Monday, December 17, 2007

How I do PW stuff, part 1: "When will my book be reviewed?"

A brief preamble: please to note that these posts are about how I do PW stuff. Other editors may work very differently.

One of the most common questions we get from publishers is "When will my book be reviewed?". I hate this question. I get it all the time and even when I know the answer--which I don't, always, as things frequently get shuffled around--it's a pain to look it up for every query and then send a reply.

There are plenty of reasons a review might be pushed forward or back at the last minute. We might find out in proofs that we have too many reviews, or too few. We might have three starred reviews slated for this week and none for next week, or vice versa. I might realize that three of the six reviews slated for this week come from the same publisher, and choose either to include a seventh review from another publisher or move one of the three to a different drop. A usually punctual reviewer might be late just this once. I can tell you which reviews I expect to publish in all four January issues, but I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of those drops will be rearranged between now and then.

I do understand that some publishers may find this frustrating. Fortunately, with a bit of calculation, it's easy enough to figure out approximately when a review will appear (A), based on when the galleys were sent (S) and the book's publication date (D):

S + 60 days < A < D - 35 days

That is to say, the review is unlikely to appear fewer than 60 days after the galleys were sent, or fewer than 35 days before the publication date. There are always exceptions, of course, but that's a good rule of thumb. As an example, today (December 17th) we received galleys for a book that will be published on April 15th. Since we got the galley today, let's assume it was sent December 14th.

12/14/07 + 60 < A < 4/15/08 - 35
2/12/08 < A < 3/10/08

Of course, since it's an April book, A has to be less than 3/1/08, and A is always a Monday, which further narrows it down; but still, that gives us plenty of time to have the review published on 2/18 or 2/25, and if the reviewer is quick I could even get it into the 2/11 issue. That's a pretty comfortable window.

60 days may seem like a long time. I was a little startled the first time I worked out that number, but it's pretty accurate. Here's where it comes from: the life cycle of the average PW review.

Day 0: Two galleys of a title are shipped to PW.
Day 1: Galleys arrive at PW. Bookroom staff open the envelope and shelve the galleys in the appropriate section of the bookroom.
Day 4: I go to the bookroom and see the galleys on my shelf. I decide whether the title is worth reviewing. If it isn't, I put it on our reject shelf and pretty much forget about it. (I don't log or track my rejects or inform publishers that their books have been rejected; don't have the time for it. I keep them until the pub date is past and then they go on the Free to a Good Home cart outside the bookroom.) If it is, I choose a reviewer.

This is the first major possible delay point. If I think a particular reviewer is just right for a book, but they're already working on something else for me or they're on vacation or whatever, I will wait to send it to them until they're ready to get it. I try not to keep galleys around for more than a week, but it can go as long as two or three if we get the galleys far enough in advance of the title's publication date. More on that below. At any rate, let's say that this time we only waited two days for the right reviewer to become available.

Day 6: One galley is mailed to the reviewer. The other is put in a pile on my desk.
Day 8: The reviewer receives the galley.

Here's the second major delay point. Most of our reviewers can review a book in about two weeks, but some take as long as three or four. Let's assume this one takes two weeks.

Day 22: The reviewer sends me the review.

Here's the third major delay point. I often get reviews weeks in advance of when they'll be published. Today I received the review for a title that's not slated to appear in the magazine until our third January issue. I schedule things this way so that if someone fails to make a deadline, I have plenty of backup material. Let's say this review is slated for the drop that's due two weeks after I receive it; that's about average.

Day 33: I edit the review, using the duplicate galley for fact-checking.
Day 34: I realize that it's a starred review and I already have two starred reviews for this drop. I don't like including more than two stars per week--it makes us look like we give them out too freely--and all three titles really deserve their stars, so I bump this title to next week's drop.
Day 43: I turn in the drop that the title appears in.
Day 46: I answer copyediting queries for that drop.
Day 50: I go over the page proofs and make final corrections.
Day 60: The issue appears.

I didn't fudge those numbers even a tiny bit, by the way. They came out to 60 all by themselves!

Not every title takes two months from receipt to review--it's conceivable that I could get something in today, give it to one of our super-fast last-minute reviewers, get the review Wednesday, and put it in Friday's drop--but I'd say that's about average. Now factor in that we review books at least two calendar months ahead of publication (which in practice means at least five weeks, as e.g. an early March book could be reviewed in the last January issue), and you can see why we request that publishers send us books at least three and preferably four months in advance of the pub date. To go back to that formula (S + 60 < A < D - 35), it's in the publisher's best interests to make sure that the set of possible dates for A is as large as possible. If S + 60 = D - 35, I'll have to rush to fit a review in; you don't want a rushed review, or a rushed editing job on that review. If S + 60 > D - 35, we may not be able to review the book in the magazine at all.

Stay tuned for our next installment: starred reviews. I may also expand on earlier discussions of galleys and editing to PW's very tight wordcounts. Suggestions for other posts in this vein are very welcome.