On March 8th, around 80 aspiring book review writers gathered to hear candid tips from New York City’s top editors of the form. Henry Finder (New Yorker), Radhika Jones (Time Magazine), Robert Messenger (Wall Street Journal), and Sam Tanenhaus (New York Times Book Review) shared secrets for successfully pitching reviews–and getting them published.
Simple but important advice (Tanenhaus: make sure you know whether the publication refers to the author with an honorific) was scribbled on the flip side of the event flyer and typed into an iPhone. Easy enough. And, the editors all agreed that successful reviews are first and foremost narratives, stories. Their authors, however, go about their craft in different ways. Some read cover to cover every book the author has ever written. Others skim. Some (very seasoned) reviewers write a single draft, while most, write many.
Other insider secrets, including the number of books a New York Times Book Review staffer previews in a week (20–that’s roughly a 1000 a year) caused some aspirants to twitch in their seats. Fortunately, Writers’ Institute director Andre Aciman had the fine sense to open the bar before the panel began.
The news was good and bad. Book review writing remains one of the best ways for the unpublished to get published, but the pay could amount to something as demoralizing as 5 cents an hour. Radhika Jones lifted spirits by reminding everyone of the important role these writers play in contributing to literary culture. Jones, who came into book reviewing while working on a PhD in English literature, said it was a way for her to do what she loved most: read. A lot.