Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The New York Publishing State of Mind

I've spent most of my adult life dealing with books in some form, from writing them, editing them, publishing them, to selling them---in the roles of author, editor, publisher and bookseller. Along the way I've been privileged to meet and have discussions with various other more eminent authors, editors, publishers, and booksellers. Back when I was a bookseller in the early 1990s, one such editor, then working for W.W. Norton, was Gerry Howard.  I remember spending a very interesting few hours with him back then, as he liked to keep in touch with those of us booksellers (and the store's bookbuyers) who worked at the front line of retail bookselling.  I've read and enjoyed occasional essays by Howard over the years in various venues, and now comes an interesting and pretty thorough piece in The Millions titled "The Open Refrigerator" which gives an overview of the state of mind in New York publishing among editors and publishers like Howard. I recommend it, if that at all interests you.  You can find the essay here.

There is one aspect of publishing that Howard doesn't cover, and it's a phenomenon among editors that I have found increasingly commonplace over the last fifteen to twenty years.  That is, the lack of ever getting a "no" from them on a proposal submitted.  I mean, I've had a number of nice chats (in person, or via email) with editors who make interested noises and are willing to look at proposals or books.  Some even ask to see them, and act very interested.  But somewhere along the line, they stop commenting, and cease answering emails. Politeness leaves the author to wait in limbo for some months after the editors have promised to get back to you, and then six months pass in limbo, and then one has no other choice than to give up on them and move on to another editor. Why is it that these editors don't have the simple courtesy to say no when they can't, for whatever reason (e.g., they may personally like a proposal but don't think they can get the editorial board to agree), say yes? Here's a short article from four years ago that discusses some aspects of this unfortunately common phenomenon.

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