Tag Archives: Q&A

The Life of a Book: An interview with Sales Manager Justin Goodfellow

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 our interview with Justin Goodfellow, who sells But What if We’re Wrong? to bookstores, and is here to give us a sales perspective.  What does your job entail? 

I have the great fortune of being a Sales Manager for Penguin Adult books! In this role, I present all of the upcoming titles from Penguin Books to independent bookstores in the New York metropolitan area. In other words, I’m a bookseller to booksellers! During the course of a year, I meet with various book buyers to discuss and select the titles that will eventually be on their shelves for readers to purchase. The part about these meetings that I love so much is that I get to be involved in curating the store along with the buyer. Every independent bookstore is unique, and it is my responsibility to learn as much as I can about the stores so that the books I sell them will reflect their personalities. 

I also work extensively with the other departments in publishing like editorial and publicity. Editors will often let sales people read manuscripts so that we can offer feedback or let them know about a store that will be particularly excited about the book. And then there is publicity! Publicists are dear friends to Sales Managers because we work together to setup author readings and signings at different bookstores across the whole country. In my opinion, there is no better way to spend a weekday evening than to attend a reading at your local bookshop.

When you describe But What if We’re Wrong? to bookbuyers, what is your hook? What is memorable or unique about the book? Why would they want it in their store?

You would probably laugh at how little of a hook I need for Chuck Klosterman a lot of the time! His reputation precedes him, and I often sell the book well by simply saying, “Look, it’s the new Chuck Klosterman!” But there is so much more that I get to tell my booksellers about. When it comes to But What If We’re Wrong?, I feel like Klosterman has explored a question that covers an impressive number of topics. From a conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson about the multiverse to reasons why the NFL could potentially fail, But What If We’re Wrong? is genius in its breadth, and that is going to bring an entirely new audience to Klosterman.

There are so many different reasons for why independent bookstores love Chuck Klosterman! One thing I’ve heard that cracked me up is that many view Chuck Klosterman as a hipper Malcolm Gladwell. Now while I personally think that Gladwell is plenty hip, I also feel like I understand the deeper sentiment underneath that opinion. There is a level of access that every Klosterman book achieves, and it results in a sincere investigation about a topic. Reading Klosterman doesn’t feel like reading an author who is analyzing something from the outside; it feels like reading the carefully considered meditations of someone who is intimately involved with what they write about. That sincerity can’t be faked in a reading experience because it is simply the result of skillful writing.  

What’s your favorite thing about your job? What would surprise a layman to know?

What continues to strike me about my job is that I get to connect people who all love books. My publishing house considers me a specialist on the bookstores I work with, and in turn, my bookstores view me as a specialist about the publishers and all of the different titles we bring out. It is a singular role, and I love the opportunity to continue learning from the books and the people that participate in the world of literature.

You’re a fan of Chuck Klosterman – what do you like about his writing? What do you like about this new book? Do you have a favorite moment or line?

I love that Klosterman always feels like he is writing directly to me. It creates an experience that not many authors can bring to the page. Sometimes this occurs through those passages that directly address the reader, but more often I feel addressed by a line of thought. It’s as if a good friend of mine is laying out an issue before me with perfect pacing and allowing me to fully grasp his point of view. 

My favorite part of But What If We’re Wrong? is this amazing section about television’s ability to capture and portray a time period. The quick take away from the chapter is that while everyone might love Mad Men and think of it as crowning accomplishment that captured the 1960s, many historians of the future would probably disagree. The perceptions that created Mad Men came from people living in the early 2000s instead of the actual 1960s. Everything about Mad Men is too perfectly considered and too meticulously constructed with hindsight to be genuinely natural. Instead, a show like Roseanne offers a much more realistic portrayal of its time period. Like many families living in the 1990s, Roseanne showed a chubby American family trying to get by with okay jobs while living in a kind of messy house. For many, that is an accurate picture of life in the 1990s, and Roseanne was able to capture all of this unknowingly. The show was just created in the very same time period its characters lived in!

