Welcome to Book Editors: Close Up at http://www.authorlink.com . This Authorlink column provides an intimate look at important book editors in New York and elsewhere. Interviews focus on editors as real people. The columns study their likes, dislikes, preferences, prejudices, and why they buy the books they do.
Senior Editor of Simon & Schuster, New York, NY
Imprint: Pocket Books
Recent acquisition: IRON LAKE by William Kent Kruegger
Q. How did you first become involved in publishing?
A. I began as an editorial assistant at William Morrow 20 years ago
Q. What did you do before occupying your current position?
A. I served as Senior Editor at Crown/Random House, and as Editor at William Morrow
Q. What job would you do if you could do any job in the world?
A. If I didn't think I already had the best job, I'd think about owning a bookshop. Being a veterinarian or a nurse have also always held some allure for me. But in the end I can't imagine being luckier than working with books every single day.
Q. What is your earliest memory of your love for words or books?
A. My memories of books go way far back–my mother read to us all when we were very small. I was in a book club when I was about three, and read incessantly. In fact, my mother has a small Hummel of a little girl reading, called "Bookworm," that she bought because it reminded her of me. It was always books for me.
Q. Who influenced you most as a child to read?
A. Again, I have to put it down to my mother's encouragement. There were books for us everywhere. Later I developed a great love of the old Bayside Public Library in Queens, and spent a ton of time there. I also remember stopping at the local card shop–which had a great selection of paperbacks–on the way home from grammar school and buying a different book every afternoon. It's how I read all the classics.
Q. Who are your favorite two or three authors?
A. I love J. D. Salinger, Anne Tyler, and Charles Dickens
Q. Why do you like each of them?
A. They write about real people and real feelings. They touch me. They show me something I didn't see before. And they're funny, too.
Q. What is your favorite book of all time and why?
A. Hands down I'd have to say it was FRANNY AND ZOOEY. The combination of pathos and humor, the drive to talk about something "really" important, makes that the quintessential book for me. I read it again every year, along with NINE STORIESS, and am enriched every time I do.
Q. What categories do you acquire for?
A. I do a lot of nonfiction—narrative usually, not necessarily, but mostly, cause I think a good story "makes" you interested, and I'm always grateful to have new worlds opened up to me. I have a lot of range at Pocket, and acquire for a really broad range, from sports to autobiography. I tend not to do self-help or how-to.
Q. What other categories personally interest you?
A. I'm interested in medical subjects–not health, I mean medicine, more like HOW WE DIE rather than HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEART.
Q. What do you want to see in a query? How long?
A. Short and to the point. A good letter that tells me the important things about the book and the author. I think pitching a book–which is something editors have to do every day, so don't feel alone–is like telling your best friend about something you've just read and liked. You don't take all day to do it; a few sentences sum up your feelings and the story line.
Q. Do you accept email queries?
A. I've only had a few, but I have to say I do prefer to get queries by mail. Maybe it's just cause I'm not used to it. But e-mail queries still feel a little casual to me.
Q. What advice, if any, do you have for the new writer trying to break in?
A. Read John Boswell's THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GETTING PUBLISHED for the inside and accurate portrait of publishing, and read Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD for the incredibly great and motivating talk about writing. Don't get so taken over by trying to get published that you forget what you're doing and why you're doing it–you're writing books, you have something to say. That's the most important advice, be a writer. The rest will come.
Q. What are your three biggest turn-offs when you're considering a manuscript (packaging? typefaces? no SASE? viewpoint shifts?)
A. 1. Too much plot detail. As you all really know already, it's all in how it's done. A plot line is only a plot line. A novel is a novel. Two pages of good writing will get my eye quicker than anything.
2. I like a nice, brief, letter that shows me something about the author's eye, or way of looking at the world, or sense or humor–all the things any letter tells you about its author. Be "yourself" when you write those letters. You're not a bank president writing a formal letter. You're a writer and, at bottom, "you" are all you have to offer the world. Let an editor see who you are.
Q. What was it about the last three manuscripts you've acquired that caught your eye, made the decision for you to buy?
A. 1. I bought a book by Cal Ripken, Sr. called THE RIPKEN WAY: A MANUAL FOR BASEBALL AND LIFE, which I totally fell for as a big baseball fan.
2. I bought AGATHA CHRISTIE A-Z, which will be a great big compendium of everything Agatha, and the proposal was clever and well-thought out and convinced me the book would be in print forever. I know that's only two, but I have to go home and read manuscripts now!!!
Q. Do you have a favorite quote or first line of a novel, some wisdom that has guided you?
A. My favorite first line has always been: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." (JAYNE ERYE, by Charlotte Bronte). I like to think of Charlotte sitting at her dining room table on just such a day writing those words.
As for wisdom, I try to read great writers new and old. I know I'm in the publishing business, but mostly I'm a reader and I never stop being thrilled by good books. Even holding them is exciting to me. I go into a bookstore or a library and my adrenaline rushes. I think one should never stop reading.