The Art of Reviewing pt. 1

Perception:

Sticks and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me. The man knows better. The phrase was created by those who, unable to avoid the power of words sought to minimize their effect by ignoring them. Words are quick and powerful, even to the dividing of bone and marrow. Now that’s more like it. Good words are incisive and cutting, having a lasting effect and imprinted on the soul. Words are powerful because life is Story.

And so the man sits, the faint glow of his computer’s screen emanating out into the room casting his shadow behind him. The man types words of power onto the screen, words that will be read, adored, and shared by many: a beacon unto the world, a light unto the darkness, a grain of knowledge amidst a beach of ignorance that will soon transform the world. With smug superiority, he glances over his work. It is good. He scrolls to the SUBMIT button and clicks it. He is the blogger and he has spoken.

Reality:

The Madman stands in the crowded street, the cacophony surrounding him almost completely drowning out his message. Millions have come to hawk their wares, their opinions, their funny pictures of cats, in this giant place. The Madman doesn’t understand. I’m on a soapbox. This should work. And so he shouts all the louder. He begins doing tricks to get the people’s attention. After a while, he’s completely exhausted but people are starting to look his way. There’s still a billion other people in this market but a tiny, small, infinitesimal fraction are now looking his way and listening to his message. LIFE IS STORY! LIFE IS STORY! LIFE IS STORY! Then the Madman would perform a trick and tell a Story before those few watching would nod pleasantly, perhaps laugh at the inanity of it all, and move on.

Commentary:

I often get asked how to begin book reviewing or how to write good book reviews. So, by popular demand, this is the first part of a series devoted to talking about the art of book reviewing. We begin by contrasting perception with reality. The first rule of book reviewing:

Thou shalt practice thy art.

Your blog is on the Internet. A billion people use the Internet. This does not mean a billion people will read your blog. When you first begin reviewing, you have to take into consideration a number of factors: unless you’re already famous you have a very small beginning readership and you probably aren’t very good at reviewing. One thing can fix both of these: practice. Nothing gets you more visitors than having great content, but having great content takes practice. I look back to reviews I wrote a year or more ago and I shudder (and then edit them).

 

Lucky for you, practice is easy and in the coming weeks I’m going to outline the steps I’ve taken over the course of my reviewing career to build it into what it is today. But to begin, seek out a nice blogging program. A number of publishers—especially Christian publishers—have begun social media campaigns to give out certain books to bloggers in exchange for reviews. I got my start through the programs ran by Thomas Nelson, Tyndale, and WaterBrook Press. Also, begin pulling books from your shelves or visit the library to get good books. The more you read, the more you review, the more you read reviews (subtle hint: check out the LIS Archives), the better a reviewer you’re going to be.

 

Now here’s another key. Don’t be impassioned for the free books (though they’re certainly a nice perk), be impassioned for the Stories they tell and the lives they’re meant to touch. Book reviewing is about giving—getting someone in connection with that one book that will alter their perceptions—not receiving.

 

So as you begin your journey as a reviewer, don’t worry about blog stats and don’t expect that authors and publishers will fawn over you. Be willing to put in the hard work; gain the experience, knowledge, and understanding; learn the craft of reviewing, the art of writing, and the business of publishing. Plod along and be patient. Learn from what you read. I’ve been doing this for a couple years now, and it’s only by having good mentors and contacts that I’ve made it this far. I took off running and have been stumbling forward ever since. Hopefully now I can pass along some of what I’ve learned.

 

Next week we’ll talk about actual review structure, tackling point one of the three-point review.

 

Do you have a blog for book reviewing? Share it in the comments below!

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Author: Josh Olds

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2 Comments

  1. I can testify as to your expertise, Josh. You don’t reveal too much. You state your opinions well. You cover the import of the stories. You’re a valuable reviewer.

    Although not exclusively, I review several novels–and very occasionally a non-fiction book–on my blog too. (hopeofglory.typepad.com)

    Looking forward to what you have to say about novels you don’t like.

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    • You’re too kind, Nicole. And by the way, I have your blog in Google Reader. Love your posts.

      Post a Reply

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