How New York Times Book Reviewers Work


Ever wondered how the editors of the NY Times Review are choosing the list of their editors’ picks for the 10 Best Books of the Year?  But that’s not all, just before Thanksgiving, The New York Times Book Review published also its list of the 100 Notable Books of 2016.  Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shed some light on how things work at the Book Review and explains to authors and readers:

Book Reviews and End of the Year List
“It is often the case that books we like don’t necessarily get hugely favorable notice in the Book Review.  One recent case: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See got a negative review in the Book Review.  But we still named it one of the 10 Best Books of the year at the time.  Our 10 Best is when we editors get to exert our own opinions, no matter what our reviewers say.  At the end of the year, we pull together all of our Editor’s Choices and narrow them down to 100 Notable Books of the Year—50 fiction and 50 nonfiction.  From those, we pick the 10 Best.”

In an article at Lithub she mentioned that the Times reviews about 1% of the books that are published in any given year.  Editors select which books we want reviewed, and then we find reviewers to write about them.

“We review all genres, though our tastes reflect the tastes of our editors and those of readers of The New York Times.  The staff critics for The Times choose which books they want to review themselves.  On most days, we have three large carts piled high with boxes and envelopes, plus 10 – 20 Postal Boxes filled to the top.”

Book Reviews Are Often Emotional
“I think the biggest mistake reviewers make is conflating a book review with a book report.  Generally speaking, readers don’t want to know what happens in a book, and they certainly don’t want (nor should they get) plot spoilers.  I hate that personally as a reader!  Let me discover for myself.

What I’m more interested in a review is seeing a writer engage with a book—intellectually and often, emotionally.  I want some depth and context: What else has been written on the subject?  What has this writer done previously?  What kind of research did the writer do?

I want to know what the writing is like—give me some examples, quote from the book, describe the style.  I want to know what the writer does well and not so well. I want judgment.  I want to know if a book is well done and if it’s worth my time.  Is this a book I’ll actually want to read, or just read about?”

You can’t please all of the readers all of the time! ~ Stephen King

Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving
your talent
to those who have none.
~ Jules Renard




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