Linda White has worked in publishing for 15 years. She now runs BookMania, which offers services for authors and publishers. From manuscript critiques to editing to publicity, she can help at any stage in the book publishing process. She is also the Minneapolis Books Examiner and teaches classes on Publicity and Marketing, among other topics, at The Loft and other venues. Next class is Publicity for Authors on August 7 at The Loft. She is available to speak to writing groups and other groups on publishing, publicity and other topics. Check out www.bookmaniaonline.com for current class offerings and the latest book reviews, plus a link to her Books column. Take the BookMania quiz and find out if you are a BookManiac!
MY LIFE AS A BOOK REVIEWER
To start with, I have a serious addiction to books, or anything related to books. Is this a prerequisite for being a book reviewer? I don’t know. But it certainly helps!
I had always wanted to work in publishing. After I got a degree in English, my first stop was a little publishing company in Saint Paul for an unpaid internship. Then I was off to parts unknown to do as people have to do sometime in their lives – see what is over the horizon. My first foray into book reviewing was while working at a newspaper in Key West, the Key West Citizen. I was helping the Keys Life editor, and she gave me a book to review. “Can you write a review of this?” Well, of course! I had read enough literature, after all, hadn’t I?
So I wrote that first review, and went on to write a few more for her, plus a play review and an interview with an artist. It was a great introduction to arts writing. She was probably my one and only mentor, but she died of cancer very suddenly just a few months later. Her name was Paulie. On the basis of that work, I wrote some reviews for a few other publications around town.
Shortly after that, I left the paper for a better-paying job, and shortly after that we left Florida. I spent some time at our next home in Texas trying to get in touch with publishers. I had seen ads advertising for ‘readers’ – well, wasn’t that the perfect job for me? I sent out letters, as one did in those days before e-mail, and got – no responses.
Then I moved back to Minnesota, and lo and behold, got a job at a publishing house! I
was thrilled. But I soon realized that I had no time at all to read all the books I had to write advertising copy for. Someone said promoting books was the perfect job for me, but this one seemed to take me away from the books.
But a very good thing happened there. One of my colleagues was a Board member for an organization that helped church libraries. He ran a notice in our company newsletter asking if anyone was interested in being an editor for their book review journal. I applied and was hired the same day of the interview. It was a very part-time job, and didn’t pay very well, but I loved it. I would go to their office where the books were sent by various publishers and pick up boxes of books, take them home and sit on the floor in my living room surrounded by stacks of books as I sorted them out and assigned them. Can you say heaven? The ones that did not get reviewed I got to keep – I gave them to another Board member for her church library. But still, somehow I always ended up with some extras, and my bookshelves soon filled.
When I was laid off from the publishing house, I parlayed that experience into working for an online site, running a book review e-newsletter. Shortly after that I wrote my first review for Publishers Weekly. I was so excited to be writing for a national publication, especially the bible of the publishing industry. But then 9/11 happened, and I lost touch with my editor because I had to find another full-time job.
It was a few years before I got back into publishing, but then I was hired as a publicist. I really thought that was my dream job. And it was, but again, there was that thing about not having time to read all the books! And I couldn’t write reviews, due to the conflict of interest. So when I left there, I immediately contacted some publications, and started doing reviews for BookPage and Publishers Weekly again.
I went to sessions at BEA on Ethics in Book Reviewing, and read everything I could find on the topic (which isn’t much, to tell you the truth). Michele Kerns, the national Books Examiner, has some great articles on what makes a good book reviewer. http://www.examiner.com/x-562-Book-Examiner~topic112601-Book-reviews?selstate=topcat#breadcrumb
I had always wanted to write for the Star Tribune, and I was thrilled to be able to start reviewing for their books editor in March of 2009. Here at last was something that my dad would read! I continued to do book reviews for BookPage and Publishers Weekly, so by the time I decided to start my own business, I had a pretty good slate of book reviews under my belt.
I launched my BookMania website in March and finally had a place to display all of my book reviews. It is especially gratifying when you read something that is really well done, and carries a compelling message, and find that you can then tell other people about it!
Over the years, I have found that book reviewing was a lot more than telling whether or not you liked the book. I like to think of myself as producing literary criticism in some cases, because it is important to understand why you like what you do and why other things are not sitting right. Sometimes it is a jarring transition; sometimes it is a lack of character development. Sometimes there are problems with flow or voice and other things that should have been taken care of at the early editing stage.
My book reviewing and promotion work in publishing over the years have trained me well to be able to look at a manuscript and determine if it’s ready for prime time. I see so many authors who jump the gun, and are in a hurry to get their idea to market. The key is to be patient and take the time necessary to craft your story into the brilliant piece that it is meant to be.
I am always looking for book reviewing opportunities, but alas, with newspapers cutting their book sections and so many online sites popping up with reviewers who will write for free, I’m afraid the glory days of book reviewing may be over. I no longer feel that I could make enough doing book reviews to contribute significantly to my income. But still, I do it… for the love of books.