At BookSirens, we strive to help book bloggers get high quality, free books in exchange for reviews. In order to serve book bloggers the best we can, we started Book Blogger Spotlights in October 2018. Every few days, we sit down with a book blogger to learn their story, what inspires them to read and review books, and what advice they have for aspiring book reviewers and authors.
In our inaugural episode, we chat with Rayleigh Gray of Literature Approved, one of the leading book review blogs in the USA. Rayleigh has reviewed over 500 books over the last 5+ years on Goodreads and Amazon combined. Below, she shares book blogging tips, her take on how to write a professional book review, and how to stand out as an author and successfully get book reviews. Lets get started!
Many people love to read, but it takes something extra to consistently and honestly review books. What do you think that something is and where do you get that from?
I think that "extra something" is the need to talk about the books we read. The drive that pushes us to want to share a story that touched us or to rant about one that disappointed us. Some readers read many books but rarely find opportunities to talk about them; as a reviewer, it's easy to get those thoughts and feelings out and connect with other readers who shared the same emotions. It's also one of the simplest ways to thank an author for their book.
How did Literature Approved get started?
I decided to start Literature Approved when my book reviews began to overtake my "life blog". I had a mixed audience on my blog: the people who followed for reviews, and the ones who followed for inspirational posts, which were few and far between. So I moved all of my reviews to Literature Approved and kept my blog separate.
Were you blog-savvy when you started? If not, where did you learn about how to start a book review blog?
Because I had already had a blog for about three years before I started Literature
Approved, I'd say that I was just a bit blog-savvy. Though I did teach myself a lot in regards to formating and menu-making by reading LOTS of Wordpress articles.
How did you come up with your book blog's name? Were there other book blog names you considered?
Oh boy, the name... It took me several months to come up with a name! I had considered titles such as The Book Stop, Life in Literature, and many others, but none seemed to reflect the message I wanted to get across. I wanted something unique, bold, and that would easily be interpreted into "book reviewer". So once I casually thought of Literature Approved, it stuck; and I'm really pleased with it.
On your blog, you mention that you are a student, an editor for a magazine, and an intern at a literary agency. You must be really busy! How do you carve out time to read? Have you discovered any clever life-hacks to fit more reading time into your busy schedule?
Yes, busy is certainly a word that accurately describes me! Finding time to read used to be an overwhelming task. I always felt as if I was behind on something, or that reading was wasting time that I could be using for work. Reading at night wasn't an option for me either because I do night school, so I almost stopped reviewing completely until after college. But, I took a book to work with me one day, and instead of browsing social media during my breaks, I started reading. Because I'm a fast reader, the 10-15 minute breaks throughout the day have been the key to fitting reading and reviewing into my schedule, and it keeps me from actually wasting time on social media!
Where do you hope to see yourself and your book blog in 10 years?
Book blogging is something I sincerely hope I never stop doing, it's become a part of me that I love so much! In 10 years, I would like Literature Approved to be a place where readers go to look up honest content reviews for books they're interested in and to find new books, while also being a viable resource for indie authors to promote their books alongside bestsellers. I have a team of reviewers currently to broaden the titles on my site (one reviewer that covers Classics and another that reviews Nonfiction), so I'd like to add to that team in the future as well.
What, in your opinion, are the elements of a professional book review?
In my opinion, a good book review needs at least four elements; an opinion of the characters, of the story overall, the writing independently, and a mention of content that may turn other readers away. A lot of reviewers will focus only on one thing and rate the book based on whether they liked that one thing or not, or they'll blend everything together in a quick paragraph. When I read a review, I want to know if the characters are likable, the story is interesting, the writing is quality, and I'd like to prepare myself for any cursing or sexual content present. They definitely must be spoiler free too!
Do you have an example of an author who impressed you with their pitch when they submitted a book for review?
Communicating with authors directly is the primary reason I left many book reviewing
programs. I love working one-on-one with authors and agents, so I do get a lot of pitches! The ones that stand out to me most are the pitches that don't seem copy and pasted. I understand that copy and paste is extremely time-saving (I do it myself often), but a lot of times they'll forget to change the name or it seems robotic.
What specifically impresses me is when authors actually take the time to read my
reviewing policy and even sample some of my reviews. In their pitch, they'll mention one of my reviews of a book similar to theirs that makes them believe that I'll enjoy their book. It doesn't always guarantee that I'll accept their book, but I do appreciate the time they took to ensure that it is a close match to my interests.
Another thing that the impressive pitches do differently is not bombard me with other reviews of their book. Though I do read through some reviews (mainly through the links provided to Goodreads or Amazon), what others are saying about their book is not the first thing I'm looking for in a pitch. I want to know about the book and about the author. If I'm interested in the reviews, then I'll follow the links provided.
What advice do you have for bibliophiles who are thinking of starting a book blog of their own?
Go for it! Don't worry about whether or not you're doing it "right", just be unique and be honest! Being a reviewer provides so many opportunities to meet authors, agents, and other reviewers who can help you along the way. Just decide on a name (the two I mentioned in question 2 are up for grabs as far as I know), and be yourself as you jot down your thoughts. There are a lot of resources for reviewers too (like NetGalley), so be willing to do some research if you want to take advantage of everything available to reviewers.
If you could add one feature to BookSirens, what would it be?
Oh wow. BookSirens already has so much, I'm amazed by it! The ReaderRank is by far my favorite feature! As for adding anything, I think that if I could, I would add maybe a newsletter for reviewers that feature books from authors who are looking for reviewers. That way reviewers can be looking for books at the same time that authors are looking for reviewers.
If you could pick one author, dead or alive, whom you would like to grab coffee with, who would it be?
Ah! No matter how many times I'm asked this question, the answer never changes.
Hands down, Mark Twain. His sarcastic, straight-forward dialect has always been entertaining to me and I'd love to have coffee with him.
Go to snack while reading?
I typically don't snack while I read. I drink beverages like coffee, hot chocolate, or SWEET iced tea (I'm a southern girl what can I say?). But if I do pick up a snack, it's more than likely something chocolate.
If you highlight, what was the last passage you highlighted?
The last thing I highlighted was in the book I Wish by Elizabeth Langston:
Dear Boss, I have fallen in love with a human. What are my options?
I loved this because it's so vulnerable and sweet. It tells us a lot about Grant (person talking) and the kind of person he is.
Most pages you have read in a single sitting?
Errrrr. An entire book. Multiple times. So probably close to 350 or 400 pages in a sitting. Believe me, it was more than likely a rainy Saturday.
Favorite place to read?
On the couch under mounds of blankets or on a swing on a sunny day.
There you have it!
If you are an aspiring book reviewer, we hope you picked up some precious nuggets of inspiration and book blogging tips from Rayleigh. If you haven't already, we also recommend you join Rayleigh and become a book reviewer on BookSirens. BookSirens is a great, free, way to get a never-ending supply of books, directly from publishers and authors, in the genres you love. You can read as many or as few of these books as you want, for free. All we ask is that you try your best to leave an honest review after you are done.
If you are an author looking for free book review sites, you can read Rayleigh's review policy here. Also checkout BookSirens's book reviewers list and quickly find potential book review blogs that are currently accepting books in your genre(s).
Till next time.