Friday, February 17, 2012

Use Book Reviews to Help Others

One of the ways that I broke into publishing on a consistent basis was writing book reviews. As more books are being published, there is an ever-increasing demand for book reviews. If you read books, then you can tap into this important area of publishing. You will help others and also gain visibility in the marketplace.

For a number of different publications, I wrote individual book reviews. Then one of these publications asked me to be their book review columnist. For this assignment, I wrote a series of book reviews for each issue of their magazine. I selected the books, received review of books from various publishers, then I wrote my reviews and sent them into the magazine on deadline to be published. Over several years, I held this role with this magazine until it came to an end. Then I became the book review columnist for another publication for another season.

Neither one of these magazines where I was a columnist are in print today. I learned a tremendous amount from my experience of writing those book review columns.

While I've gone on and written many other things including a number of books, I continue to write for magazines and continue to publish book reviews. One of the places where I write book reviews is in the customer review section of Amazon.

If you have purchased a book on Amazon, then you can write a customer review on any book. It does not matter whether you have purchased that book through Amazon or not because you can still write a review. For example, I read a number of books from my local public library. After reading the book, I write my review and post it on Amazon. It is a way you can support books through writing these customer reviews. They are not lengthy but at times, you may be among the few people who have reviewed a particular book.

When the Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, wrote Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America's Border, I read the book and wrote a Five Star review because I enjoyed the book and learned a great deal from it. When the President of the United States and Governor Brewer had a moment together at the Phoenix Airport, the story received a great deal of media attention. Many of the one star reviews on the page are people who don't like Governor Brewer—and it is fairly obvious to me that they did not read the book. The book continues to have a fairly good sales number on Amazon because of the controversy.

Consistently when I read books, I will write an Amazon review. I've written over 350 of these reviews. Here's some pointers for writing reviews:

1. Read the book. It seems like this aspect should be a given but people try to write reviews without reading the book.

2. Craft a good headline for your review. I suggest you create several words that draw the reader into reading your review.

3. Write a short summary of what the book is about. It doesn't have to be lengthy but needs to show you absorbed the contents of the book.

4. Pull a little quotation from the book and note the specific page where the quote appears in the book.

5. End with your recommendation about why someone should read this book.

As an example, I'm going to show you a review I wrote about journalist Todd Starnes' book, Dispatches from Bitter America, a Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories.

My review is located here. I began with a simple statement as the headline to show the reader what they would gain from this book: This Book Is Certain To Stir Conversation at the Dinner Table

In my opening paragraph, I tried to summarize the contents of the book: From the red, white and blue cover along with the overalls, Bible and gun, award-winning journalist Todd Starnes makes a clear statement of his conservative perspective. Get ready for an insider's glimpse at the current state of America in DISPATCHES FROM BITTER AMERICA.

With the next paragraph, I pulled a quotation that I found in the introduction about what motivated Starnes to write this book: I found the stories engaging and fascinating---yet carefully researched and documented (the final pages of end notes show the detailed research. In the introduction, Starnes gives this background as he sits in the Red Arrow Diner, "As I sipped on a cup of coffee, I was reminded of the lyrics from that great lee Greenwood song, "I'm Proud to Be an American."...And that's how I came up with the idea for this book. It's a collection of stories from my travels across this country--conversations I've had with regular folks who have deep concerns about the direction we are going as a nation." (Page 9) Also when I use a quotation it is a subtle way of validating that I'm not just throwing some review on Amazon. I read this book.

In the final paragraph, I summarize why the reader wants to read this book: The well-told stories are organized into sections: Dispatches from DC, Dispatches from the Fly-over States, Dispatches from the Schoolhouse and Dispatches from the Pew. Get this book and absorb every story. You can't help to be educated and entertained through DISPATCHES FROM BITTER AMERICA.

Whether you write books or magazine articles, whether you have been published a great deal or never, I encourage you to write book reviews. You will be a help to the authors and others who are looking for good books.

Book reviews are another proactive way you can be involved in the publishing community.

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2 Comment:

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Karen Lange Left a note...

Thanks for the tips, Terry. I agree, reviewers play an important part in the industry. I've written book reviews for a number of years and have learned much in the process. One perk I especially like is getting an early peek at a great book. Just read an ARC of Cathy Gohlke's newest historical; it was excellent.

Had to laugh at the timing of this post; I am actually on the lookout now for a review position that pays.

Have a great weekend!

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Karen, I appreciate your comment. I believe it will take some serious searching to find a review position that pays--especially with how some magazines have been treating book reviews. It is probably out there so I encourage you to persist and find it if that is what you want to write. Keep up the good work.


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