Peter Osnos on book reviews

Posted Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 10:07 by Lauren in Writer's Resources


The Platform: Good Reviews Are No Longer Enough

Apr 20, 2011

Authors: Peter Osnos

Publisher(s): The Century Foundation

"As a longtime publisher of what is known as “serious” nonfiction, I am acutely aware of how sensitive most authors are about book reviews. After extended periods of research and writing, it is unnerving to find your work in the hands of someone else to pass judgment. Authors of established distinction feel the sting of a critical review, or worse, being ignored, especially by the Sunday New York Times Book Review, which remains for many writers the arbiterne plus ultra. It is time—probably past time—to declare that traditional book reviews are no longer the dominant measure of a book’s impact, or even necessarily the most effective way to reach the intended audience. Last week Iwrote about changes in publishing since I started in 1984, but left out for consideration here the subject of reviews and book coverage in general, including publicity over the airwaves and on the Internet.

It is no revelation that newspaper- and magazine-based book reviews have been drastically cut back over the past decade. Highly respected weekly sections in newspapers such as the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and theChicago Tribune are now folded into other parts of the paper, and while the quality of the reviews can still be impressive, they no longer have the visibility they once did. The New York Times Book Review certainly has the most influence, but its page count is limited by the amount of book advertising that it attracts. Recently, the section editors decided to turn over six pages to bestseller lists: print hardcovers; print paperbacks; mass market; advice, how-to, and miscellaneous; print children’s; print hardcover and paper combined; e-book bestsellers; and combined print and e-book bestsellers.

Is all that data what readers want? The editors clearly feel that it is, even though it is also featured on No matter what your view, the net effect would seem to be that fewer books can be featured in reviews. The newspaper also divides the daily and Sunday departments, so some books can be reviewed twice. A recent first book by a young historian got a daily, a Sunday, and a Sunday business review, a bonanza for the writer, but it could be argued more than its fair share. (Sales were, nonetheless, modest.) ... "

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