Reviewers Reviewed

I somehow missed this last week when I was home with the kid. Fortunately, my buddy Frank brought it to my attention: in exchange for a 50% pay cut, Publishers Weekly reviewers now have their names printed in the issues where their reviews appear (“The Reviewers Come in from the Cold,” by Leon Neyfakh, New York Observer). A little Googling, a little e-mailing, and a few incomplete bios emerge (one of them is a prominent book blogger).

There’s a little debate in the comments about what constitutes good credentials for a reviewer–I’d argue that it’s nothing more than the ability to read quickly, write clearly, and have an interesting and defensible opinion, book after book after book after book, while caring little for financial rewards–but clearly some people are startled to learn that the position of book reviewer does not come with a litter and footmen.

For my part, I’m proud to have my name attached to the reviews I write and to have a transparent professional affiliation.

(Full disclosure: a PW reviewer hates my books. They’re certainly entitled to their opinion, whoever they are. And who knows? There may be two of them!)

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

3 Comments on "Reviewers Reviewed"

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  1. drmwk@juno.com' Jo Manning says:

    This was a depressing article in the NY Observer. I reviewed mass market for PW for over 20 years. (One excellent editor, followed by two, alas, not-so-great :( I looked through the qualifications of these reviewers cited in the newspaper article and have to say, frankly, that I was dismayed. Not so impressive, I am sorry to say.

    That PW anonymity policy irked authors, as well it might. I never knew any of the other PW reviewers save one, a romance blogger who took it upon herself to gush about favorites and trash authors who’d dared to cross her and her execrable website. The editor should have figured out her so-obvious bias and fired her on the spot.

    Booklist, by the way, has terrific reviewers, librarians who love books. Library Journal, well, these days I’m not so sure any more. If a book is reviewed at all in Booklist, that’s a recommendation. Neither LJ nor Booklist pay for reviews and only librarians are eligible to review for these publications.

    Full disclosure: I’m an author who gave up reviewing for PW and LJ just before I started to become published. I reviewed mass market for PW and literary fiction and romance — signed reviews –for LJ. I never reviewed for Booklist; their reviews, too, are signed. I am now writing reviews (signed, unpaid) for the Writers Are Readers website maintained by author Katherine Stone.

    More full disclosure: I’ve been well-reviewed by PW and Booklist, but my first non-fiction book got a snarky, ad hominem review in LJ; the editor clearly did not do her job. Unfortunate, but there are nasty and jealous wannabe-writers out there. (Most reviews of that book were good to excellent.)

    I am dismayed by the cutting back of book review features (and Sunday supplements) in newspapers, the latest being the LA Times. This is a terrible blow to authors and to reviewers both. Blog sites vary from really good to horrific; I feel for readers trying to find intelligent, informed book reviews in this morass of sites.

    Book reviewing is an art, not a science, and reviewers should at least be able to write well, but they should have other qualifications, too.

  2. After reading the “bios” of the PW reviewers and the comments, I have to say that PW has lost some of its sheen for me. Any publication held in such high esteem in its industry should be meeting those expectations with the most credible, educated and experienced staff possible.

  3. Keir says:

    To be fair, the PW bios were cobbled together without, I believe, actually asking the reviewers for their resumes. And, surprised as I was to see the redoubtable Dick Adler there, he’s a crime reviewer with good credentials. But yes, it did seem to be a bit of a hodgepodge.

    I can imagine the anomynity policy irking reviewers–and I wonder why PW is still only going halfway. Without putting actual names on actual reviews the who-did-what will remain a mystery. And when editorial guidance fails, a signed review at least gives readers a clue when investigating possible bias/conflict of interest.

    For the record, most Booklist reviewers are paid for their efforts, although the sum is so small that it’s really more honorarium than payment. Our reviewers do it because they love helping get the right books to the right people. And, yes, they are terrific!

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

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