Guidelines for Contributors
Thanks very much for being a Bookshelf contributor. We hope that Bookshelf.ca will be a community enterprise, and sharing your voice will help to make that a reality. This document is a set of guidelines that will help you to write for the website.
What is Bookshelf.ca?
Bookshelf.ca is the online extension of the Bookshelf, a nationally-known cultural hub located in Guelph, Ontario. The Bookshelf is comprised of an interconnected bookstore, cinema, eBar, cafe, and restaurant, and serves as a beacon for arts and entertainment in the area. The Bookshelf is revamping its web presence in 2013 and will be introducing an online magazine of arts, entertainment, and the world of ideas. The magazine will be closely integrated with The Bookshelf's new online retail capabilities. We are already publishing some reviews and articles on the present Bookshelf site, but the new site will offer greater capacity and better design.
Like the physical Bookshelf, Bookshelf.ca will be a place not only of engaging products and events, but of community and ideas. The site has a number of closely interrelated perspectives: users can browse the Bookstore, Cinema, eBar, and Green Room pages to see products and events they might be interested in, and they can peruse the magazine pages to find informative reviews, columns, and articles on books, film, music, food, and the visual arts, as well as general arts and culture news.
You can contribute to Bookshelf.ca in two ways: by writing book reviews and by writing articles. The following sections give guidelines to help you write them.
1. Writing Book Reviews
Much of the site content consists of short book reviews written by Bookshelf staff and volunteer writers.
You can sample these reviews on a number of blogs that are already up:
The Blog from the Bookstore (Bookseller's Blog)
The Blog from the Booth (Cinema Blog)
Purpose of Reviews
The role of a bookstore is to help visitors find books that will be enjoyable, stimulating, or helpful to them. Your reviews serve the same purpose for people visiting Bookshelf.ca. Publishers supply blurbs to promote their books, but the blurbs are relatively impersonal. By sharing your own experience and impressions of a book, you add a personal element to the online visitor’s experience of book browsing, and your review may even begin a conversation between visitors about a book.
Obtaining a Book to Review
Publishers regularly send review copies of books to our store, and we send out regular lists of review copies we’ve received to our reviewers via email. If there is a book on the list that you are interested in reviewing, email us back with the title. Be quick, though, as books are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. We will then put the book at the front till for pickup at your convenience.
We can’t mail books to out-of-town reviewers, but our review copy emails also usually include a list of books we would like reviews for but do not have review copies of. When a reviewer picks a title from this second list, we email the book’s publisher and request that a review copy be sent to the reviewer’s home address if he or she is out of town, or to the store for pickup if the reviewer lives in town. Out-of-town reviewers are given priority for books from this list. Because these books are coming from the publisher, they may take some time to arrive, and in some cases the publisher may not have a review copy available.
You can also propose a book to review that is not on the lists. To propose a book, just send an email to contribute[at]bookshelf[dot]ca with the subject line Review Idea followed by the title of the book you’d like to review (e.g., Review Idea, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Sending an email before you write the review allows us to let you know if someone has already reviewed the book. Tell us if you already have the book or if we should try to get you a review copy, and, if you need a review copy, whether you’d like a print book or an e-book.
We welcome reviews of all types of books from novels to graphic novels, poetry to science journalism, children’s literature to self-help. While we are looking for reviews of current books, we are also interested in reviews of books that have been out for some time. Pretty well any book is open game—just pick a work you think other people should know about.
You can also let us know what kinds of books you’d prefer to review (fiction, history, mystery, poetry, and so forth) so we can contact you to ask if you would like to review a particular book. Again, we will try to get a review copy for you if you don’t already have the book.
Book reviews are generally 125-250 words long, although in some cases they may run longer. Remember that the main purpose, though, is to give readers a brief insight into the book that will allow them to decide whether it would interest them. Reviews can take a variety of forms; the main thing is that they should be engaging and interesting to read. In general, most reviews will include the following elements:
- A brief description of the general plotline or subject of the book. Give just enough information about these for readers to be able to judge if the book would be of interest to them. If you think it would be helpful, you may also give some brief information about the author. Don’t give away any spoilers, though!
- Describe your experience of reading the book and your impressions of it—what you found moving, involving, or interesting, what you learned that you didn’t know, challenges or difficulties you may have had. You may mention specific characters, episodes, or ideas in the book, but you may also use this section to generalize more widely about the nature or significance of the book or its themes.
- You may conclude with a brief summary evaluation, along with a description of the kind of reader who would enjoy the book.
