NC Literary Hall of Fame




By Alice Osborn, 2012 Fall Conference Faculty, "How Book Reviews are the Magic Pill to Elevate Your Writing Career"

What I love about writing book reviews is that my graduate school degree in English is put to good use. In other words, I can use my analytical, literary skills and love for reading all at the same time. I’ve come across a lot of writers who I know are quite capable of writing book reviews, but many don’t know where to start. They don’t want to throw out their opinions to the world, or they don’t feel they have enough of a literary background to write a worthy review. The workshop I’m teaching at the upcoming Fall Conference, “How Book Reviews Are the Magic Pill to Elevate Your Writing Career,” is a direct result of these conversations.

During our ninety minutes together in this class, I’ll discuss how although each review is subjective, the reviewer always needs to be objective. You’ll also learn how to organize your review, craft that difficult opening line, the ethics of the genre, and time management. Most of all, you’ll learn it’s not all about getting free books!

We’ll also talk about the qualities of a good book reviewer, which are:

  • a good command of the language
  • knowledge of the genre and its canons
  • analysis without jargon
  • providing connections and acknowledging patterns
  • evaluating the book’s meaning
  • honesty/tact
  • objectivity


I’d also add that a good reviewer has a strong working knowledge of pop culture, history, film, religion, and political science of the 20th and 21st Century so she can allude and reference when necessary.

Whew, that’s a lot to ask!

No one taught me how to write a review—I decided to use my gut instincts and graduate school training to light my way. I also read a lot of reviews in the Sunday News & Observer and New York Times. I noticed that every reviewer was different and brought her own set of opinions and views to the book. I was determined not to bland anything down. No one wants to read that.

After the Independent Weekly published my essay in their “Front Porch” section, I asked my editor to consider me for writing book reviews. Wish granted! My first reviews for them maybe didn’t have the sophistication and confidence of my more recent reviews, but they weren’t simply recaps. I jotted down page numbers, repeating motifs, and words in the book’s front matter. I bent back pages, wrote “image similar to p. 27” on p. 73, and also wrote comments to myself not meant for anyone else’s eyes, like, “this is crap!” “drivel,” “misspelling here,” “awesome,” “cool,” and “confusing.”

Later, I concentrated my review efforts in the poetry genre. Soon I was able to reference similar classic and contemporary works within the review. I also gave myself permission to have fun with similes, metaphors, and wordplay. My personality was shining through.

Writing reviews are one of the best ways to build your writing portfolio and, if you’re a blogger, help you gain followers who will convert into readers for your other work. Being a reviewer makes you a better writer, not only because of the extensive close reading you’re doing, but also because of your work deconstructing and explaining the author’s craft.

Review writing isn’t for sissies, but neither is your writer’s journey.


Alice Osborn, M.A, is the author of three books of poetry: After the Steaming Stops, Unfinished Projects, and Right Lane Ends; she is also a manuscript editor, freelance writer, and storyteller. A former Raleigh Charter High School English teacher, Alice has served as a Writer-in-Residence in the United Arts Artists in the Schools program since 2009, and has taught creativity, poetry, memoir, and blogging workshops to Triangle residents for six years. Her work has appeared in Raleigh’s News and Observer, Soundings Review, and in numerous journals and anthologies. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two children. Visit her website:

Registration for the 2012 North Carolina Writers' Network Fall Conference is open!

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