Thursday, June 1, 2017

BookExpo Snapshots: Editors’-Eye-Views of the Publishing Industry, mid-2017

BookExpo, the annual booksellers and publishers convention, has traditionally been the moment for media and book-business observers to take stock of the industry. Like many things about traditional publishing, BookExpo has shrunk in size and schedule in recent years, though it now includes a consumer-oriented portion called BookCon. But editors, sales reps, and booksellers still walk the floor and ask each other “how’s business?”

So I thought I’d honor the tradition and gather some impressions from colleagues. The natural place to start was a ready-made panel of experts—the contributors to the forthcoming essay collection WHAT EDITORS DO, edited by yours truly. (For more on the book, see yesterday’s post.)  I circulated a few questions to my 26 co-authors. Interestingly, many of those who answered were not attending BookExpo, probably because for those who are, this is a crazy-busy week. But I got some thoughtful responses from editors representing Big 5 trade houses, university, and literary indie publishing.

Herewith some brief selections from their answer, with a few of my own comments thrown in. As usual, different perspectives give us a variegated picture of the industry, where cautious optimism is streaked with the awareness of challenges.

What was the first BEA
you attended? What do you remember of BookExpos past or present, or what are you looking forward to?

Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman (Blogger, consultant and industry observer at  My first BEA was 2004 in Chicago. I don't remember much from that first year, but I attended every year after that for about 10 years. The best part was always meeting and spending time with authors. The worst part was always the lines, lines, lines, and crowding—and feeling done with humanity by the end. I'm not attending this year, but I know it's partly a mistake. Some serendipitous encounter always happens that makes the discomfort and exhaustion worthwhile.

Susan Ferber  (Executive Editor, Oxford University Press):  I have actually never attended the BEA! Since I work for a university press, my highest priority is the conferences in my academic discipline. 

Diana Gill  (Executive Editor, Tor/Macmillan): My first ABA was while I was still in college, courtesy of one of my very first publishing mentors. I remember being so very excited to see the booths and to get ALL THE GALLEYS.  I couldn't believe how cool it was. Your first BEA is a rush, whether it was many years ago or for the new assistants just starting out.

Peter Ginna: I have written elsewhere of memorable BEA experiences and characters. One that was happily not my own was a peer of mine who toiled in an imprint of Random House, back in the days when Random caused a stir by spending a million dollars on a vast, elaborate BookExpo booth featuring an actual House in the middle of it. Along with other low-riders on the corporate totem pole, he was stocking the shelves in the booth when an unfamiliar-looking suit, cocking his head to examine the custom-made fixtures, said, how does it look? The new recruit said, candidly, I think it looks like a French pissoir. It was then that he found he was speaking to Alberto Vitale, Randoms CEO.

Carol Fisher Saller
What is the most underappreciated positive development in publishing recently, or the most overhyped negative one? What about the flip side—what is the most underappreciated threat or challenge to book publishers? 

Carol Fisher Saller (University of Chicago Press, author of The Subversive Copy Editor): From the get-go, I was amazed at the hysteria over e-books and how they were going to destroy publishing. Instead, we've seen publishing explode in many new directions, with more kinds of things to read in more kinds of formats than ever before.

PG: One of the most underappreciated challenges to publishing is the dwindling of mass consumer medianewspapers, magazines, and radio especiallythat have long been a crucial way for publishers to make readers aware of new books. Online marketing and social media have not yet replaced the reach of, for example, the vanished book-review sections of major newspapers. Another real problem for book publishing is its lack of diversitypublishing staffs are far less diverse than America at large. (In a chapter of What Editors DoChris Jackson of One World writes eloquently of why this is a serious issue.) It is not just a matter of social justice, when talented candidates dont get hired or promoted. Its a problem for the industry, which is often out of step with the tastes and interests of the reading population.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf
Katharine OMoore-Klopf (Freelance editor specializing in medical & life science books): I have been concerned about the loss of respect for or loss of knowledge about the value of developmental editing, line editing, and copyediting. As publishing has become more about the financial bottom line than about quality, editing has come to be seen as less of a necessity than it once was. Part of this is because editors in general have been self-effacing, thinking it almost improper to talk about the value of their role in publishing. That must change. Editors of all kinds must speak out in every venue possible to explain what it is they do and why it’s important to the quality of books.

Diana Gill
Diana Gill: I think it's fairly clear that the big 5 will continue to contract and tighten their programs, with all the commensurate effects and spinning of publishing's own wheel of fortune for people at those houses, and for authors new and old. I hope smaller and indie presses continue to provide some alternatives and ideally grow to counteract the contraction.

Susan Ferber: I think we have taken for granted what an incredible development print on demand has meant for publishers, authors, and readers.  There is no need to declare books out of print anymore; we can literally make work available forever, which is a development on par with the printing press in my mind.  I think the death of the print book has been the most overhyped negative in the publishing world.  This has been augured and feared for so long, and for new generations of readers, it is so heartening to see that they love the print form.  It is enduring and old technology can and does have value. 
Susan Ferber

Jane Friedman:  I am encouraged by the new data-oriented research and tools that help publishers and authors better speak to, connect, and market directly to readers. Direct-to-consumer knowledge and marketing has been the Achilles heel for traditional publishers, particularly when compared to Amazon's capabilities, but it really feels like the industry is making some progress. 

