Most poetry editors welcome reviewers, particularly reviews who can consistently return perceptive reviews of the right length to fit a publishing schedule. It’s not unusual for reviewers to volunteer with a burst of enthusiasm, then discover that reviewing isn’t a sprint but a marathon and writing reviews for one batch of books after another is a long term commitment often for little reward. So when a poetry editor finds reviewers who are keen to commitment to that marathon, it’s hardly surprising that editors want to keep reviewers happy.
Editors receive piles of books – a national newspaper receives around 400 per week and even poetry editors receive more books than they have space to review. So there has to be a way of deciding which books to review and often it’s one of two choices:-
The reviews editor decides and sends the books to the reviewer; or
- The reviews editor lists the books received and sends the list to the reviewers who choose which to review.
If the reviews editor lists the books received and sends the list to the reviewers to choose then:
- The reviews editor cannot ensure a balance of books being reviewed;
- The reviewers don’t get exposed to writing they would not choose to read so may get stuck in a reviewing rut instead of challenging their reviewing skills;
- Reviewers can cherry pick books by friends or from their own publisher;
- Reviewers can select books on the basis of characteristics of the writer so individual prejudices inform decisions as to which books get reviewed.
Unless the reviews editor is prepared to check and challenge individual prejudices and reserve the right to occasionally send unchosen books for review to ensure, for example, that reviewer A doesn’t just review books from their own publisher or reviewer B occasionally reviews books by women, then the books reviewed may not be reflective of the books actually sent. It may also create the catch-22 of the magazine being perceived as only reviewing a certain selection of books and so publisher only send review copies that comply so the choice of books to review narrows. If magazine A only contains reviews of books from a certain publisher and magazine B contains reviews of books by men, then publishers will stop sending books to magazine A because they see only one publisher gets reviewed and publishers will send fewer books by women to magazine B because they know there is a lesser chance of a woman’s book being reviewed.
If the reviews editor is keen to ensure a balance of books (balance by book type and subject as well as writer characteristics), then the reviews editor should decide and send out books or allow a reviewers to select from a restricted choice, perhaps even offering different choices to different reviewers. Publishers will then see that their books have a fair chance of being reviewed and will respond by sending in a greater range of books for review.
As a reviewer, I find the restricted choice option the best. Reviewers need the option not to review a book on the basis of subject matter or because of their relationship (positive or negative) with the writer. However, no reviewer should have the right to chose not to review a book on the basis of a characteristic of the author.