Tag Archives: Book Reviews

5 Tips for Writing Book Reviews as a Freelance Writer

By Elisabeth Kauffman

book

If you have a love for reading and enjoy expressing your opinions about the books you read, writing book reviews can be a great way to build your portfolio as a freelance writer. Here are 5 tips if you’re considering giving book reviews a try.

Try small local publications first.

You’re going to need a place to publish your reviews. Your local newspaper may be willing to print your review for you. If they don’t have a book review section, start one! Not every place you turn to will be ready to pay you for book reviews, but even without pay you’ll be adding by-lines to your portfolio, and will build professional relationships in the process. When you’ve exhausted those avenues then try Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace for places to publish your reviews.

Timeliness is important.

Make sure you stay current with the literary trends. Review books that have just been published or that are being released soon. In order for your review to have the greatest possible impact, make sure to publish it within 2 weeks to 2 months of a book’s release. If you wait too long, you’ll risk not having enough reader interest to make your review relevant. You can often write to the publisher to request an advance copy of a book if you let them know you are planning to review it.

Be thorough.

Read the entire book, don’t just skim it. This should go without saying, but some people like to cut corners. Don’t be that person. If you feel the need to skim, ask yourself why? There could be a reason you’re not enjoying the process.

Play to your strengths.

Romance, mystery, dark fantasy—pick a genre you enjoy and become an expert. There’s no reason you should limit yourself, but if you read all of Orson Scott Card’s Ender books as a child and love them dearly, there’s a chance you may enjoy sci-fi. Why not spend time reading and writing about the things you love? That said, be prepared not to love every book you review.

Honesty is the best policy.

If you loved the book, say so. If you didn’t love it, again, say so. Every writer wants a positive review, but if you read a book and you have a negative reaction, be forthright about it.  Your readers will appreciate your honest opinion in the long run. If you write a negative review back up your opinion with solid examples in the text. You’ll build credibility this way.

Review writing can be an enjoyable experience, or an overwhelming one. Set your boundaries and expectations clearly. Remember, your time is valuable. When people begin regularly soliciting your reviews, it may be time to consider raising your rates!

Elisabeth Kauffman is a freelance writer and editor in Connecticut. She blogs about writing and Young Adult fiction at Fairbetty’s World. When her nose is not in a book she likes hiking with her awesome dog, Tag.
 
 

Photo Credit: pear83

The iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean

This is a difficult post for me to write. Partly because I have to reveal to you that I’ve been duped, and partly because I prefer to ignore any and all things related to my ex-husband.

It’s also difficult to write because the story is not linear, and explaining to you what’s happened to me since I wrote my first book review on Suess’s Pieces last July won’t be simple. Please bear with me.

For several months now, I’ve suspected that my ex-husband was behind the drama leading to my open tirades against iUniverse here on my blog. Some of the communication I had with the authors requesting book reviews just didn’t sit right with me. And, although I couldn’t really prove it, I knew deep down I was being played. Used.

Without much in the way of evidence to call out my ex on his backhanded badgering, I pretty much just went off on iUniverse and the individual authors in order to vent my frustrations and try to discourage any further interaction with them.

Not that it worked.

Some of you probably thought I was taking it all a little too seriously, but in reality I wasn’t prepared to go public with my conspiracy theory. I offered little in the way of explanation for my outbursts. I figured it would have made me look like an insane ex-wife with a grudge to blame my ex for what was going on with all these authors. General venting on my blog was all I had.

Then by chance (or perhaps not by chance at all) a man I once knew left this comment on my April 18, 2012 blog post. A light bulb went off, and that was all it took for the rest of the pieces to begin to fall into place.

As I kept digging deeper for confirmation of my suspicions, I became more enraged with every telling morsel I found.

This is my story. This is my attempt to explain to you why a woman who has never even written a book would waste her time trying to encourage writers to become skeptics of the self-publishing world in general, but these companies in particular: iUniverse, AuthorHouse and AuthorSolutions. (AuthorSolutions is the company that owns iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford and xLibris, and it is connected to Hay House’s imprint, Balboa Press—the corporate incest is relevant. I think you’ll see why as you read on.)

