Monday, June 16, 2008

Is the TBR all it's cracked up to be?

So, yesterday, I was flipping through the NYT Book Review and noticed that they had finally gotten around to reviewing Barbara Walter's Audition. This in turn reminded me of a conversation I've had with several authors and industry peeps over the past few months - has the Times Book Review become outdated and irrelevant?

Most authors (and publicists) consider the TBR to be the holy grail of print media. Everyone wants a their book to be reviewed there. Next to, "what about Oprah?," this is the most common question I get from authors. Yet, the times (ha) I have gotten full page reviews, it's barely moved books. Not to mention, these are almost always books that have already been covered a multitude of other places. Sometimes it feels as though the TBR waits to see what everyone else is going to do, and then jumps on the bandwagon - at which point, I no longer care about the book.

For instance, this week, there was a review of Barbara Walter's Audition - which came out over a month ago and has been covered ad nauseum by bloggers, reviewers, TV and radio, etc. We all know the scandalous parts already, and anyone who cared to read the book, probably has already done so. Or is waiting for the paperback. Why bother to run a review a month after pub? Even bookstores don't like to host events after a month has lapsed...why is the Times so willing to feature a book that has arguably already jumped the shark?

There are exceptions of course. There's a review of the new David Sedaris, which pubbed only two weeks ago (and which, btw, I can't wait to read!). But again, even two weeks feels like a long period of time. As publicists, we're taught to get in as much media the week of pub. Not the second or third or fourth. I mean, we'll take coverage those weeks, but we're supposed to line up as much as possible with the hopes of moving enough books to debut high on the list.
So why doesn't the TBR follow this? I know it's not because we don't get the books to them soon enough. As soon as galleys arrive, copies are immediately sent to Dwight, Sam, Nancy, Rick...And yes, I know they received hundreds (if not thousands) of books a week, but you know what, so do all the other major outlets...which often beat the times in coverage by several it just because they CAN? Or is it because they are struggling to keep up in an era where book news breaks quickly and bloggers have upped the ante on churning out reviews?

Or I am just being grouchy because it's Monday and I'm bitter because not enough of my books are reviewed?

--Paige Sexie


Richard Nash (Soft Skull) said...

Well, the NYTBR has mostly been kind to me, so I'm favorably disposed to their M.O. I suppose, but I would say that the mark of a good book review section can hardly be the consistency with which they run a review the week of publication. Their customer is the reader/subscriber so they've gotta please that person, not you or me?

Another Publicist said...

Think about who still bothers to read the Times - it's upper class liberals who don't care when the book is out, as long as they are in the know. Also, I think Sam mentioned that they generally let the publicist know two or three weeks before the review runs, so he may have decided to run the Walters book when the book came out, but the actual closing date of the issue had already passed.

...Does that make any sense? Hello, coffee.

submit to slunch said...

Ah, very true to both of you. They definitely do let you know a few weeks in advance, but it just seems like if other publications can time it closer, why can't they? Although, Richard is totally right. I suppose readers don't care if the book is in it's first or fifth week. But as a reader - albeit a biased one - I get annoyed when I see that the Times has run a review of a book I've already read 20 reviews of. Wouldn't - as the "gold standard" - they want to review early on to perhaps set the tone? Or I am just forgetting that the average reader doesn't read as many book reviews as I do?