Posted in Reading, Writing

The Rewards of Being a Book Reviewer

(Rewards that reinforce my delight in reviewing other authors’ books)

Jigsaw puzzle with last piece missing
Only connect

As regular readers of my blog may know, I love reviewing books and do so in a professional capacity for a couple of magazines in two completely different genres – a British parenting magazine called Today’s Child and an international literary journal called Vine Leaves.

For Today’s Child, I pick books that will sit well in a feature with a different theme each month (the next one will be children’s diaries). For Vine Leaves, I’m sent a list of books to choose from, all of them written by contributors to Vine Leaves. I’m also able to pick a book a quarter from the Historical Novel Society’s list, as I review for their website too.

Of course these aren’t the only books I read. I get through at least one a week, often more, and I review these books for pleasure, usually on Amazon, sometimes on Goodreads (a site that’s hailed as social media for readers, but to be honest I find it a frustratingly clunky site so don’t go on there that much – and as it’s now owned by Amazon, it may only be a matter of time before my Amazon reviews are accessible from Goodreads anyway). When I have time, I also review books on my own website here.

Rising up the Ranks of Amazon Reviewers

The more books you review, the higher your ranking on Amazon’s list of reviewers. Exactly how it calculates reviewers’ ranking is a mystery, but it is certainly influenced by a mix of the frequency of your reviews, the quality, how often readers click the “helpful” or “unhelpful” button underneath each published review. It is not clear whether it also favours you if you bought the book you’re reviewing on Amazon.

About a year ago, I realised that I was swiftly moving up the list, and I’m now edging towards the top 1,000 (#1,307 today, though I’ve been higher), which earns the reviewer a special label alongside their reviews. That badge is about as meaningful as a child being given a sticker at school for good work or behaviour, but aren’t we all big kids at heart? I’m looking forward to the day I get mine! You can find more about the rules of being an Amazon reviewer on its website.

Complimentary Products for Top Reviewers

Anyone who reaches a certain level in this ladder is likely to start receiving offers out of the blue from sellers keen to have you review their product. At least, that’s if you’ve made your email address public on your profile, which I did a few months ago.

The smart seller goes through the list of top reviewers to search a match for their product – those who have written great reviews for similar products – and emails you a polite request, offering a free product in return for an honest review. You’re obliged to declare in your review that you’ve received the product this way. Since I made my email address public a few months ago, I’ve received some unexpected but appreciated products: a new card game, a bathroom scales, an in-car charger for multiple phones, and more. My latest Amazon package was a compelling autobiography by the American artist Marcia Gloster, 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction. I was hand-picked by her New York agent. for the quality of my previous reviews. Gosh!

There’s no obligation to accept anything you’re offered this way, but it’s a bit of fun to receive the gifts you like. I can understand why some people become obsessed with reviewing and make it the focal point of their life. One of them has even written a book about it. And yes, of course, I reviewed it!

The More Important Rewards of Reviewing

But public recognition and free gifts are not the rewards I meant to focus on when I set out to write this article. What makes my heart sing after I’ve filed a new review is to receive a message from the author saying that I totally “got” their book. To know that I’ve read and understood and connected with their purpose feels like a creative spark has passed between us. Reviewing doesn’t get better than that.

Without wanting to sound like I’m showing off (ok, so I AM showing off), here are two quotes from authors whose work I’ve recently reviewed:

“Thank you for the insightful review, it captures what the story is really about.” This message came from Charles Booth, whose debut novel Olive Park I reviewed for Vine Leaves here:

This was waiting for me in my inbox this morning:

“Debbie, thank you very much for your wonderful review. You are an incredibly insightful reviewer, I can’t imagine my volume to be in better hands!  I greatly appreciate your fine writing. “

The sender was the Polish-American poet Joanna Kurowska, whose latest collection of poems, Inclusions, I reviewed on Amazon here. I also reviewed her earlier collection, The Wall and Beyond, for Vine Leaves, which is where I first encountered Joanna’s poetry.

The Joy of Discovering Fresh Talent

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Now with 10 4 5* reviews on Amazon – have you read it yet?

And that brings me to another bonus of reviewing: the discovery of new books and authors that I’d otherwise never have come across. My introduction to both Charles and Joanna came from Vine Leaves, which does an amazing job in drawing attention to great authors who deserve to be better known. (Vine Leaves is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support their work – if you’d like to do so, you can contribute here.)The same can be said of the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Review programme, for which I review books written by self-published authors. The HNS scheme is now blessed with a new Award, thanks to the pioneering campaign by my lovely friend Helen Hollick, herself a bestselling historical novelist with a heart as big as a house.

