My new side-gig

So, as those of you who follow me on Twitter and FB now know, I’ve been keeping busy in addition to working on book 3 of the Broken Earth trilogy.

photo of a newsprint page from the NYT Sunday Book Review. Print is too small to see.

photo posted by Pamela Paul

So, yep, my piecemeal gig from last year has just become a permanent thing. The new column is called “Otherworldly”, and the first one — which will come out in print on the first weekend of January — is already up online. (No, you don’t have to squint at the text in that image.)

I’m an eclectic reader, so the new column will obviously feature science fiction, fantasy, horror, some YA, some graphic novels, some anthologies, and even some nonfiction where it impacts the genre. I’ve got no problem with self-published or small-press books, although I believe the NYT has a policy forbidding selfpubs if they can’t be found in “general interest” bookstores, whatever that means. I like books that feature complex characters, period, but stereotypes piss me off and stuff I’ve seen too often bores the shit out of me. I don’t “believe in” the Campbellian Hero’s Journey, for pretty much the same reasons as Laurie Penny. Obviously I’ve got a thing for worldbuilding and secondary world or offworld stuff. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that we all should get to dream, and I look for books that let me.

Some general things to note about this new column:

  • I am not a literary critic. I didn’t even take lit classes in college — AP’ed out. My graduate degree is in psychology. I don’t know Derrida from Adam. I’m not actually sure I spelled Derrida right, just now. I do have some interest in litcritty stuff that everyone in the genre is or should be talking about — e.g. Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy. But I don’t have years of training in analyzing subtext, etc., other than what a lifetime of geeky reading and writing has given me. Just something to keep in mind.
  • How’d I get this gig? Somebody at the Times approached me through channels and asked if I wanted a freelance job. No, I’m not telling you who. No, they don’t want your number. Why me? Fuck if I know. I guess they like my writing.
  • Don’t send me books. For one thing, I live in a one-bedroom in NYC that’s already close to being a fire hazard. For another, I still have books of my own to write; I do not have time to vet the entire SFF book world. If you want your book to be considered for review, nothing has changed: send your books to the NYT. Weren’t you already doing that anyway?
  • …Okay, if you weren’t doing it anyway, do send them your books. I can’t review what I can’t read.
  • If you’re a close acquaintance of mine, if we’ve done a writing or critiquing date (or a date-date), if you’re one of my former Clarion students, etc., I can’t review your books. Sorry! If all we’ve ever done is sit on a panel together, though, or exchange occasional silliness on Twitter, that’s different. Where’s the line? Dunno. I know half the damn SFF world in one way or another. -_- But if I see your book in the pile and I want to read it, I’ll explain how I know you to my editor. He gets final say.
  • My editor gets final say about everything, actually. I get a lot of say in what gets picked, but it’s more of a negotiation.
  • Also, there are apparently several other reviewers at the NYT who are into SFFH! (Seriously, somebody keeps snatching the Stephen Kings. It’s not funny. I want to read those.) So even if I can’t review your stuff because you’re my bestie or something (hi, besties), somebody else might be able to.

I think that’s it. Questions? Feel free, in the comments.

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22 Responses »

  1. Yay and congrats! Bookmarked your first column to read it tonight.

  2. Congrats! This is excellent news. I’ve long been annoyed at the NYTBR for not regularly publishing SF/F/H reviews; your columns will be terrific to read there.

  3. So excited to see your by-line on the NYT app this morning! I really enjoyed the tone of your reviews in the article, and found the recommendations to be fun and insightful. Looking forward to Planetfall in particular now.

    Do you see yourself sticking to the short review format or potentially branching out into larger commentary about the goings-on in the SFF world? Keep up the great work!

  4. Congratulations on the review gig.

    However, can you explain how you find it ethical to review someone’s book when they’ve provided you with glowing reviews of their own in the past without even providing so much as a disclaimer that they’ve done so?

    And before you say ‘author blurb’ – that’s a very, very different beast than a full blown review.