As an author-advocate, I wish publishers would take more seriously the need to offer authors more communication and education on book marketing. I know it's not possible for publishers to give all their titles A-list marketing treatment, but by far the biggest complaint I hear from authors is that no one told them or prepared them for what the publisher would or would not do. Greater transparency would be so helpful.

 [BookExop photo via Chicago Tribune] 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I Wrote the Book on Editing. (I Had Help.)

This blog has gone unrefreshed for far too long now, but your correspondent has not been idle. For much of the past couple of years I have been putting together--editing and partly writing--the book whose cover you see here: What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing. It was commissioned by the University of Chicago Press, the publisher of the venerable and indispensable Chicago Manual of Style, and they'll release it in October. (Feel free to preorder it now!)

It seems ironic that for those who are interested in going into the book business, or those outside it who want to understand it, there is a dearth of published guidance about how editors do what they do, or why, or what constitutes best practices in editing. There are a few very good exceptions to that statement, most notably the late Gerald Gross's essay collection Editors on Editing, first published in 1962, updated twice since, and still in print. I read the second edition avidly when I got into publishing in the early 1980s, and it is still well worth reading, with contributions from many accomplished (in some cases legendary) editors. But EoE was last updated in the early 90s, before Amazon and the internet, among other factors, transformed the industry. It was long past time for another crack at the subject.

What Editors Do is the result. I'm very grateful to the stellar editors, agents, and other experts-- 27 in all--who answered the call to explain the many and varied roles that editors play in connecting writers and readers. The contents cover a broad swath of the publishing industry, including academic and reference publishing as well as trade, children's as well as adult, genre fiction as well as literary. And because self-publishing has become such a vibrant segment of the marketplace and so important for authors, it addresses what happens when authors become their own editors.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll be posting some material from and about the book here. For now, in the hope of whetting your appetite, here's the table of contents and list of essayists. (Click on the images to enlarge.) For further description, see the publisher's catalogue page, or watch this space.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Podcast: Historian Martha Hodes on Americans' Responses to the Lincoln Assassination

I am really enjoying my venture in podcasting, which gives me a chance to have stimulating conversations about history with a variety of authors. This month I spoke to Martha Hodes of NYU about her new book Mourning Lincoln

The murder of President Abraham Lincoln, just days after the Union had triumphed in the Civil War, shocked and horrified people across America—it was, in its way, a nineteenth century 9/11. This year, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination. Mourning Lincoln is Martha Hodes's exploration of that traumatic event. 

Martha Hodes
She has combed through the private, unfiltered writings of Americans from both North and South to learn how they reacted to news of the assassination. Their responses both reflected how much Lincoln meant to his contemporaries and revealed the profound differences that the Civil War had left unresolved. Click the arrow above to hear my conversation with Martha Hodes about her work; you can also download it at or via Soundcloud.

P.S. If you'd like to listen to my other interviews with historians, past or forthcoming, you can subscribe via RSS feed on my podcast's home page,, linked above. You can also follow me at Soundcloud. Or you can subscribe to this blog by e-mail using the link in the right-hand column here, which will bring you all my posts including announcements of new podcasts. Access via iTunes coming soon, I hope. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

One for the Books: An Independence Day Interview with Historian John Ferling

As a lover of history books, not to mention as an editor of them, I've wished for a long time that there were more conversation to be found online about all the interesting work that historians are doing. There are certainly some lively websites and blogs, and a handful of excellent podcasts, but the avid history reader is underserved compared to the fiction lover or sports fan.

I think this is slowly changing--for example, I've been happy to see a growing community of historians and history enthusiasts on Twitter. (One quick way to find the latter is search under the hashtag #Twitterstorians.) But it's still a challenge to find in-depth discussion of new work in history, especially as serious books reviews have so drastically diminished in newspapers and magazines. 

So I'm making a modest effort to expand what's available with a new podcast, One for the Books, where I'll be talking to historians about their new titles, works in progress, and sometimes other topics. As I'm posting this on Independence Day, I could think of no better person to talk to than John Ferling, who has spent a long and productive scholarly career studying the American Revolution. He has just published a superb new book titled Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It--a sweeping, and stirring, history of coming of American independence. Unlike many books on the Revolution, this one looks carefully at both the political struggle and the military one, and at how each of those influenced the other. Ferling also emphasizes--in a break from the last few decades of scholarship-- the economic factors that he believes drove the colonists toward a break from the mother country. 

Click the orange button above to hear the interview. You can also download it from SoundCloud or from Libsyn. I hope you'll enjoy this talk as much as I did and that you'll check back for future interviews; you should soon be able to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes and other sites, and I'll update this post when those feeds are active. I would welcome comments, positive or negative, about this interview, or suggestions about other authors you'd like to hear on the podcast. 

John Ferling
For more about John Ferling, or to buy Whirlwind, visit his website, which includes links to online and independent booksellers.

UPDATE- July 8, 2015: You can now find a dedicated webpage for this podcast at You can subscribe to it via an RSS feed by clicking the symbol at the top of the podcast page, or by putting this URL into your RSS reader: Soon it should also be available through iTunes and I'll update again then.

To subscribe by e-mail: if you don't have an RSS reader, but would like to be notified by e-mail of future podcast episodes, just sign up under  the "Subscribe by E-mail" link at the right. That will bring you everything that's posted here, including new interviews.