Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.This time, we’re so excited to host an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.In the coming weeks, we’ll interview different people who have been a major part of making the book: a marketer, the book designer, a sales representative, and finally, Celeste herself!This week’s interview is with sales manager Megan Sullivan.
When you describe Little Fires Everywhere to book buyers, what is your hook? What is memorable or unique about the book? Why would they want it in their store?
First a little back story. I had been a buyer and bookseller at Harvard Book Store for many years and when I was hired to be his co-rep in New England, Karl Krueger invited me to an author dinner with Celeste and a bunch of booksellers even before I was a rep. I was excited to meet her as she lives just minutes away from me. Her book Everything I Never Told You was the first book I read as a PRH rep and is special to me for all this, so when I heard she had a new book coming, I hounded the editor (okay, asked politely a lot). I read Little Fires Everywhere as soon as the manuscript was posted, about 4 months before sales conference and I was immediately hooked. A sophomore novel can often slump a bit relative to an author’s first book. Not so this one—it dazzles. Rich characters and sense of place, Celeste is able to make you see the story from a variety of perspectives. I told my stores that this will be one of the biggest books in the fall and they should pile it up.
What do you like about this new book? Do you have a favorite moment or line? Were you surprised by anything?
I think the character development is richer in Little Fires Everywhere. And there are so many moments to pause and think that I don’t have a favorite. Elena Richardson, the mother of the Richardson clan, surprised me. She could have been written as a cookie-cutter wealthy woman, unaware of her privilege, but I felt Celeste wrote her with some compassion.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? What would surprise a layman to know?
I love getting to read books so early! It’s so much fun to talk with booksellers when you know one of their favorite authors has a book coming. I often feel like I’m a bookseller still just in a slightly different role.
Do you have a favorite bookstore in the Boston/Cambridge area?
I love all the stores around here, but I spent 14 years at Harvard Book Store and it’s part of my DNA now.
Tune in next week for the next interview in this series, and learn more about the book below:
Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.
This time, we’re so excited to announce an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.
In the coming weeks, we’ll interview different people who have been a major part of making the book: a marketer, the book designer, a sales representative, and finally, Celeste herself!
Let’s kick things off with a Q&A with the book’s editor, Virginia Smith. Read on below!
What do you look for when you acquire a new book? How does that apply to Celeste Ng?
It depends on the kind of book, of course, but I love to encounter a fully-realized world. And Celeste does that as well as anyone writing today. From the first line of Little Fires Everywhere, you are dropped into a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, where everything is meticulously planned. And where something is deeply wrong. The gun is loaded, so to speak, and you’re dreading the moment it fires. I was traveling when Celeste’s agent Julie Barer sent me the manuscript for the novel, and I read it in one furious sitting, stuck on the tarmac at La Guardia in a cramped, delayed plane. I cried, I gasped, I laughed, I cheered, I hummed along to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. By the time we finally landed, everyone else on the flight was asleep, but I was nearly bouncing in my seat, excited to get out and tell my colleagues how wonderful Celeste’s second book was.
How is your work different with a debut vs. a second book?
One obvious difference is that you don’t have to “introduce” a non-debut writer. And that was certainly the case with Celeste, who immediately established herself as one our most captivating writers with her stunning first book, Everything I Never Told You. The love that book received was so heartening to see, especially in a difficult time for debut fiction. But it was a reception truly earned. And now Celeste has created something even more exceptional: a triumphant second novel. These are a rare species, but Celeste is a rare talent. The job of the entire team at Penguin Press is to spread that good word to our bookselling partners, to media, and most importantly, to readers.
What do you think was your biggest impact on Little Fires Everywhere?
In my mind, I am her ideal reader. By happenstance, I am exactly the same age as both Celeste and one of the main characters in Little Fires Everywhere. And while every person’s experience is unique, I felt like my personal history gave me insight into the world Celeste has created. The novel is set in and around a high school in the late 1990s. Celeste artfully evokes the quality of teenage life in that period, and I could read those aspects of the novel out of my own experience. I knew Celeste had nailed the landscape. Now, twenty years later, I find myself the mother of two young daughters, so the novel’s beautiful exploration of the possibilities and pulls of motherhood also resonates with me on a deep level.
What do you think would surprise a layman to know about your job? What is your favorite part?
People who aren’t in publishing are generally surprised that editors are involved in all aspects of a book’s publication. And I enjoy that. It’s an honor to advocate for creative work I love. I trained and worked as an actor before coming into publishing, and I appreciate how important that support is for an artist. It’s also a great privilege to work in a community of people who are all so excited about writing. And I enjoy all aspects of bookmaking, from the puzzle of editing to the aesthetics of the physical book. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to work with wonderful mentors who have taught me the importance of all of those aspects of publishing. I find the sales process invigorating. Our launch at Penguin Press is fun. Ann Godoff is just the platonic ideal of a publisher, and I decided to be an editor after hearing Scott Moyers pitch Tom Ricks’ FIASCO at the Columbia Publishing Course in 2006. Working with the two of them makes me better.
