An article by Cathy Bryant
Cathy’s debut novel, Texas Roads, a 2009 finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis competition, is now available in e-book format through Smashwords, Amazon.com, and other online retailers. It will be available in print in Spring 2010.
Learn more about Cathy by visiting her website or her blog, WordVessel. You can sign up to receive free chapters of Texas Roads here. In addition, I have the privilege of interviewing Cathy on March 25, so you can return then to hear about her journey to publication.
Cathy writes amazing book reviews on her blog, and I invited her to share the many ways doing so can benefit a writer. Read on to find out what she has to say . . .
The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews
By Cathy Bryant
I’d love to say I entered this crazy world of a writer’s life armed with a regimented plan of attack, but the truth is I literally stumbled into much of it, including writing book reviews on my blog, WordVessel. There was no way to comprehend how I would profit from something as simple as reading books and writing reviews. Here’s a smidgeon of the benefits I’ve received:
Analyzing Reading Material As A Writer
Independent study has always been my modus operandi, so devouring craft of writing books was a given when I felt God nudge me to step up my writing efforts.
Then I discovered (still not sure how it all happened other than to suggest divine intervention) the opportunity to receive free books from various publishers/authors to review. The only words I needed to hear? Free books. Sign me up!
As it turns out, studying the craft and analyzing books for review at the same time is a powerful combination! To give examples, I learned early on about the importance of using strong verbs and nouns. Through reading for book reviews, I saw firsthand how authors put that skill into practice in their books. The same holds true for other aspects of the craft: characterization, dialogue, story structure, plot, scene, GMC, and the list goes on and on.
So many of the authors interviewed on my blog have advised newbie writers to read, and read voraciously. I agree. Writing makes you a good writer; reading makes you a better writer.
How Not To Do It
In addition to seeing good writing put into practice in review books, I’ve also learned what not to do. I don’t like every book I read for review, though I almost always find something in each book to appreciate. Seeing writer “no-no’s” in a book helps me comprehend why certain things need to be avoided.
Here’s an example. One writing “rule of thumb” is to avoid introducing too many characters in one scene. The reason? It’s confusing to the reader. I once read a book—which was enjoyable for the most part—where a couple of scenes had so many characters I couldn’t keep them straight. From that particular part of the book, I learned why the “rule of thumb” existed.
Okay, this may be obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. As writers we are told to write regularly. Guess what? This includes writing of all kinds, blog posts and book reviews included. My writing skills have skyrocketed through constant attention to craft of writing details in book reviews and other writing. (I’ve even progressed to the point where I edit my e-mails and status updates! Please tell me some of you do this, too, so I don’t feel so…well, um…geeky!)
Learning the Market
Reading fiction from various publishers in the Christian market gives great insight into what publishers and consumers want. This is invaluable information for writers. If our work is going to be marketable, we need to understand what sells and what doesn’t.
Knowing the market also helps when time to write a proposal. When creating the marketing plan for Texas Roads, I knew from reading review books that my story had some of the sassy humor found in Mary Connealy’s books and the hometown flavor of Kaye Dacus’ Brides of Bonneterre series. When a well-respected agent asked what writers I could compare my writing to, I knew what to say.
Along this same vein, part of the market game is finding a unique story idea. Reading the latest releases can help you see what makes a book or storyline distinctive.
Learning Your Genre
Every genre contains certain “must-do’s,” and reading within your genre helps cement them in your mind. To illustrate, let’s use the romance genre. In a romance, readers and editors expect the hero and heroine to meet in the first few pages of the book. A happy ending is a must. A progression of the relationship between the hero and heroine is needed throughout the storyline. Without those things, a romance most likely won’t make it. Reading review books in your genre helps you notice and absorb those key elements.
Learning Through Other Genres
Having mentioned reading books in your genre, I also highly encourage you to read and review books outside your genre as well. I write romance and women’s fiction but learned oodles by reading suspense thrillers, speculative fiction, fantasies, and mysteries.
Want to learn about pacing? Read suspense thrillers. Want to learn about creating your story world? Read fantasy and spec fiction. Want to learn about sequence or plot? Read mysteries.
Networking With Authors
Not all my review books come from publisher blogging programs or book blog tours. On several occasions, authors have approached me about reviewing their books. I’ve established untold writing friendships this way. In addition, several authors have popped in to leave a comment on a review I’ve written or contact me afterwards to say thanks.
In every business sector, networking is essential. Writing is no exception.
Book Review Tips
I’ll be the first to admit my book reviews aren’t typical. I review books like a writer. I don’t just read them, I dissect them. If you want to see a sample, you can click here to read my review of Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn.
Time doesn’t allow me to go into this much depth on every book review, but when I see an example of really great writing, I just can’t help myself. I have to share my insights. I try to include a background of the story (without spoiling the plot) then delve in like a surgeon with a scalpel. While reading, I take note of the passages that stand out and include them in the post.
If you’re interested in becoming a book reviewer there are several publishers who have blog book review programs. You can also sign up to receive blog tour information from several blog tour hosts such as LitFuse and FIRST Wildcard Blog Tours. Another way to get review copies is by serving as an influencer for authors.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Happy Reading and Writing! I’d love to hear your thoughts…