Solving Susan Orlean’s Publishing Puzzle

On Tuesday, Susan Orlean posted a very tangled blind item on The New Yorker‘s site. It’s an account of her

On Tuesday, Susan Orlean posted a very tangled blind item on The New Yorker‘s site. It’s an account of her tortuous journey through the publishing world, meant to illustrate the instability of an industry in turmoil–Orlean goes through seven editors and four publishing houses in the space of four books. All players are identified with letters. The title, naturally, is “Alphabet Soup.”

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We were intrigued! After extensive Googling, a couple emails, and a trip to The Strand to check out the acknowledgments section from her first book, Saturday Night, we felt pretty good about our alphabetical analysis. We emailed Orlean, who’s currently at MacDowell, and she didn’t correct any part of our work.

Here’s what we got:

Editors A and B, the two who initally acquired Saturday Night, are Marjorie Williams and Joni Evans. Williams (A) soon left for the Washington Post, while Evans (B) left her imprint, Linden Press, to become publisher of Simon & Schuster–publishing house W. Orlean was then passed off to Herman Gollob, editor C, who soon left, and then to Fred Hills, editor D. When Evans left Simon & Schuster and Hills was freed from his obligation to edit Orlean, Orlean paid back the advance on her still-incomplete book and left Simon for Knopf.

At Knopf, Orlean was initially edited by longtime journalist Jane Amsterdam, who left to become executive editor of the New York Post. Orlean landed with Elisabeth Sifton, editor F, of whom she was “very scared.”

After Saturday Night, Orlean left Knopf for Random House (publisher Y), where she worked with Jon Karp (editor G) and published her next three books. Ann Godoff, head of Random House, got fired. Orlean left Random House for Little, Brown (publisher Z), which bought her forthcoming book Rin Tin Tin in 2004, but she ended up returning to Simon & Schuster. At the time, it was led by “an old friend from the magazine world”–David Rosenthal. Orlean and Rosenthal had a celebratory lunch. Rosenthal got fired.

And this is where things get a little weird. Orlean says her new publisher at at Simon & Schuster is Editor G, Karp, who “left Publishing House Y”–Random House–“for the job.” We guess she just decided to scratch Twelve from the record?

Solving Susan Orlean’s Publishing Puzzle