Read the first post in this series here, and part one and part two of the Q&A with Klosterman’s editor.

The Life of a Book: An interview with editor Brant Rumble, Part 2

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 part two of our interview with 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.  Q: Do you have a favorite part of the editorial and publishing process? A: I have a few. First, there’s the moment when you realize that you want to work on a book. It’s not unlike the beginning of a romance, minus all of the untoward activities, of course. Then there’s the editing. It’s definitely work, and sometimes it’s more work than anticipated, but, when you can shut out the world and really interact with what someone has written—ask them more questions, challenge them a bit, and just enjoy it like any reader would—that’s entertaining. It’s a heightened form of reading. And, last but not least, there are moments when you can tell that a reader (other than yourself) has genuinely loved a book. Whether it’s a rave review or a crowd of people at an author’s event who are obviously enjoying themselves, or someone on the subway reading one of your books with an intent (but not displeased) look on his or her face. I have a cynical side, like anyone else, but those are the things that have a way of eroding it, at least until the next moment of pain and disappointment comes along. Q: Do you have a favorite section or quote from But What if We’re Wrong?

A: More than any of the other nonfiction books that Chuck has written, this one is all of a piece. I think Chuck’s reader have gotten used to reading his books like collections, reading some essays, but not others, and sometimes not in sequential order. Which is fine. But not for this book. It builds. The chapter on music is the first chapter I read because it was the first chapter draft Chuck shared with me. I enjoyed it, but I know now that I didn’t fully get it, and that’s because I wasn’t reading it in the context of the book. (The chapter begins on page 59.) My early impression became problematic when I expressed some vague concerns about the piece, which I think alarmed Chuck, because—for anyone who knows me—music is my primary preoccupation, and, if I don’t love reading something that a writer I enjoy reading has written about music, then there might actually be something amiss. But the only issue was that I wasn’t reading the material within the flow of the book. Now the music chapter is definitely among my favorites, and, having said all of this, I’m sure the chapter will be excerpted somewhere, and therefore read in isolation. I’m not too worried. I look forward to seeing how readers react to it. The chapter about TV is a challenging one. Chuck makes an argument that I have a hard time understanding, or “buying” as some people like to put it. But that’s why I like it. I don’t just read books to agree with them. Towards the end of the book, there’s a significant riff on the phrase “you’re doing it wrong” that sums up quite a lot about the problem of our collective experience at this point in human history. 

Q: What do you want readers to take away from this book? A: Humility and flexibility. There is not nearly enough of those two things in the world today, unless I’m wrong about that. Read Part 1 of this Q&A here and the first post in this series here.

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.

