There are so many reasons for becoming a reviewer, but for writers it's almost mandatory. While you probably won’t make a fortune writing reviews, you can earn reasonable money doing it, it is an excellent way to hone your writing skills, increase your understanding of what makes for good writing if you are that way inclined, it adds depth to your own pleasure to evaluate what you would be reading, listening to or using anyway, and you can get a whole raft of high quality review copies including autographed first editions, galleys, pre-publication releases, and promotional material. In addition, it is both enjoyable and valuable from a publicity point of view to have an impact on the choices other people make. In other words, if you’re a top reviewer, you will be the ‘go-to’ resource for information on what is and what isn’t worth buying, and therefore gain credibility and visibility for your other projects.
There are some qualities which differentiate a good reviewer from a not so good one. The following qualities are the key to being a good reviewer.
- Do you have the ability to follow through? This is critical. If you agree to review something, or request a review copy, you have to produce through or you will rapidly lose credibility. Even if the book is awful, or virtually unreadable, or the product difficult to use, you must produce some form of review, or at least return the item with a polite note, clearly explaining why no review will be forthcoming. This doesn’t apply to items sent to you on spec. If you haven’t agreed, or requested an item, you aren’t obligated to review it, although a polite response is always appreciated.
- Can you work quickly? Reviews generally need to be timely. In most cases, they relate to recently released items, and if a review isn’t produced shortly after release, or after a performance, etc, your readers may not be as interested and the value tends to diminish. No one wants to read old news. That said, there is always a call for reviews of classic or quality material.
- Can you write well? Regardless of what you are reviewing, a review is a piece of writing in itself. It needs to be clear, concise, entertaining, informative, critical, and well written.
- Are you critical? You have to be able to accurately assess the value of an item you are reviewing and that may include digging deeply into the work. If you are too nice to say anything critical, or reluctant to probe, your reviews won’t provide readers with the information they need to determine whether a work is for them.
- Are you constructive? The ability to write with tact is important for a reviewer. A nasty review with no constructive comments or examples of where something can be improved is worse than a lukewarm review which is not critical. Immature vindictive does not make for a good review and isn’t helpful to either the author or the reader. A reviewer needs to be able to express both positive and negative aspects of a work in a professional, thoughtful, and specific way, without causing libel or being ungenerous.
- Are you confident? Do you have the courage to make a clear judgment, and to back up that judgment with specific instances.
- Are you knowledgeable about the particular subject you are reviewing? As a reviewer you will need to know a reasonable amount about the class of items you’re reviewing. For a book reviewer, that will mean having a reasonable awareness of literature and particularly the genre you’re reviewing in. For a reviewer of children’s items, you will need to know something about that age group and their capability. Music reviewers need a reasonably broad and extensive awareness of music. Without this general knowledge, your assessment won’t come with the weight of experience that makes your judgment so valuable to others.
- Are you honest? Honesty is one of the most important qualities for a reviewer. You must be honest in your writing, in your judgments, in your criticisms. Honesty is a reviewer’s stock-in-trade – it’s the backbone of what you do when you look closely at something and begin exploring why it is of value.
The piece above has been excerpted from my newly revised (now in its second printing) book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Grab a copy now for the full kit on becoming a well-respected reviewer. I'll look forward to reading your reviews!
The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of a number of books including Black Cow, Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening. Find out more at www.magdalenaball.com