Why The New York Times would not review my memoir

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I wanted to wait long enough after my memoir was published before I wrote this so as not to be accused of self-promotion. As I’ve just had another book published, I’m hoping this is an acceptable time period and explanation, as my new publisher clearly wants all of my promotion energy focused on the new novel and not my memoir.

That said, I felt it important to relate why (as I was told) The New York Times chose not to review my memoir entitled Rolling Pennies in the Dark, which was published in February by Simon & Schuster. The book highlights my growing up in abject poverty, being homeless a number of times, and some of my messages and solutions to poverty based on my real-life experiences.

Like any author nowadays, it was incumbent upon me to do as much outreach to the media as possible to try and create a bit of buzz for the memoir prior to publication. As I have worked with the national media off and on for years, I was fortunate enough to have a fairly substantial list of contacts and friends.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the outreach. When I contacted a friend who used to work at The New York Times to ask about the best avenues of approach with the paper, he said, “Don’t even bother.”

When I asked “Why?” he said, “Look, you are a conservative and a fairly well-known conservative at that. The solutions you offer in your book come from that conservative perspective and run counter to everything most everyone at The New York Times believes. As such, they are never going to review your book.”

I persisted and mentioned that many people were comparing my book to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, which was glowingly reviewed in The New York Times and went on to be one of the bestselling memoirs of all time.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Because of her work for MSNBC and other outlets, The New York Times perceived her as one of them and so they were happy to review her book. You, my friend, are clearly not one of them, so just forget about The Times.”

I did not forget and made sure Simon & Schuster sent The New York Times a review copy. We heard nothing back.

After publication, even the left-leaning Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviewed my memoir, with Publishers Weekly giving it an exceptionally strong review.

Overall, the book has done fairly well and has hovered at or near number one on two of Amazon’s sub-category bestseller lists since publication.

After letting some time go by and with my friend’s cautionary remarks still bouncing around in my head, I emailed Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, to make him aware of my friend’s warning.

To his great credit, Mr. Tanenhaus got back to me right away, albeit with the expected explanation that my friend was “mistaken and misinformed.” He was also kind enough to say that if my publisher submitted a book for review, it would be evaluated based on “its interest to our readers.”

After that response, I had Simon & Schuster re-send the now-published book to the attention of Mr. Tanenhaus. As of today, when I turn my ears toward the New York Times building, I still only hear the sound of crickets.

I have no problem with Mr. Tanenhaus or anyone else at the paper being liberal or even far-left. That is their right. In fact, in his classy response to me, Mr. Tanenhaus (who no one would accuse of being a conservative based on his MSNBC appearances) showed his cards by saying that the decision to run a review of a book is “based on its interest to our readers.”


Anyone who reads the comments section of any New York Times op-ed or blog post (and I have been published in both places by the paper) would immediately discern that the majority of the paper’s readers are liberal or far-left. Again, that’s not a problem. Birds of a feather and all of that.

No surprise, then, that the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and others of a conservative bent are not reviewed by The Times either. And with regard to those names, my friend said it “made the skin of The New York Times’ editors crawl just to have their books appear on their bestseller list.”

The New York Times’ editors are entitled to review whoever they feel like reviewing. But if conservative thought is not welcome, they should just say so. It would neither surprise us nor hurt our feelings.

That said, as a paper that spends a great deal of its resources advocating for the poor and the disenfranchised, it seems logical to assume (in spite of the bias) that it might want to review the memoir of someone who grew up in abject poverty and lived in cars.

Are my solutions to poverty as “liberal” as those from no-nothing academics who preach rubbish from ivory towers? Not remotely. Hence the snub. As I am a conservative, my solutions to poverty come strictly from real-life experience and involve self-responsibility, accountability, and hard work, and I warn of the dangers to the poor posed by political correctness and affirmative action.

The New York Times can certainly cling to its big-government solutions to poverty and turn a blind eye to real life and relevant experience.

Just tell us that up front and save certain publishers some time, man-hours, and postage.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of the memoir Rolling Pennies in the Dark and the novel Vengeance is Mine.