I’ve been reviewing books for almost two years now. Theres always more to learn, but I want to share some book reviewing tips here for anyone whos interested. Most of this post pertains to new reviewers and how they can start reviewing books, but more experienced reviewers who are looking for other methods of obtaining review copies may find it helpful, as well.

If youre a new reviewer, decide what you hope to gain from reviewing books before doing anything else. What are your goals? Are you planning to review books as a hobby, or are you hoping to make serious money from it? When I started reviewing, I wanted to be able to make some money. So, I took the time to study various review formats, I started reviewing at a site where I could learn how to craft reviews while also earning some cash, and I read up on the taxes and Federal Trade Commission Endorsement Guidelines that applied to me. If youre looking to get paid for your reviews, be aware that there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding paid reviews. I confronted this stigma in a three-part blog series starting here. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s something legal that you can stand by and be proud of.

If you’re unsure how or where to start reviewing books, you might prefer to join an existing service to learn the ropes. For me, OnlineBookClub.org (OBC) was a decent starting point. It got me used to writing long-form reviews under flexible deadlines and taught me some best practices for reviewing books. It was also a great place to get feedback on my reviews from other reviewers and editors, which built my confidence and helped me improve my work.

When you first start there, you’ll only be able to access free review books. The more you review, the more paid options will open up to you, if you follow their guidelines and write quality reviews. The most experienced reviewers earn the most money. I believe payment  peaks at $250 per review. However, for some reason, the more I started earning, the longer it took for me to receive payment. I was told the authors control the payments, so it may have been an issue on the authorsends, not entirely on OBCs. Regardless, it was an unsettling pattern. I began seeking other options when payments became over a month late and, more importantly, when a few of their editors started disregarding their own guidelines (though this problem may have been solved by now, as many of us reviewers spoke out against it). Despite those issues, Im glad I started at OBC. Theres a lot to learn at OBC, and a great community of book lovers can be found there.

Next, I discovered Readers Favorite. New and experienced reviewers may enjoy joining Readers Favorite, though the earning potential per book is lower than it is for many books through OBC. As with OBC, you select the book you want to review and then receive a free copy of it. You may or may not have a deadline to work under. Unlike OBC, you can easily get in touch with the site’s editor or support associates if you have any questions, and you also have a chance to get direct feedback from the authors whose work you review.

You can find other review services simply by typing something like “sites where I can review books” into the search engine, but always remember: When joining any review service, pay close attention to the service’s terms. Depending on the service, you may not be able to share your reviews on your own blog except by linking to them (this was the case with OBC when I reviewed through them). Be sure of who owns the rights to your reviews.

You can also start your own review service or book blog/vlog. (If you’d like to create your own site through which to offer your service, you might find this blog post of mine helpful.) Creating your own service will offer you more freedom, but you’ll have to do the work to obtain review books. I’ve read some articles encouraging beginning reviewers to purchase new books to start their blog. This is fine if you have the money for it, but if you lack the funds, you’ll want to look into places where you can receive free books.

Making yourself known to authors, publicists, and publishers is a good way to receive free books for review, especially if you can prove you’re a reliable reviewer. Don’t hesitate to connect with them on social media. Many may approach you themselves and offer to send you a free book for review purposes. If you want to take a more proactive approach, you could reach out to them yourself. Let them know you would like to review one of their titles and politely ask if you may receive a free review copy. Henry Roi PR lists a host of books on their site that reviewers can sign up to post reviews for. If you search hard enough, you may be able to find more sites that do this.

You can also find free books for review on NetGalley and Edelweiss+. I haven’t yet used NetGalley, so I dont have any advice when it comes to that site. You can find many detailed guides on how to use both sites with a Google search (or by scrolling through the sites help pages). One quick point I want to mention is that Edelweiss+ is great for new reviewers because it has many books that are automatically available for download. This can help you build experience. To find books available for immediate download, make sure youre on your home screen (after signing up), go to "Review Copies," and then scan the left sidebar under "Available" until you find "To Download." Those are the books youve been automatically cleared to download and review. Youll just need a free Adobe account to receive the review book copies. You can review these books on your personal site, but dont forget to review them on Edelweiss+, too.