How are you involved with the other aspects? Art, marketing, publicity?
I’m very fortunate to have talented colleagues who bring experience and expertise to bear on books I love. I enjoy seeing the vision of the art department worked out in the cover design, strategizing about a publicity campaign, and getting into the weeds on the marketing plan. It is particularly great in this case because our whole team worked with Celeste on her first book. We all had such a lovely experience partnering with Celeste for Everything I Never Told You, as she is just a delight and a star in every sense.
Why will readers want to read this book?
Because it’s just fantastic? One of the things I love most about Celeste’s work is her profound empathy. Every character in her Shaker Heights is fully realized—and the novel is still completely propulsive. We are plunged into a chilling mystery from the opening line; a seemingly perfect family is undone by secrets; the underlying racism of a community is uncovered; and mother-daughter relationships are powder kegs ready to detonate. Celeste’s meditations on the complexities of motherhood are worth the read alone, but the novel’s examinations of identity, belonging, and the nature of art are equally powerful and rewarding. She writes about issues that polarize us today with such heart for all involved. She tells a good story, which of course is job one, but she is also searching for what motivates each of us—and what sparks a fire.
Tune in next week for the next interview in this series, and learn more about the book below:
Camille Aubray joins Amy to talk about her book, COOKING FOR PICASSO, which follows a young woman whose life changes when she spends a summer cooking for Picasso. They cover provençal cuisine, writing in the south of France, and Picasso’s many love affairs.
Who’s ready for the fourth and final installment of The Book Lover’s Guide to Publishing?! This week, we’re speaking to Jeanne-Marie Hudson, the Vice President, Associate Publisher, and Director of Marketing for Berkley. Have you ever wondered why books come in different sizes or why the same book can have multiple covers? Read on to find out!
What’s a mass market paperback?Mass market paperbacks are a smaller trim size and more inexpensive than trade paperbacks. The original mass markets, or “rack sized” paperbacks were designed to fit in racks at supermarkets, drugstores, and other non-traditional book outlets. There is also a larger trim and more expensive “premium” mass market that is now quite popular, particularly for bestselling authors.How is a mass market paperback different from a trade paperback?Trade paperbacks are essentially the same size as the hardcover, but with a different binding and a lower price. They started as primarily bookstore product, but now are also in mass merch accounts.What about movie tie-ins?Movie tie-ins are paperback editions of books that have become movies (or TV shows, which is of course a TV tie-in). They are published in mass market, trade, and some movies or TV shows warrant both formats. They utilize the movie studio art to create a clear connection for the consumer. Interestingly, we frequently also see dramatically increased sales for the original art paperbacks alongside the sales of the MTI, even if the title of the movie and MTI is different from the original work.
A huge thank you to Jeanne-Marie, the rest of our employees who took the time to be interviewed, and to YOU for reading along! We hope you learned something new about the world of publishing. Happy reading, Penguins!
We’re back for another round of The Book Lover’s Guide to Publishing! Scroll down to learn about typos, binding errors, and book covers.
Why do typos happen?Typos happen because no matter how many people are carefully scrutinizing a book as it makes its way to print, people remain, unfortunately, fallible, and one eye or brain blink at the wrong moment and, well, there’s your typo. I’d add that it’s quite possible, though, to produce a book without a single inarguable error in it, and we do that a lot. And that the number of typos called to our attention—which we’re always eager to fix in reprints of print books and, immediately, in ebooks—is delightfully minuscule. (Ben Dreyer, VP, Executive Managing Editor & Copy Chief Random House)Why do binding errors happen?Binding errors are too quite rare, and because of careful oversight during the manufacturing process—and of course we look at finished books here in the office as soon as they’re printed—flawed books rarely make it out of the warehouse and into consumers’ hands. Occasionally a book will escape with dropped or miscollated pages, but even when that occurs the error tends to be isolated to a few copies from the print run. (Ben Dreyer, VP, Executive Managing Editor & Copy Chief Random House)How are book covers designed?Designers are usually given a brief and a manuscript of each book to read over. Once we’ve got an understanding of the book we put together concepts and work with our art directors to hone the design and make sure we’re clearly communicating the message of the book. From there, we show comps to the editor and publisher, and once a cover is chosen it goes to the author for approval. (Colin Webber, PPG Designer)Why is the paperback cover different from the hardcover cover?The paperback is different from the hardcover for a few reasons. Most of a book’s life is spent as a paperback, so something like a noteworthy quote becomes more important in grabbing the attention of passersby. The production and price point factor in as well. Certain designs lend themselves better to a smaller paperback than a jacketed hardcover (and vice versa). Sometimes the paperback version falls under a different imprint with a different publisher than the hardcover. Different publishers might have different visions for the book, and try to reach different audiences. (Colin Webber, PPG Designer)
A huge thank you to all of our employees who took the time to be interviewed. We hope their answers have helped you better understand the publishing process!
Check back next week for our fourth and final installment of The Book Lover’s Guide to Publishing!