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How to Become a Reviewer - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
How to Become a Reviewer
This started out as the answer to a question, but I'm going to repost it separately because it's information I share frequently. The most effective way to get established as a reviewer goes like this, and it will work for books/music/products/whatever.

1) Of the books you buy for yourself, pick your favorites and review them. Submit those reviews anywhere that will take them; what matters at first is building publication credits, rather than making money. Whenever you get a review published, send a copy of it to the publisher (and author if you have their address) of that book; this is called a "tearsheet" (because before copy machines and internet, it involved tearing a page out of a magazine).  Note that tearsheets used to be customary; now they are not.  So if you send tearsheets, publishers and authors will love you, and give you oodles of books, and tell all their friends about you.

2) Once you have some published reviews, watch for regular reviewing gigs to open; then apply to them, including some of your tearsheets as an examples of your skill. The first one or few you get will probably be volunteer. However, many review markets provide you with free review copies to read.  This saves you money because you don't have to buy all your own books now.

If you can't find author contact info directly, watch for people on the "attending guests" list at conventions.  You just print off tearsheets of your reviews for anyone who's at a con you're attending, and catch them after a panel, signing, or other activity they're scheduled to do.  It's a way to make a lot of friends very quickly, because Feedback Is Candy.  This trick also works for publisher parties at conventions, but it's easier to find publisher contact info: theirs is usually printed inside the book.

3) At this point, you can send some tearsheets to a favorite publisher and say, "I am a reviewer with a column in (market name). You may have seen my reviews in other markets such as (list). I have enclosed some tearsheets so that you can see my work. Please add me to your list of reviewers. You can send catalogs or review copies to me at (address)."  If you want to get fancy, you can specify whether you want just final ("shelf") copies or will also review from Advance Reading Copies (ARCs), galleys, manuscript pages, electronic files, etc.  Some publishers also save their "seconds" (shelf copies with a bent cover or other minor flaw) as review copies rather than destroying them; this custom saves trees and is to be encouraged.

If you've made friends with authors, you can also ask them to put you on the list of people to whom their publisher will send copies of their new books coming out.  Most publishers have a publicity form for authors to fill out, and it has a space for "please send a review copy to these people."  This can add up to a nontrivial amount of free books, for which consideration you provide reviews and tearsheets. 

4) Now that you have some good publication credits built up, you can hunt seriously for paying markets. It's easier to break into those if you've written a goodly number of reviews already.  Most review markets pay modestly ($10-20/review is common) but if you already enjoy reading, this is a pretty good deal when you count the free books and the fact that reviews are short and only take half an hour or so to write.  Some review markets pay quite a lot more than that -- I've seen listings for $100 and up, though I've never managed to get into those markets.

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10 comments or Leave a comment
(Deleted comment)
ohari From: ohari Date: December 21st, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
What she said.
reileen From: reileen Date: December 21st, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for this!
jlundberg From: jlundberg Date: December 22nd, 2009 09:36 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a great primer, Elizabeth, and it's pretty much the way I became a reviewer myself.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 22nd, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad people are enjoying this piece.
From: ext_219436 Date: December 22nd, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)


I learn something new on the internet everyday. I had no idea about this. Thanks for the information.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 22nd, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks

I'm glad you found this so useful! Thanks for dropping by. You might enjoy some of the other stuff under my "how to" tag as well, or under "writing."
siege From: siege Date: December 23rd, 2009 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)
$10 or $20 is still "real" money.

I dunno about being a reviewer, though. Somewhere along the way my love of books has been taken over by my insistence on following social media every day, and catching up when I've missed some. Also a minimal budget and lack of titles and series I'm interested in. Not to mention then having to condense a book into a few paragraphs, when my nit-picking inner editor might want to grab the whole thing and shake a couple of revisions out of it just in case the plot had holes somewhere.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 23rd, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

*bow, flourish*

Happy to be of service!
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