You may also wish to participate in virtual book tours, which are great for driving traffic to your blog. Virtual book tour services connect with book bloggers/reviewers to organize a series of online promotional events for authors across multiple sites over a set time period. Some book tour services focus only on reviews, but others also organize book blitzes, cover reveals, interviews, and other promotional events. Most tour services I’ve come across have been more interested in experienced reviewers whove proven their reliability and who have their own blogs, but some accept new reviewers regardless of experience. Storytellers On Tour doesnt list any experience requirements that I know of, but its still a good idea to make sure you can work within deadlines before signing up for any tour. For a list of other tours and services to sign up with, please visit my Book Services Directory.

Last but not least, don’t forget about Goodreads and Amazon. Reviews on these sites are especially helpful to authors. As with all sites, mind their terms and conditions. Amazon is rather capricious when it comes to customer reviews. You may wish to avoid posting customer reviews there and instead let your clients know they can share your review or a quote from it in their editorial reviews sections. Read last weeks blog post for more information on the subject of Amazon reviews.


Additional Tips  

🦙   Its important to always be honest and transparent with readers about what you’ve received for the review. If you received payment, state that. If you received a free book, make it known. Including such disclaimers is good practice, and the Federal Trade Commission requires it, especially where paid reviews are concerned.

🦙   You should only select books you think you’ll enjoy. Request samples before accepting a new review book. They’ll help give you a better idea of the author’s style and whether you’ll enjoy the work. If you look at my review site and my professional Goodreads page (I have two, one for my review service and one for personal use), you’ll see that most of the books I’ve reviewed earned four or five stars. That’s not because I’m easy on authors when it comes to reviews, it’s because I’m very selective about what books I accept.

🦙   Its polite to ask permission before including any graphics or artwork you dont own. I’ve heard that the use of cover art without permission is acceptable under the Fair Use Act, but it’s usually better to err on the side of caution. You may even find that the author is planning to redo the cover art, in which case querying will allow you to get the most up-to-date image. Most of the time, you can easily obtain a copy of the cover image from the book’s author, publisher, or publicist just by politely reaching out to them via email or social media.

🦙   You should be kind in your correspondence and in your reviews. A little compassion goes a long way. This doesn’t mean you should praise every book, even books you didnt feel earned it. Quite the opposite. Providing honest criticism gives authors a chance to improve, but at the same time, you shouldn’t be disrespectful. There are polite ways to provide criticism.

🦙   You should be upfront with authors about what they can expect from your service so they can make an informed decision on whether to allow you to review their work. For instance, if the quality of editing in a work impacts your rating, let authors know so they can opt out if they feel their book isn’t ready. If you can’t make a deadline, make sure authors understand that. It’s also a great idea to create a policy/guidelines page outlining what the service you’re offering entails and the steps authors should take if they want to pitch their work to you.

🦙   Its helpful to take notes while reading to capture your raw emotions and first reactions, which can be easy to forget at times in the wake of more intense scenes as time goes on.

🦙   Always write your reviews in a word processor first so you can save your work. Then copy and paste the review into whatever form you need to for publishing. I prefer word processors that don’t rely on the internet so I can work on my reviews even when I’m offline.

🦙   Be careful when including book summaries. I feel it’s good to make sure the summary doesn’t take up more than one paragraph. Readers just need the gist of the plot to pique their curiosity and help them understand the review. They can learn what a book is about in more detail by reading the authors blurb on the book’s page. What they can’t learn from another source is your opinion. Furthermore, having an inordinately long summary takes up space you could be using to help authors improve their craft and/or understand how their work resonated with you (and, possibly, other readers).


That wraps it up! If you have any questions concerning reviews, please feel free to reach out to me. I have a high volume of work at this time, but I’ll respond as soon as I can. If you have more advice to share, please dont hesitate to comment


UPDATE (July 12, 2021): A few days ago, I opened up a NetGalley account. Like Edelweiss+, it does offer "Read Now" books as well as books you have to request from the publisher. So far, I like it even more than Edelweiss+. Other reviewers should definitely check it out. The only downside of both sites is that you dont get to keep the review books (they expire after around two months), but theyre still great places to build a portfolio and they have a lot of good books to choose from.