I Was Recently Reminded Why I Like Publishers

I ran an exciting auction this summer. The author and I subwayed up and down Manhattan on an only moderately hot day in July and visited eight publishers in ten hours. We met in small offices and in large conference rooms and in corner offices. In some meetings, twelve folks gathered with us. In others, one. So it goes in the literary business world.

We were interviewing editors, and they were checking out my client. I was there to keep the conversation going. Mostly though, I was inhaling the scent of books. Each publisher felt familiar. I recognized the structure—the rhythm—of their year. I recognized the mug full of sharpened pencils. I could imagine working there: the editorial meetings, the joy of looking at twelve covers to find the one perfect fit. I could hear the echoes of conversations, the past celebrations of successes, the bewilderment over a book that tanked.

Each book at a publishing house is “touched” by dozens of folks, each expert at their particular task, people who enjoy long careers in copy editing, design, marketing, publicity, editing…. When you page through a book, you should know how much work and time went into every element of what you see and touch.

Does it help writers to know this? I think so. Publishers invest their time and resources into your creative work. Yes, this is literary business, which means that our relationships are transactional. But each person who works for a publisher is looking to do something brilliant and magical and “right” every day. I’m so glad that I had long experience on the corporate side of publishing. Of course, I’m even happier now that I’m not dependent on solely one house to publish my list. And book agents don’t have to sometimes abandon pushing a writer’s career the way that an editor sometimes may. But it makes me smile to think about the many smart, caring people who work in this literary business.