How I Got Started Writing Book Reviews

A self-published author named Georgia Brock contacted me on Twitter in June 2011, asking if I did book reviews on my blog. It seemed a little odd to me—since I wasn’t a known reviewer—that a complete stranger would reach out to me for an evaluation of her book. But I figured self-published authors probably struggled a lot trying to get attention for their books, and my blog was relatively well-established.

I agreed to review Brock’s It Started on a Garden Tour if she provided a review copy, and I announced on my blog and on Twitter that I was planning to accept more titles. A couple of authors who were already online connections asked if I’d take on their works. Of course, I agreed. Those two or three authors are not in any way related to this tale.

Between July 3, 2011 and September 3, 2011, I wrote a total of five book reviews on Suess’s Pieces where the books were directly connected to AuthorSolutions and iUniverse.

  • It Started on a Garden Tour (AuthorHouse)
  • Just Another Eylsian Sidetrip (AuthorHouse)
  • The Velvet Thorn (iUniverse)
  • Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit (iUniverse)
  • What on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering (Balboa)

In August of 2011, I received an email from a social media publicist at AuthorSolutions. She explained to me that I had agreed to review one of her author’s titles, and asked me if I would be willing to look at another. I agreed and let her know that from then on she could just send me additional titles. No point in wasting time on formalities.

What Triggered My First Meltdown

About a week after I made this agreement with the social media publicist, I wrote “When Book Reviews Attack!” This veritable snarkfest of a post resulted from requests coming to me through various authors’ Twitter accounts and blog comments. They were getting out of line, in my opinion. So I spelled it all out for them, lest any other authors think about asking me for similar ridiculous favors.

That meant sending a retraction to the social media publicist I mentioned earlier. I needed to let her know I’d axed the free reviews on my blog. I thought I’d send her a quick message on Twitter.

Looking at her Twitter profile, I discovered a tweet she sent to my ex-husband in her timeline, and I stopped cold. I wasn’t in the habit of following him on Twitter, so it came as a surprise to me that they knew each other. I chalked it up to coincidence because the company hails from nearby Bloomington where he went to school. I did not care to look into it any further. My wont is to avoid my ex and any people I know to be connected to him. I unfollowed her, and things were relatively quiet for the next few months.

Divorce is Ugly

I suppose now is as good a time as any to fill you in on how I came to be happily divorced. I filed with the court on July 10, 2008 because I could no longer stand being in his company. But for several months prior to that, I’d been trying to work it out with him.

“Trying to work it out” included a few sessions with a counselor at the pretty, white, suburban church we’d been attending. Those sessions were all very much the same: me crying with a box of tissues by my side, the counselor asking soothing and non-accusing questions, and my ex-husband flapping on while his pants idiomatically ignited into white-hot flames.

The whole experience left me disillusioned with the idea of church and rather offended by that church in particular. Promises to “protect me” (whatever that meant) amounted to nothing more than the coddling of an unremorseful man.

At one point after I’d filed for divorce but before the 90-day waiting period was up, I remember telling my ex-husband that he couldn’t go to that pretty, white, suburban church anymore. Essentially I was saying that I was getting the church in the divorce. You know, the way some couples fight over who gets to keep the condo or the SUV.

I had no intention of ever going back to that church; I just couldn’t bear the thought of him using it as a social club for getting jobs and networking on Sunday mornings. I had my suspicions he was lying to me when he agreed, because the church was comprised of moneyed families and sucessful businessmen and women. And my ex-husband? Well, he was a public relations professional without a job.

Putting the Pieces Together

After a few months of pleasant blogging without the annoying pokes of iUniverse authors, two new authors started blipping on my radar. That’s how “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” came to be published on April 18, 2012.

The first author merely commented on an old post. I bristled at his unfounded comment, but didn’t become truly angry until a second iUniverse author engaged me on Twitter. People who self-promote the way she did—by baiting me with talk of something I’ve expressed interest in only to lead me to irrelevant, self-promotional crap—are what’s wrong with social media marketing, in my opinion. I took screen shots. I posted them. I swore.

At least five different people said to  me, “I knew you were passionate about this iUniverse thing, but I had no idea.”

In hindsight, I was terribly hard on the authors, even though part of me suspected they weren’t actually the ones leaving the comments and hitting me up on Twitter. It seemed more like the work of a hack publicist, not someone truly vested in sharing their life’s work with the world.