  5. Hi Eileen,

    Which “someone” do you mean? Charlie Jane Anders? Emma Newman? Stretching back to the previous reviews, Jeff VanderMeer? All of them have said nice things about my work at some point or another. Heck, Jeff and his wife have even published a few shorts of mine, between them. I’ve been on Newman’s podcast. (And speaking of my own NYT review, I’ve said glowing things about Naomi Novik a time or three in various places. Did you question her about that?) Also, I might have fangirled at China Mieville a few times and gotten him to autograph my copy of The City and the City. :) Like I said, I’ve got ties of some sort with half of SFFdom.

    The NYTBR knew all this when they hired me, though. I discussed it with my editor there, actually, and I can’t claim to speak for the decision-makers, but it seems to me that they wanted this column done by someone who knows half the genre. An insider’s perspective, basically — and to some degree an outsider’s, since they’re also aware of the struggles I’ve had as a woman of color writing in this field. Also a fan’s perspective, since I’m that, too. Given all this, a certain amount of streams-crossing is unavoidable, and they’re OK with that. They made an informed choice to have me do this, instead of someone lacking those ties and perspectives.

    And a far as I know, the NYTBR doesn’t have a policy of posting disclaimers (or did you mean disclosures? It’s a little hard to tell from the context of your comment) on fiction reviews. Probably because there’s no point in a reviewer declaring that their professional or social ties won’t affect them, which I think is what you mean by disclaimer. Art reviews are inherently subjective, after all, and it’s impossible to divest oneself of personal feeling and experience. (Not a lot of art reviews on Vulcan, I gather.) A posted disclaimer would be little more than ethical theater; hopefully that’s not what you want. An ethical reviewer, IMO, acknowledges the impact of their ties and experience in the text of the review, which is something I’ve done in all three of my reviews for the NYT so far. It’s just that “someone said nice things about my work” probably isn’t as powerful for me as you seem to think it is. Lots of people say nice things about my work, after all. It’s great when they do, but if a book interests me and its author didn’t say nice things about my work, I’d still want to review it. Why wouldn’t I? I think even negative comments about my work are valuable, after all. And given that this is my philosophy about my own work, you can imagine how little obligation I feel to stay positive about other people’s work.

    Reviews aren’t for the authors, anyway. They’re for the readers, and I never forget that.

    BTW, if “disclosure” is what you meant, I do disclose all of those ties to my editor, and where my professional or personal connection to another writer is deemed too close or otherwise prejudicial, I’m simply not allowed to review that book. (Which is a shame, because I’m friends with a lot of amazing authors.) If you find this editor-only disclosure process inadequate, or if you disagree with where the line is being drawn, take it up with the NYTBR; that’s their call, not mine. But AFAICT, they don’t post disclosures on any other reviews, either.

  6. Hi ace,

    I’ve been hired to do only “roundup reviews” — that is, a single column of several short reviews at a pop, every other month. If they ask me to do longer-form reviews, I’ll consider it, but my own writing schedule takes precedence. This format works well with my deadlines. :)

  7. Yay, congratulations! And thanks for the link to Rhetorics of Fantasy – it’s gone straight onto my wish list.

  8. Ms. Jemisin,

    I rarely write fan letters to anyone, but your work is so good that I felt compelled to gush. I’ve spent the past week snowed in (we live in New Mexico and got hammered by that huge storm that swept across the country just after Christmas). I saw your books had great reviews on Audible, so I downloaded the Killing Moon on Christmas Day in anticipation of being snowed in. Well, so much for vacation productivity… I’ve spent every day since devouring your stories, either via Audible or Kindle. I’ve even told my family that I’m hopelessly snowed in, which is *sort* of true, since we have two feet of the stuff and I am so entranced that I can’t bother digging out our driveway.

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a speculative fiction writer who evokes women’s voices with such richness and complexity, and in the context of such worlds and societies and histories, too. You are obviously blessed with a very creative brain, but I know that writing is also very hard work, so thank you for the gift of your beautiful narratives. You’ve made this snowbound forty-something woman very happy this past week!

