Why I won’t write book reviews for online magazines

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I set some time aside this weekend to write a book review for an online magazine that promotes feminism. Trying to get my name out into the abyss, add another book related achievement to my CV, and generally trying to validate myself as a decent book reviewer, I related the opportunity to have my name published with improved credibility.

I’ve written for online publications before, from my university paper through to a rock magazine created by two men from just outside the Midlands. I always thought it meant something. The published name, the tone of voice I needed to adopt, the time invested. By contributing to those online magazines, I thought I was contributing the a greater something. Today is the day I happily hold my hands up and admit, I wasn’t. And I’m okay with that.

Today I tried to write my review for an online magazine. The book in question is Raif Bedawi: The Voice of Freedom written by Ensaf Haider and Andrea C Hoffmann. In short, it is a brilliant work of non-fiction from the perspective of Ensaf, an incredibly brave Saudi Arabian woman who has found refuge in Canada since the arrest of her activist husband Raif who dedicated his freedom to bloggin about the unjust, sexist, and corrupt social system in Saudi Arabia.

Out of respect for the review I was meant to complete, I won’t write any further. But I will explain why it’s 9pm and it hasn’t been written. In between taking work home with me, cleaning the flat, and getting to spare a rare afternoon with Chris, I simply couldn’t face the style guide. Of course, style guides define any piece of content created for a third party, but my god, how tedious. From the layouts of dates and how specific I was allowed to be about gender, geography, and capitalisation that actually didn’t align with the book title itself, the list was as every bit exhausting as it was exhaustive.

In every book reviewer, there is a writer. Someone who wants to share their joy, their frustrations, and their desires about pieces of literature. Although my little WordPress is completely lost online, without identity and credibility, it is my platform of enjoyment. I can review books honestly, enjoy the process of writing and editing, and not been constrained by formats and language choice created by an external group. I don’t have the time to meticulously check my words against rules. I only care that I don’t offend and I can encourage readers to pick up the books I’ve enjoyed so much. I don’t care for the published name in an online magazine, I care for an hour to myself on the weekend, writing about the words of others.

While I struggled to write a review in the constraints of another expectations, I found the inspiration to sit and write about my changing expectations. Being an online book reviewer has opened up great opportunities for me and I’ve also built a grounding in a community of reviewers, publishers, and writers. When I hit publish on a review that I’ve written in my own freedom, I am my own credibility.

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4 thoughts on “Why I won’t write book reviews for online magazines

    • Whenever I’ve been given a proof directly from a publisher, I’ve never been asked to adopt a writing style. I didn’t mind when the magazine told me because it’s to be expected, but the document was about 8 pages long. Ripped away any enjoyment in writing.

  1. Absolutely, who needs to temper their writing according to someone else’s guidelines? There are plenty of ways to promote your own book blog (especially on Twitter, where the book blogging community is huge and generous). A few of us run a hashtag called #TuesdayBookBlog for the posting of reviews – if you use and RT others, share posts, etc, lots of people will read your words, your way. There’s also #wwwblogs.

    • Thanks for the tips Terry, I was completely unaware of those hashtags. I’ve built a few connections over the past 8 months with publishers and self published authors, but haven’t really grasped building connections with other reviewers.

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