Meet Book Critic Dana Kaye

- by BlogMistress

dana-kaye-headshot-1Dana Kaye is a freelance writer and book critic based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out Chicago, Crimespree Magazine, Curve Magazine, and on eMusic.com. Additional reviews and essays can be found on her blog, The Chicago Contingent.

I’ve always had an opinion. Whether it was about the latest Oscar winner, the newest restaurant, or what fashion trend just had to go, I never hesitated to speak my mind. But it wasn’t until my final year of college that I realized I could earn a living off of all my opinions.

My first book review was published in the now defunct magazine, Punk Planet. I took a fiction class taught by Joe Meno, a Chicago author and playwright, who was also the editor of the magazine’s books section. At the end of the term, he gave each student the option to review a book. The gig didn’t pay, but it was an opportunity to earn a publishing credit, and later, opened doors for future publication.

I started small, pitching editors at local and indy magazines, but it was actually Time Out Chicago that gave me my next assignment. Once I had a mainstream publishing credit, it was easier to obtain more, and I branched out from book reviewing into feature articles, Q&As and restaurant and bar reviews.

The main draw to writing any type of article is the chance to promote a business or a person who normally wouldn’t get any press. But I find this to be especially true when it comes to authors. There are so many great books that fly under the radar and never get the recognition they deserve. Reviewing for indy publications like Punk Planet and Crimespree gave me the opportunity to review books by lesser known authors or those published by small and independent presses. Reviewers aren’t the stereotypical cynical, bitter people that want to bash everyone because they never made it as authors. Every reviewer I know does it because they love to read and love to praise books that deserve it.

As authors, you understand the importance of getting your book reviewed, but you might not know the best way to go about doing it. Sending advanced reading copies, or ARCs, to local newspapers and magazines is fine, but the editors are so inundated with books that yours can easily be lost in the piles. As a freelance reviewer, most ARCs are sent to me directly, and my to-be-read piles are far smaller than those of the New York Times. There are three important things to remember when sending your ARC to a reviewer:

  1. Research. Look at their past reviews to see what types of books they read. If your novel is romantic suspense and a critic has only published reviews of literary fiction, there’s only a slim possibility that your book would be given a fair chance.
  2. Be Timely. With book sections shrinking and disappearing, editors are planning further and further in advance. I am currently pitching books being released in April and May. If you don’t get your ARCs out in a timely fashion, you’re not going to get reviews. I understand that a lot of this depends on your publisher, but it’s up to you, the author, to hound your publisher until you get your copies. Websites have a quicker turnaround time, so if you’re late sending out ARCs, online publications are the way to go.
  3. Etiquette. Some critics prefer that authors contact them prior to sending an ARC. In a short e-mail, tell the critic about your book and its publication date and ask if you can send a copy. Know that sending a copy does not guarantee a review. I’ve received too many e-mails from authors saying they would only send me a copy if they know I’m going to review it. To those authors, I always reply, “Don’t bother.”

Just as there are hundreds of great books that never get published, there are hundreds of great books that never get reviewed. This is a matter of space. There are more books published than there is room to write about them. I’ve read plenty of books that warranted reviews, but my editors simply didn’t have the space. This is part of the reason I started my blog, to review the books that didn’t get in anywhere else.

This is also the reason many publications stopped publishing negative reviews. They’d prefer to use the space to promote a book rather than bring one down. I’ve only written one or two negative reviews and they were assignments from editors. If I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t want to finish it, let alone review it. I believe that life is too short to read books that don’t engage, and I think most reviewers feel the same way.

Though budgets and book sections are getting cut, it is still possible to be reviewed. If you publish a well-written, intriguing book and send it to the right people, they will find a way to get the word out. The review may be online or published in a smaller magazine, but reviewers will always champion good writing.

2 comments

  1. Thanks so much for being here, Dana! I agree that life’s too short to read books I don’t like. ;) But what’s your review process like? Do you take notes as you read, or go back later to fill in your points? What do you think makes (or breaks) a good review — and I don’t mean it has to be positive, but well-written.

    M

  2. Megan,
    I usually don’t take notes but occasionally I use little sticky notes to mark memorable passages. I usually go through a book in a day or two and my memory is fairly sharp.

    As for well-written reviews, I’d say there needs to be a balance of plot summary and opinion which captures the essence of the book. A good review doesn’t just say whether or not the critic enjoyed the book. A good review illustrates whether or not YOU will enjoy it. I always try to capture the tone of the novel (gritty, humerous, etc.) because despite the plot summary, the tone can easily change a person’s opinion.

    Hope that was helpful!