Q&A with Mayra Calvani
What inspired you to write The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing?
I wish there had been a book on how to write reviews when I started reviewing. It would have prevented a lot of amateurish mistakes from my part. Actually, on second thought, I’m glad nobody wrote such a book—that’s the reason I came up with the idea in the first place! :)
After several years of reviewing, I felt confident enough to put together a set of ‘rules’ and guidelines for beginners, a manual of sorts to help aspiring and beginner reviewers hone their craft. I mentioned my idea to my dear friend, author and reviewer Anne K. Edwards. She was excited about collaboration and we jumped into it. In six months we had the first draft.
Besides being a reviewer, you’re also a novelist and children’s picture book author. How do you handle negative reviews of your own books?
I once heard an author say about negative reviews: “If you’ve never received a negative review, there aren’t enough people reading your book.” That’s become one of my mantras.
That’s not to say negative reviews don’t sting. Of course they do—a little. But I always put the situation under perspective. A review is, after all, one person’s opinion, and the fact is that not everybody is going to like my book. Some might love it, others might hate it. If I can please some people some of the time, that’s enough for me.
If you read reviews of well-known books by famous authors, you’ll see a wide range of reviews, from the very good to the very bad. If famous New York Times best-selling authors sometimes get bad reviews, why can’t I? I don’t let my ego get in the way of my common sense. That said, positive reviews are definitely ego boosters! (grin)
Nowadays, many aspiring authors review books on their blogs. What are 5 benefits of reviewing for beginning writers?
If you’re an author or your goal is to become one, the benefits of book reviewing are enormous.
- You learn about the craft of writing because you get to identify both the weaknesses and strengths of a book. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and eventually you become more apt in avoiding amateurish mistakes when you write your own books. You can do this because you’re able to look at someone else’s book objectively, something that it’s hard to do with your own writing. In this sense, reviewing can make you a better writer and a better judge of literature. This comes very handy if you belong to a critique group or serve as judge at contests.
- Your writing becomes easier and better. Reviewing is writing, after all, and the more you write, the better it gets. Reviewing helps to hone your skills as a word builder.
- You become familiar with publishers and the type of books they publish. This is especially helpful if you review in the genre that you write in and if you’re looking for places to submit your work.
- You become familiar with agents and the type of books they like to represent. How do you know this? Most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgements page.
- You develop an online presence, a platform. If you have an attractive blog where you post honest, intelligently written reviews, eventually you’ll build a good reputation as a serious reviewer and readers, publishers, authors and publicists will want to become your followers. Having lots of followers will instantly make you more attractive in the eyes of a publisher when you submit your book for consideration.
What is the difference between a review and an endorsement?
At its most basic, a review can be positive or negative, but an endorsement is always positive.
A review’s primary purpose is to inform the reader and help him make a decision on whether or not he should spend his money and time on a book, while an endorsement’s primary purpose is to help promote a book.
Also, unlike a review, an endorsement doesn’t have a certain structure that includes an opening or lead, a brief summary of the story, and an evaluation. An endorsement is simply a 1-3 sentence recommendation of a book. Often, publishers approach well-known authors to write endorsements on an upcoming title. These endorsements, or parts of it, are often placed on the front or back cover of a book.
When reviews are positive, however, snippets of it can be used as endorsements for the book. So parts of a review can be used as endorsements, but endorsements aren’t reviews.
Obviously, the advantage of an endorsement is that it is always positive, but endorsements, unless they come from a well-respected source, are viewed by readers with suspicion, especially when written by fellow authors.
The con of reviews is that, of course, they might not always be positive, and authors may not always be able to use them as endorsements. But reviews are considered a more trusted resource and, unlike the endorsement, give the reader a well-rounded evaluation of a book.
Can a freelance reviewer make a living reviewing books?
Take it from James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Review: “The only way to make money as a reviewer is to marry rich!”
How important are book reviews for the sale of a book?
Book reviews are one of the most effective tools of book promotion. In fact, some experts consider reviews the most effective tool.
For librarians, top review publications such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, School Library Journal, etc., play a vital role in the selection of titles. Reviews are the strongest criterion for selection. While it’s true booksellers look at different criteria when making a decision about which books to stock, reviews are a tremendously useful and helpful factor, especially when in doubt or when the author is unknown. Pre-release review publications like the ones mentioned before play an important role in the selection of books, allowing bookstores to order titles in advance of their official release dates, thus making them available to the public immediately after their release. Online reviews are particularly important when selecting titles from small presses or unknown authors who often don’t get reviews in the major pre-release publications.
The fact is, most people read reviews. Reviews and readers go together like wine and cheese. Before spending money on a book--especially in the case of expensive hard covers--most people turn to reviews to get an idea of the book’s quality and whether or not there’s a recommendation. In this age of computers when almost every person has a PC at home, it’s easy for booklovers to access the Internet and read book reviews. With the rise of so many niche review sites, book blogs, and readers sharing their reviews on sites like Amazon, it’s popular to read reviews. Also, the more reviews about a book, the more buzz and exposure.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I have always found Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, incredibly inspiring.
She says: “Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”
These powerful words were very revealing to me and changed the direction I took with writing. If I have to ‘think something up,’ writing becomes something lofty, something I may not be able to grasp. I’m straining. On the other hand, if I focus on getting something down, I have a sense of attention but I’m not straining. It’s like I’m taking dictation. Or like I’m watching the movie in my head and writing down what I see.
This simple philosophy completely freed and revolutionized my writing.
How about offering an online crash course in book reviewing?
Actually, I do teach book reviewing courses at www.SavvyAuthors.com as well as individually. Information can be found on my website at www.MayraCalvani.com.