How Writing Reviews Can Help You Get Published
A Q&A with The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing author Mayra Calvani
Every year the space devoted to book reviews in magazines and newspapers seems to shrink while the number of books published explodes. More than ever, good reviewers are needed to perform the critically important task of spotlighting worthy books, thereby connecting writers to readers. While reviewing is rarely lucrative, it offers many benefits to writers, especially those seeking publication of their own books.
Published on LatinoLA: February 11, 2012
To learn more, read this month's Q&A with Mayra Calvani, author of the authoritative and comprehensive The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She's had over 300 stories, articles, interviews, and reviews published both online and in print, in publications such as The Writer, Writer's Journal, Acentos Review, Bloomsbury Review, Mosaic, and Multicultural Review, among many others.
A reviewer for more than a decade, she now offers numerous book reviewing workshops online. She also offers workshops on the art of picture book writing. She's represented by Mansion Street Literary and Savvy Literary. Visit her website at http://mayracalvani.com/
Q: How can published authors benefit from writing reviews?
A: If you're an author or your goal is to become one, the benefits of book reviewing are enormous:
You learn about the craft of writing because you get to identify both the weaknesses and strengths of a book. You learn what works and what doesn't, and eventually you become more apt in avoiding amateurish mistakes when you write your own books. You can do this because you're able to look at someone else's book objectively, something that it's hard to do with your own writing. In this sense, reviewing can make you a better writer and a better judge of literature. This comes very handy if you belong to a critique group or serve as judge at contests.
Your writing becomes easier and better. Reviewing is writing, after all, and the more you write, the better it gets. Reviewing helps to hone your skills as a word builder.
You become familiar with publishers and the type of books they publish. This is especially helpful if you review in the genre that you write in and if you're looking for places to submit your work.
You become familiar with agents and the type of books they like to represent. How do you know this? Most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgements page.
You develop an online presence, a platform. If you have an attractive blog where you post honest, intelligently written reviews, eventually you'll build a good reputation as a serious reviewer and readers, publishers, authors, and publicists will want to become your followers. Having lots of followers will instantly make you more attractive in the eyes of a publisher when you submit your book for consideration.
Q: Which newbie mistakes should aspiring reviewers avoid?
A: Giving away spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader's reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.
Using clich?®s. Stay away from clich?®s like "A real page-turner!" "Un-put-down-able!" It's a pity, but even big newspaper reviewers sometimes use these expressions. You see them on the back of paperbacks all the time.
Using the past tense. Be advised that the most commonly preferred tense when writing a review is the present. Past tense is okay in the evaluation if the reviewer uses first person.
Redundancies. Have a thesaurus handy and don't use the word 'book' a hundred times in your review. Replace it with novel, story, narrative, tale, etc. The same rule applies for adjectives you use in your review.
Q: Alternatively, what top 3 tips should fledging reviewers embrace?
A: Be honest. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you're doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony.
Be tactful. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There's no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, "This is a terrible novel!" say, "This book didn't work for me for the following reasons . . ."
Focus on the evaluation, not on the summary. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and a very short evaluation--or worse, completely leave it out. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, "I really liked this book" is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying. The blurb is the easy part. The evaluation is the hard part because it takes keen perception and articulation.
Q: Do Latino book reviewers face particular challenges or opportunities?
A: I don't think so. The same rules of review writing apply to Latinos. What I'd like to see are more Latino book bloggers writing reviews of Latino books. I don't see too many Latino review sites out there. It's a pity, because I think Latino literature could really profit from more exposure. I've come across several Latino entertainment online sites that don't even have book review sections.
Q: Other than your superb guide, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, what other resources do you recommend to folks who want to learn more about becoming book reviewers?
A: Thanks for your kind words about my book! Here are a few books related to book reviewing (there aren't many):
Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, by Gail Pool
Book reviewing, by Sylvia E. Kamerman
From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books, by Kathleen T. Horning
Then there's the National Book Critics Circle, http://bookcritics.org/
I also have a free e-book, Reviewers Talk about Their Craft, a series of interviews I conducted with about 25 reviewers (including Gail Pool), for people who join my mailing list at http://mayracalvani.com/.
And, of course, read reviews. Read different types of reviews both in print and online to get a feel of what a review should be like. Soon you'll be able to differentiate the well-written reviews from the mediocre, and you'll be able to decide the type of reviews you'd like to write.
Q: Do you have upcoming projects that my readers should have on their radar?
A: I have a nonfiction proposal (Latina Authors and Their Muses), a middle-grade novel, and a picture book manuscript doing the editor roundups.
As far as writing, I'm currently working on a YA novel, the first of a 4-book romance fantasy series--and no, it isn't about vampires, werewolves, angels, fairies, or witches. LOL. I'm incredibly excited about this novel and hope to finish it by the end of spring. Then I have to prepare the proposal. My goal is to sell the series based on the first book and outlines of the next three. It's an ambitious project, so we'll see what happens!
As far as workshops, I have two coming up at SavvyAuthors.com, one on reviewing and another one on writing picture books. More information can be found here:
I also offer these workshops individually. Details can be found on my website, http://mayracalvani.com
Excerpted from Latinidad?« ?® 2003 by Marcela Landres
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Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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