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Saturday, September 7, 2013

How To Be a TV Reviewer


I use Grammarly for free proofreading because I feel bad he was left out of Snow White.
Yep, this post is sponsored by Grammarly, which I just discovered, but appears to be a very cool site.

How does one get into the field of television reviewing? There are a variety of ways to do so, but since I've written around 2,000 articles in the past four years, I thought it might be nice to give some tips for newbies interested in breaking into the business.

First of all, I prefer the term 'TV reviewer' over 'TV critic.' This is because critics seem to have gotten a bad reputation over the years, often considered snobby, elitist, and judgmental, in a bad way. Yes, it's our job to evaluate things, but in my opinion, the best critics are fans who encourage and celebrate success, rather than those bent on tearing down. This is a personal opinion, not an across-the-board requirement, but it does inform the tips I offer below.

Watch what you like. I will review any new show that premieres, but I only keep reviewing the ones I enjoy. Once a bad review is given for a "Pilot," there is no need to keep slamming that same show on a regular basis. Negativity may get attention, but I don't think it earns you fans or followers, and to survive as a writer, you must build a following. People like others who share their interests, not those who are against them.

Engage with fellow fans. If someone tweets at you on twitter, reply. Most of us like to feel included or like part of a group. A TV reviewer who participates in the community is more likely to have others pass on their work or regularly read it. Always be kind, gracious, and willing to chat (online, at least) about new episodes of the latest show. This tip goes double for commenters posting on your articles, offering their own opinions and insights. Nothing attracts more viewers to your article than a lively, respectful debate. Which brings us to...

Don't engage rude behavior. This is a lesson I definitely learned the hard way. The first few times someone wrote something mean about one of my articles, I responded angrily, personally offended. This is what a classic bully wants, to spark a reaction. It does no one any favors, and makes the responder look as bad as the antagonist. I know it's hard at first, but just ignore the insults, and if there's a grain of real criticism or critique with that, feel free to reply specifically to that point in a polite, open-minded manner. Maybe you can even win a little respect if you stay classy. Just deleting out-of-line comments when possible is also fine.

Be fair. It's OK to not like a series and to say so, especially in your first and only review for it. However, giving blanket criticism without backing up your assertions is a bad move. I figured this out when lambasting The Mentalist, whose fans rose to its defense. Any complaint you lay out, you must give supporting details to what you say. People may not agree with you, but at least you look like you've thought about it and reasoned your opinion, rather than being a detestable flamer.

Write often. I know reviewers who write a lot for a little bit, burn themselves out or get busy with other things, and disappear, as well as those that just can't built momentum to keep going. The key is to write some every day, but not so much so that you don't feel like writing. Get in the habit of setting aside a portion of your day, preferably the same time every day, and just write about anything you've been watching. Once it becomes part of your regular routine, it becomes a mostly easy task to keep up with.

Say yes to everyone... at first. Starting out, the key is to get your work posted somewhere, anywhere. There are plenty of reputable, intelligent websites that do not pay, but are a good forum to be on. I wrote many unpaid articles starting out, for several different websites. I always found the owners of those sites to be appreciative and gregarious, and they'll usually understand, without hard feelings, if you move on to better offers later. Even examiner.com, which is rotten to its writers (trust me, I wrote for them for awhile), is fine for someone just trying to get started.

Don't expect to quit your day job. It would be lovely to be a full-time writer, but there are very few who ever make it as such. Even now, writing for three different websites that offering varying levels of pay, past my days of writing for free, it's little more than some extra entertainment money in the budget. I also have a donate button on my website, and I would be grateful if my readers started using it, but it's very, very difficult to get to the point where you can do it and earn a living, and it requires a lot of luck along the way, too. If you ever find a sure-fire way to do this, please share it with me. I'd love to know.

Don't be a snob. As I mentioned, critics have a reputation for looking down their noses at populist entertainment. I admit, it's hard to see reality TV or a crime procedural as being worth my time because I spend so much time with higher-quality stuff, and this is still a point I struggle with. However, it doesn't hurt you in the slightest to keep your mouth shut about people who enjoy this kind of entertainment, and you can usually write about good work without pointing out the bad.

Find your own voice. My voice is one that has a little speculation, but mostly likes to focus on a handful of details that were seen on screen. Others prefer to predict what may occur next. Still others are more recap driven, not wanting to get into what they think as much. If you're going to do this consistently for any length of time, you have to find a style that is true and honest to yourself, something you can be proud of.

Have fun. It may not be fun every day, and occasionally it may feel like a chore. But if you dread writing several articles a week every week, TV reviewing may just not be for you. It's for those with a passion and a drive in a very specific field. This doesn't describe everyone, and that's OK. Now, I'd prefer to be writing fiction, myself, but I still greatly enjoy viewing and evaluating shows, so it doesn't have to be the best thing in the world to you, but still a job you appreciate. I recommend finding something you enjoy, not just going through the motions. People can often tell when you do that, and it doesn't work for anyone.

I hope these tips help, or offer a little motivation for those on the fence. I'm on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV and my main website, jeromewetzel.com, has links to all my work. Feel free to reach out to me any time about any topic, and I look forward to seeing you all on the web. Happy writing!

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