Article by: Arvyn Cerézo Jul 7, 2020
With the boom of Goodreads and book blogging in the past few years, everyone became self-proclaimed book critics. But as much fun as it is writing about books, these platforms don’t let writers earn bucks on the side. But here’s the thing: You can use your book blogging skills to try writing a professional book review—trade book review—and make some quick cash. Trade reviews are published in established outlets like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times among others.
Want to know how to write a professional book review and start side hustling? Read on.
I’ve been reviewing for a couple of years now for some book review outlets. Although I only have a few years on my belt, I’ve learned enough to be able to share some basic tips. Here are some of them:
Get to Know the Best Reviewing Practices
There are a lot of book review publications out there, and their reviewing guidelines vary. If accepted as a reviewer for a publication, make sure to ask your editor about the best reviewing practices.
You can also read the publication’s published reviews to get the tone and the writing style to use.
Fine-Tune Your Language
Reviewing for trade publications requires a shift of language tone. Book critics, more or less, are unbiased, firm, and straightforward in writing their reviews.
In a book review blog, however, you can be more friendly and playful with your tone. You are also free to let your feelings out or even spill your guts in the book review.
Take a look at these examples:
Book blog: “I didn’t like this book, so I give it two stars. Not recommended!”
Trade book review: “While the mystery around the main character carries the story forward, the plot meanders a lot. Horror readers will be disappointed.”
As you might notice, the tone of trade book reviews are authoritative and matter-of-fact. You can also do the same by being objective in your approach.
Avoid Showing Uncertainty or Doubt
This is common in book blogging. While there’s nothing really wrong with letting your unfiltered thoughts flow in writing, this is not recommended in trade review writing.
Avoid using words like “I think,” “This might,” “This could” etc. to convey your convictions. Instead, use words that show firm opinions like “will” and “can.”
Here are some examples:
Book blog: “Well, not for me but I think this might interest fantasy readers.”
Trade book review: “Fast-paced and high-stakes, fantasy readers will keep turning pages.”
Don’t Copy Goodreads Descriptions
Don’t paraphrase them either. It will be very obvious, and you might be accused of plagiarism.
If you read the book, then rehash the plot from your mind. You can do so by writing important plot points from A to B and C to D. To avoid errors, fact check what you’re writing by consulting the book.
Be Mindful of What You Say
With book blogging, you can say whatever you want. It’s your opinion as a reader after all. But if you’re a professional book reviewer, you just can’t say a book is shitty without providing evidence.
Did it suck because it’s slow-paced? Are the characters one-dimensional? Is the book full of clichés? State it in your review and provide examples such as sample texts or passages.
Don’t Drop Spoilers
Most traditional review outlets don’t do this either. Why? It’s simply because readers click on your article to see whether they’ll like the book or not.
With book blogging, you can get away with adding a “Spoiler Alert” warning. And then, you can gush out how excited or exasperated you were by what happened to your favorite character.
However, that’s not a good practice in trade book reviews. Just write enough plot summaries that won’t disclose revelations (like a character dying).
Write in Third-Person Point of View
To sound objective, authoritative, and all-knowing in your reviews, write in third-person point of review.
Avoid using the “I” pronoun as much as possible.
Review Books You Only Like
I have some blogger friends who are required to write a review in exchange for the books they didn’t ask for but received. But what if they didn’t like the books at all?
If the book didn’t pique your interest in the first place, don’t review it. You run the risk of giving a negative review to a rather stellar book.
With professional book reviewing, you can pitch to editors only the books you like to read. You are not pressured to review books just because you received them for free.
Don’t Leave a Star Rating
Sure, this might be fun to do on Goodreads and in your book review blog. It can easily indicate your stand for a book.
However, this is not a standard practice in trade review publications. Instead, they have a different version of showing a book’s merit: the “starred reviews.” If part of the publication’s policy, you can leave a star on a book to indicate quality.
These are just some basic tips on how to write a professional book review. While guidelines and practices vary per publication, the tips above are generally applicable in trade review writing.
If you want to further sharpen your reviewing chops, you can also read these guidelines: How to Write a Book Review.