George Hodgman Indulges His Nurturing Nature

January 6th, 2006 · 3 Comments
by Booksquare

We are continuing to sift through the backlog of stuff we meant to post, and this interview with George Hodgman stood out. Such is the beauty of a backlog — you can pick and choose your path*. Hodgman is executive editor at Henry Holt, and his dream is to edit. Really edit. Also write cover copy. His other interests involve avoiding forms with numbers and skipping overly long motivational meetings.

We made that last one up, but since everyone hates overly long motivational meetings, it seemed like a good guess.

While all editors seek talent they can grow old with, Hodgman takes a slightly different, almost crafty view of long-term careers:

It’s part of the conversation, but next time is really anybody’s guess. Books and writers are so tricky and you’re lucky these days if lightning strikes once. It’s 90 percent about what one has in hand. “A promising future,” are the words you whisper to your boss when you are trying to convince him or her to grossly overpay.

If he could tell the publishing industry one thing, it would be the same thing we’re all thinking: slow down. Stop and read the books. Doing it right is worth doing. Part of the editorial process is nurturing the inner book. Really getting to know the story and making it even better and stronger. Hmm, maybe we should cut back on the motivational stuff, huh?

Speed. It’s all going too fast. Corporate-think means “Get it out for Christmas” or whatever. Business types don’t really think editing matters. They can’t tell the difference so they don’t think readers can. I say, why spend so much money and not take the time to actually get it right?

Of course, editing isn’t a “me” process. It’s one of those collaborative things that requires the author to suck it up and realize his or her baby might have a lopsided head. It can be fixed, but getting all huffy about it won’t help the poor story:

I mean, if I’m bringing up problems, it’s not because it’s my idea of a good time. I’d really rather take the weekend off than deal with trying to facilitate improvements that are complicated and subtle and sometimes hard to communicate.

* – Or expire in horror due to the massive scale of the project. Your call.

File Under: Publishers and Editors

3 responses so far ↓

  • Joan Kelly // Jan 7, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    And speaking of me-me-me, I agree with Mr. Hodgman, about it being worth it to take the time to make a book as good as you can make it. P.s. I’m on cold medicine so please don’t judge my phrasing in this post. Or at least judge it behind my back like a civilized person, thank you.

    Anyway, I received a finished copy of my book in the mail right before xmas, and being stuck home with the flu for several days now has given me the time to read it as a “done” thing, separate from me. I can totally see places where more time to think and re-write would have allowed me the chance to improve what’s there. I also know that, as a first-time-book-writer and a person who felt clueless sometimes about both the subject matter I was covering and good writing technique, it’s not like I could ever have turned it into Moby Dick no matter how much time I had.

    I’m genuinely grateful that I got put on a fast publication track. God knows I love a whirlwind. I just know that I did concentrate more on getting it done sometimes than on getting it as right as I was capable of getting it, because of that publication schedule. Which feels like as good of an excuse as any, should I get lambasted for crappy prose! Win-win, who knew?

  • Kathy Johnson Stith // Sep 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Ah, I think I can breathe again! A man and editor who understands that the best things take time and drama is what makes life worth living.

    Way to Go George!

  • Jackie Johnson Barrow // Mar 13, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    What a coincidence is this to be looking someone up on the Internet and find a comment to the same person from your older sister!!!!! Yes, I am Kathy’s younger sister, Jackie! :) Okay, George, I know you have been pining for Kathy to write a book (and, I agree, she is an incredible writer!), but would you settle for second best? I have written two children’s books and have two more in process. Kathy’s comment to me after reading one of them was, “you are really good with dialogue!” Her granddaughter, Bekah, said it was really funny and that she really liked it! So, how about it, George, want to take a look???