly seized on the advantages of the Net by allowing readers to post reviews of books. This practice has had its share of scandals. And as a guy who buys books from Amazon I can attest to how powerful a real good or a real bad review plays on the decision to buy. Reviews are now the property of all the communities on the internet and go far beyond specific publications.

Reviews are not going away.

Resources to consult:
Reviews of Books runs original reviews and links to reviews of specific books from other review sites.
This is an extensive resource into publications that review books. I recommend it!

>>>>>>>> T h e    W r i t e r   -  R e v i e w e d<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Despite changes don't write off the review game as irrelevant. There are plenty of powerful publications that wield clout with their readers that include books-buyers from Barnes and Noble, Borders and libraries.

A quintessential goal for the writer is to get her book reviewed!

A review will vault your book over thousands of others that go unreviewed. It is a central part of the marketing plan.

I have proven that an editor of a small publication is open to reviewing books close to the editorial intent of the publication.

The book-review game can be complicated. Here are some tips on building your odds of success in this area. I'm not the expert but I have consulted a few. They are credited at the end.

S o m e  E a s y   T i p s   F r o m   T h o s e   W h o   K n o w
  • Start early. Put it on the planning list. If you have an in- house publicist make sure you stay on top of where she is trying to get the book reviewed. Start thinking about reviewers six-months before the book is published.
  • Develop a solid list of reviewers and especially look to see if your book has a unique audience and connect to all publications that share that audience.
  • Don't stop looking for reviewers. Keep assuming that your work hasn't found all its potential audience.
  • Don't limit yourself to the traditional print-review sources. Consider radio and television shows and Internet review sites with their more flexible lead times.
  • You can't force anything. Think small, think niche.
  • Include all personal information plus the publication date for the book in a cover letter or as part of a media kit.
  • Get any decent comments from the advance copy reviews? Use them in all other post-pub reviews.
  • Request a clipping of the review from the reviewer.
  • Don't send a reviewer a shabby copy. Get the production value to, at least, normal standards for the book industry.
  • Make sure your book fits the format norms for the market segment. For example, most general fiction reviews are for hard cover only. So, if you have a trade paper original it may hamper your ability to be reviewed.

"The Book-Review Game" by Bharti Kirchner in Writer Magazine, October, 2005.
"The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" by Tom and Marilyn Ross Writer's Digest Book, pp. 225-228

         [ CODA ]

David Sexton, in The Evening Standard (U.K.), makes the point that, "in private life, nobody sane reads all books through."

According to Sexton, when Dr. Samuel Johnson was given a book to read by a clergyman he is alleged to have said, "A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?"

The book reviewer has the obligation, however, to do the deed on behalf of the reading public who remain short on time and/or money.

So obey the simple rule of Evelyn Waugh and never review a book you didn't actually read!

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Directory of Review Sources
Literary Market Place: Lists everything you need.
Library Journal
School Library Journal
Publisher's Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
New York Times
Small Press Review

If you have any questions about careers in freelance writing don't hesitate to ask!

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David Eide
Copyright 2000-2005


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David Eide
copyright 2000-2005