    I loved The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun; I am about to finish The Fifth Season, and then I’ll be diving into the Inheritance Trilogy. And any luck, we will get another freak snowstorm very soon.

    Happy New Year from a new fan in snowy New Mexico!

    Laura

  9. N.K. Jemisin:

    I realize that you will be flooded with emails and snail mail correspondence at the news of your New York Times column and I hesitate to add to that load. But… and you knew they would be a ‘but’… I do want to bring your attention to a writer whose books “feature complex characters” and who never indulges in stereotypes.

    Alma Alexander is an innovative author who creates worlds that feel as real as some exotic country you just haven’t visited yet.

    Her newest YA series, The Were Chronicles, has some striking new ideas about shapeshifters. It is a world in which there are not only the classic Werewolves but also Weres of all kinds of mammals and birds -– and the intriguing addition of Randoms, Weres who can turn into the last creature they see as the change comes upon them.

    Weres are tolerated by the normals, but are also feared and despised. They are forced to live in isolation or even imprisonment during their three-day monthly Turns and are required by law to carry dehumanizing identity cards stamped with a paw print.

    The trilogy is a mixture of fantasy and science, with Alexander delving into the DNA of the Weres (she has a Masters degree in microbiology).

    Alexander blogs weekly at her website http://www.almaalexander.org/

    Deck

  10. Thanks awesome! Congrats! ;)

  11. Disregard previous comment… Meant to say….

    That’s awesome! Congrats!

  12. This is wonderful! How nice you were recognized for both your writing and your thinking. You deserve it.

  13. >A posted disclaimer would be little more than ethical theater; hopefully that’s not what you want.

    …diplomatic.

    Considering the number of creative professionals I know of who explicitly go out of their way not to read reviews of their own stuff, I can’t imagine how you’d enforce it anyway.

    >Reviews aren’t for the authors, anyway. They’re for the readers, and I never forget that.

    I wonder what the breakdown is of reviews read for unfamiliar things(e.g., to decide whether to read it) vs. reviews read after the fact (e.g., to participate in critical discussion).

  14. Hi N.K. just wanted to stop by (after spotting your column) and say thank you for the excellent job you did promoting the genre. Beyond the obvious authors Fantasy, Science-Fiction and Horror have eluded the mainstream press, so it’s nice to see someone taking full advantage of the space offered to them to set things right :) Best of luck and I hope this is something they keep running for many months/years to come!

  15. Congratulations on your new role! I don’t normally read reviews, but reviews made by an author are a different thing entirely.

    Do you think being an author will change your perception of the the story, as you know how complicated and long it can be to compose a story?

    Also, the name I used is my Twitter handle, which I’m using as I was blocked from your Twitter account. Would it be possible to review that block, as your timeline is both hilarious and insightful?

    Best regards with all your endeavours in the future.

  16. Congrats! You deserve it!

  17. Hello there N.K.! I was quite excited to see one of your columns appear in the Times, for it was only about 3 days since i had discovered your work and started reading it. the review i read was lovely! enjoyed it very much.

    but i am afraid i am a much bigger fan of your fiction, which leads me to make an off-topic request (and allow me to apologize sincerely for doing so):

    last year you came out with two Inheritance short story sets that are apparently published in ebook only. is there any way- any way at all – to obtain print copies? i would be delighted to pay you directly for these, or even to pay (hopefully this would not cost too much) for a license to print a copy for my completely individual, non-commercial use.

    perhaps your publishing company retains your copyright, and thus the license question is not within your control. anyway though, i am a hopeless curmudgeon when it comes to reading an ebook, and hope that there would be some way to enjoy a print copy of these works.

    again, please excuse the off topic post. (i do not tweet or facebook, and so could not figure out a different method of reaching out to you.)

    many thanks for the consideration!
    vanessa b the librarian