Building Your Business

3 Ways to Actually Get Paid to Write About Books

By Julie Schwietert Collazo July 26th, 2016

Reading is often called an enriching experience, but unfortunately for bibliophiles, most of the time that isn’t literally the case. Most outlets pay a pittance, if at all, for book reviews, and top-tier literary publications like The Paris Review and The New York Review of Books tend to be insular to the point of absurdity.

So how can book lovers parlay their reading time and literary knowledge into other kinds of paid writing? Here are three ways, according to freelancers who have made their book obsessions pay off.

1. Pitch a timely author interview or profile piece

Rather than fixating on criticism and reviews of a new book, it’s often much more realistic to pitch coverage around the release of a book.

Pitching profiles or interviews of authors with just-published or soon-to-be-published books gives you a nice, timely peg that usually satisfies editors. Plus, authors who have a particularly timely subject or are compelling personalities themselves can make for ideal interviewees.

You can usually make contact with an author through their publisher or agent—or even social media. Alice Driver, a writer who recently filed a profile piece for The Guardian about Blair Braverman, the author of the just-released Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, met Braverman on Twitter.

“We liked each other’s writing,” Driver said. When Braverman’s book was about to be published, Driver reached out about the possibility of doing a profile piece.

Use your exclusive access to pitch a profile or interview to publications that’s timed right to the book’s release, Driver suggests. And be sure to share the article with the writer and publisher; they’ll be eager to promote your piece as part of their marketing plan.

2. Do a roundup

Roundups are great for both writers and editors. They’re generally easy to put together, and editors like roundups because they’re built for social media sharing.

If a single book review generates shares through the author and their publisher, a piece that includes multiple books will, theoretically, generate shares through all of those books’ authors and publishers. Plus, for online publications that include book sales through a third-party vendor like Amazon as part of their monetization strategy, multiple books equal multiple opportunities to generate income.

Roundups can be pegged to the season, a genre, or a current event. For example, I’ve used news hooks such as the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and Black Lives Matter to pitch roundups of books that might not have been familiar to a general audience. Both were published by The Guardian.

Roundups have an additional benefit for writers, too: They allow you to find ways to give exposure to more great writers. Writer Hope Wabuke focuses on writers of color, specifically writers of the global African diaspora.

“I chose this focus because black writers are woefully underrepresented in the publishing and review process,” she said, “and there are so many black writers being published.”

3. Go inside the industry

There’s a large segment of readers that love to know how the book industry works—probably yourself included if you love books—and there’s plenty of space in publications’ pages to satisfy their curiosity with “talk shop”-style pieces.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, for instance, divulged why so many covers of recently published books are yellow. (Spoiler: It’s an eye-catching color.)

Though the article was written by a staffer, freelancers should take inspiration from these types of articles. Pitch stories that delve into specific, eccentric topics that relate to the book industry as a whole. Doing so can expand potential outlets to include publications that aren’t even necessarily interested in traditional book reviews.

Freelancer Ilana Masad has done this successfully. Masad has written about diversity in contemporary literature for Vice’s Broadly, for which she interviewed relevant authors, editors, and agents. More recently, she said, she had another pitch accepted at a different publication that will give an insider view of what it’s like being an agent’s assistant.

Increasingly, “editors are interested in pieces about book trends, books’ connections to current affairs, or the ever-popular inside-baseball type of piece,” she said. If you find these types of stories, you might get paid more than for a standard book review—all while learning about the books you love.

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