My Thoughts on “The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing”

How do you write a good book review? With my New Year’s resolution of reading a book per week and scripting a blog post on each one, I decided to pick up Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards’ writing reference guide, “The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing,” to help me hone skills with crafting effective book reviews. This guide was published by Paladin Timeless Books in 2008.

“The Slippery Art” covers a lot of ground. The book was written for both novice and professional book reviewers; these include bloggers, publishers, authors, publicists and librarians. It covers how to write (and how not to write) about fiction and nonfiction books, what should motivate a book reviewer, how to avoid common review pitfalls and how to engage with your audience.

I completed this book on a flight from Detroit to Denver in early January– skipping the parts that didn’t apply to my interests as someone who sometimes blogs about the books that I read. I’ve written about ten or so book reviews and perhaps hundreds of film and music reviews. But as I commit to reading a book a day and writing about each one, I wanted to polish some of my writing skills– even if not all of the blog posts (this one included) will be actual reviews.

Since entering college, I have read nonfiction books almost exclusively. The topics, tone and formats range, but I very rarely pick up a novel. Thus, I glossed over most of the chapters in “The Slippery Art” that deal with reviewing fiction. What I wanted to take away from this book (aside from how to write effective book reviews) was a deeper understanding of the business of book reviews.

How do book reviewers make money? How do they grow relationships with publishing companies and other organizations within the industry while remaining unbiased? How do you identify an audience? And is it still worth it to write book reviews on publications and blogs if most people only check the rating system built into most book market websites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)?

With these questions in mind, I came away from reading this book with a few key takeaways. First, one should only commit to writing book reviews on a professional level if that they are fully committed to taking on the massive time commitment, constantly networking within the publishing industry and never making much money. Secondly, aside from developing your writing skills, one of the biggest challenges of being a book reviewer is to uphold your responsibility to your readers, the author and the publisher. This is a constant struggle.

“The Slippery Art” aptly deconstructs reviews in various forms about various genres of literature. For those looking for help with crafting reviews, the authors do an excellent job of providing examples of both good and poor book reviews, breaking down each component and explaining the mindset of good reviewers. Editing is often the most difficult to part of any writer’s job. So these examples are particularly useful in understanding how to fix bad reviews.

The utility of “The Slippery Art” is based entirely on the reader’s needs and interests. For those looking for a book specifically about how to pen exceptional book reviews, not all of this book will be relevant. But if you also want to learn the ins and outs of book reviewers on a macro level, “The Slippery Art” is an excellent resource with intuitive chapter structures that make it easy to pick up and quickly begin absorbing information.

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You can pick up “The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing” on Kindle and paperback formats here on Amazon.