One of the more interesting opportunities that has come my way since I was laid off (besides getting to visit the offices of the New York State Department of Labor) was an invitation to write a book review, something I'd never done before. This is exactly the kind of break I'm hoping to attract--the chance to do something outside of the publicity box I've been in all these years.
An editor at the New York Post asked me to provide 500 words on a novel called Banquo's Ghosts. Whoa, I thought--better brush up my Shakespeare. But no, this is a political thriller written by Rich Lowry of the National Review and literary agent/writer Keith Korman. I read every word of the book, which shows you how new I am at this, and submitted what I felt was a pretty tight critique that kept precisely to the required length. I was asked to do one round of revisions, mostly dropping some of my descriptive prose (ouch!) in favor of quotes from the book that made the same points--something I should have thought of myself.
When the final version ran in the paper, it was clear that quite a bit of additional editing had been done after it left my hands. That's fine--as a freelancer, I wouldn't expect to be kept in the loop throughout the editing process. I suspect these cuts were based on space considerations, since the final review came in at about 275 words--slightly more than half of what I'd submitted. There may have been other internal considerations at the paper that I'm not aware of. In the end, the editor has to determine what's going to work for the page.
I was concerned that the review didn't accurately reflect the premise of the novel (the assassination plot described in the final version turns out to be elaborate misdirection; the real story revolves around a terrorist attack on New York). The truth is, such details are more significant to someone who's already read the book (i.e., me) than to the casual reader of the Sunday Post. As published, the review announces that the book has arrived and gives readers a taste of what they can expect from it. That's kind of a lot for 275 words.
The authors probably think I based my review on the flap copy, which, for me, is a painful prospect. However, the check from the Post arrived today, so that eases my pain considerably.