Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

I wonder where all the editors have gone. I think I know, but I don't want to admit that I'm right. So, instead, I will continue to wonder. Where have they gone?

I know a writer who has written a moving, funny, and memorable memoir concerning her experiences about turning sixty. The demographics for marketing the book are huge: this is the original Baby Boomer generation, remember, the generation that still buys books and actually reads them? Yet, she can't find a publisher. Or, more accurately, she can't find an editor willing to take a chance on her or her book by publishing it.

You see, this writer has a terminal flaw: it's called No Name. Oh, by that I don't mean she is nameless, of course, but she has no celebrity status, no national recognition. She's not Julia Child or Justin Timberlake or Janet Jackson or Monroe Doctrine or any of those big names. She is, in effect, a memoirist-non-gratis.

Why should that matter? Here's why.

Editors point to the sagging store shelves of memoirs with titles screaming out for sale--the vast majority written by celebrities. (You know, those people whom Tom Wolf once described as "famous for being famous.") Without name recognition, these editors fear, the book will languor in sales-statistics limbo forever.

They may be correct. They may have statistics and other documentation that shows them to be correct. But that doesn't make them right.

At one time, an editor who fell in love with a project would pursue its life's history through publication and marketing and sales all the way into the option of film rights based upon the story. But that editor is long gone from the scene that plays out each day along New York's Publisher's Row. That editor is a dinosaur, a fossil left over from an era when people had integrity and moral fiber and weren't afraid to work hard for a living, to build up a sweat working toward the accomplishment of a goal they really believed in.

The last time I recall seeing an editor actually sweat was when the corporate CFO came to town to talk to the executive editor about lagging book sales. I know. I was one of those editors once.

Now, don't get me wrong. I live in this century, too, and I understand why the bottom line is so critical to corporate America. When corporate profits dwindle, stock prices fall, shareholder dividends fall, confidence in management falls, and the blame falls on the Board. (Old joke: "What's the surest way to lose money in the stock market?" Answer: "Buy G. E.")

Once the blame starts flying, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump until people find themselves on the unemployment line.

I get all that. I really do.

But once--okay, maybe twice or three times, even--in every publishing season, couldn't one editor somewhere, at some publishing house, stand up and root for the underdog, insist upon staking his or her reputation (not to mention job) on the success of a quirky offbeat "little book" by an untested "no-name" author? Just once?

See. I told you when I began this article. I already know the answer to that, but I just don't want to admit that I'm right.

Smoke if you got 'em.

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