April 19, 2010

Reviews and Editing

I got the bright idea last night to try and capture as many of the reviews I wrote for PW as possible for posterity on a stand-alone page adjunct to this blog. As interesting as it was to revisit my reading, it was more interesting to read the actual reviews themselves because for the most part, once a PW reviewer sends in a review to his/her editor, unless there are questions, that's the last he/she sees of the review until it's edited and subsequently published. I can't speak for other reviewers, but until about a year ago, I rarely read the finalized review. My bad? Probably.

At AAR during my stewardship, I had a different policy; I don't know if it remains in place or if in the past 18 months it's been revised. My policy was that a reviewer sent in a review to their first-line editor, who edited the review, emailed a copy of the edited version to the reviewer, and after the edited review was entered into the reviews database, it went through a second level of editing. As a general rule the review remained as originally edited, but if I had questions or a big red flag popped up upon my reading, I contacted the reviewer and first-line editor and we hashed it out. 99 times out of a hundred, if I felt there was a discrepancy between review and grade, I'd hear, "You know, I really wasn't sure if this was a B- or a C+," and either the review or grade was changed appropriately. If the issue wasn't grade-oriented, it was generally a macro, "big picture" kind of thing that I was attuned to as publisher.

That give and take doesn't exist at PW, unless, of course, the editor asks a question, in which case clarification is given. Since the editors are so good, I've rarely had a problem, but upon occasion either my original review must not have been worded strongly enough or the editor also read the book and tried to combine reviews, resulting in a final review that didn't reflect my opinion. That happened a few years ago, but I wasn't even aware of it until a blogger compared some written commentary at AAR with my PW review last year.

It got ugly. The author got involved. Other bloggers got involved. My integrity and that of the magazine got called into play. My instinct was to protect the magazine, so I limited myself to two - I think - fairly short comments on the initial blog and tried not to read any more about it.

I'm reminded of that right now not only because of this adjunct review page, but also because of a review error being rectified right now. I sent in a review to one of my editors several weeks ago and when I read the final version at Amazon, there was a factual error. I immediately contacted my editor, who made the appropriate changes, and sent it through whatever processes are necessary to update the review. The error involved something that, content-wise, is difficult at best, so seeing the correction has remained in the forefront of my brain ever since. I'm always anal about "making things right," but I get more anal when I'm not able to fix them at a snap of my fingers, when others are responsible.

For me writing works best as a collaborative process; when my writing is edited or when I edit another's writing. As in life, sometimes it gets messy and mistakes are made but the end result of a strong relationship between writer and editor is better work. I'm lucky that the two individuals who currently edit my reviews are such good writers and editors. Apropos of nothing, I recently googled them both and was surprised by what I read about each of them. I needn't say more than that in comparison my own life is small and mundane indeed. Frankly, that's fine with me.


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