Try to share your experience of the work in a way that would help somebody else realize what the book might have to offer to them. That doesn’t mean you need to pass over challenging aspects of the book, but in general the point is to describe those aspects in a way that would help the reader get the most out of the book, should they choose to buy it. Write in an informal, personal way that reflects your own voice. Think about how you would talk about the book if you were across the table from an interested listener who is looking for an informed opinion about it.
Not Enjoying Your Book?
If you are not enjoying a book, don’t feel obliged to finish it. Just drop the book back off at the store at your convenience and we’ll try to find another reviewer for it. We’re open to reviews that express qualifications or qualms about a given book, but ordinarily we don’t publish reviews that completely trash a book. In some cases, though, we may pair up reviewers with differing opinions on a book in order to give readers a variety of views.
Submitting Your Review
Email your reviews to contribute[at]bookshelf[dot]ca in either Microsoft Word (.DOC or .DOCX) format, or in Rich Text (.RTF) format. If you prefer, you can also send your review along as a text file. In the subject line of your email please enter the word Review and the title of the book you are reviewing (e.g., Review, The Marriage Plot). Your review will be read and edited. We may send some editing suggestions back to you for further discussion.
Unless you request otherwise, your review will be posted with a byline giving your name (a free review copy, fame, and the chance to promote books that you love are, alas, the only compensation we can offer you for reviews). A byline allows readers to see that the review comes from a reader and not the publisher, and it helps people who like your reviews to find others by you. If you prefer, you can use a pseudonym for your reviews. We will not display or give away your email address or any other information about you. Depending on what books are being featured on the site at any particular point or on how many reviews have been submitted, there may be some delay in posting your review.
2. Writing Articles
Do you have an arts and culture topic you’re passionate about? If so, consider writing an article for Bookshelf.ca.
Bookshelf.ca is interested in informed, engaging articles approximately 500 words long about arts and culture for a general audience. Your subject can be Canadian or international, and you may focus on a particular work or artist, or more broadly examine trends, developments, or business practices in a particular cultural field. While we particularly welcome articles that deal with current artists and topics, other types of articles will be considered.
Your topic does not have to be restricted to books, although that will of course be an important focus of the magazine. We are also interested in articles on film, music, food and food politics, visual arts, and local news. We are also open to works of literary journalism in these areas, but at present we are not publishing fiction or poetry.
Proposing an Article
Your first step is to propose your article. Send an email to contribute[at]bookshelf[dot]ca with a brief description of your topic and what you are planning to say about it. In the email’s subject line, enter Article Idea and a brief phrase or title identifying your topic (e.g., Article idea, depictions of marriage in recent books). Along with the description of your topic, include a punchy, attractive title for your piece as well as some relevant information about yourself, such as why you want to write about the topic and what might make you suited to write about it. You may even attach your resume or a brief representative writing sample or two. You can also include the URL of any site that already features your writing.
While not all ideas may be accepted for publication, we will read and respond to all proposals. Depending on the volume of articles we have to review, there may be some delay in our response. Note that having your proposal accepted does not mean that your article is automatically accepted, but it does suggest that the odds of its acceptance are relatively good.
Audience and Voice
Write to an intelligent general audience that has a broad interest in arts and culture. You may tackle local, odd, or unfamiliar subjects, but you need to present them with a broad readership in mind. We like well-written pieces that include a distinctive, engaging authorial voice. You can refer to yourself in the first person if it suits your topic, but as a rule your topic rather than you should be the central element in your piece.
Submitting an Article
Once you’ve completed your article, email it to contribute[at]bookshelf[dot]ca in either Microsoft Word (.DOC or .DOCX) format, or in Rich Text (.RTF) format. If you prefer, you can also send it along as a text file. In the subject line of your email please type the word Article and the title of your article (e.g., Article, The End of the World as We Know It). Your article will be read and, if it is accepted for publication, edited. We may send some editing suggestions back to you for further discussion.
Your article will be posted with a byline giving your name. If you prefer, you can use a pseudonym. We will not display or give away your email address or any other information about you unless you make other arrangements with us. Depending on the volume of articles we have, there may be some delay in posting your article after it is accepted.
When you submit your work to Bookshelf.ca, you grant permission for us to display your work or any portion of it on the Bookshelf website or in any other Bookshelf materials. The Bookshelf will not otherwise distribute or sell your work without your permission. The text of your article remains your property and you can submit your article to other publications as you wish.
If you have any questions about writing for Bookshelf.ca or if you require any further information, just send an email to contribute[at]bookshelf[dot]ca. We’ll get back to you promptly.
Thanks again for your contributions. We look forward to reading them!