What qualifies as a professional book review?

book reviewers


Writers live and die by reviews.

I have been fortunate thus far in my writing career to have done okay with reviews for the most part.  So, I am not bitching about anything.

But recently I keep returning to the issue of what constitutes a professional review.

We hear about the gatekeepers in the new world of digital publishing.

Some bemoan the fact that anyone nowadays with a word processor can publish a book.

I am not one of the bemoaners.

Come one, come all.

Just as anyone with Internet access can upload a book on Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone can write book reviews and post them for all the world to read.

This has spawned an entire industry of book bloggers, many of whom now wield considerable influence in various genres.

I feel the same way about book bloggers as I do about customer reviews.

The more the merrier.

Some say book bloggers have become the main gatekeepers in the new world of digital.

Maybe, maybe not.

What makes a book blogger review any different than a regular customer review? The same holds true for a Kirkus Reviews review.  If there is something inherently more reliable about a review from an established entity, be it a well-known book blogger site or a venerable institution like Kirkus Reviews, what is it?

Several factors come to mind as I try to analyze this issue.

First let’s talk about the credentials of the reviewer.

What credentials give a reviewer the right to hold himself out as a professional reviewer?

A person with an academic bent may say a stand up review must come from someone with a particular academic pedigree.  Maybe a masters in creative writing, maybe an undergraduate degree in English literature, perhaps even a doctorate in a field related to writing.

People who have worked as professional writers all their lives may take a different tack on reviewer qualifications.  They may lean toward the sort of jobs the reviewer has held.  Has she been a working journalist?  Has she been published by a big house?  Is she a novelist, essayist? A well-known freelancer? A ghost writer for celebrities?

Then there are those who believe that the most qualified person to write book reviews is the one who is a voracious reader, the true bibliophile who has read widely across many genres.

Another factor one hears mentioned in the discussion of professional reviews is objectivity.

I simply don’t know how to judge what an objective book review is, or could be. A reviewer is expressing not just whether a book is grammatically correct (which is an objective factor), but also whether the book grabbed her. If it grabbed her, she had a subjective reaction to it.  If it didn’t grab her, she had a subjective reaction to that as well.

Well, if pedigree and objectivity aren’t the deciding factors that determine professional grade reviewers, how about money?

Is a professional review one issued by a person who received  money for it?

Shame, shame, you say.


The last time I went to the doctor he charged me before he gave me his professional opinion.  Did that make his opinion any less reliable?

Of course paying a reviewer doesn’t mean his opinion is more valuable than someone else’s.  He may be a quack.

All right.

So far I have only convinced myself that the notion of what constitutes a professional review is a thorny one.

Can anyone help me out here?

What qualifies as a professional book review?









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