Where Books Escape the Committee System

June 21st, 2005 · 5 Comments
by Booksquare

This week, we guide you to an interview with Lorin Stein of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Stein discusses FSG’s approach to acquiring, editing, and marketing books while taking a stab at his approach to finding new talent:

I get about a dozen manuscripts a week, plus maybe a dozen proposals and foreign books. Anything written in English, and not sent to me by mistake, I start. Unfortunately my rejection letters have been getting shorter and shorter the more stuff I get—and, especially, the more stuff I get by email.

Stein also weighs in on the Sam Lipsyte story, discussing Home Land and it’s long strange journey to publication:

For a long time it baffled me. Lipsyte’s novel made me weep with laughter. And not just me. I saw hardboiled critics almost reduced to wetting themselves at Sam’s readings. Critics and fellow editors. And I knew three out of four of my parents would like it, which is a very good predictor of mass appeal. It just didn’t make any sense that nobody wanted to publish the thing.

Then when we acquired Home Land as a Picador paperback original—after it had made rounds of the hardcover houses—I discovered that about one in every six readers didn’t think the book was funny. This I blame on genetics. Some people can’t tell the difference between cilantro and the taste of soap, some people don’t think Sam writes funny. The trouble with a book like Home Land is, if you don’t think it’s funny, you really won’t be able to find anything nice to say about it. It is—apart from being funny—angry, obscene, nostalgic, sentimental, outlandish, exhausting. I sympathize with that one reader. That reader feels the same way I feel about J.P. Donleavy. Puzzled, bored, and embarrassed all at the same time. And left out. Most of all, left out and humorless. Nobody likes to feel humorless.

For this reason, I can only guess, Home Land was vulnerable to the committee system. At each of the twenty-four houses where the book was turned down, I imagine a handful of junior editors turning toward someone at the head of a long table, their faces aghast, and one of these junior editors piping up—in shock and dismay—”You mean… you don’t get it?” And that being the end of that.

File Under: Publishers and Editors

5 responses so far ↓

  • readerofdepressingbooks // Jun 21, 2005 at 11:37 am

    hi booksquare

    can you e-mail me the article please?

    i’ll give you something

    something good…

  • Candy // Jun 22, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    I think cilantro tastes like soap, too. *cries*

    And I checked out the first few pages of Home Land on Amazon–I have to say I don’t get it, the same way I didn’t get A Confederacy of Dunces. I didn’t think it was bad, per se–I just didn’t think it was particularly good, either. I definitely don’t think either book is particularly funny, though there’s plenty of absurdity and a sort of self-consciousness that’s alternately charming and annoying.

  • Booksquare // Jun 23, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    Heresy, you say! Confederacy of Dunces was genius. I insist you give it another chance. Perhaps you were in the wrong mood for the book. Or perhaps you don’t like hot dogs? I sometimes find I’m biased by such things (g).

    Humor is rough, huh?

  • Candy // Jun 26, 2005 at 10:28 pm

    Oh, I love hot dogs. Love ’em. I’d give COD another change, except I re-read an excerpt a couple of years ago and found myself still going “eh.”

    Please still like me. One of my bestest friends in the world loves cilantro–in fact, she’s eaten cilantro sandwiches, which is a culinary crime so heinous that I feel nauseous contemplating it–and I don’t hold it against her. Much.

  • Booksquare // Jun 26, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    A woman I greatly admire (in fact, she was my mentor) is anti-cilantro. I cannot hold dislike of a wonderful food against a person. I don’t eat tomatoes. I am flawed!

    Just don’t tell me you don’t love Welcome to Temptation. Or (and this is truly a sin) Emma Jensen’s Coup de Grace (which was her crowning moment in hilarity,
    Regency style) and we’re good. As noted, I am flawed. I don’t adore Laura Kinsale. And I can’t read Gravity’s Rainbow without wondering what it is about men and their reproductive organs…