“I love puzzles,” writes editor Sarah Knight. “Crosswords, Jumbles, the Cryptoquip that ran in my Sunday paper as a kid. For me, working on a puzzle is both soothing and exhilarating – and of course the biggest rush of all comes from solving one. So it’s kind of funny that the thing I love most about Will Lavender’s puzzle-thrillers is that they are impossible to solve.”
Meet the Editor
I have been told that there are only two kinds of stories: a person leaves home, and a stranger comes to town. But as any true book lover knows, this overlooks the “I was stuck in a dirty Parisian hostel, and this was the only thing between me and the bed bugs” story, the “I just re-discovered this, and it’s even better the second time” story, the “I’ll turn out the light after just one more page” story, the “I don’t ever want this to end” story. For an editor, there is also the “if I don’t work on this book, I will die” story, a particularly rare breed that, like many things, you only know when you see it.
When my sister and I arrived at the final room of Madame Tussaud’s Time Square, I saw her: Marie Tussaud. She wears a simple white dress with a subtle blue floral pattern and she’s been sculpted later in life, not the woman in her twenties and early thirties who occupies the pages of Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud. But I knew her instantly. She tilts her head to one side while holding out a hat, as if she’s about to set it upon icy Napoleon who’s standing a few feet away from her. Her expression is proud and peaceful, a woman who has overcome incredible hardship.
I approach editing as a kind of carpentry: first a rough cut, then assembly, and then the finishing with finer and finer grades of sandpaper until the work is well-constructed, feels right to the touch. An editor suggests, asks, cajoles, demands, and pushes a writer as much as he can get away with. Editing a memoir, so deeply personal, can be even trickier. (Hey, about that chapter about your grandfather. I think we should cut it…) I warned Sean early on that I expected him to be sick of me by the time we were done. But he displayed great patience with my demands all the way through. In many regards, I think the book was a continuation of the vigil and companionship with his mom.
A few days after I saw Brooke Berman‘s play Hunting and Gathering, a colleague walked into my office and handed me the front page of the Home & Garden section of the New York Times. “She should write a book,” he said, and pointed to a feature story on Brooke and her real-life adventures in real estate and the arts. Aha! This, I now knew, could be a smart, frank, lively memoir about finding the true meaning of home and realizing your dreams, perfect for my list. But was I too late?
Most authors have no idea of the pressure on editors to sum up their books in one or, if we’re lucky, two tidy sentences. No pressure, of course: Just capture the Platonic essence of the book in a way that triggers exhilaration and confidence in your marketing and publicity team and the desire to order stackable quantities in booksellers. Yet even as I mock this ritual, I remember my first real job in publishing, as a sales rep at Columbia University Press, and the importance of being able to pitch a book with economy. I chafe, sometimes I cringe—yet I usually manage to write the sentence.
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