If you love to read books, have writing skills, and like to express your opinion, you may be interested in becoming a literary critic. But where do you start? Fortunately, there are more options today than ever before. Depending on your interests and abilities, you can be a literary critic for fun, to get free books, or even as a career path.
Part 1 of 2: Becoming a Critic
Step 1. Read lots of books and reviews
The truth is that if you don't love reading, you won't enjoy being a literary critic. Read a variety of books to familiarize yourself with trends and classics that survive the test of time in the literary industry, and also read their reviews for inspiration and guidance.
- If you have decided to critique a particular work, or a specific field or genre, read relevant reviews. Learn the language, style, and content that critics employ in this area. Take note of what looks good to you and what doesn't.
- Make a realistic assessment of your skills and commitment. Can you read quickly while still understanding the content? Is your writing ability similar to that of the critics of the field you want to enter? Regardless of the answer, you have options to choose from, but you may have to adapt your dreams of fame and fortune (although literary criticism shouldn't be seen as the way to get these things, anyway).
Step 2. Write reviews of books that are sold on the Internet
There is nothing wrong with starting small, in a no-pressure environment. Some people can make a name for themselves and even earn some money by writing their literary reviews on internet sales sites like Amazon, but you might as well see it as a practice way to help other readers make up their minds.
- At most, you will need to create an account in order to write reviews, but you better take the task seriously if you really want to become a literary critic. To do this, you will obviously have to read the books you write about. Take the time to create thoughtful reviews that make you proud of your work.
- Even these simple reviews can serve as a sample of your work to advance in the business of literary criticism. So make sure they are good samples.
Step 3. Write a review blog
If you just like the idea of sharing your opinions on books you've read, this might be the way. But it can also be the platform to progress to bigger things.
- Focus on producing quality reviews. In this case, you are the boss and the editor, but you should not be less demanding. Take some time to write the reviews and review them. If done well, a review of your blog can serve as a sample to apply for a job as a literary critic.
- Once the blog starts to be successful, contact some publishers to express your interest in critiquing their books. They may decide to send you books at no cost for you to review. Your only obligation is to read the work and write an honest review (positive or negative), and to indicate to readers that a free copy was sent to you in exchange for an independent review.
- In addition to having a free book for your collection, you could earn a bit of money from your blog reviews. For example, if you manage to get an affiliate code from Amazon, you will receive a small commission each time someone clicks the shared link in your post and purchases the book. In this case, you will also have to indicate to your readers that you have such an agreement with the seller.
Step 4. Plan your next steps
Congratulations! At this point, you can already consider yourself a literary critic. If you want to keep progressing but don't plan on being a professional literary critic, you have a few options. For example, you could consider doing the following:
- There are many websites dedicated to literary criticism where you can get even more books for free. You could even earn a little money for your high-quality independent reviews.
- If you really want to see your name (and job) in print, you can look up literary magazines that only ask for evidence of your ability to write reviews to hire you as a freelancer. In this case, you would also work in exchange for free books or a little money.
Step 5. Find a job as a professional critic
If you want to build a career as a literary critic, you will have to start acquiring contacts and creating your portfolio. As you might expect, there are not thousands of such jobs waiting for someone to want to take them, so you will have to be persistent and realistic.
- Contact a literary criticism group, such as the National Circle of Literary Critics of the United States (NBCC, https://www.bookcritics.org/) and ask for the directory of review or critic editors. With this list you can determine which works you want to work with and which publisher you should contact.
- If you know someone who works in a publishing house, take advantage of this advantage to be able to communicate with an editor. You will need all the help possible.
- Gather the best “samples” of your reviews and contact the review editor (or editors) of the publisher of your choice. Don't expect to start working with a reputable journal from scratch. Focus on local or regional newspapers. Express your interest and offer to provide a sample of your work.
- Ask for catalogs from large publishing houses to propose to write reviews for works that will be published in the future as part of your application for a job. After all, the idea is not to write reviews of books that have already been published.
- Be persistent but not pushy with follow-up emails. The idea is to show your interest without actually upsetting an editor who may already be overwhelmed by their work.
Part 2 of 2: Succeed as a Critic
Step 1. Specialize in one genre
It can be valuable to demonstrate your ability to write reviews on any type of book, from children's stories to romance novels and biographies. However, if you demonstrate your ability in a particular genre, it will be easier to promote your work as a professional literary critic.
- Ideally, of course, the gender you choose should be based on your personal preference, ability, education, or experience.
- However, if you can meet the need for criticism in one area, you will increase your chances of getting a job. Stay up-to-date with your reading to familiarize yourself with the genres in fashion in the literary industry.
- The idea is to become the critic that everyone is looking for when a specific type of work reaches the hands of an editor.
Step 2. Follow the rules and respect the deadlines
When you write the reviews in a blog, you set the rules and the publication dates. However, if you want to work as a literary critic, the first thing to learn is that keeping the editor happy is essential.
- Read well the style and format guides provided and respect the number of words required. The space reserved for the reviews of most books is scarce, so you must be able to compress the information you want to convey without losing the essentials and criticism.
- Do not agree to make a review if you do not think you can finish it on time. If you consistently miss deadlines, the editor won't be happy with your work. Know that it will be easy for him to find another capable and ready person to take your place.
Step 3. Guide the reader in reading
Obviously, there is no one correct way to write a review. Some critics prefer to summarize the work, while others focus on criticism. However, with all the information and opinions that you can easily find about any book (for example, on blogs and in the Amazon reviews section), you will have to offer something else to make your work stand out from the rest.
The idea of reading a book, especially a captivating one, is to establish a personal connection between the reader and the world presented in the text. Therefore, consider that your job as a critic is to prepare potential readers to enter this world. You can share your personal experience as a guide
Step 4. Take into account the advice of the experts
About 40 years ago, well-known author John Updike created a list of six rules for literary critics. These rules are shared among critics and are followed to this day. They are really worth considering if you plan to become a literary critic. You can find them below:
- Try to understand what the author wanted to convey and do not judge him based on something he did not intend to do.
- Provide enough citations from the work to give the reader of your review a taste of the quality of the prose.
- Support your description of the work with quotes and other evidence from the text.
- Limit the summary of the plot and never mention the ending. Don't spoil the experience for others.
- When the quality of a work is poor, try to cite examples from other similar good books (perhaps even by the same author). Try to understand and explain what went wrong. Avoid directly attacking the text.
- Don't review books that you are predisposed to dislike or like (for example, a book written by a friend). Avoid seeing yourself as the guardian of a literary tradition or standard. Also, don't try to "put an author in his place" with criticism. Finally, write your review on the work, not on its reputation.