Speaking of hearts, there’s one last reward of reviewing that I’d like to mention: that as an author myself, I know how heartwarming it is to receive an enthusiastic review for my own work, and the arrival of not one but two glowing reviews for my latest book, the collection of very short stories (aka flash fiction) has made my week already – and it’s still only Tuesday.

So if you’re a keen reader who hasn’t considered reviewing the books you read yet, do please consider it. They don’t have to be long or smart or original – the minimum length required by Amazon is just 20 words. And if you do, I’m sure you’ll find, as I do, that it’s not only the author who will reap rewards.

If you’re wondering about the origin of the jigsaw puzzle photo at the top of this piece, click on the link to read the post in which it first appeared on my blog:

Why Doing a Jigsaw Puzzle is a Bit Like Writing A Book 

 

 

Posted in Reading

Why I Read And Review Books Beyond My Comfort Zone

Some thoughts on reading habits and book reviews

Cover of Books are Exciting Ladybird book showing one boy pulling another out of the sea
If there were a prize for the least obvious book cover image, I think this would get my vote.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve stepped way outside my reading comfort zone.

As a frequent book reviewer, I’m often asked to consider books that I’d never choose in a bookshop or library – unlike the Ladybird book pictured here, which I snapped up in a secondhand bookshop the other day for the sake of its bizarre cover, and because I adore vintage Ladybird books.

Sometimes the publications I review for send me copies of books they particularly want me to consider, other times authors or publicists approach me on spec, after finding my name on Amazon’s list of top reviewers.

Admittedly they have to trawl for quite a long way to reach me, as I’m currently ranked around the 1,400 mark. If they’ve got that far, I so admire their staying power that I’m likely to agree to their request for a review, provided they ask me nicely. There’s nothing that hacks off a book reviewer as much as an author’s assumption that sending you a free book entitles them to a review. Except authors who do that and then reel off a long list of sites on which they expect you to post your review, including some that you’ve never even visited. 

Why I Review Books

I love book reviewing. For one thing, it prevents me from slipping into a cosy habit of rereading old favourites and their clones. It’s too easy to treat book buying like clothes shopping, being drawn like a magnet to those you already know and love. (And I really don’t need to buy any more knee length boots, denim jackets or cordoruoy leggings.)

I therefore made it my policy long ago to keep an open mind about review requests, turning down only anything featuring violence or unnecessary tragedy.

Two New Reading Experiences in One Day

Cover of The Wall & Beyond by Joanna Kurowska
Polish poetry – click the image to read my review

So it happened today that I found myself reviewing both a YA (young adult) steampunk thriller (sent to me by the debut author) and a collection of Polish poetry in translation (received from Vine Leaves Literary Journal, for which I’m a staff reviewer). 

Now, I have a lot of books in my house, including a floor-to-ceiling to-read bookcase in my bedroom. But until this week I didn’t possess a single steampunk thriller or Polish poem. In fact I only recently worked out what steampunk is. (If you don’t know either, check out the Urban Dictionary’s definition here). Although I enjoy poetry, and still treasure some of the poetry books I had from school and university, I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly read a Polish poem.

But what a joy these books have been to read, filling my imagination with new adventures and images, and changing the way I look at the world, just a little, as every good book should. It was also satisfying to write their reviews. Formulating a book review always helps me mentally digest what I’ve read. By doing so, I extract far more pleasure than if I’d just closed each book on finishing and moved on to the next one in my to-read pile without any further thought. 

How To Make An Author Happy

I also gain pleasure from knowing that the book’s authors will appreciate my response. As an author myself, I know the warm glow that comes from spotting a new review of one of your books.

cover of the steampunk thriller with a link to my Amazon review
Click on the cover of the YA steampunk thriller to read my review on Amazon UK

Strangely, in the time it’s taken me to read and review those two books, two more new reviews have  come in for one of my own books (Sell Your Books!, now with 42 reviews on Amazon UK, average rating 4.6*)) – not from the authors of the books I reviewed, but from two completely different readers. Is there some kind of book reviewer’s karma at work? To any writer who also reads books (as all writers should), that’s got to be a comforting thought.

Whatever you’re reading just now, if you enjoy the book, take a moment to thank the author by leaving a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other site that you prefer. I guarantee you’ll make the author’s day. 

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