The Important Ps in Publishing

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Do professionalism, manners and taste go together to make a publisher? Or maybe it’s more a matter of passion, love even?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Today’s feature story looks at some of the projects undertaken by the Knopf Doubleday digital team.

handshakeWhen you work in book publishing, you quickly realize why certain companies have the status they do — Knopf Doubleday is a primary example of a company, often at the top of the bestseller lists, which has been able to establish a balance between the high/middle/and low in publishing. This summer, one of their paperback imprints, Vintage Books, has brought you 50 Shades trilogy, while at the same time promoting the latest volume of Robert Caro’s ongoing biography of Lyndon Johnson.

And I will honestly never forget the time Sonny Mehta’s wife Gita (a wonderful writer on her own, of course) took the time to walk me around a book party for author Richard Price, where I knew no one, and after I’d just given his novel Samaratin a lukewarm (at best) review in People magazine. “Excuse me, Toni [Morrison], have you met Ed?” (As if…)

I suppose this is waxing philosophical a bit, but it was that small demonstration of manners stuck with me and left a long and strong impression.

Was it good PR? Yes. Do I look on Knopf’s books differently because of it? I suppose I would, if there was any need to do so. Usually, the books are published with as much good taste. (And oh yes, sometimes they are not).

What was it really? Professionalism.

You will often hear some communities in the book world deride publishers as an out-of-touch lot, quick to dismiss others, and elitist. And yes, in fact, there are times when that is true. But there are reasons certain people are the pros in publishing. You find them at Little, Brown and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and FSG, and at places like Harlequin and Macmillan and elsewhere (that’s just a handful, not to mention those outside the US). Many, if not most, of the small publishers are a professionally genial lot. And the booksellers, too — at least when the market isn’t beating them down.

But then again they work with books, which always offer the opportunity for redemption. If you don’t like one book, close it and put it down, pick up another. No, it’s not something you can always do (or should do) with people in your life; books by their very nature are more forgiving.

Maybe it’s just me, but do professionalism, manners and taste go together?

Or maybe it’s more a matter of passion, love even? A deep appreciation of the power of words on the page and the life lived in and around books?

Of course, you could argue that so much of the print vs. digital rancor is because people love books. They are fighting for the future, even if they can only guess at what that future might promise. Joy and prosperity? Pain and penury? Or, as is more likely, something in between. I suppose what people in all spheres of publishing really want is a chance to find out, no matter what careless miscalculations, mis-statements, and mistakes have been made in the past.

The real pros in publishing are, I suppose, just a few steps ahead of the rest of us in figuring things out.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.