Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Come one, come all

Publishers Weekly needs people to help judge a manuscript contest. The task is to read 10 manuscripts (which I suspect will be straight out of a slushpile) and write a 150-word PW-style review of each. (I'm happy to supply some info on what "PW-style" means, but it would be best for you to pick up a copy of the magazine and read the reviews.) Most of the mss are F&SF, mystery, thriller, or romance; you would get a random selection. Pay is $400 and deadline is December 14th. If you're interested, have some vaguely relevant experience, and can realistically make that deadline, send a letter of interest/resume/clips to We need 100 reviewers total and only have about 25 right now, so please spread the word around!

EDIT, 1/29/08: Looks like this post is getting very popular all of a sudden. Before I write further, let me reiterate that I am not a PW spokesperson, and this is not an official PW blog. I speak only from my own knowledge and experience, which in this case is very much not the whole story. My involvement with this contest was entirely peripheral, and there's still a lot I don't know about how it was run. All I can tell you about is the extent to which I participated in finding reviewers.

My criteria for recommending reviewers for the contest were not the same as the criteria used for approving those reviewers. Many of the reviewers I recommended (and I didn't recommend everyone who asked) were turned down due to not having sufficient reviewing experience. I wasn't in charge of that and don't know the full details; I was just asked to recruit applications as widely as possible.

The top 16% of 5000 entries is far more manuscripts than all our regular reviewers could possibly review in the time allotted, which is why we went looking for other reviewers to participate.

As for the uneven quality of reviews, I can only assure you that I recommended reviewers who I know to be good writers and thoughtful readers, and they had to pass a fairly stringent application in addition to my recommendation. In any situation where you have 80 people writing reviews, there's going to be some variation. This is why I frequently mention the need to choose the right reviewer for a book, something that simply wasn't possible in the setting of the contest.

A final summary:

1) The screening process for PW reviewers, in general, is that PW editors think they'll be good reviewers. We look at their clips and ask them to write a sample review, and if they look good, they're hired. This is exactly what I did for the prospective reviewers who emailed me after I made this post.

2) I passed on the names of all the people who passed the above requirements to the folks running the contest. They then put the prospective reviewers through a second screening process, about which I don't know anything except that one of the criteria was a lot of reviewing experience (something I don't demand from my reviewers if they can demonstrate sufficient skill right off the bat).

So the people who passed both those tests and reviewed the manuscripts were actually more thoroughly screened for experience and skill than many of the people who regularly review for PW. I certainly apologize for any concern caused by the cavalier tone of the post, but I can assure you that the contest submissions were indeed reviewed by experienced processionals, any of whom we'd be happy to use as a regular PW reviewer if we had room on our reviewing staff (and in fact, I hired a couple of people based on the clips they sent when applying for the contest reviewing gig, and have many more applications squirreled away for future hiring needs).

I'm happy to discuss this with anyone who leaves a signed comment. Anonymous comments will be ignored, and if I get enough of them, I will disable anonymous commenting.