Dispatches | May 17, 2007

TMR has been publishing book reviews for the past fifteen years or so, and I feel safe in boasting that over that period our reviews have gotten better and better: longer, sharper, better selected and more effectively presented.  And they’re about to get better still.  (And reviewers will get paid more for writing them.)

We started out running short reviews, 400 words or so, that were written entirely in house.  It was our honeymoon phase with book reviews, and everyone wanted in on it, which meant that all the editors had a hand in editing them.  This was not good:  Speer would (arbitrarily) chop off the conclusion of my review, and I would retaliate by cutting lines more sneakily out of his.  He’d always find out, and then we’d spend a few days not speaking to each other.  Our managing editor of the time routinely cut all the reviews in half after the rest of us had had our shot. I often wondered if, after all the surgery, any of them entirely made sense.

A few years down the road we start accepting more reviews from outside reviewers, which allowed us to expand our range.  The reviews fell into my hands to edit because everyone else had found other, more exciting, things to do. They also grew in length, (because it’s harder to cut someone’s book review in half when you don’t know the person and don’t know how they’ll react). Then we started paying our reviewers, and the selection, and the reviews themselves, got correspondingly better.

There’s an art to reviewing in general, and a particular art to writing the concise variety we have always published, which must describe, contextualize, summarize and critically assess with intelligence, all in the space of about 650 words.  We developed good working relationships with a dozen or so solid reviewers who had the knack, and, with the exception of adding cover images with our 2005 redesign, we’ve kept them the same ever since.

But we’ve gotten mildly bored with the formula, and we’re afraid our readers have too, so beginning with our fall issue of 2007, we’ll be doing something new: dispensing with individual reviews, at least for a while. Instead we’ll be publishing longer review essays of super-important books in a wide variety of categories.  We lead off in the fall with fiction writer Nathan Oates’s review of the best post 9/11 novels about terrorism.  Other review essays are in the works, including a review of graphic novel/memoirs by a graphic-novel aficionada who also happens to be one of our tried-and-true reviewers.

The categories are wide open. The books must be the best in their niche. Pay is measurably more generous than the $50/ review we’ve been paying for the past few years. Experienced reviewers interested in pitching a review-essay idea can query me or request more information at question@missourireview.com.

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