Write reviews to build a publishing record
To increase your writing experience and exposure and build a publishing record, try writing reviews. Think reviews of books, movies, places, restaurants, the latest gadgets related to your expertise or favorite hobby. Whether you operate in academic or consumer-oriented publishing spheres, there are publications in print and online that publish reviews. Most do not pay except in experience and exposure.
The easiest way to begin is to locate calls for submissions and respond to them. When I presented at the Popular and American Culture Conference two years ago, I walked around the public spaces and publisher areas of the convention hotel. Lo and behold, I discovered a flyer announcing a call for book reviews from the Journal of American Culture. As soon as I got home, I searched Amazon for soon-to-be-published scholarly books in my specialty. I selected two, then pitched book reviews on those two texts to the editor of the JAC. She said yes and we were off and running. I read the books, wrote the reviews, submitted them, went through a peer-review process wherein I had to make some revisions and additions to each review, and then waited until they were both accepted and I received confirmation of a publish date. I was able to include those reviews on my CV and in my tenure binders this year. You can do this, too.
On the consumer side, sometimes you have to take the reins and pitch an idea to an editor even when there is no active call for submissions. I have a story to share here as well. When I was in Auburn, AL working on my Ph.D., I wanted a break from dissertation writing. I craved public writing in a way that was more official than my personal, anonymous blog and in a way that harkened back to my ten years as a journalist. So I located the editor’s name of the weekly cultural newspaper and asked if I could start reviewing local restaurants for them. The editor was enthusiastic, said yes, and agreed to my first suggestion – a new sushi restaurant. Not only did I get to enjoy and write about some delicious and artistically-designed sushi, I also got paid $25 for my effort. You may scoff at $25, but for a small local newsweekly, that’s actually a good amount of money. In fact, after I’d written several reviews and knew that the editor was happy with my efforts, I asked for more money. They upped my rate to $40. You can do this, too.
Years ago when I was a freelance journalist, I spent a majority of my time pitching and writing feature stories for newspapers and consumer magazines. But at one point, I wanted to combine my love of travel and adventure with my craft and profession of writing. So I sought out local and regional publications that seemed open to travel-related reviews. Because I had a solid publishing track record, the editors I approached didn’t hesitate to agree to my pitch suggestions. One place was a farm B&B with horseback riding. I got to spend the weekend riding horses, playing with the barn cats, talking food and history and B&B business details with the owners and guests, and then I wrote about my experience in the review with recommendations for future visitors. That story gave the next editor confidence and I landed a review story about a hidden gem of a B&B in a castle in Maryland. You can do this, too.
Another strategy for finding outlets for reviews includes reading the magazines, journals, and web sites that you’d like to write for and then pitch them ideas. Also consider using your writing group and other social and family/friend/colleague networks. Ask around. See if anyone you know has a suggestion about where you might publish a review.
The benefits of writing reviews are clear: You get to read books, try new restaurants, visit new places, and watch movies that you’re interested in before writing a comprehensive, detailed, truthful, and entertaining review. In addition, reviews are fast to write, fast to publish, and you can use them on your CV or resume and in cover letters to show you have a publishing record – editors will have more confidence in you because you’re a proven commodity.
You must put yourself out there to gain experience. No one will come looking for you to offer opportunities. When you are a writer, you must make your own opportunities to build your publishing record and improve your success rate with future editors.