“Hope” and “love” were two words tossed around freely during a panel discussion of book editors at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. Sure, there was mention of “P & L’s” and other earthbound concepts like earning out inflated advances. Yet as moderator Christopher Jackson, Executive Editor of Spiegel & Grau, deftly guided the conversation, the prevailing theme was the importance of passion. The panelists spoke repeatedly of falling in love with a manuscript or a proposal and persuading a tough-minded acquisitions board to publish it. “You just have to believe and be willing to go out on a limb,” said William Morrow’s Executive Editor Laurie Chittenden, who calls book auctions a “legal form of gambling.” (She admitted that she is also a poker player.)
HarperCollins VP and Associate Publisher Mauro Di Preta remembers the moment John Grogan’s “Marley and Me” came across his desk. “Sometimes you have something in your corner that you feel really strongly about,” he said. “Each book we publish should be an immersive, tactile experience. You just have to have that book. Greer Hendricks, VP and Executive Editor of Atria Books, showed similar passion for her fiction projects. “If I like it,” Hendricks said, “other people are probably going to like it. The key is to have a focus and a personal connection to a book. I go with my gut. It’s pretty subjective. The trick is to get your publisher to agree.”
Jackie Cantor, Executive Editor of Berkeley Books, told the story of getting turned down by her acquisitions board for “Russian Concubine” by Kate Furnivall. Learning that the book was still available, she begged her boss to believe in her and the book and got a second chance— “Russian Concubine” hit the New York Times bestseller list with 150,000 copies in print. Beth Wareham, Director of Lifestyle Publishing at Scribner, has also had her share of acquisitions battles, but noted about working for a literary house: “I work for Scribner’s. Yet I got to publish a book called “What Pets Do While you are at Work.” And if that weren’t encouragement enough, Andrew Robinton, Assistant Editor at Grove Atlantic, confessed that his house is so small he just goes to his boss for approval to buy a book. “I don’t get the whole P & L thing,” he reported.
As Summer Publishing Institute students eagerly followed all this talk of gambling, luck and love, Reagan Arthur, VP and Publisher of her eponymous imprint at Little Brown, cautioned students to read constantly and be careful what they say when applying for that editorial assistant position. “Inevitably, you will be asked what you like to read. Don’t say George Eliot is your favorite,” she cautioned. “People need to know that you read what the market will bear now!”
All agreed that despite the grueling nature of an editor’s work, the job is infinitely rewarding. “It’s a really great thing to come into work every day and be around other people who love to read,” said Cantor. And it’s educational too. “So many different authors!” added Wareham. “Being an Editor is like going to the best school ever.”
by Andrea Chambers and Phil Scillaci Kropoth