Random House surprised the publishing industry Monday with the hiring of GQ executive editor Andy Ward, who will be joining the editorial staff of the house’s flagship imprint in mid-September. Though Mr. Ward began his career in letters as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown, he has spent the past 13 years working in magazines—the most recent six at GQ, and the seven before that at Esquire. Mr. Ward is just one of several magazine editors who have made the jump into the book business during the past year and a half, a trend that made us wonder: Just how different is the life of a magazine editor from that of a book editor, and do the people who trade one in for the other know what they’re getting into?
And so, having conducted interviews with a number of publishing people who began their careers in the magazine world, we’ve come up with the following crib sheet for Mr. Ward and anyone else who follows in his footsteps:
1. At least initially, the slow pace might make you miserable.
Martin Beiser, a senior editor at the Free Press who worked at GQ until 2003, said his “knees buckled” when he realized upon winning his first book at auction that it would take three years to see the result. Simon & Schuster publisher David Rosenthal, who worked at New York and Rolling Stone before coming to Random House in the mid-1980s, recalled once getting a call from Manhattan Inc. founding editor Jane Amsterdam in 1987, shortly after she took a job at Knopf: “She said something to the effect of, ‘Where do you get your satisfaction from here? It takes so long from the time you sign something up to the time you actually see it. Where does the rush come from?’ And I remember saying to her—and her agreeing—that you had to get a big part of the adrenaline rush, the high, from the pursuit and the signing of the book.” Added David Hirshey, who was the longtime deputy editor of Esquire before joining HarperCollins in 1998: “In a monthly magazine, you work four to six weeks out. In books, four to six weeks are some people’s idea of lunch.”
2. Being a book editor means being a salesman.
Daniel Menaker, who spent 25 years at The New Yorker before taking a job as “senior literary editor” at Random House in 1995, was stunned when he realized how much of his new gig consisted of pitching and hawking the books he wanted to publish, starting when he got them in on submission and ending when he wrote the catalog copy. “I knew it would be like that in the abstract, but not in the concrete,” Mr. Menaker said. “And the concrete was very hard when I hit it.”
3. There are way more meetings in publishing.
Barbara Jones, who left MORE magazine for a job at Hyperion last year and has since become the editorial director there, said the number of meetings was, and continues to be, the biggest culture shock to her. “I’m always conscious of it: Am I supposed to be in a meeting? Am I supposed to be in a meeting? Am I supposed to be in a meeting right now?” she said.
4. Though your extensive contacts and relationships with writers are part of the reason you got hired, don’t expect everyone who wrote for you to automatically sign with you.
“No matter how close the relationship you have with somebody at a magazine very often what’s ultimately going to determine– and rightfully so– where they’re going to publish a book is not only the closeness of your relationship but money,” said Mr. Rosenthal, who said his contacts from Rolling Stone did nevertheless help him woo Hunter S. Thompson to Random House and indirectly helped him in the acquisition of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. “One of the biggest hurdles, at least for me,” said Mr. Hirshey, “was that all the marquee writers I worked with for the past decade at Esquire already had books deals in place. So your Rolodex, as we used to say back in the day, doesn’t always cross over.”
5. You’re going to be more responsible for making sure the things you edit make money.
“The bottom line is closer to the top of what you’re doing,” said Mr. Menaker. “When you edit a magazine piece, unless you’re the editor-in-chief, you don’t for the most part have to think about whether the piece you’re working on will increase ad sales. Whereas with a book you have to think: is my list going to have the proper balance between stuff that will be successful commercially and other books that may bring mainly literary recognition to the house? It’s like tectonic plates grinding against each other.” This can take a lot of getting used to, particularly because, as Mr. Rosenthal said, “As a magazine editor, you don’t have any idea, really, of the economics of book publishing.”
6. You’re going to get proposals that sound like great books but are actually just magazine pieces.
As Mr. Hirshey put it, “You have to learn that some ideas are bigger than a magazine story but smaller than a book. I think this is a trap that every magazine editor falls into early on. You read a great magazine piece and think, ‘Wow, this could be a great book,’ then you turn it into a book and you think, ‘Wow, I just published a bloated magazine piece.’”
7. Coming up with titles for books involves a different art form.
Mr. Hirshey again: “A great magazine headline does not necessarily work on a book. Esquire’s most famous headline, ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,’ would probably be given the artful book title ‘Sinatra.’”
8. If you’re a failure, it’ll be much easier for others to tell.
“In many ways, a lot of publishing companies are like bazaars in the Middle East,” said Mr. Menaker, who left publishing in 2007. “You go to work as an acquiring editor and you set up your own stall, so to speak.” Mr. Rosenthal said the self-reliance inherent in book editing makes it that much easier for people to tell how you’re doing. “It’s so much more straightforward than it is with magazines,” he said. “You have an individual book. You paid X amount of dollars for it. You sold so many copies of it. You sold so many dollars in rights. It’s a stand-alone product, and you can tell when you’ve fucked it up.”
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