But I didn’t care, because if these authors weren’t directly responsible for the communications, they were indirectly responsible for not monitoring how their online reputation was being managed.

Five days passed before the fateful comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post was submitted on “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” When I saw it and saw the commenter’s unmistakable name, it only took a second for me to start connecting the dots. Four years ago, the commenter spoke in front of the congregation at that pretty, white, suburban church.

I have no idea what he spoke about anymore. Maybe it was an upcoming event or program. But it doesn’t matter now anyway. Seeing his comment on my blog, I no longer doubted that my ex-husband had been using me and my goodwill to get free book reviews for his clients. And the absurd requests—like the one asking me to take my picture with a book at the race track?—I think that was all him too.

What I Know vs. What I Think to Be True

There are some things I will never be able to prove. For instance, I don’t know that my ex was the one composing those comments and tweets*. I do know, however, that someone at AuthorSolutions left a comment for me under the name of Georgia Brock. Georgia Brock, you’ll recall, was the author of the first book ever reviewed on Suess’s Pieces.

I have Gmail. That means I have tons of space, killer search functions, and no reason to ever delete any of the emails I receive. That’s why I still have access to Disqus comment system notifications from 9 months ago.

disqus comment

You see, Disqus records the IP addresses of those leaving comments on my blog. That IP address can then be looked up easily online. This is what ip-lookup.net tells me about 206.53.252.80, the author of the comment in question:

ip lookup screenshot

If they’re writing comments for clients, might they also be Tweeting for their clients?

Also, do you remember the social media publicist who I discovered had tweeted to my ex-husband? That connection wasn’t a coincidence. I’ve since checked out the ex’s Twitter profile and confirmed that he works with her at AuthorSolutions.

AuthorSolutions’ Global Marketing Director? Well, looks like the pretty, white, suburban church has a rather effective Good Ol’ Boys club at work among the congregants. Based on his job title, I’m assuming he’s my ex’s current boss.

Considering that I went back to my maiden name after the divorce and considering that I had no meaningful  contact with the Global Marketing Director of AuthorSolutions while I attended the pretty, white, suburban church, I doubt he had any idea whose blog he was commenting on. If he did know who I was…well, I hope someone steals his favorite cufflinks or something.

My Self-Publishing Convictions

I still stand by all of my incessant rambling about the pitfalls of self-publishing and iUniverse in particular. Because even when you remove my ex-husband from the equation, I’ve read an overwhelming number of self-pubs that are lackluster, typo-ridden atrocities.

The one or two good self-published works I’ve read don’t convince me that self-publishing  companies are improving the industry; they just convince me that exceptionally capable authors occasionally succeed against all odds.

And remember: I say all of this not as someone with a dog in the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing fight, but as a reader. As one of the people everyone in the publishing industry is supposedly trying to win over.

I think too many authors who self-publish aren’t skeptical enough when it comes to shelling out their money. So in days to come I’ll be posting interviews with people who have used iUniverse and wanted to share their experiences.

Why am I singling out iUniverse if I think all self-pubs need to try harder? Well, not to sound like I’m eight years old…

But they started it.

iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions, Inc., a Bertram Capital-owned holding company.

*9/5/12 I do, however, know now that the Author Solutions publicity team did create Twitter accounts and post updates on behalf of their clients. This was verified by an anonymous employee.

Five Dances With Death

For the record, this is a free book review. I even paid for my copy of Five Dances myself. For an explanation of why I agreed to do another free book review after vowing not to do them ever again, read yesterday’s post, “Words are Yummy.”

five dances with deathFive Dances With Death: Dance One. Austin Briggs. 2011. Helvetic Press.

If stories of human sacrifice and Aztec magic are your thing, then I recommend Briggs’s work of historical fantasy, Five Dances With Deathwithout reservation. Go and buy it now. If you’re not necessarily into that sort of thing, you might want to reserve judgment until you’ve read the full review.

Five Dances tells the story of the protagonist, Angry Wasp, a warrior of a small Aztec nation searching for his kidnapped daughter while his people are being threatened by both the arrival of the Spanish and the stifling reign of Montezuma.

