Started in 1998, ForeWord Magazine is a bi-monthly print review journal focusing on books published by independent and university presses. The magazine employs reviewers from all over the United States and Canada. As stated by their website, ForeWord's readership is about 85% librarians, 12% bookstores, and 3% publishing professionals. They also put the journal in the hands of agents and editors from big publishing houses who are looking for the brightest talents from the small presses. If you'd like your book considered for review, follow the submission guidelines. ForeWord is a pre-publication journal, meaning that they only review galleys and advance review copies before the book has been officially released, so copies must be submitted at least three months prior to publication. Foreword is also the home of 'Book of the Year Awards,' a unique award focusing not only on independent and university presses but also on self-published books, ebooks, and print-on-demand (POD) titles.
In this interview, Book Review Editor Alex Moore talks about reviewing and shares the perfect structure of a great review. If you'd like to become a Foreword reviewer, send him a message through the magazine's website.
Thank you for being here today, Alex. What do you look for in a book review?
I look for narrative energy: a combination of book information, something surprising, and delightful phrasing.
What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
Using first person; there are too many I's and you's, etc. making words echo ad nauseam; third person is more objective and balanced. I also find that some reviewers don't have the breadth of background to be aware of what has already been written – what's bad and what's good.
Do you think there is much value in being unkind but truthful when a book really stinks?
There is never much value in ever being unkind, but the truth can be told tactfully through good word choice and sensitivity.
Do you take into consideration the feelings of an author when you review or do you refuse to be swayed by them?
We always try to take into consideration people's feelings whether author, publicist, or publisher; they appreciate candor delivered respectfully.
What style of reviews do you think have the most value?
The structure I prefer is: good lead (an interesting anecdote, a good quote, an amazing fact, or significant statement), summary of contents but not to give away ending in fiction, author's credentials, two-three specific examples through detail and description of the author's literary style and/or significant insights and trenchant observations, reviewer's criticism / comments, conclusion with a hoped-for flourish or connecting tether to the opening. Approximately 450 words.
Do you think many independent reviewers on the web tend to give “facile praise” to books?
I've read only a few, but they seem to be ones of whitewash written by the author's best friend.
Do you look on reviews as a critique or just your opinion of the work?
Critique. Our reviewers are essentially unknown outside their universities and places of employment; that is why we use third person for a more objective review. Everyone has an opinion.
Do you get feedback from readers?
Yes. ForeWord reviews are appreciated; they engage and are informative.
Apart from celebrity reviewers who work for major publications like The New York Times, can a reviewer make any real money from writing reviews?
No. ForeWord's reviewers, besides a small stipend, are compensated by having their review published in a respected magazine. Consistently good reviewers also get printed books in their area of interest.
What advice would you give to beginner reviewers who wish to make a career in this field?
Read reviews from the best publications and compare; then mimic with creativity the ones that the reviewer most enjoyed.
Do you consider/publish reviews by independent reviewers?
No. All book reviews are assigned by me. Part of the reason is ForeWord is a prepublication review journal; I see books before they are published.
Do you read reviews to select your reading material?
No. ForeWord reviews books that I decide are distinctive and distinguishable from the rest. We get 700 books a month; 8% are reviewed divided into 20 categories. ForeWord is a trade journal published once every two months; we review books published by independent and university presses for librarians and booksellers.
Thanks for your time, Alex. It was an honor having you here today!