November 3rd, 2016 / 11:37 am

In your estimation, what do people who work at big publishing companies do right? What do they do wrong? (Neither question is rhetorical.)


  1. Trey

      they’ve made some exceptionally nice looking books

  2. Brian McElmurry

      Business wise, I would say that somehow suing Amazon with antitrust laws would help. If you can buy a book for $3-7, how can a bookstore or writer/publisher survive. But I doubt that is possible. Seems also larger houses have merged for survival sake, similar to a lot of non-publishing related corporate entities, which profit/market share/survival wise is good, but for competing/new voices, not good.
      I enjoy when a book that has been worked on and cultivated for a while is championed, like with Alexander Chee’s The Queen of The Night, though I haven’t read it, it sounds really interesting.

  3. Shane Jones

      A lot of big publishers fall into two categories with who they hire which affects the product. For example, there’s the group of people who get a job in publishing because they care about art and have a sharp sense of new voices doing weird and cool things. These people grew up reading odd books and translated works and went to a nice college. They work their way into an editing position but quickly become disillusioned by corporate meetings and endless hours of sales pitch conference calls. Their choices on books they want to publish are constantly challenged. Eventually they become exhausted and leave. The second group of people who work at big publishing are typically middle to upper class whites who went to Wesleyan, Oberlin, or Sarah Lawrence. They tend to be intelligent, organized, and have no imagination or creativity of their own. They work hard and enjoy being part of the publishing process. They become an editor where they fear for their job on a daily basis resulting in the steady stream of bullshit you see on the new releases table at Barnes and Noble. They believe they are publishing good books and are happy to have a job. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, Knopf still publishes interesting books. Ecco is on the Nell Zink train now that she can sell a certain amount and she’s weird and fun. And FSG (especially the Originals series) is another. With a place like Knopf, it’s filled with ‘old-school’ editors who are still publishing the old guard who still receive enough reception/awards to warrant publication. They call this ‘symbolic currency.’ Besides, these writers and editors have been around forever, so no one gives them much push back. Over at FSG, it starts to become friends publishing friends, which is fine and cool (they do a lot of books I enjoy), but people start to catch on to the connections because the community is so small and there’s a lot of shit talking behind the back. But mostly, the ‘problem’ at big publishers is a business that has to function on money looming over the editor’s individual choice on what they want to publish. And depending on who is in this position (as detailed above) you either get literature or trash. I know what people who work at big publishers will say – that the consumer has made the choice not to buy literature, that’s why it’s hard to take certain books on. Or that it’s a group of people at a major publisher that decides what to publish. This is nonsense. Don’t believe it. It’s a culture at these places that needs changing and that happens with the people who are part of the model. What’s depressing is that big publisher thinking has begun to infect smaller independent publishers. For example, I recently heard about an editor at an independent publisher pressuring an author to insert the word ‘Girls’ into their title to not only sell more copies, but because they could list the book in a corporate catalog. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to sell more books, but when you begin to compromise the individual’s work because of corporate thinking we all lose.

  4. Ken Baumann

      That it?

  5. Ken Baumann

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, boss.

      How do you think the culture at large, risk-averse publishing houses changes? They hire different people? Have smaller budgets and therefore less pressure/expectation?

      I’m glad that big publishers:
      1. Pay a living wage to their employees, and (presumably) provide them with health insurance.
      2. Hire talented cover designers.
      3. Pay respectable advances to writers.
      4. Support some writers by publishing multiple books of theirs over a few years.

      That’s about it.

  6. Trey

      Probably not, that’s just all I feel qualified to speak on

  7. Josh Spilker

      At big publishing, I usually think of “editors” as acquisition etc, but I bet there are some really amazing line editors and story editors that we don’t know about, b/c that’s not the ‘cool’ part of the work. The first that comes to mind is DFW & Michael Pietsch though I’m sure there are lots of others.

      i’m speaking w/ absolutely no inside knowledge of anything so maybe i’m wrong