An integral part of the storytelling in Five Dances revolves around Wasp’s wife’s expertise in black magic. She teaches him to navigate the Void, leading to several out-of-body scenes in the book. If I’m honest, these scenes were difficult for my brain to process. Rather than take them for what they were and maintain my reading momentum, I’d get hung up on the allegory asking myself, “But what does it all mean?” And though it may well have been that way by design, I found it slightly discouraging. I felt a little lost at times—not a feeling I particularly enjoy as a reader.

That said, I was always relieved to return to the more straightforward narration, and I found the bits of action enthralling. Sacrificing humans to appease the gods? Cutting out their beating hearts? That’s some fascinating stuff, folks, and Briggs writes the blood and gore very well. Without being too over the top, his depictions made me wince as I imagined what it must have been like to have lived in that place at that time.

Which brings me to more praise for Briggs’ work. If you visit his website, he explains that he spent “10 years researching the history of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest.” I totally believe it. Five Dances illustrates a mastery of historical context.

(A quick aside: while I was gathering affiliate links to include in this post, I noticed one Amazon reviewer mentioned a glossary at the beginning of the book.  It would have been nice to know that before I started reading. The Kindle apparently skips forward beyond this section. So, Kindle owners? Turn back a few pages when you open the book. You’re welcome.)

A final word. If you know me at all, you know that I’m rather vocal about my loathing of self-published works. They are notoriously full of typos, sport atrocious cover designs and commonly lack substance. Not the case with Five Dances With Death. I mean, I did notice a typo, but it’s nice to be able to attribute that to inevitable human error rather than absolute carelessness for once. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to Dance Two.

Words are Yummy

readingIf you’ve never seen my Twitter bio, it reads thusly: Freelance copywriter sharing, selling, and sometimes eating her words since 2003.

People think I’m just being funny with that whole eating-my-words spiel, but I do mean it. And really, I don’t mind eating them every now and again. Just to prove it, I’m going to chew a few right now.

The Backstory

Remember that time I got myself all worked up into a book reviewer’s huff because a few authors—or perhaps the PR hacks they hired to manage their social media accounts (one can never be too sure these days)—had the nerve to keep asking me for special favors?

Well, my Crank-O-Meter™ went off the charts when that one lady asked me to take her self-published book about racing to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, snap a fan girl picture of myself with the book, and then follow up by posting said photo on Facebook in addition to reviewing her work.

Typing that out just now? I still can’t believe it.

Anyway, after that I basically told all authors—even the good ones who respect my time—that they could say goodbye to free book reviews on my blog. All because a few bad apples had spoiled the bunch.

Here’s where I start masticating.

Tomorrow I’m going to review a book.

For free.

I know, I know! But I have good reasons for making an exception this time. (The general policy still stands, however. Don’t press your luck people.)

What It Takes to Get a Free Book Review

So what did the author of tomorrow’s book do to merit a coveted free review on Suess’s Pieces? I’ll tell you.

  • He never asked me to read his book. I had been to his website and blog, decided odds were good that his book was totally worth the $.99 Kindle price, and read the book without being pitched by the author or a PR rep.
  • He did me a solid first. I asked him to help judge Writers’ Week entries last month, and he said yes.
  • He understands how the world works. I don’t get many cold calls these days, but I do get more than enough cold emails from people who want something for nothing. It’s refreshing to be approached by someone who actually took the time to read my content and engage in the conversations that take place here on my blog first. This is real online social engagement*—something a lot of authors and even a few self-proclaimed PR “gurus” just don’t seem to get.
  • He said thank you. When I finish Kindle books, I use the nifty little share button to Tweet my accomplishment. He saw that little announcement, Tweeted back, and followed up later with an email politely asking me whether I would consider reviewing his book, since I had already finished it. He thanked me for my time, no matter what my decision.

As I explained to Austin Briggs, author of Five Dances with Death, the book review fees I posted are really just bad book repellant. They’re designed to pay for my time reading books I might not otherwise pick up. Since I read his book for leisure, it seemed skeevy to charge him for the reading part ex post facto.

So all of this is just my terribly long-winded way of telling you that tomorrow I’m going to review his book, and he didn’t pay me to do it.

*I could write an entire novel about the shady, inconsiderate PR industry, but I won’t because The Bloggess seems to have covered that whole mess quite eloquently already.


Photo credit: Cjcj