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The Life of a Book: An interview with editor Brant Rumble, Part 1

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.   Today we’re featuring the editor of But What if We’re Wrong?, Brant Rumble. Rumble has worked with Chuck Klosterman for years, and has agreed to give us the inside scoop on editing a book.  Rumble Q: How would you describe this book to someone who’s never read Chuck? A: Imagine you’re about to meet up at a bar (or any other kind of location where you can relax and enjoy yourself) with several of your best friends. You’re going to discuss both important and completely unimportant subjects. You’re going to play some songs on the jukebox, which might lead you to ponder the career of Gerry Rafferty. You’re going to casually watch whatever games are on. You’ll argue, you’ll laugh—both with and at each other—and you might be surprised by a good friend’s revelation or news. And, unless someone loses a tooth or a credit card, you’ll have a good time, living in a world where not all times are good. Reading Chuck is the literary equivalent of that night out. There’s part of me that hesitates to characterize his work in that way because I fear it implies, to some people, a lack of quality, which is not what I’m trying to convey at all. In fact, if that’s what you think it implies, then maybe you need some new best friends. This book, specifically, asks—in every which way—what we, as individuals and as a society, might be wrong about. We look back in history and it’s obvious to us that people have always been wrong about major facts or issues at any given time, yet it’s difficult to apply that same scrutiny to the present. Chuck tries. He looks at art, science, politics, sports, dreaming, the fabric of reality, and just about everything else. He consults experts in each field, and he draws some fascinating conclusions about how we think about what we know, or don’t know. Q: What would surprise a layman about the editing and publishing process? A: People who are unfamiliar with the publishing industry probably don’t realize the extent to which editors are involved in a book at every step from signing it up to editing it (they probably can guess about that part) to publishing it to finding ways to promote it years later. Editors depend on countless colleagues in production, design, sales, publicity, marketing, rights, and legal—not to mention booksellers and media and partners outside of the publishing house—but an editor is generally involved throughout the entire process. An editor is the author’s primary connection to the publishing house. Maybe a layman knows all of this. Sometimes that guy is smarter than we think. Q: What do you look for when you acquire a book? How does that apply to But What if We’re Wrong? A: It’s relatively simple: I look for books I love to read. Of course, I have particular interests in music, pop culture, sports, counterculture, and quirky/weird/wild subjects, so most of the books I look for relate to one or more of those realms, but I also love a writer who can pull me into a subject I was never expecting to want to read about. That takes a distinct voice and command of language, and usually some sense of levity, which can range from subtle to outlandish. As for Chuck, I’ve been working with him since the beginning of his literary career, which was essentially the beginning of my career as an editor. In 1999, I was a novice editor, but I’d been trained to look for writers and books, applying the aforementioned principles, and I’m extremely fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to start working with Chuck. The way in which he typifies the kind of writer I enjoy reading cannot be overstated. Q: What’s the first thing you do after acquiring a book? How do you start the editing process? How do you collaborate with Chuck? How has it changed since his first book? A: Usually, in the process of acquiring a book, an editor has had some kind of conversation with the author. So, the first step is usually an extension of that conversation, and just getting to know each other a little bit. If the writer is in New York, I take him or her to lunch. We talk about logistics of the project and the general approach the writer is going to take with the book. With Chuck, this is the eighth book we’ve worked on together, and we know each other well. We’re pals who’ve watched approximately fifty college football games while sitting in the same room. But I still take him to lunch sometimes. We usually have three big conversations about a given book—one before he starts writing, one after he’s been writing for a while, and one before he delivers the first complete draft. Then we have lots of little conversations and email exchanges until the book is ready to go to the printer. That hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Check back soon for Part 2., in which Rumble describes his favorite parts of the editorial process and the most striking chapters of But What If We’re Wrong? Read the first post in this series here.

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From the Editor’s Desk: Carole Baron, editor of Maeve Binchy’s A Few of the Girls

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. As Maeve Binchy’s publisher and editor, we worked on every one of books together. She was a natural born storyteller whether she was writing a full length novel such as her first, Light a Penny Candle or her last, A Week in Winter. But Maeve was also a short story writer. Working as a columnist at the Irish Times honed her talents in setting up a story with a beginning, middle and end. But in her way, she could pack a whole novel in a 3,500 word short story. She was once asked “how long is a short story?” and her answer was: “It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string.” In other words, tell the story. And check out The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club where she details how she asked herself nine questions before she set out to write any short story. Maeve wrote a lot of them, and now seemed like the time to share these with the world. What a treat it would be for all of Maeve’s considerable and loyal fans. Gordon Snell, Maeve’s husband, was on board. The first task was pulling altogether the short stories with the help of her UK publisher, her agent and her husband. We read every short story she ever wrote… maybe 100, maybe more. Some of her short stories have already been collected into books (I am thinking of “The Lilac Bus,” for example). Others were published in magazines or newspapers, mostly in the UK. Some were written for charity auctions and even as gifts for friends. Which stories should we include? How would they be organized? I was hoping that the organization of the stories could drive a narrative of life because after all, that’s what Maeve wrote about. Once the stories made the final cut, there was only one way I could go about it: I printed them all out—yes, on paper, this was not a job for the computer. I read and reread them, made a few notes, and then put them on my dining room table, trailed some onto the floor, and covered the couch with stories. I would move stories from place to place physically. I added colored paper to help sort out themes as they emerged. Maeve always wrote about relationships and love, about lousy friends, about family, and jobs, and holidays that changed people’s lives. After reading and sorting and crying and laughing, it was clear that the stories fell into natural categories: “Friends and Enemies,” “Love and Marriage,” “Your Cheating Heart,” “Relatives and Other Strangers,” “Work and No Play,” and “Holidays”… And a book was created: A Few of the Girls. So grab a copy and spend some time with Maeve … I think I’ll join you. I can never get enough of Maeve’s humor and wisdom. And if you want a taste of one of her perfect short stories, there is Vintage’s e-short “Dusty’s Winter” that won’t disappoint. Listen to an excerpt of A Few of the Girls from Penguin Random House Audio here!  Read more about Maeve Binchy’s book below.
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Challenge Your Shelf: Women’s History Reading Challenge

