Monday, July 28, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Book Editor (Part I)

Jane Henderson talks
to Saturday Writers
Jane Henderson, book review editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was the special guest speaker at the July meeting of Saturday Writers. 

SW president Jennifer Hasheider, along with the rest of the board, did an excellent job recruiting and hosting Jane at the monthly meeting at the St. Peters Community and Cultural Arts Center.

During Jane’s talk, and afterwards at lunch, she was candid, approachable, informative, and gracious when describing her review selection process and when answering questions about books, reviews, writing, and the changing world of publishing. 

Here are some highlights.

* Jane receives about 300 books a week for review. She held up some of the books from her “July stack” and explained why she might send one book out for review but not the others. (Some selection considerations are listed below.)

* Most of the books sent to her come from mainstream publishers and small presses, although she also receives books from independent authors.

* Due to cutbacks in print space, personnel, and revenue, the paper has a limit of three reviews each week--although occasionally a feature writer will do a story about a writer if there's something newsworthy. (She remarked that several newspapers have discontinued their book review sections entirely.)

* The main area of focus for book reviews is the paper’s readers, not the author.

* The paper sometimes reviews paperbacks, but rarely reviews self-published books.

* The paper does not review self-help or diet books.

* When selecting which books to send to reviewers, some considerations are:
   Is it newsworthy?
   Is it unusual?
   Is it unusually well done?
   Is it something readers are interested in reading about?
   Is it something readers should be interested in reading about?
   Is there a local connection?
   Who published it?
   When was it published? 
   Has the book won a major award?
   Is the book written by a known name of someone who is coming to town?
   What is the story about?
   Is it original or the first book of its kind? (She used the example of follow-on books about wizards similar to the Harry Potter series are not as newsworthy as the original Harry Potter books.)

* Stories are important.

* The best books have good plots, engaging characters, extraordinary use of language, and compelling stories.

 * A review is not just free publicity; it is one person’s opinion about a book.

* She trusts her reviewers and doesn't edit a lot. Reviewers conform to the newspaper's style and standards.

In my next post I’ll share some of Jane’s suggestions for local authors and publishers who want to submit their books for review: when to contact her, what to include in their submissions, and what to avoid doing.

Check out Jane's book blog here.


  1. Imagine! 300 books to review! It is a shame that book reviews are being dropped, just one more loss in the newspaper world as it struggles to keep its head above water!

  2. It sounds like it was an informative talk. I'm looking forward to your next post...

  3. Hi Claudia,
    I agree. It is a shame, although I think there are more online reviews taking the place of the print newspapers.

    Hi Sioux,
    Thanks! Hope I don't disappoint you.

  4. Jane definitely knows her stuff! I really enjoyed her presentation and observations. She's also very down-to-earth. Lunch was a blast!

    Critter Alley

    1. Hi Pat,
      Everything you wrote is right on, especially lunch. It was like sitting with a friend and talking about writing and families!

  5. Sounds like she had a lot of practical info to share. Can't wait to hear more.

  6. Thanks for sharing Jane's talk with your readers. Great insights into this side of the publishing world and good information to know as an author. It's sad to think of so many papers no longer reviewing any books, and WOW! I can't imagine selecting one book out of three hundred to review in a week! Again, thanks, Donna. I look forward to reading the next one.

  7. Hi Val,
    Jane did share a lot of practical info. I couldn't fit it all in one post, so I'm going for two.

    Hi Clara,
    You are welcome. I agree that it is sad that so many papers are no longer reviewing books. I plan to post the next installment early next week.

  8. Thx for this recap, Donna. Yes, it was a very good meeting and lunch rendered even more insight. I'd heard Jane at MWG in 2013 and she was great then too. She has enthusiasm for her job and I do hope the newspapers continue doing book reviews. As you pointed out, local papers want to provide items of local interest, not to say just local events but a representation of their readers. Looking forward to your next post.

    1. Hi Marcia,
      You're welcome. I also hope newspapers will continue doing book reviews.

  9. Nice review, Donna - thanks for sharing. Sorry I missed the meeting!

  10. Great post, Donna. Thanks so much for all the information about Jane and the process she goes through in selecting and reviewing books. Very helpful.

  11. This was an interesting posting. Glad you shared the information with us. I enjoyed learning about the process an editor goes through. Thanks for sharing with us.

  12. Thanks for this, Donna. I'll be getting ARCs of my book before it's published and it is good to know what the parameters are, especially with me being a newbie.

  13. Thanks for posting this, I'd already forgotten some of the great information she shared!


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