Authors across the globe can support me on this one – reviews are vital to our success. The good and the bad – we need them to show that people have picked up our writing, read it, and felt compelled to say something about it. But they come few and far between. Here we stand, on internet street corners, with pen and paper in hand begging. A cardboard sign at our feet desperately stating:
Will write for reviews…
We get it, our readers lead busy lives and the fact that they invested a piece of their disposable income and free time in us, their author, is humbling. But dare we ask for just a bit more?
I’ve only just started reviewing books and was initially doing so because there are books and authors out there who I absolutely love and I wanted others to know about them. Then it morphed into understanding that I’m doing “my part” in the writing community by supporting other authors and their works.
But as I sat there preparing this week’s book review it struck me how each review written was making me better at presenting the material to strangers in a disconnected, informative, (and even eye catching) way.
I realize now how writing reviews for other authors helps me practice my query letter, synopsis, and pitch for my own writing. And as a writer who seeks to have published work this is wonderful news! We think that writing the novel or book of poetry or essays is the hard part, but really it is just the beginning. While the words can flow through our fingers to the keyboard to create our masterpiece the moment someone asks us to boil its entirety down to a paragraph we freeze. It’s a sincere struggle and across laptops everywhere there is a collective groan. Well here’s our opportunity to practice the dreaded query package.
By writing reviews not only are you helping the author, but you are helping yourself. Here are the benefits to you:
The layout of a query letter is interchangeable depending on the reference source, but the contents are typically the same.
- Find a way to catch the publisher
- Give a snippet of a synopsis
- Explain why your work is different and similar to others in the same genre
- A bit of who you are
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy – right? Right…?? Yeah. Right.
When writing a review you are forced to do just that –
- Hook fellow reader’s interest immediately
- Give a short synopsis so they know why they want to read it
- Offer examples of how it is similar to other books and what makes it different
- A bit of how you reacted to it – in essence, how the book related to your world
I think this is what I hear complaints about the most – it requires us to dissect our precious baby, suck out all the key points, and slap them together into some mutilated mix of an interesting, yet informative paragraph. Ok, maybe I’m being dramatic, but when you are looking at a blank page and have to do all the above, it feels rather daunting.
When writing a review you are emotionally unattached to the work – as much as you want to do it justice or make sure your points are driven home, you still aren’t invested in the work itself like you are your own writing. This makes practicing synopsis writing all the better because it trains you to distance yourself from the work and focus on what matters. It helps you to trim the fat, so to speak.
You’ve made it to the final round and are sitting across the table from an editor, agent, or publisher in a quiet room. Your palms are sweaty and for some godforsaken reason your throat has dried up. It’s time to give your one minute pitch and the pressure is on. But what do you say and how do you formulate something in advance that will pique their interest? Practice. Practice writing the pitch and practice speaking it. Your opening statement – the hook – the thing that is going to catch their interest is the piece that gets your foot in the door. And it takes practice to be able to come up with a good one.
When writing a review you are virtually offering free advertising (if you are praising it) and so a well written review will hook a reader into becoming interested in the book as well as building a desire to read further into your review of it. Like a pitch, your opening statement needs to be catchy, flashy, boom! Impactful. Maybe it is funny or dark. Witty or a play on words.
It might feel cheesy or even inauthentic (what I struggle reconciling with the most) – but you know what?