Writing Tips from Sparrow Beckett, author of To Have and To Master

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!   Sparrow Beckett is the pen-name for two writers in two countries who combine forces and collaborate. Justice and Sorcha have both answered the questions below.  What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? Justice: Someone once told me a good novel is made up of mostly strong, colorful nouns and verbs. As writers, we often hear the terms active writing versus passive writing. Filling a book with adverbs makes a story sound passive. So when I’m writing, I go for strong descriptive nouns and verbs. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Sorcha: With an evil day job and a big family, I’m so busy that I’m exhilarated by every free moment to write. If I get stuck in one of my stories, I switch to one of my many others. Justice: I get inspired from all sorts of things. Sometimes a movie, another book, or even a song I hear on the radio. When I’m feeling low on inspiration, I’ll surround myself with different media and types of art. Usually something will jump out and the wheels will start turning.
Sparrow Beckett
Sparrow Beckett
Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? Sorcha: I started writing a Black Beauty fanfic when I was seven. For Grade Ten English class, I wrote a novella, and then a novel for Grade Thirteen Creative Writing. My novel was so bad, that the publisher I submitted it to sent me a rejection with a blank space where my name was supposed to go. I quit writing after that. About two decades later, I started writing for fun. That was when I met Justice in an online group, and she introduced me to the modern world of publishing. Justice: I was a writer before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. Writing is just in me. It’s been a part of everything I’ve ever done, before I even realized it. So finally getting the guts to officially try writing a fiction book didn’t surprise anyone. I started by self-publishing back when it was a budding development. I learned a lot and I think it better prepared me for the traditional publishing world. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Sorcha: Quit making excuses and write. Justice: Find an amazing crit partner or group – the harsher the better. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Sorcha: I think stalling out of self-doubt is the biggest bad habit to avoid. Feeling like you’ll never be as talented as your favorite author isn’t a good enough excuse to give up. You owe it to yourself to work at it. Justice: I have to agree with Sorcha. Self-doubt can be crippling and, unfortunately, something many authors, including myself, suffer from regularly. It’s hard to stay positive among rejections and brutal reviews. I have to remind myself constantly that everyone has their own journey, comparing yourself to other authors is pointless, and that giving up just isn’t an option. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? Sorcha: The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon – The main character has an arc that fills me with hope and a sense of personal responsibility. The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Like most of Pratchett’s work, it shows human nature in a humorous yet poignant light. These books explore themes of power, respect, and responsibility. The Jalav series by Sharon Green – Explores an interesting example of how a woman can still be strong while submitting to organic power exchange relationships. The Steamwork Chronicles by Cari Silverwood – This series taught me to be unapologetically sexual in my work. Justice: A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole – This was the first romance I ever read. Oh the things it opened my mind to… Her mix of sexiness, humor, and adventure made reading fun for me again, and started my love of paranormal romance. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly – Wow, this book made me cry, made me think, and made me take an active interest in history. The writing and depth of emotion is beautiful and something I aspire to. Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – This book gave me permission to write honestly. It is probably the most earnest, authentic book I’ve ever read. Learn more about To Have and to Master here.

Publisher Nancy Paulsen on Her Career and Own Penguin Young Readers Imprint

Nancy Paulsen, president and publisher of her eponymous Penguin Young Readers imprint, shares personal insights into her outstanding career in book publishing, her bestselling, award-winning authors – Jacqueline Woodson, Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Maira Kalman, among them – as well as new books and authors she is looking forward to publishing in the coming year. What initially attracted you to the world of book publishing and the editor/publisher role in particular? Like most people in publishing, it was the love of books. I was an avid reader as a child and loved how reading transported me to new places and allowed me to understand how it felt to stand in someone else’s shoes. When I brought my résumé to Viking Penguin (as it was called back then), the job opening was in Children’s Editorial. I saw so many favorite books on the shelves when I walked into the offices—Madeline, The Snowy Day, Pippi Longstocking, The Outsiders—that I knew I had arrived at my new home. From then on I wanted to work with authors and artists and help them make books forever. Adobe Photoshop PDF What have been some of your most rewarding achievements over the course of your career as a publisher? Right from the beginning I wanted to publish books that made kids feel good and that made all kinds of kids feel represented. One of my early books at Viking was a picture book called I Like Me! by Nancy Carlson, about a confident pig, and I adored its message. When I became the publisher of Putnam in the mid-1990s, I signed up Jacqueline Woodson because I loved her extraordinary, lyrical voice, and I was thrilled when so many of her books won major awards. Her most recent picture book with E. B. Lewis, Each Kindness, won the Jane Addams Peace Prize and shows kids in such a stunning way that actions have consequences. Maira Kalman’s picture books have also been thrilling to publish, as her viewpoint is so unique and eye-opening. It’s exciting that I get to work on both picture books and novels that speak to so many kids and make a difference in their lives. When you started your own imprint, how did you envision what your emphasis would be as well as the breadth of your authors and character of your lists? From the start I planned to focus on diverse and distinctive voices and books that offered kids hope, because life can be so hard. Having Jacqueline Woodson’s stunning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, win the National Book Award and become a huge bestseller has been so gratifying to us both, as we’ve worked together for twenty years and it was a fabulous culmination of all the things we’ve dreamed about happening. When I published Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first book, One for the Murphys, about a foster child and everyday heroes, the word of mouth among kids was incredible and propelled the book onto state award lists all over the country. Lynda’s new book, Fish in a Tree is a bestseller that is being read in classrooms all over the world, and it’s a beautifully told story that reminds us not to judge people by their learning styles (“Great minds don’t think alike!”) and shows how a good teacher makes such a difference in a child’s life.   What have been some of the most satisfying aspects of having your own imprint and what excites you most about its future? It is super-satisfying to work with people who amaze me with their talents. On the picture book side, I get to work with some industry greats like the inimitable Tomie dePaola, and to also discover new talent like Lori Nichols and Eliza Wheeler. And on the fiction side I am thrilled that I have lots more coming from Jacqueline Woodson and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I also have novels from Brenda Woods, Aisha Saeed, and Padma Venkatraman—all who are powerful diverse voices. It is so rewarding when fabulous books reach readers and excite them and help expand their worldview, and it’s magical when a book becomes a child’s favorite. That’s what excites me about the future—more books and more stories to be told and the ability to connect with kids in such a meaningful way. Learn more about Nancy Paulsen Books here, and find a new book to share with the child in your life! 

