If, as I do, you enjoy reading so much that you read the labels on canned foods, why not, after you’ve read a book, try your hand at writing a book review and pick up an extra $50 or $100 a month? Writing a general book review doesn’t require any special expertise, only a good command of grammar and basic writing skills. Here’s how to go about it:
1.) Study up on how to write a book review. You can find many sites online that will tell you how. Generally, with a basic review, unlike a critical review where you analyze a book’s strengths or weaknesses and may be required to read other related texts, you need only provide enough information in a basic review to help the reader decide whether he or she wants to read the book. That information normally includes: 1.) a paragraph, usually the opening paragraph, that summarizes the story briefly without giving away the ending, 2.) a note or two about the author, 3.) one or two quotes from the book, 4.) a few lines about the characters and setting, and 5.) the reviewer’s opinion about the book. A book review should be fair and balanced.
2.) Choose the right publication(s) for your particular review and read a couple of their sample reviews. Study the guidelines; as with other writings, book reviews must fit a publication’s specific needs. Is the publication looking for general reviews or does it prefer critical or scholarly essay-type reviews? Does it prefer queries or submissions? Is it genre specific? Does it accept simultaneous submissions, year-round submissions? Does the publication pay reviewers in money or in contributor’s copies or small gifts? I make it a habit to only review for money; an exception is a Chicago magazine that I’ve written more than 20 book reviews for. They pay with gift certificates (for two) to some of Chicago’s finest restaurants. As I live near Chicago and am able to use the gift certificates, I continue to send them reviews.
3.) Align the type of review you intend to do with a publication that is unique to the field or idea your review will cover. A publication that explores disabilities would not likely want a review of a novel; likewise, a magazine on how to become a writer would not want a review of a travelogue (unless the travelogue also pertains to writing).
4.) Be sure to submit queries and manuscripts according to each publication’s specific guidelines.
5.) Build up a cache of regular publications you can contribute to while keeping an eye open for others.
6.) Sell the same review multiple times if possible. Unless you’ve sold a magazine all rights, you can sell the same review multiple times by simply trimming it down or plumping it up and/or giving it a different slant. I wrote a shorter review on a non-fiction book for a Chicago magazine, which requested no more than 300 words, by trimming the wordage on the original more lengthy review I’d done that sold to a lit magazine.
7.) A word of caution: If you decide to write for literary magazines or publishing houses, expect to report on books they choose for you, books that may or may not be up your alley. Too, be aware that often literary magazines send you two books instead of one, but pay you a reviewing fee for only one (typically $50). I feel that, in those cases, the amount of time expended doesn’t match the pay.
Here are some paying book review markets:
The Christian Science Monitor pays $150 for reviews on international and national news.
The Missouri Review pays $50 for reviews on fiction and non-fiction.
The Iowa Review pays $50 for assigned reviews by emerging writers.
The Writer pays $100 for reviews on the writing process.
The Malahat Review pays $30 (CAD) for fiction and non-fiction by Canadian authors.
Barbara Weddle has had articles, essays, and service pieces published in more than 250 publications, some of which appear in this article.