Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review Background: The Life History of a Reviewer

I've been a book reviewer for most of my adult life.  I started at The Houston Post newspaper where I worked as a librarian and reviewed any books that were assigned to me by the features department.  I met my husband at the Post, but since they had a nepotism policy (ironic because Ovita Culp Hobby's family ran the paper), I applied for a job at the rival Houston newspaper.

When I moved to The Houston Chronicle and worked as a features staffer, I had a multitude of jobs, including reviewing books, movies, and events.  Again, I had no real specialty, but reviewed whatever was assigned to me.

Before our daughters were born, we moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where I became the freelance theater reviewer for the local newspaper -- the newspaper where my husband was a reporter.

When Gannett company bought the Ft. Collins Coloradoan, they moved us to the Washington, D. C., area where my husband joined Gannett News Service.  Since I wanted a freelance job so that I would be home most of the time with two children, I began writing a mystery review column for the Washington Times newspaper.

At the time I was a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and in time became a member of the Book Critics Circle.

After we moved to Northern California and the Times ended my column, I became a mystery book reviewer for Publishers Weekly, a job that I coveted since I first worked as a page at my neighborhood library in Lincoln, Nebraska, and began reading PW.

While I was a PW reviewer, I was a part-time English composition instructor at the local community college. 
In 2000, I went to work fulltime at Prima Publishing and my review job with PW was terminated.  The Prima job was short-lived because Random House bought the company and moved my section of it to New York, ending my job there.  So I went back to teaching.

In September of 2010, I retired and decided that what I really enjoyed doing was reading books and reviewing them.  By that time I was burned out with mystery fiction and knew that I enjoyed the happy endings in romance fiction much better.  I also realized that some of the best fiction writers were publishing in the romance field.

So I sent out query letters to two places where I really wanted to work: Booklist print magazine and All About Romance, an online book review site.  I am now a member of Romance Writers of America. 

What I like about these venues is that they want completely different kinds of reviews.  My editor at Booklist calls their 175 word maximum reviews haiku reviews.  All About Romance, on the other hand, likes a minimum of five paragraphs for each review, a luxury that lets me wallow in words.  For me, the Booklist reviews are much more challenging than the AAR ones; however, having to grade the books from A+ to F at AAR challenges me more than just writing the short reviews at Booklist. 

Reviewing, then, is an activity that keeps me analytically sharp despite being retired.  As it's been all along, it is my life.

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