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Journalism

So You Want To Be A Book Reviewer Panel at Continuum 2018 A lot of you at Continuum missed out on an awesome discussion.

I promised a run down of Continuum and I realised I would have to do it bit by bit so here is the first panel on being a book reviewer.

So You Want To Be A Book Reviewer

I was joined by Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Stephanie O’Connell (better known as Figgy). Figgy writes for a rock and roll magazine and so her reviewing tends to be mostly within that genre of books though they are expanding a bit to take in other genres.

Elizabeth is an editor who has her own book review blog where she reviews science fiction and fantasy work.

Me, I was the journalist book reviewer. I have reviewed work on this blog, for the West Australian newspaper, for the Australian Women Writers project and more recently for Books & Publishing.

Thalia Kalkipsaskis was in the audience along with two other reviewing newbies. Despite only having three people at the panel, it was a wonderful panel. We got to have a very cosy informal chat.

Question 1: Does it help to have a literature degree?

It can but it is not necessary – it depends on who you write the reviews for and therefore what they need to discuss.

Question 2: How long do reviews have to be?

Not that long – 250 to 400 words but there are occasionally places that want you to do a more indepth critique of around 600 to 1000+ words.

Question 3: What do you put into a review? What do you leave out? 

Don’t put in any spoilers. Talk about themes, plotlines, the context in which the story is occurring, about what the protagonist may have to face. Talk about the things that leapt out to you and any inside jokes. Don’t talk about the endings or give away a lot of details that would be better off being revealed slowly to the reader. Try to figure out who would read each book and what sort of books are similar and therefore who would find it interesting to pick it up. Talk about how each book differs from other books in the same genre.

Question 4: How do you deal with books you don’t like?

If I don’t like them, I don’t review them unless I need to for a publication and in that case I send an honest review back and let the editor deal with it. Elizabeth has a reviewing policy on her website. Each book reviewer is different.

Question 5: How do you decide what books you will review?

It depends on the circumstances in which each book reviewer operates. For Figgy, it is determined by the magazine she is writing for though she has some leeway. I choose books I am interested in reading and sometimes I get requests. But often, I tell my publication editors what genres I am interested in and then they allocate books or send me a few to choose from. Elizabeth gets to choose since it is her own blog.

Question 6: What is payment like if you get paid?

The pay is usually from under $100 AUD to about $200 AUD for most reviews up to 400 odd words if you do get paid as a book reviewer but you also get to keep the book. If you are reviewing books for the fun of it, then you usually get to keep the book and that’s it.

Question 7: How do you start as a book reviewer especially if you don’t have a lot of money – how do you get people to send you new work to review?

You don’t need a lot of money to be a book reviewer.

1. You can review books you already own even if they are older especially if you are reviewing them for your own blog because it always helps authors if you promote their backlist. It encourages other people to go get copies of the author’s backlist and that, in Australia where we usually have small print runs, really helps authors show their publishers that they have a readership.

2. You can borrow books from the library. This does not hurt authors in Australia. It helps them. There is a scheme by which money is paid out to authors every few months based on how often people have borrowed their work from public libraries. So do not think that just because you have not bought it that you are taking money away from authors, you are actually not. And libraries often have a stack of books that are their most newly acquired books right near the front doors or the entrances to each level and collection.

3. You can get books online from NetGalley and online library collections. Libraries will email you and tell you how you can borrow the latest book as an ebook. Netgalley is very useful.

4. You can go to bookshops and keep an eye out for their launches and get signed copies of the latest books to review. Usually authors will be even more thrilled to meet a book reviewer in person and then also to be interviewed about their book if you want to go down that route.

Question 8: How do you deal with burnout?

Batch process the reading and writing so you have reviews up and ready to go if you are working with a blog and you can schedule reviews several months in advance. Set yourself an achievable goal where you may start out monthly rather than twice a week. Review only the books you want to review – don’t feel obligated to review everything and have a reviewing policy that states this.


Now I have a question for you.

I want to get back to doing more book reviews off my own bat. What I wanted to know was what format would you like them in? A blog post? A Youtube video? A Facebook Live video? An Instagram post?

Let me know in the comments what you would prefer.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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