01First, Act Like a Book Reviewer: Review Books, A LOT
Being a paid book reviewer likely sounds like a plum job for many writers, who generally love reading as much as writing. Despite this, it's certainly not a pipe dream. Seriously, I'm a real person, and I do it every day. There is indeed paid work available for book reviewers.
The first step is to obtain books on your own (at your own expense) and publish reviews on open platforms like Goodreads or Amazon.
This helps the writer in several ways. First, it keeps you on top of the recent releases in your interest areas and genres. This is important because reviewing focuses on recent releases (with a few exceptions). It also teaches you the process of writing a book review. Interacting with other writers, reviewers and readers will help to shape your prose. You'll also get the chance to observe their review styles. Last, you may begin to develop a following of fans who appreciate your reviews and writing style. It is from this following that you build your audience for later endeavors.
02Develop Your Own Book Review Outlet
Once you've got the hang of reviewing books, you'll want to develop a site or niche where you can publish your work yourself, such as a fan page or a blog. It helps to establish you as an expert, and puts the focus on you as a reviewer/brand, as opposed to Amazon reviews, which people may not associate as much with the review authors. It also serves to gather your prose/writing in one area/profile, which you can then use later on as evidence of your beautiful prose style and sparkling reviewer's wit.
At this point, you are still generally shouldering the cost of the books yourself. However, there are platforms and site such as BookSneeze, which gives free books to some bloggers in exchange for published reviews.
Personally, I recommend starting a book review blog, as you are in full control, and may even be able to monetize the site and begin earning pay for your reviews that much earlier. Also, you can then open your blog/site up to authors who are seeking reviews or doing blog tours. It might mean that you'll then start getting your books for free from the author/publishers. It also means that you'll be privy to brand new releases- ones that may not even be available to the public yet. Again, this will serve to underline you as an expert. Another bonus is that you begin to build relationships with those authors/publishers.
Often, the books that you receive from these relationships and from places like BookSneeze are Advanced Readers Copies. It is a "rough draft" of the book produced for first readers and reviewers. These ARCs costs less to produce and can be sent out early, even if the final book isn't completely done. Also, ARCs can't be sold/resold on Amazon.com. It helps keep the new releases under wraps and keeps the profits with the publisher!
If you can cultivate a relationship with a publisher at this point, you may have the good fortune of being put on their marketing/publicity list. It means that they'll send you emails or catalogs asking you which of their new releases you'd like a copy of. What a book lovers dream!
03Gather Your Documents Together
It is now almost time to start chasing those paid opportunities. But, you need to prepare! Gather together your best reviews- the ones in which your prose just flows, and your passion is evident. Format them attractively and save them as a PDF. Also, if this particular review is on a site, save the URL, too, as some book reviewing jobs ask for links.
Next, prepare a resume focusing first on your book reviewing credits and skills, and second on your other writing credits and skills. Yes, it's true, some outlets who are in a position to pay book reviewers may request a traditional resume. However, they're not looking for a list of every job you've had in the past 5 to 10 years. They're looking for evidence of your writing/reviewing ability. Be sure to learn about how to write a job resume if you need help with this step.
Your last document will be a cover letter. It will generally be the text of an email responding to open jobs/projects. Put together a basic cover letter for a generic book review position, and then slant it for each potential project.
04Pursue Paid Book Reviewing Jobs/Projects
It's time to start making some dough. Even if you're hoping to focus on reviewing for specific magazines, or reviewing for a particular leader in the industry, I still recommend that you build up your credentials and give yourself some monetary encouragement by getting some paid work.
Look for specific freelance writing jobs that ask for book reviewers. Yes, there are a few here and there. I run into this request at least once a month through my established freelance writing jobs lists. If you find an opportunity that you want to take up, respond specifically (tailor your cover letter) and quickly (as these guys get inundated fast). Don't be discouraged if you don't get a response. It is a volume game. When someone puts such an attractive job out there on the WWW, they likely have their pick of the litter. Keep trying.
You may pick up some regular clients in this manner, which is always good, since, hey, you've reached your goal! You are now a paid book reviewer! (But read on anyway.)
Generally, these companies, sites, or publications have a relationship with the publisher, so you'll likely receive the review copy from your new client. It may vary, though.
One side note here. There are often authors or companies that pay reviewers for positive reviews. It is an ethical consideration for you if you want to continue and be accepted in the book reviewing field. Generally, a reviewer is thought to be an impartial source.
Check out this New York Times article on paid book reviewers for more information.
05Pitch to Magazines, Journals and Newspapers
Now that you're an established book reviewer with a few (paid) clips in your portfolio, the next level could be getting your reviews placed in publications- both print and online. It might net you a wider audience, and certain publications net you some cred as a writer/reviewer. Also, print publications may pay a bit better, too.When I say "publications," I am including the big guys here: Booklist from the ALA, Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly. Of course, you may want to start smaller, such as with a regional rag, and build up to the power players, right?
I've covered how to query magazines extensively on this site, and the process is similar to book reviews. However, there might be a bit of variety. For example, some editors may want to see the review in total, as opposed to pitch or query letters. Some may list you as an ongoing potential reviewer, one in a pool, and send you books that match your stated interests or expertise areas every so often. Some may come to you with potential titles, whereas some may let you pitch titles that you think their readership would like.
Finding outlets that accept book reviews is similar to finding magazines to publish your other written work: start with the Writers Market or visit the magazine's website.
06Keep Current and Get Educated
Retain your status as a paid, professional book reviewer by staying current and relevant in the field. Keep on top of new releases, specifically those in your favorite genres. In addition, most major book sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have sections regarding upcoming releases. Following publishers on Twitter, or signing up for their marketing emails may also result in insider scoops.
In addition, consider joining the National Book Critics Circle, a professional association for book reviewers. They offer education and networking resources for reviewers, along with updated listings of potential outlets. Wondering why this recommendation is at the end of your process? It's because the NBCC is open to professional reviewers who can show published review clips. Now, that's a great club to join!