Q&A with Publisher Tim Duggan

Get to know the newest Penguin Random House imprint! Tim Duggan Books was founded in 2014 and is committed to the highest standard of storytelling across a range of genres. Our list of books is small, select, and curated from both well-established and brand new authors, including Eric Schlosser, Timothy Snyder, Emily Barton, Michael Kinsley, Yasmine El Rashidi, and Colin Jost. The imprint is dedicated to publishing books of quality, accuracy, elegance, and vision, and to authors who take risks and tell singular stories. Read on for an interview with Tim Duggan about this exciting new imprint.  What do you look for in the books and authors that you acquire? The first thing I usually look for in a book is the voice, which hopefully has energy and confidence and personality, and not a whiff of pretension. You can usually tell from the first page whether an author’s writing feels genuine and fresh and powerful, and whether there’s a real sense of urgency there, as if the author almost had no choice but to write this book. So in that sense I’m drawn toward books that somehow feel essential, by authors who are driven by a passion that probably borders on obsession, no matter what the genre is. For an author, that’s something you can’t manufacture, and for an editor, that’s the gold standard, and it’s a big part of what I’m looking for. In what way do you think Tim Duggan books aligns with the Crown publishing group? I’ve been incredibly impressed, long before I came here, with the way Crown has been publishing its books, from marketing, publicity, and sales to art, design, and production. There’s a wide variety of imprints, all of which struck me as very focused and backed by clever campaigns and extraordinary attention to detail. My imprint is small, selective, and idiosyncratic, so I feel I have plenty of room here to pursue what I want to pursue, while tapping into the deep pool of knowledge and resources that Crown is known for. It turned out to be a really easy and natural fit.
Tim Duggan
Tim Duggan
  What has been the hardest part of launching your own imprint? Ask me in a month! Truth be told, the first year has been totally exhilarating and fun, and part of that is probably a result of the fact that I’ve been doing more acquiring and editing at this point than anything else. That will change this fall when the first books hit the market, which I’m looking forward to. So I’m not even sure that starting an imprint is the hard part – but maintaining it and keeping up the momentum surely will be. Has it always been a goal of yours to launch your own imprint, or did it come about more organically? It came about pretty organically, in that I’ve always thought that having a little imprint within a much bigger organization would be the best of both worlds, which is definitely how this feels. I wanted to have a small list with a wide range, which comes out to about ten books a year, half fiction and half nonfiction, including memoir, humor, science, and poetry. My sense is that the whole publishing marketplace, from authors and agents to critics and booksellers, has been really supportive of small imprints like this one, which helped pave the way for me and made it a little less daunting – just knowing that even though I’m on my own, there are others out there who’ve done this and done it really well. Not to mention that once I got here and saw the level of support I had from my colleagues, it actually felt a lot less like I was on my own. Check out the new books from the Tim Duggan imprint:  Learn more about the imprint here.

