Although I still write two book reviews a week for my own blog, Bookshelf: What We’re Reading, I very seldom review professionally any more. For those of you who don’t know, for 11 years I reviewed books for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was a great gig because I essentially got paid to read and write. Add a good cup of coffee and what more could a girl want?
The best part of it is that I learned a lot about what it takes to write a good book.
I learned to look for strong characters, logical motivations and a plot not only flows but makes sense. I learned to read for voice — true voice. Let’s just say that I can pick out a New York-style Southern drawl from a fer piece. I learned the importance of a strong setting that is integral to the story.
I learned about book design and why paper color and texture matter as do font and ink color. I came to understand how important it is for the cover to be a good fit for what is inside the story. I also saw the difference in book design between the big houses and self-published books. I know it annoys a lot of people, but 90% of the time I can pick out a self published book without ever cracking the cover. Once I open the book, I know for certain.
Reading stacks and stacks of books, I also sympathized with the editor reading slush. Unless it is a something for book club, I will not stick with a book that hasn’t hooked me by page 15 and that’s if I’m feeling especially generous.
You may not be able to get a gig as a book reviewer, but I challenge you to educate yourself. Read 100 books in your category (picture book, early reader, middle grade) before you submit your work to an editor or an agent. Planning to self publish? Then read 200. If your manuscript isn’t as good as what you’re reading, you’ve got some work to do before you put it out there. This is, after all, your competition and your book needs to be able to stand out, for good reasons, in a crowd.