In a perfect world, here are my rules for writing book reviews:
- Read the book. (Sounds obvious, but not everybody does it.)
- And really read it. (No fair inventing my own book out of what I might rather be reading.)
- Think about it. (While doing dishes, soaking in the bath or riding the subway.)
- Read it again. (Let’s face it: I’m not always paying attention.)
- If I’m not excited by what I’ve read, choose something else and start over again (so far, this has only happened twice: either I make good choices initially, or I am easily excitable).
- Read some (ideally, all) of the author’s previously published works. (Useful for procrastinating the writing of the final review, even if I don’t make direct reference to this background reading in the body of the review.)
- Think some more. (While chopping vegetables, petting a cat, or folding laundry.)
- Take a break from reading. Instead, DON’T read. Meaning, don’t read any other reviews or critical works of the work under consideration. (If I agree, I will wonder why I’m bothering to write it all again and, if I don’t, the self-doubt will be crippling and I’ll have to begin again.)
- Write the review with an emphasis on what pulled me into the text, what worked for me as a reader. (What didn’t work for me might strike a chord for somebody else and that somebody else can write about that instead.)
- Set the review aside until I have forgotten the details of the book (sometimes this only takes a day: hey, there are a lot of books stuffed in my brain) and then re-read the review to see if the general impressions that remain of the book are those that I focused on in writing the review. If not, rinse and repeat.
In summary: read, think, write, be fair and try harder every time.
In an imperfect world, when a publication does not compensate accordingly, I sometimes have to compromise.
I’ve posted samples of original reviews of fiction (350 and 500 words) and non-fiction (350 words) here.
Please query before sending any materials; I am often over-booked.