Notes from Talk/Q&A with Picador Editor

This pertains to Grendel's post below. I went to the Q&A with the Picador editor, which I thought was excellent and informative. The notes, for your reading pleasure:

Picador is known as a “literary paperback publishing house,” meaning that they publish both paperback originals and reprints from hardcover houses. They’re owned by the same conglomerate that owns FSG, Henry Holt, and St. Mark’s Press, and Picador will work with these imprints to do hardcovers, or will do the paperback reprints from those imprints. Picador will also buy paperback rights from other houses, including many of the smaller imprints.

On paperback originals:
- These are rising in importance out of necessity – you need to remove as many roadblocks as possible to new readers. He mentioned the depressing NEA study.
- One of those roadblocks is the cost of hardcover books. Even many editors wait for paperback. And every time you have someone be interested in a book but then think, “I’m going to wait nine months until it comes out in paperback,” it means that you’re going to lose a certain percentage of those people because they forget about the book, get interested in something else, etc.
- Paperbacks at Picador have done very well, so Picador is optimistic about them going forward.
- The perceived problem that reviewers won’t review paperback originals isn’t accurate, and any vestige of this is falling away. Picador has not had a problem getting reviewers to review paperback originals.
- Paperback originals offer lots of good design options, like “French flaps” (ie, the flaps like hardcovers have; Cloud Atlas had these). These increase the cost, but it’s still way less than a hardcover.
- It makes sense to put out some books in hardcover – namely, authors with large existing markets. You get a higher margin from hardcover books, so if there’s a huge amount of solid demand, then, yes, do a hardcover. But for short story collections and debut fiction in particular, a paperback original is a much better idea. Authors can “graduate” to hardcover originals with subsequent books if they develop a large following.
- Things like the age of the author and whether something is hardback or not just don’t matter – make the book really good, and the rest will follow. People will have to review it.

On agents:
- Do not rush into getting an agent. This seemed to be his main reason for coming here (at least his main stated reason). There is no reason to hurry; the agents will still be there when you’re ready. Don’t just sign with someone because they’re “the first person to wink at you,” or because they’ve come to Iowa, or because everyone else seems to be getting one.
- He doesn’t recommend getting agents on a partial manuscript, either – wait until you have a full draft if you can.
- A degree of reservation and skepticism is very healthy.
- You’re much more likely to have a good, productive relationship with your agent if you wait until you’re ready. He knows quite a few people who have ditched their agents because they signed up in haste.

On short stories:
- For short-story collections, your stories should already have been widely published, if possible. He told an anecdote about Tim Gautreaux, who lived in Louisiana and slowly built up years and years of publication credits before being “discovered” by the New York City publishing world. Once his collection came out, it was excellent because it was essentially ten stories that had been whittled down from fifty great published stories.
- He reads literary journals regularly and will email authors he likes to make the contact, even if they’re not ready to go out with a novel or collection. He can thus be an advocate for them when they’re looking for agents.
- The journals he currently likes are: Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, Black Warrior Review, Shenandoah, Black Clock, The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, McSweeney’s, and One Story.
- His dislikes linked stories because he feels as though the linking is done to overcome deficiencies in the stories (deficiencies of craft and narration). His favorite recent ones have not been linked (example: You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett) – that the author’s talent overcomes any need for a gimmick. He told an anecdote about hearing about Hannah Tinti’s Animal Crackers, where the way it was being marketed was that all the stories had to do with animals. He rolled his eyes, but then began to hear that the collection was great, and when he read it, he agreed – the moral of the story being that the marketing conceit was perhaps actually working against it. (Side note: Hannah Tinti is the editor of One Story.)

- He’s currently editing a novel by Ron Carlson.
- He loves the agent Warren Frazier (Frasier?), who has very exacting tastes.
- He loves the book Home Land by Sam Lipsyte (recommended by the LitBlog Co-Op).


Confucius said...

This whole paperback original issue is interesting stuff to ponder. In many ways, going that route makes sense...especially as it becomes more and more accepted.

One thing to weigh in balancing all of this is that paperback reprints of hardcovers give a publisher a chance to repackage the book, as product, if they choose to do so, and also to slather the paperback with review quotes. I don't know about you, but these review quotes are often the very thing that gets me to buy a book I happen to lift off a shelf. A paperback original wouldn't have these, at least in its first print run. That's something I feel might work against them in the bookstores. Is it less of a problem than the outrageous price of the hardcover? I don't know.

Grendel said...

This is an absolutely fantastic post, SER. The juicy tidbits, the thoughtful links, the pithy execution. This is a model post. I can't say enough about this post.

Rob, but a hardback original doesn't have a ton of review blurbs either, which is another reason I can't remember the last hardback book I bought that was by someone I didn't know. But sometimes they do have some advance blurbs. Your novel, for example, did have a handful of warm quotes by trustworthy brand-name authors. If yours had been a paperback original, it would have had those same quotes, no?

Confucius said...

That WAS a fantastic post SER. I practically feel like I live in Iowa City, I'm so up to date thanks to you and Grendel.

And Grendel, I think it's fantastic you met with Picador. That would be an amazing place to publish your novel, and they'd be lucky to have you. I hope there'll be interest.

I don't mean to come across against paperback originals in any way. Reading the posts today, I was more kind of wondering 'what if' with my own novel...tossing the pros and cons each way. You're right about advance blurbs appearing on the hardcover, Grendel. To me, I always kind of ignore those when buying books, because I figure they're friends of the author or former teachers or something. But the average reader, who doesn't spend a lifetime obsessing about these things, probably gives blurbs equal weight to reviews. Anyway, just a small thing to keep in mind. My main point was that the paperback release potentially gives a book a second chance...at least Houghton has been hopeful that will happen with mine. A renewed chance for publicity and the author to contact bookstores, the press, and such.

But you're right. This whole "get excited about a book and wait till next year to buy it cheaper (if you remember" thing is just idiotic. Publishing's going to have to change.

Grendel said...

Rob, I see what you mean about another shot at fresh marketing and such. That is something to consider, definitely. And yet I think a lot of first novels might not need that second chance if they hadn't been so expensive in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong. His mention of the higher margin on hardcovers must mean that on a lot of publishers' P&Ls, the higher margin means higher profits, even with fewer sales.

SER said...

I wonder how many people read the review quotes on books and use them in their decision-making. I think I always cynically believe that all review quotes are taken out of context, so unless I have read the review, I am not likely to pay the quote much notice. I will always assume that a quote like, "best novel ever!" was taken from the phrase "definitely not the best novel ever!" Heh.