Interview with the editor of the New York Times Book Review in “Poets & Writers”

The New York Times Book Review is probably the number one place on Planet Earth to get your book reviewed. It reaches 1.7 million readers a week. That’s why I was interested in this terrific little interview with Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, conducted by Michael Taeckens in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

Pamela Paul. Image from litstack.com
Pamela Paul. Image from litstack.com

Here are a few extracts from the interview:

On dealing with writers’ hopes and fears: “It’s important to bear in mind the hard work, hopes, and heartache that go into writing a book, and to [review the work] with good intention and respect.”

Number of staff on the New York Times Book Review: “About sixteen people.”

Number of books that come in to be reviewed: “We’ve never counted … the estimate is that we review about 1 percent of the books published in any given year. And that does not include self-published books or books published in e-format only.”

On choosing which books to review: “We consider it all [author’s name, size of advance, pre-publication reviews, blurbs, relationships with editors and publicists], but it really comes down to the book. Even books … with tons of hype, juicy blurbs from all the right people, and bouquets of flowers get passed over.”

On reviewing books from small presses: “Quality books come from all kinds of publishing houses, and often, new voices and quirky but interesting topics emerge from the smaller presses.”

On diversity (gender, race, sexual orientation) when assigning reviews: “I don’t think it requires an enormous amount of effort to find smart women authors and reviewers … it takes a little more effort to track down new voices across races and ethnicities, and not to pigeonhole writers according to color or gender. We don’t ask Czech reviewers to stick to their own nationality or … to have all our black writers reviewing other black writers.”

On negative reviews: “People are making decisions about spending time and often money on a book. We are providing information on whether it’s worth their while. … Lastly and importantly: I don’t think negative reviews always kill a book. I will sometimes read a very negative review and end up disagreeing with the reviewer.”

On working with freelancer reviewers:The New York Times Book Review relies almost entirely on [freelancers]. We have a constantly rotating cast of reviewers … professional literary critics, novelists, academics, artists who work in other media or genres … voices from all corners of the world … a range of political perspectives, unexpected matches between author and reviewer, and above all, writers who actively engage with the material.”

On social media: “I find it exciting and helpful to be part of the literary conversation online … I am constantly discovering new voices … via social media and on literary websites.”

On open, public reviewing sites: “I am wary of “customer” or “user” or “reader” reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon, where so much is suspect.”

You can find the interview here.

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