Book Reviews: 3 Simple Ways Writers Can Start Reviewing Books

by Alicia Sparks on January 26, 2012

I wouldn’t say writing book reviews is a lucrative business, by any means (well, unless you’re employed by a major magazine or newspaper and book reviews are like, your job – which could totally happen).

However, they are great ways to get published, a chance to do two of your favorite things (reading and writing!), and fun!

1. Get a Platform

So, you’re writing a book review. Where will it go once you’ve written it? How will people read it?


  • Your blog. You can publish anything you want on your blog. Why not publish a well-written book review to drive traffic, gain experience, and build up some clips?
  • Others’ blogs. Maybe you write a blog for another company and ran across a book that fits the niche. Or, maybe you know of a blogger who’d be open to a guest post of your book review.
  • Newspapers. Does your local newspaper have an entertainment section for book reviews? Are you feeling frisky and want to give querying a bigger, national newspaper a shot?
  • Magazines. Consider local, state-, and nationwide magazines. Just keep in mind most magazines create their editorial calendars waaaaaaay in advance, so don’t query a magazine in October expecting to get published in November.
  • Journals. Literary journals are a bit lower key, so no one’s going to laugh if you’re not familiar with any – I promise. Try googling “literary journal book review” and see what strikes your fancy.

2. Get a Book

Writers get books to review in a variety of ways:

  • Buy the book. Starting out, some of you may have to go this route, especially if you’re trying to shop the review to a newspaper, magazine, or journal.
  • Get offered the book. Once you gain some visibility as a writer (especially if you own or manage a blog in the niche), publishing and media companies will begin contacting you about review the book. You might even get interview offers. This is how I land most of my books for reviews and interviews, including my review of Vanity Fair contributing editor Ned Zeman’s memoir, The Rules of the Tunnel: My Brief Period of Madness, and my interview with former White House physician, Dr. Connie Mariano regarding her memoir The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents.
  • Ask for the book. There’s no shame in it. When a book catches your eye, shoot an e-mail to the publishing or media company and ask for an advance copy for review. (Introduce yourself, of course, and let the recipient know when and where the review will be published.) This is how I got my copy of Karen Gravano’s memoir, Mob Daughter: The Mafia, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, and Me!, for an upcoming Celebrity Psychings review.

3. Write the Review

Check out some of these helpful sites for writing a book review:

Before you begin writing the review, remember to:

  • Give yourself plenty of time. It’s simple: Don’t start on your book review the night before you tell your readers or editor you’ll have it finished.
  • Be honest. You might think you feel one way about the book, but discover you feel quite another way after you start writing the review. GO WITH IT. If you fight against that feeling in an attempt to stick to your original plan all neat-and-tidy like, you risk presenting an artificial- and forced-sounding review.
  • Study book reviewers you admire. Read any book reviews that caught your eye lately? Perhaps one in the New York Times or Washington Post? Maybe one in a smaller literary journal or even favorite magazine’s monthly book review feature. Don’t be a copycat, by any means, but do figure out what it is about those reviews you like and make sure your review includes – or even makes better – those elements.
  • Consider alternative formats. You don’t have to actually write a book review. You could record one. Consider a video book review, or even a podcast.
  • Check out what others have to say about the book. Not only will it keep you from repeating the same ol’ same ol’, but reading (or listening to) what others have written (or said) about the book can give you a jumping off point, something you can challenge, or a point or two with which you can agree or disagree.

How about you, readers? Are any of you experienced with writing book reviews? Any tips or tricks you can offer?

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