April Younglove (OR7) shares her experience as a reviewer for Library Journal.
Ding dong! “That’s odd,” I thought to myself, “I’m not expecting anyone.” It was 11 AM on a Monday, and solicitors rarely made it through my building’s closed entryway and all the way up the flight of stairs to my apartment. I cautiously opened my door and looked out, but didn’t see anyone. Then I noticed a mysterious bulge beneath my doormat. When I lifted up the mat, I found a package underneath it — even though I couldn’t recall ordering anything. I took the brick shaped package into my house and examined it. The return address said: “Library Journal.” Then I remembered! A month earlier I had responded to an email looking for social science reviewers for the journal. I had filled out and returned the extensive attached application with only mild hopes, and had not heard back yet. Was this a book for me to review? When I ripped open the package, I found my first Advance Reading Copy inside with accompanying instructions. They were brief. The paper listed a few guidelines in bullet point form, specified a 200 word limit, and had a two week deadline written in red ink across the top. I felt like my childhood hero Maxwell Smart. I had been given a surprise secret assignment just for me — a mission to accomplish!
Reviewers typically receive either an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) or galley in the mail. They then must respond within the next few days if they do not wish to review the book because of time constraints or a conflict of interest. An ARC usually looks like the finished paperback on the outside, but on the inside it has not undergone a final edit. ARCs are given to reviewers and publicists a few months before the book is scheduled to hit bookstores in order to provide information about the book and to generate interest. One can usually tell that a book is an ARC because it identifies itself as such with a sticker or notation on the outside or with stamps or other labels on the inside. In one ARC that I received, there were still footnotes from the editor throughout the text telling the author to verify a fact here and insert an additional story there. A galley is similar to an ARC except that it does not have the finished paperback quality that you would expect from a purchased copy. The pages are made from lower quality paper and then bound with cardstock and binding tape. Although there is no law against selling ARCs and galleys, it is common courtesy not to circulate an unfinished copy of someone’s work; I don’t know of any bookstores that will purchase one. Advance books for reviewers are meant to be either kept by the reviewer or recycled.
After penning a review that meets the requirements, a reviewer sends her or his work to an editor – in my case, I email my reviews to the social science editor of Library Journal. The editor then responds, usually by asking for clarification on a particular point or by suggesting minor changes or improvements. I try to get back to the editor with a revised copy or a series of facts and answers within a day or so after her response. My review is then published in the next month’s issue, and after publication it may be picked up and republished as a blurb by sources like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.
Remember that even a simple reviewer’s words can carry great power. A reviewer must be scrupulous about the facts that she cites and should always be prepared to back up her description of the work with passages from the book itself. A poor review in Library Journal can equate to poor library sales for an author. An unfavorable Library Journal review that is picked up by Amazon.com can be even worse for that author. I am not advocating that reviewers overlook a book’s weaknesses or ignore other points that should be critiqued. I am suggesting that reviewers strive to be as balanced as possible though. After an unhappy author questioned a review that I published this year, I have learned to cast a more critical eye on my own writing.
If you are thinking of becoming a reviewer, you should expect reviewing to be a major time commitment that can show up at random on any day, regardless of what you already have scheduled. You should also keep in mind that sometimes your final printed review will be minus a sentence that you particularly liked, or that your editor may insert an additional adjective or two based on the information that you gave her. In addition, I prefer and often read the kind of lengthy and detailed reviews that have become popular in publications like Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, or The New York Times. Unfortunately for me, writing a 200 word book review is much more like composing a good haiku than it is like writing an introduction to the next Great American Novel. Because of the length restriction though, I am learning to become a better more disciplined writer. I also still get a big kick out of seeing my name in one of the most widely read journals in my field. And finally, I enjoy knowing that my reviews are actively helping other librarians make good choices about what to purchase for their libraries. But the best part of being a reviewer? It is the thrill that I get when I see a new and mysterious package beneath my mat and I wonder what it contains. Will my next mission will be exciting or routine? Will I discover new things? Am I up to the challenge? My heart begins to race a little as I pick up the plain outer wrapping to see what is inside . . .
Apply to become a Library Journal reviewer: http://www.libraryjournal.com/info/CA6415293.html
As a LIS student, you are eligible to receive a free one-year subscription to the Library Journal. Offer expires December 31, 2007. Just print out the form found here http://www.libraryjournal.com/contents/pdf/studentform.pdf, fill it out and mail.