Like many dream jobs being a paid book reviewer looks a little better from the outside than what it really is.
There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawntreader where the crew picks up a man in the ocean near a mysterious, black-shrouded island. Everyone is excited when this man tells them that dreams come true on the island, until he clarifies that it’s not daydreams but the dreams we have when asleep that become real. Then everyone but Reepicheep runs to turn that ship around.
Working as a professional book reviewer is a little like that. I’ve been reviewing books professionally for a little over three years now and the most common misperception people have of this job is that you earn money by reading books you like all the time. There’s also often some confusion over the differences between a critical review and the majority of reviews published on blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.
I will address both of these points in this post as well as relate several pros and cons to being a book reviewer.
The Job Description:
The choices of books to read are limited, if you have a choice at all. An editor assigns some of the books I’m paid to review to me, while others I’ve chosen to read from a list of available books. It’s great when all the books on that list sound amazing, but the truth is that there are times where I just pick the best sounding book from a lacklustre bunch and read it for the money.
To be clear: a reviewer always has the right to refuse a book. I, however, prefer to save that right for the truly dire or offensive books that might enter my work TBR rather than veto every book that simply isn’t knock your socks off amazing. Some platforms are stricter about this than others are, however, so an unfamiliarity with fae or vampire canon might be a good enough reason to pass on a book but bad writing and characterisation or a boring, predictable plot isn’t.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you do encounter hate speech or graphic elements in books. Most of the time this is due to naïve or clumsy depictions of events that a beta or sensitivity reader should’ve caught but there are times when you’ll read a book and discover it’s so filled with bigotry and thinly disguised thematic propaganda that you simply can’t anymore. You can veto a book you find personally offensive or triggering and in some cases, report the book to your editors.
But it’s not all dire and gloomy. You get free books to read and I’ve discovered so many new favourite books and authors from working as a book reviewer. Many, if not all, of these treasures would have slipped beneath my radar if it weren’t for this job.
Writing the Review:
Your personal preferences take a backseat in critical reviews. There’s as little room for gushing about a book as there is for slamming it. What you might feel about special snowflakes, enemies to lovers romances, and the Heroes Journey means little when your job is to assess how well an author implements these elements within the genre they write in. The opinions you express in your review have to be based on facts you can quote, if necessary. Editors will query a review (or parts of a review) if it veers too much into either giddy praise or ranting hate. Constructive criticism is the key here, even for truly dire books.
Reading elements of story or plot you don’t particularly enjoy does have its plus side: it’s made me a better writer. It’s taught me that all too often the difference between a good book and a great one comes down to interesting descriptions, character depth, and unique implementation of plot tropes and structures. Likewise, the reason a book doesn’t work often boils down to lacklustre or sloppy execution.
Day to Day:
There is a certain amount of flexibility with the workload but since you’re paid by the book, you generally have to squeeze in more reading time if you want to make a reasonable amount of extra cash from book reviewing. This job isn’t a gold mine. Although the pay scale varies from one company to the next, there are generally four categories: $1 books, $10 books, $25 books, and $50 books. This may be subject to availability (again, it depends on the company you work for) so when the going is good, you go like the crackers so you can get to the next book.
The way you receive payment also varies. PayPal might be an option but the most common form of payment is cheques in the mail. This might cause problems if you live in a different country. International post can take a long time to reach its destination, and an inefficient local postal service can lengthen this journey.
Since you’re paid by the book, you have to read fast. Insanely fast sometimes, so fast that your brain feels like mush because you’ve charged through thirteen relevant plot points, six moments of character development, and a whole wheelbarrow full of notable writing style, thematic development, foreshadowing, and general characterisation. This is easier to do if the book is great but great books only come around once in every twenty average books you read. Because most review books are ebooks, screen glare induced eyestrain is also an issue. This is especially true for PDF books formatted to A4 page size instead of standard book page sizes—an issue that comes up most often with indie published books.
How to Find Jobs:
I searched for book reviewer jobs on google and pinterest and then I scoured through the websites of all the companies in the search results for openings, studied their review format, and took note of which editors were responsible for the genres I review in. Some places will request a CV/resume but for others it will suffice to submit a review in the format they use. I suggest the review you submit be of a recently published or well-known book in your genre, and take note of any competitions or awards the review companies host as they may need extra staff during competition season to cover the volume of submissions they receive.