Getting Started in Book Reviews

I was asked recently how to get started doing book reviews.  I will give some brief remarks.  First, why do book reviews?  In my opinion, it is a great thing to do for several reasons. First, you get a free book!  Second, you learn how to read actively and critically (though not necessarily negatively).  Third, you are forced to read a whole book.  Often I just read parts of books for my research and that can sometimes become a bad habit where you are just plundering the texts for what you want.  Doing a book review forces you to read cover to cover and get a sense for the whole argument.  Finally, when you read other books, you think more about your own writing.  Am I writing clearly?  Is my thesis well-stated?  Are all of my chapters relevant?  Do I put too much unimportant info in footnotes?  All good things to think about.
Second preliminary matter  – does it help to do book reviews vis-a-vis my CV?  It can’t hurt, and its nice to get something under ‘published material’, but overall it doesn’t really count as publications.  Nevertheless, I often acquire textbooks for doing reviews and that way, when I look for a job, I am conversant in all the latest textbooks.  Also, I do reviews outside my primary research area (such as 1 Peter or the Gospel of John).  That helps me to be versatile.  I can teach in other subjects because I have read widely.

Ok, so here is the basic process.

1. You contact a journal ‘book review editor’ and introduce yourself.  Tell him or her a little bit about you and ask if you can do a book review.  YOu can find this editor usually on the website of the journal.  If you are a member of SBL, try http://www.bookreviews.org.  If you are a member of ETS, email their review editors.

2. The review editor will eventually furnish you with a list of books available for review.  Typically it is hard to just tell the editor what you want.  Chances are, if you want it, someone else (a much bigger scholar) has already ‘called it’.  Start off doing the books nobody else wants to.  Then you build some credibility with the journal.  After a dozen book reviews you might be able to make some requests.

3. The journal sends you the book (for free!) and you will have about 3 months to read and review the book.  They usually send instructions on length and formatting.  Most journals are about 300-700 words.  1000 words is a long for reviews, 200 is quite short.  They will specify.

4. YOU usually submit the review by email and when the journal volume is published it is common for them to send you a comp. copy (though not always).  NB: The editors are not usually responsible for copy-proofing the reviews, so be careful that you do not have typos.  I have seen a typo once in a while in my reviews and it is embarrassing for me and the journal.

That’s it!  Where to begin?  Find a journal you enjoy reading and contact the book review editor.  Don’t go for the really specialized journals (like JSNTS Booklist or NTS or JTS).  They require PhD grads to do reviews.  Go for a seminary journal or something on that level.  Ok, good luck!