Note: This post has been updated to reflect changes to some programs. As of 7/14/2011, all information below is up-to-date as far as I know.
If you love to read and you like to tell the world what you think, then you might enjoy reviewing books on your blog. I got into reviewing almost by accident. I did an internet search for “books for free” or something like that. I don’t really remember why, except that I love books and I was curious. (The internet can be a dangerous place for curious people. You’re lucky I surface long enough to check in every now and then.)
The best place to get free books to review is direct from the publisher. Several publishing houses have reviewer programs. You select the book you want, they mail it to you, you write the review, and the book is yours to keep at no cost to you. Each program has its own requirements for posting reviews, but most will want you to post on your blog, a retail site (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble), and the publisher’s site. When you sign up for the program, you will receive an email. I strongly suggest you keep all the emails you receive from your review programs. Make a new folder in your email. Or a folder for each program. Whatever works.
The initial email will have important information that you may need to reference at a later date. You will probably also receive an email confirmation each time you select a book. If you’re reviewing for more than one program, keep this email as well, at least until you post your review. It’s just a bit of record-keeping that makes things easier.
Dorrance Publishing Review Team This program has a huge selection of books, but it’s not automated, so you will want to keep up with your emails. It’s not complicated, but you will want the emails so you can follow their procedure for requesting books and sending reviews. Books are available in either print or ebook format.
Thomas Nelson Publishers BookSneeze Program Not a large selection of books, but they’ve recently added more ebooks, and there are actually quite a few more ebooks than print books to choose from.
WaterBrook Multnomah Blogging for Books Program This one is fun. Free stuff for you and your readers. Every review you post, you have the chance to win prizes awarded at random. The selection of free books is larger than that of BookSneeze, but much smaller than that of Dorrance. BfB has ebooks as well as physical books. With each review, you have the option of posting a ranking box. (You can even do this with their books you get from other sources You can see their full catalog on the main site.) The ranking box is easy to copy and paste into your blog post and looks like this. (Or you can use the small box like the one right below this paragraph.) The ranking box serves two purposes. The higher your overall BfB rating, the more physical books you’ll have to choose from. (This does not apply to ebooks.) So why would your readers bother? Because each person who rates your review is entered for a chance to win a free copy of the book you reviewed! Sounds like a win/win to me.
NetGalley is strictly a source for ebooks. They have books from many different publishers and each publisher has its own requirements for who can receive their books. Some are stricter than others. The ebooks are only available for actual ereaders or devices such as Android. So you can’t use the Kindle for PC app for these ebooks. (You can however use other apps to read on your computer. See site for details.) Most of the galleys also have an expiration date. You can find more information on the NetGalley site.
BookSneeze and BfB books are almost all Christian books. Dorrance and NetGalley have a wide variety of topics and books.
Social Networks for Readers
Another source of free review books is social reading sites like GoodReads and LibraryThing. Actually, those come from the publisher, too, but instead of requesting certain books and only getting one book at a time from a review program, you can get multiple books. I don’t mean more than one copy of a book, but different books. These sites have giveaways that you can enter for free books. Sometimes the book has already been released, but many times you’ll get an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy). Reviews are not actually required if you win these giveaways, but that’s why the publishers are giving the the books away, so it seems kind of rude not to post one.
GoodReads has several hundred giveaways going at any given time, and several end each day. Most of the books are print copies, but I have run across a few that are only available as ebooks. LibraryThing does a monthly giveaway, and has both ebooks and print copies, although the total selection isn’t as large as GoodReads.
Update 6/24/2011: LibraryThing actually has a large number of books available in the Member Giveaway section. You can find the Member Giveaways by clicking the tab near the top of the page when you’re on the Early Reviewer page.
GR and LT are the only sites I’ve liked enough to stick with. Others may have giveaways as well. You can find a list of several social networking sites for readers here. (I just use them for cataloging my books and GR and LT work for what I need. I get enough “social” everywhere else, but you may want to explore all the options.) If you find that other sites have giveaways (or if you already use one and know it does), feel free to post it in the comments.
If there is a particular book you want to review, you can contact the publisher directly. ProBlogger.net has an excellent article on how to do that.
Note: I’ve written a follow-up to this post with more sources for free review books.