Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Festival of Books 2014 – Publishing: the Editor’s Voice

Dan Smetanka – Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press
Bart Schneider – Kelly’s Cove Press
Deena Drewis – Nouvella
Peter Ginna – Bloomsbury Press
Ethan Nosowsky – Graywolf Press

Random thoughts from the editor’s perspective

Smetanka called the panel “organic, free-range editors. It’s rare to see them in daylight.”

Nosowsky:  (He recently published The Empathy Exams, a collection of essays that hit the NY Times list.) Graywolf Press is a small nonprofit press. Books of essays are conventionally thought to be not commercial. Luck is a huge, huge side of publishing. This book was just one we really liked. We thought, “This feels different.” It’s getting a ton of good press. A really good book + a lot of hard work + a little bit of luck = good fortune.

Drewis: (About publishing Novellas) There was a niche to fill. We’re actively pursuing authors. We read literary magazine. (Novellas are 10,000 to 40,000 words.) When a good book is a good book, it’s a good book. A collection of essays that does well rises out of the ashes of what publishers think is publishable.

Nosowsky: We are in a very rich moment for essay writing. It’s where some of the best writing is.

[We publish] serious, weighty nonfiction. We respond as readers. What do we like to read? [When someone has something] fresh and compelling to say, that’s where I start. Then, [we look at the] market: How many other people can I get to read this? How have other books like this done in the market? The first question is always, “Do I want to read more of this?” The age of distraction is overrated to some degree. Other books on the market are even bigger and heavier than mine. The way of publicizing and marketing books has changed a lot; we used to have book reviews in newspapers all over the country. There was a newspaper to start with. [Book reviews] almost don’t exist anymore. It’s a huge challenge. Publishers are learning how to use social media, email blasts, etc.

Schneider: People are really receptive to artists’ books. How do you do that in color and keep the price down? I have a better chance of getting high level visual art than literary art.

Drewis: I tend to take a pretty heavy hand [when editing]. I put blinders on and not think about the writer’s feelings right away. We develop a trusting, intimate relationship. I can only be honest as a reader.

Ginna: When editing somebody’s manuscript, you owe them an honest response. Your loyalty is to the book, not the author. Your first duty is to align your sensibility with what the author is trying to do in that book. Sometimes you argue about a paragraph here and there.

Nosowsky: (He told a joke: Insult a book until the author thinks you’re indispensable to editing it.) You have to make it the best book it can be. Make sure you’re talking about the same book. The editor’s voice is only as important as it is in sync with the writer’s voice, in harmony with it.

Schneider:  If I don’t get it, the reader probably won’t get it. I am building a bridge between the writer and the reader.  Most writers like good editing. Academics are the worst.

Nosowsky: (He once had a conversation with a woman who asked him what he did, and then asked repeated questions to get to the core of it and responded, “Oh, so you’re a censor.”) We’re just readers. It’s not rocket science.

Smetanka: (He read a comment that was a response to a New Yorker piece about the MFA vs. NYC argument. The comment was from an author who said, “Agents do more editing than editors.”)

Ginna: That’s certainly not true. [That’s a] sweeping generalization. (He mentioned editing on nights and weekends.) But not all editors edit or edit well, [and] there are agents who get involved.

Drewis: Associate editors are so busy at the big six houses doing other things. I can take as much time as an editor as I want.

Nosowsky: Agents are good at global suggestions and asking the right questions. Editors do the nitty gritty. It’s the nature of the job. Having the wrong editor is like having the wrong shrink. Sometimes editors just have the wrong book.

Ginna: What you’re rewarded for in a big house is acquisitions. You have to be a rainmaker and bring in clients.

Unrelated sidenote: 

Alicia Silverstone looks fantastic. That vegan diet is really working for her.


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