This week’s suggestion is both a way to make money and save money. When you review books for magazines, websites, or newspapers, you are often given free copies of the books. Even if you aren’t paid monetarily, reviewing books can be a great way to fund your reading habit. However, if you are lucky enough to get paid for your reviews you’ll get both free books and some money. You’ll be saving and making money at the same time.
There’s an idea out there that becoming a book reviewer is almost impossible. It’s not. It takes a lot of work and you have to be willing to market yourself, but it’s not impossible. It’s not that different from breaking into any other kind of writing.
If you’re going to be successful as a book reviewer, you have to have a few qualifications. You must be a good writer. You don’t have to be great, but you do have to have an engaging voice, be able to convey your thoughts coherently, and be able to construct grammatically correct sentences. You also have to love to read and read fast. You will likely have deadlines to meet and that means you may have to read books quickly. You also need to be willing to do a lot of unpaid work in the beginning to get your name known and build up your inventory of sample reviews. You need to be willing to learn. Every publication has their own style of review and you need to make your work fit their mold. You need to learn what makes a good review and write accordingly (there are style guides available online to help with this). Persistence is key, as well, because you’re trying to sell your work and open doors that may slam in your face.
So how do you get started if you want to review books? Here are some ideas.
Sign up at publisher’s sites: This won’t pay you any money, but some publishers give out books to “Joe Public” in exchange for a review on the publisher’s site. Books are usually given out on some sort of lottery system, so you might not get a book every time you sign up. Check out publishers’ websites to see if they’re looking for reviewers. While you won’t be paid in cash for these reviews, if you do them well you can use them as samples to get into higher paying gigs.
Start your own review site/blog: If you want to go your own way, you can start your own book review site or blog. You’ll have to aggressively market your site so that you get the attention of publishers. You’ll need a big audience to make publishers notice you and want to give you free books. You’ll also have to be a very good reviewer and have a unique voice or angle for your reviews. You’ll likely have to provide your own books for a while until you generate enough buzz to merit freebies.
Work for a small local paper or other local publications: Many small local papers don’t have book reviewers. Call yours and see if they’d be willing to take you on. You might have better success if you agree to review only local authors or books of local interest. You might not get to review something every week, but even if you only appear in print once a month it’s a chance to build up clips that you can show to other reviewing jobs. The paper might or might not pay you. If they don’t pay, you can ask if they’ll compensate you for the books you buy.
Work for a book review site: There are many book review websites out there already. Many are always looking for freelancers. They may assign you a book to read or you may get to choose your own. Some sites pay and others only give you free books. Again, this can be a good way to build up samples. A Google search will turn up many possible sites you can work for. Just try to check up on them first to make sure they will pay (if they promise that) and that you will be given proper credit for your work.
Freelance for magazines and newspapers: This is where the money is made. Once you’ve built up a reputation and you have some good samples to show off, you can freelance for big magazines and newspapers. Most magazines use freelancers for their book reviews, including mainstream magazines and “review” magazines like Publishers’ Weekly. They may not pay a lot individually, but if you get work with several magazines you can piece together a nice income. Big magazines and papers almost always supply the books, or have the publishers send them to you.
When you’re just starting out you’ll probably have to request the books from the publishers yourself, and you might not get every book that you ask for. However, the better known you become (or if you get hired by a large newspaper or magazine) books will come to you without you even asking. Publishers will send them to you in the hopes that you will review them. When you reach this point of being able to choose which books to review out of the stack on your desk, you have become a very successful book reviewer.