What Is an Early Reviewer, and How Do I Become One?

Do you love to read? Does getting to see a book before it officially launches sound exciting to you?

In the past, reviews printed before a book was published primarily appeared in newspapers and magazines, but as the publishing industry has become more democratized, book reviews have as well.

You may have heard of “early reviewers” before in connection with newly released retail products, but authors and publishers also look for individuals to fill this role, often before publication, with the hope that the reviewers will help promote awareness and anticipation of a book’s launch.

Although authors and publishers may still query newspapers and magazines, many seek reviews from readers who are not connected to a specific media outlet – for example, industry experts, influencers, readers within the book’s target audience, and independent and emerging book reviewers. These readers are important because they can provide feedback, post reviews on product pages (e.g. on Amazon), and encourage word of mouth – and they may even have a blurb included with the book.

How do publishers and writers get their forthcoming books reviewed in a magazine or newspaper?

Most media outlets that publish reviews have dedicated columnists and/or a curated list of trusted reviewers. Although the publication may accept submissions of books for review, they can also assign books and, in some cases, allow certain writers to request a specific book from a publisher. With limits on time and space, this can mean that established writers and well-known publishers are given priority.

At my previous job – a writing magazine – we were constantly getting brand new books sent to us in the mail. Since I was the one who opened the mail, I got to be the one to see them first. Sometimes they had user-friendly stock covers from print-on-demand providers like Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and sometimes high-end, artistic designs featuring gold leaf, but I always felt special getting to see them first.

These books – primarily unsolicited ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) – would start to pile up. Much as we would have liked to review everything that was sent to us, there was simply no way we could fit it all into an issue of the magazine, much less have the time to write them.

As a writer myself, the simple act of putting a print copy of your book in the mail to send to a magazine feels somewhat antiquated – carefully folding an AI (Advance Information sheet) and query letter, placing them inside the front cover, and sending the whole affair off to some unsuspecting media outlet with equal measures of hope and dread. What if they didn’t read it? What if it got lost in the post?

Publishers and writers now often send query emails – a kind of hybrid of the query letter and the AI – to media outlets, offering to send a free copy of the book for review. But many magazines and newspapers, if not most, have set up mechanisms now to deal with the deluge of queries – with some even charging simply to submit the book for consideration, with no guarantee of review.

It just seems like there must be a better way. With so many people out there who love to read, or would enjoy the opportunity to develop their reviewing skills, how do you even break into writing book reviews?

How do I become a book reviewer?

A lot of reviewers start out developing expertise on their own dime. They purchase books and post reviews places like Goodreads or Amazon. Since reviews generally focus only on recent releases, they can stay up to date on new titles in their interest areas and genres, although they may not see a book before its official publication date.

Amazon even ranks their reviewers – something publishers will sometimes refer to when seeking new reviewers. You aren’t just ranked on the number reviews you post, but also on how helpful other users have found them. So for a higher ranking, quality as well as consistency are both important.

Once you have a number of reviews under your belt, you have a portfolio of work to show should you decide to approach a media outlet that publishes reviews. At this point some people create a dedicated website or social media accounts with examples and links to reviews they’ve written. Having this platform helps establish you as an expert, directs focus to you as a reviewer/brand (instead of Amazon), and allows you to market your review services.

The hope is that alongside applying to review new books and ARCs, you’ll also receive requests from publishers and authors seeking reviewers – at which point, you may get the books for free!

But how do I become an EARLY reviewer?

No matter where you are in your journey, there are companies that allow you to sign up to be a book reviewer. NetGalley is one of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s partners, accepting titles from publishers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, and Japan:

“NetGalley is a service to help readers of influence discover and recommend new books to their audiences. If you are a reviewer, blogger, librarian, bookseller, educator, journalist or other member of the media, you can use NetGalley for free to request, read, and recommend books before they are published.”
– NetGalley

Although some titles on NetGalley may be backlist titles looking for new interest, most are pre-publication or newly released.

Additionally, many publishers – particularly independent and small presses – have pages dedicated to their book reviewer programs, or they post on social media when they are looking for reviewers. If you’ve read a book lately that you really loved, consider checking out the publisher’s website or following them on social media in case they are seeking early reviewers!

They’ll likely have a short application or survey to track interest. They may want to know what genres you like or generally read, and if you’re applying for a specific book, why you want to read that book. Some publishers may want to see a sample of your work, while others will just want to know a little about you.

Many indie publishers see early reviewers as partners – like-minded individuals with an investment in supporting authors and small presses – so they may also ask if you’re willing to help promote the book. If you liked reading it, will you shout about it on social media? Recommend it to your friends? Lend it to a co-worker? Suggest it for your book club?

Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

Being an early reviewer means you get to see a book before it’s officially launched. Even if you aren’t excited to be one of the first people to read a new book, many early reviewer programs offer other benefits – like opportunities to chat or network with other reviewers who share some of your interests, or sometimes access to additional content and exclusive downloads related to the book.

Either way, if you choose to review a forthcoming book, you’re supporting the work of authors and publishers. So if you love to read, share your love. Review a book!

Leave a comment