Elizabeth Maguire: Basic Books Hungry for Great Storytellers

April 15, 2003
Written by

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Elizabeth Maguire
Vice President and Publisher, Basic Books (Perseus Books Group)

By Doris Booth

April 2003

 

Perseus has recently restructured its imprints

In December 2002, Elizabeth (Liz) Maguire was promoted from editorial director to vice president and publisher of Basic Books/Basic Civitas Books and Counterpoint, all part of the Perseus Books Group. She joined the company approximately three years ago after having served as editorial director of Free Press (Simon &Schuster).

Perseus has recently restructured its imprints, folding business and science books into the Basic imprint; sending parenting, pop culture, music, film, and theatre to its Da Capo Press (a separate division than Maguire's); and lifestyle and religious titles to Counterpoint. Civitas is the multi-cultural line.

We talked with Liz in early April 2003 about her editorial needs and her vision for the publishing units she oversees.

 

"We're making a substantial shift toward more commercial authors." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: What is the underlying philosophy of Basic Books?

MAGUIRE: We have our roots in the 1940s and 1950s, in scholarly works and intellectual arguments told with narrative drive and literary voice. But the nature of publishing itself is changing. We're making a substantial shift toward more commercial authors. About 50 or 60 percent of our titles are written by scholars doing original research. Now we are looking for more journalists and highly-opinionated people with public platforms. You might say, we're looking for the best and the smartest people we can find.

 

The new breed of author at Basic sees the big picture.

 

AUTHORLINK: What are some examples of the newer breed of author at Basic?

MAGUIRE: Samantha Power is a good example. She's the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, and winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction—a first for Basic Books.

 

Basic Books publishes up to 55 titles per year.

 

AUTHORLINK: How many titles do you publish per year?

MAGUIRE: Basic Books publishes approximately 50 to 55 titles per year, Counterpoint, 15 to 18, and Civitas, 5 to 10. Most of of our titles are first published in hardcover format, though a few in the Counterpoint line are paperback originals.

 

"In these times of unrest, people look more for information than entertainment." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: In what book categories do you publish?

MAGUIRE: We've recently changed our structure, moving business and science topics to the Basic imprint, and relocating parenting books under the Da Capo imprint. Serious books do best for us at Basic. In these times of unrest people look more for information than for entertainment. They want "the goods" on current subjects. For example, one title that's selling exceptionally well for us is The New Iraq.

Basic Books publishes in the areas of history, military history, science, current affairs, economics, business, biographies, and narrative nonfiction.

 

"We're looking for the 'big picture' —books based on big ideas. . ." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: What sort of business books are you seeking?

MAGUIRE: The business book market has changed dramatically. We're no longer looking for how to books. We're looking for the "big picture"—books based on big ideas, new trends, and strategies.

 

"We're hungry for African historians . . . great storytellers and thinkers. . ." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: What kind of work are you looking for right now?

MAGUIRE: We're hungry for African historians, people who are great storytellers and thinkers, those who are not laboring over issues already explored. In every category, we need fresh ideas, fresh voices.

 

". . . our readers are very committed to reading and learning." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: What is the outlook for publishing over the next few years?

MAGUIRE: These are tough times for all publishers. We're fighting harder for a smaller share of the market. Luckily, our readers are very committed to reading and learning. We're not losing our audiences to TV sit coms or even to the Internet. We also have a large, healthy backlist. A loyal audience and consistently good books keep us strong.

 

"Writing is central to what is good about being human in a free society." —Liz Maguire

 

AUTHORLINK: What words of advice do you have for writers?

MAGUIRE: At Basic, writers are our partners. We want to build communities of readers for them. We allow the writer and the reader to engage in an important way.

In these volatile times, I hope writers realize their worth. Writing is central to what is good about being human in a free society. And we at Basic Books are true believers in that philosophy. z z z

 

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This post was written by Doris Booth