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Getting your book reviewed in the NYT

Posted by Jan Gardner  February 22, 2007 08:28 AM

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Barry Gewen, an editor of The New York Times Book Review, was still talking 90 minutes after he took to the podium in a soaring gymnasium at Radcliffe earlier this week. I had to leave for another commitment but he had already offered a little bit of advice about getting your book reviewed in the Times, beyond the obvious suggestion of brilliance:

1.) If your book is published by Random House, Knopf, or Farrar Straus & Giroux, it will get a closer look. (For university presses, Harvard, Yale, and Oxford are in the top tier; Princeton, Berkeley, and MIT are in the next tier.)

2.) Sue the Times. Yes, that's right, Gewen said with a laugh as he launched into the tale of Dan E. Moldea. Moldea's book, "Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football,'' published in 1989, was reviewed in the Times by staff sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi. The line that apparently got Mr. Moldea's attention? "But there is too much sloppy journalism to trust the bulk of this book's 512 pages -- including its whopping 64 pages of notes.''

Moldea sued the Times for libel. In 1992, a federal district court judge threw out the lawsuit, saying that the Book Review had stated an "unverifiable opinion and is thus not actionable under libel law.'' Two years later, a court of appeals revived the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the statement that Mr. Moldea's work was sloppy "has obvious, measurable aspects when applied to the field of investigative journalism.''

That's when the media went to work. Outraged by the chilling effect the decision would have, a slew of magazines filed an amicus brief (written by Kenneth Starr). The next time the appeals court met, a few months later, it reversed the decision, throwing out the libel suit. Later that year, 1994, the US Supreme Court let the ruling in favor of the Times stand.

Moldea went on to write another book and, even though it wasn't very good, Gewen said, the Times reviewed it.

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Nicole Lamy is editor of the Globe's Books section.
Jan Gardner writes the "Shelf Life" column for the Globe's Books section.
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