Thursday, November 03, 2011

Why Write Book Reviews? And Why Post Review Links?

For those of you still hanging in there and reading my blog, you might be wondering where my regular "Week in Review" posts have gone. For that matter, you might have been wondering why I started posting those in the first place! I thought a post regarding my book/film reviews and my attempts to link to them here might be in order.

First off, I became a reviewer almost by "accident". I've always enjoyed writing about what I'm reading, watching, listening to, but it wasn't until spring of 2003 that I stumbled onto an online platform where I began writing reviews regularly. The sweet girl was just a baby then, and I was looking for some way to keep my writing muscles in shape during her frequent but short naps. (I couldn't resist posting a picture from that season of our lives...)

I found the website Epinions while looking for reviews of children's books. This was before I'd discovered blogs and the kidlitosphere! At that point, it seemed that nowhere I looked online had quite the kinds of reviews I wanted to read (as a writer and a parent). When I realized that Epinions gave people the opportunity to write and post their own reviews, it dawned on me that perhaps I could be writing the kinds of reviews I wanted to read.

I never expected that almost nine years later I'd still be writing reviews. I've written many other things since, but review writing gets in your blood. Over a thousand reviews later, I still find I have lots to say about what I'm reading, watching, listening to...and it's fun to try to find fresh ways to say it.

I've also thoroughly enjoyed the Epinions community. (I found one of my best friends there!) Beyond that, I've had good exchanges with writers of all sorts. There are many kind, thoughtful people writing there. Like any website of its kind, the writing quality varies dramatically on Epinions. With so much content, some of it is going to be sub-par but a good percentage of it is solid and some of it is really brilliant.

What's also fun when you read a body of reviews from a relatively small number of people over time is that you begin to learn about particular passions. Because of Epinions, I've learned new things about gardening, guitar playing, foreign films, cozy mysteries, superheroes, classical music, and a host of other (sometimes fascinatingly obscure) topics. I particularly like it when writers get really excited about other writers. We have one book review writer on Epinions, a retired gentleman, who has the lovely habit of reading through a given writer exhaustively over a period of about a year -- and posts reviews of everything he reads by and about that writer for others' edification/learning. He and I have had email conversations about all sorts of writers, including Kipling and James Fenimore Cooper.

I do earn income, of a sort, from my reviews on Epinions. It is not a lucrative business, review writing for general interest online venues (where the greatest number of visitors are likely to be looking for information on vacuum cleaners and digital cameras rather than wanting to read about The Great Gatsby or Anne of Green Gables). When you click on one of my review links here, it will take you to my review on the Epinions site. I do *not* earn money just because you click on the link. However, the number of outside visitors (meaning non-members of the site) to my reviews do help establish my readership and factor into what I earn via monthly income share. If you're patient and keep writing (and reading and rating and commenting on other writers' reviews) then eventually one does begin to earn something helpful on the site. The laborer is worthy of her hire, and I'm thankful that I've been able to earn enough through my review writing to cover most of our homeschool books and curriculum so far. Given our family's current needs, and our ongoing commitment to ministry in a small, poor, urban community, my writing income is an important part of our livelihood. In fact, I would love to have my writing income, here and elsewhere, grow. I appreciate prayers to that end!

The main benefit from clicking on my review links, from my perspective (and I hope your's) is that I get to share with you about something I enjoy. Most of my reviews are of books (and movies and music) that I truly loved or at least greatly liked. I will sometimes write reviews that "pan" something, but that's very rare. Mostly I try hard to craft reviews that will inform and encourage. Though I review books of all sorts, the bulk of my content is still centered on children's books. I'm still trying to craft the kinds of reviews that I wanted to read as a new parent. I love sharing about living literature, books that teach and challenge and inspire both me and my daughter. I sometimes post favorite book lists or essays about books, and I even do an occasional series, each year, of books we're using to supplement our homeschool history studies. Lately I've been writing more about books we use in our art studies too.

So there you have it. A post about why I write reviews, and a little bit about why I've been posting links to my reviews here more regularly. I've gotten behind on that lately and will probably do a "week in review" post that will actually have most of my links from the month of October (a busy month for me, hence not a very prolific review writing month). Then I can start fresh with posting weekly in November again. At least that's my hope.


One more note: if this has sparked your interest in the possibility of writing for Epinions, let me know. The site has been going through some growing pains (good ones, we hope) and recent upgrades, and they're beginning to more actively seek new writers. If you decide you'd like to check them out and maybe even sign up, please leave me a comment. If you go through me, I'll get a small referral fee.


Erin said...

Review writing certainly gets into the blood, doesn't it? And it's funny how it changes the way you watch and read and listen to things. I'm always starting to write the review in my head as I'm watching or whatever; just can't seem to help it. And of course, there are a lot of things I've picked up specifically because I want to review them. A funny thing...

Know what else is funny? I found one of my best friends at Epinions too. :)

Erin said...

Oh, and that picture is totally adorable! :D

Beth said...

It does indeed get in the blood! And I know what you mean about the way it influences how you watch, read, and listen. Sometimes I have to consciously choose to turn off my inner reviewer the first time through! What I love is when a lead for a review seems to pop into my head as if by magic. Once I have a good lead, the rest of it seems to follow naturally...

And what a coincidence about that friendship thing! ;-)