Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cary Goldstein's Talk -- the Reviews are in!

A record number of Georgetown faculty turned out to dine and chat with acquisitions editor and chief publicist (yes, both roles can reside in the same professional) Cary Goldstein from TWELVE. What struck many participants about Cary's talk was how affable he is, and how easy it was to communicate with him about books. The myth is that New York editors expect formal interaction and prefer stiff introductory letters that will make or break your case by paragraph two. The reality is that they're just people -- smart, well-read people with a lot of experience in publishing -- but human nonetheless, and a good deal more approachable than folks in many other professions. I've been getting e-mails all afternoon from faculty who were inspired by the event and who are interested in thinking about their work for a larger audience.

Academic vs. trade is an interesting choice. Most recently hired scholars choose academic for professional reasons (tenure), but that's not a sufficient reason to choose one press over another. Scholarly work should be crafted to speak to colleagues and to work beautifully within the university press publishing realm. Trade work -- even if based on the same research -- must be written differently, and operate in a way that meets the demands of a fickle and volatile book market. Cary emphasized the importance of the work itself -- not the pitch for the work, or the stature of the author, or the needs of the market, although all those elements are important -- but the art of the words on the page and the way they do their job.

As conceived by founding editor Jonathan Karp (the editor behind Seabiscuit and The Orchid Thief among many others) TWELVE only publishes twelve titles a year, so it is committed to a challenging combination of selectivity and success in a way that other presses are not. It can't hedge its bets by publishing 50 solid choices, and hoping that ten break out. Every book should pull its weight both in the intellectual arena of The New York Review of Books, the few other book reviews that are left (Cary cited NYTimes, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle as the last three papers with separate book review sections, and I've heard the latter is in flux), in the intellectual blogosphere, and in the bookstore. It's an enormous challenge, and one that it was exciting to hear about from such an exceptional publishing professional and one of its two intellectual guiding forces.

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