[This post is part of Reviewing The Life of Book Reviewing]
I think before really talking about techniques or trade secrets when it comes to book reviews, it’s worth asking why. Why would you want to review books? I think of several reasons, but if it’s something you’re going to make a habit of, you should probably have a good reason. Of all the reasons you might have, let me suggest one to avoid.
Don’t review books in order to get free books.
I’m saying this of course as someone who, in large part, did just that. I originally reviewed books because it was an assignment for my Soteriology class. I had already been blogging, and thought posting the reviews on my site would make for nice posts. Shortly after doing that, I discovered that other people did that as well. Not only that, you could get the books for free if you asked the publishers. At the time, I was a recently married seminary student on a budget so the words “free” and “books” together really spoke to my heart. By the time I graduated, I had contacts with a few publishers and was starting to regularly get free books to review.
In the years post-seminary, I expanded by publishing contacts and also got more aggressive in requests. This was primarily because I wanted to capitalize on free books, because, well, that whole budget thing. Initially, I pretty much took advantage of any free book on offer from the publishers I was in contact with. I quickly realized this was a mistake, mainly because you end up with a lot of books to read that you might not particularly care for.
I made adjustments, and only requested books I actually wanted. This seemed like the perfect strategy to save money on books and always have a nice reading stack at my disposal. After a while, a curious thing happened. I began finding myself with way more books than I really had time to read (not surprising). But more importantly, I began finding myself with books that I had specifically asked for that I didn’t really enjoy reading.
The problem, in hindsight, was that the thrill of getting a free book had clouded my judgment in evaluating whether I really should read that book in the first place. I have pretty wide interests within biblical and theological studies. If something looked interesting, my first thought was to request it for review. For the most part, I was getting yeses, and so my appetite for reading was more or less unchecked.
Eventually, this led to a hobby or supplemental scholarly activity taking more of my time than it really deserved. The irony is that if I had been more focused on getting new music students and finding additional work, I could have just bought books outright. The money saving strategy was actually handicapping my time.
It took time to figure all this out, but it all could have been solved if I had not made getting free books a motivation for book reviewing. It’s a wonderful perk, but it shouldn’t be your main concern. Your main concern should be the evaluation of the books that you are reviewing, whether or not you got them for free. Consider the free books an advantage, but not a reason for doing what you do. In the end, you may just find yourself inundated with books you have no interest in reading or reviewing. Or worse, you may become another victim of book lust. That’s definitely were I was, but thankfully, I think I’m on the road to recovery. I hope at least!