Who said reading can’t be competitive? Every few months, we’ll be challenging you to read a list of selected books. Print out the challenge and cross the titles off as you go. Show off how much you’ve read by taking a picture and tweeting @penguinrandom or Instagramming (@penguinrandomhouse) with the hashtag #challengeyourshelf.
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Writing Tips from Chris Pavone, author of The Travelers

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!  How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? As intimately as possible. For me, that’s by writing character sketches. Not just a paragraph or two, but deep intricate stories complete with grade-school triumphs and middle-school humiliations, grandparents immigrating and parents divorcing, detailed visions of houses and part-time jobs, dead pets and young-adult heartbreak, irrelevant vignettes coming out of the woodwork. I don’t expect for this character-sketch material to make it into the book—90 percent of it doesn’t come close, and I end up deleting most of the 10 percent that I do shoehorn into early drafts. But this backstage exercise helps me define these imaginary people, so I know how their voices sound, what they look like and even how they dress, what they’re worried about and hopeful for, what they want. So when it’s time for these characters to walk onstage, they’re ready. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? When I was in my mid-twenties, I was a copy editor at Doubleday, and for a brief period it was my job to help shepherd Pat Conroy’s Beach Music into the world. I ended up spending a good amount of time with Pat, who’d temporarily relocated to New York City to finish working on the manuscript. One day we walked from a meeting at his editor’s house to his hotel, the unnecessarily long way through a cold damp Central Park, while Pat peppered me with questions about my unconventional childhood in New York City in the 1970s. I eventually asked why he was so curious. And he told me that this is the most important thing for writers to do: to listen—really listen—to other people’s stories. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I spend a huge amount of time writing about the book, instead of writing the actual text. This includes the above-mentioned character sketches, but also scenes that I don’t know will fit anywhere, and plot notes and alternate possibilities, and a detailed outline. Sometimes I have a half-dozen documents open, and none of them is the book. For my most recent, The Travelers, I even wrote a TV treatment and a pilot script, neither of which I attempted to sell. I think it’s useful for me to try to tell a story in different formats, especially very short ones: the one-sentence elevator pitch and the one-page flap copy. A writer can spend a decade working obsessively on a novel, but in the commerce of publishing many of the most important decisions about any book will be made based on very short pitches—from literary agent to editor to sales rep to bookstore buyer to a potential reader standing in the bookstore, asking, “What’s it about?” Every single one of those interactions is an opportunity for the book’s life to be cut short or to survive, for someone to decline or to agree, “Okay, I’ll take a look.” But I won’t be there for any of those interactions—you never get a chance to defend your book!—so instead I want to try to make sure that the book is pitchable. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I did, yes. But for a long time I equated being a working novelist with being third baseman for the Yankees: an unrealistic dream, an impractical self-indulgence. After college I was burdened with student loans to repay, no financial cushion, so I wasn’t in a position to bet everything on a creative-writing career—neither the writing-workshop academia life nor the freelance-writer version, trying to scrape by on short stories and house-painting gigs. I wanted to pursue a separate freestanding career, one that would definitely put me in the path of becoming a writer, but also one that would also be tenable and satisfying if I never ended up writing a published book. So I worked in publishing. My career got off to an extremely slow start as a direct-marketing assistant at a professional-magazine publisher (our titles included the likes of Journal of Accounting and Middle Market Lending Letter, and I was tracking the efficacy of junk-mail campaigns), but one thing led to another, and I quickly moved into the book end of things, and seven jobs later I was an associate publisher. That turned out to be the last position I quit, nearly a decade ago. I was thirty-eight years old. Learn more about Chris Pavone’s new book below!
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Remembering Pat Conroy’s life and work

New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy died Friday, March 4, at the age of 70.  Conroy passed away at his home in Beaufort, SC, surrounded by family and loved ones.  “The water is wide and he has now passed over,” said his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy.  Funeral arrangements are currently being made at this time.

Read the New York Times obituary here.

“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince of Tides to today,” said his longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday.  “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly,” Talese said.

Listen to an interview with Nan about Pat Conroy’s life here.

Conroy is the author of eleven previous books, including The Boo, The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, South of Broad, My Reading Life and The Death of Santini.   His novels have sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

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The Life of a Book: From Manuscript to Bookstore

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’re going deep inside one book in particular, But What If We’re Wrong?  by Chuck Klosterman to show readers the changes, collaborations, hard work, and inspiration that goes into the development of a book. In the coming months, we’ll talk to the editor, marketing team, cover art designers, and other people who help make a book… a book! Chuck Klosterman is an author and essayist known for his books (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Eating the Dinosaur, and Fargo Rock City, among others), and his columns and articles for GQ, Esquire, Grantland, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine. His newest book, But What If We’re Wrong?, coming out this June, is all about the supposed facts and knowledge we take for granted. Check back in the coming weeks for the inside scoop from Chuck’s editor, Brant Rumble. IMG_4161 copy   Read more about But What If We’re Wrong? below