Writing Tips From Dinty W. Moore, author of Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy

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!  What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? There is no secret to my technique beyond revising again and again and again, both for meaning and for the rhythm and sound. As many other writes have confessed, my early drafts are sloppy, flat, confused, and disappointing. Four or five drafts into a project, and maybe I begin to see what is there. The difference, in my mind, between writers who are successful in finding an audience and those who struggle, is when and where in the revision process a writer gives up and settles for “good enough.” Learn to be just a bit tougher on your own work than the toughest editor you have worked with and you’ll find that editors suddenly love your work. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? Though I started as a fiction writer, for the last fifteen years I’ve focused on what is called creative nonfiction, or literary nonfiction. But I’m glad this question is here, because it gives me the chance to point out that even in memoir, even in a piece of literary journalism, the people on the page function as “characters.” They are real people, not imagined, but the reader has never met them, so you have to build these individuals up just as a novelists builds up an imaginary character: let us see them cross the room, let us see them fidget, let us hear the peculiarities of their speech, let us in on what seems important to them. People are contradictory and enormously complex. Try to show a glint of that. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I check my e-mail, look out the window, get up for more coffee, linger near the refrigerator, jump up onto the internet to find news of Donald Trump’s latest insanity, and then berate myself for being such a procrastinator. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? No. It is a job. The way I get into writing is to say, “time to get to work.” Did you always want to write? I always wanted to write, and penned silly plays and stories even in second grade, but I grew up lower middle class, my dad was a car mechanic, and I barely knew people who read books much less people who wrote them, so it wasn’t until I neared the age of 30, having washed out of four or five other career pursuits, that I finally decided, let’s try to do this. Let’s try to write a book. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? The novelist Vance Bourjaily once told me that he doesn’t even try to write the first chapter of a novel until he has written a complete draft from somewhere in the second chapter to the end. Only then does he know what has to go at the start. Now this may or may not be a useful technique, but it made clear to me that writing a book – or an essay, or a story, or a poem – is an act of discovery. You don’t sit down and say what you want to say. You sit down with questions, see where they lead you, follow them into unexpected territory, and then many drafts later go back and fix the writing so it all points in the same direction. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Sentences are fascinating puzzles. Read more about Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy here.

A Round-Table discussion with Jon Krakauer on Medium.com

Jon Krakauer joined a group of feminist bloggers to discuss his newest piece of nonfiction, Missoula. The book centers around a series of sexual assaults at the University of Montana and the mishandling of rape cases in the United States.  Missoula investigates  unreported assaults, the improper investigation of crimes, and a culture that condemns victims. Below, Krakauer explains the the problematic systems that don’t protect the women who are assaulted.

“You can’t blow off cases and say he’s just a frat boy or it was just, you know, a bad hookup. Each of these serial rapists on average sexually assault six people, women generally, but each one is responsible for 14 crimes of violence of other kinds — domestic abuse, child abuse. You need to go after [each case], because they’re probably a serial predator. And you need to educate your cops and prosecutors the way trauma effects testimony, so they can educate the jury.

So yeah, I think it’s systemic as hell. You know, Missoula really is typical unfortunately. There’s a lot of good cops and good prosecutors, but even female detectives, having listened to their audio recordings, it’s just this feeling of resignation, like…you know that the prosecutors are never going to prosecute this guy, what are we wasting our time for…literally if they didn’t have a confession, pretty much, they weren’t going to refer it for prosecution. So there’s a long, long way to go.”

Read the entire discussion here.