Another Literary Genre to Consider: The Book Review
by Brian Fanelli
For years, my writing experience has been limited to poetry, academic papers, and a stint as a news reporter and freelance music journalist. Within the last year, I overcame some trepidation and tried a new genre – the book review. I’ve contributed reviews to PANK’s blog, and more recently to Poets’ Quarterly as part of my role as a contributing editor. Serving as a book reviewer has had several benefits. It has allowed me to support local presses and first book authors, understand what types of poetry small and larger indie presses publish, and see firsthand the various techniques, styles, and forms that exist in the vast world of contemporary poetry. Reviewing books has also been a positive networking experience.
If it wasn’t for the world of small presses, poetry would be even more secluded than it is today. Small presses help keep the genre alive and take risks on first time authors. For PANK and Poets’ Quarterly, most of the books on our review lists come from small presses, and I’m sure it is the same for most other journals that offer reviews. Writing a review is one way to support the press and spread the word about their authors, especially to readers that don’t have the funds or time to attend AWP or other large literary conferences where these presses are visible. Over the last year, I’ve been exposed to several poetry presses due to the reviews I’ve written, including some larger indies, such as BlazeVOX, and several smaller ones, including H_NG M_N Books, Bottom Dog Press, Brick Road Poetry Press, and several others. This has been especially helpful as a poet because now I have a better understanding of what type of work these presses publish in case I want to send them a manuscript at some point.
I also have a clearer idea of what is currently being published in the ever-changing world of contemporary poetry. Small presses take a greater chance on cutting edge authors willing to engage in more experimental forms. As a writer, I want to know what’s currently being published and how it reacts to and challenges previous poetic traditions and forms.
Writing reviews can be a wonderful networking opportunity. Frequently, after one of my reviews appears, the writer will contact me via e-mail, my website, or Facebook. These relationships can lead to invitations to share the stage for a reading or attend a conference. It’s also likely the writer you reviewed will tweet, Facebook, and share your review in other ways, so it helps expose your byline.
If you’re looking for ways to fill extra time, or to take a break from the genre you’re most accustomed to writing in, then try writing a book review. Newspapers often seek columnists to review books, and so do literary journals. The experience is beneficial because it offers insight into what’s out there in the publishing world, and it is an invaluable networking opportunity.
Brian Fanelli is an alumni of the Wilkes Unviersity M.F.A. program. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Inkwell, Red Rock Review, The Portland Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Rockhurst Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Evening Street Review, Harpur Palate, and other publications. He is the author of one chapbook of poems, Front Man (Big Table Publishing), and his first full-length book of poems will be published in 2013 by Unbound Content. He is a contributing editor to Poets’ Quarterly and currently teaches writing at Keystone College.