Archive for the 'editors' Category

Team publishing at Hol

While I was slightly disconnected from the Internet over the holidays, I curled up with my laptop and read all the accumulated newsletters and links that had piled up in my inbox.

Publishing Perspectives’ feature on Hol Art Books caught my attention for two reasons.

First, their launch title, Museum Legs, was one I noted at the Brooklyn Book Fair. I accidentally went to the fair with no money, and had to write down interesting titles for later purchase or library loan. Museum Legs was at the top of the list.

See, my husband likes art museums, especially those with lots of visual art. (Think the Met and the Guggenheim.) I like the kinds of museums meant for history buffs and kids, especially those that allow a lot of of touching and encourage a lot of imagining. (Think the American Museum of Natural History or the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.)

Too much time amid visual art makes me ornery, and I can’t stay at a museum for more than an hour or two without finding a well-lit corner and pulling out a book. My husband says this is because I try to see everything, all at once. I think he’s being generous.

No matter the cause, my inability to make my way through the Met has always felt like a moral failing. Until I read the back cover copy for Museum Legs.

If you’ve ever considered going to an art museum and then thought, errr, I’ll do something else… If you’ve ever arrived at one and left a little glazed and confused… If you’ve ever thought, I might read an eight-page article about art museums but not a whole book… Then this is your story.

Museum Legs—taken from a term for art fatigue—starts with a question: Why do people get bored and tired in art museums and why does that matter? As Whitaker writes in this humorous and incisive collection of essays, museums matter for reasons that have less to do with art as we know it and more to do with business, politics, and the age-old question of how to live.

Finally, someone was talking about the way I interact with museums!

Second, the PP article discussed Hol Art Books’ team publishing model.

At Hol, anyone can propose a book project. There are no acquisition editors to man the publishing gates. The only guideline is that a book be related to the visual arts.

Any publishing professional can apply to work on a project. The hope is that they only choose books that look interesting to them.

The key is that no one–not the publishing team, Hol Art Books or the author–is paid until the book sells.

Hol prints and distributes the books; the team works only on books they love; and the author works closely with the team and the publisher to create the book they most want to write (or see translated.)

As I’m learning from Clay Shirky, sometimes love is a more powerful motivator than money. Since this team publishing model seems to be based mostly on the team’s love of, or belief in, a project, I want to explore the model further.

First, I’ll read Museum Legs to get a sense of what comes out of a team publishing effort. Next, I’ll think about applying to one of the art book projects, if there are any that really speak to me. (With my aversion to art museums, this is a long shot, I know.) Then, I’ll think about how this team publishing thing might work in other areas, like romance.

Knowing the reader

After thinking about editor platforms, I’ve come down on the side of connection. A book editor’s platform should look like this: reaching out to those who work on, write and read books. It doesn’t mean, as I had thought, selling things.

And now that the connect-to-reader meme has entered my mind it seems to be finding me.

M.J. Rose wrote an editorial for Publishing Perspectives last week that spoke passionately about publishers getting a clue about what readers want.

As someone who has spent her life in advertising doing endless research about the end user, I’m continually shocked by the lack of information publishers have about readers. And even worse their lack of concern about the info they don’t have.

Most of the post was about the relationship between hard cover book sales and postponed e-book releases, but M.J.’s paraphrase from Kevin Smokler said it all:

The inescapable truth of doing business in the 21st century, according to author and CEO of, Kevin Smokler, is that you have to give the customer what they want… “Should you choose to make it difficult for your own purposes, said customers will simply abandon what you are offering them and go elsewhere.”

Just as it’s easier for customers to find alternatives due to the web, it should be easier to connect with them as well.

The sheer size of the romance reading audience, and the many, many places where they discuss books online is intimidating. But at least they’ll be easy to find…

If I had a platform…

What would it look like? Can a book editor have a platform outside the publishing industry?

A recent post by Guy LeCharles got me thinking about the question. In “5 Things Books Should Learn from Magazines,” he says:

…Good magazines have strong personalities, both figuratively, via their tone, and literally, via their editors and contributors…

*** For book publishers, can anyone identify even 10 editors with ANY name recognition or influence at all outside of the industry? Every author is expected to have a platform, why not editors, too?

Yeah, why not? Well…

Unlike magazine editors who greatly shape the tone and voice of their publications, book editors are supposed to let the author’s voice take center stage. Even if the book requires heavy editing (rewriting) it is the author’s name on the cover and the author who gets the credit. A book editor, at least traditionally, is supposed to be a behind-the-scenes player. We are sometimes mentioned in dedications or letters in the front matter, but never on a “masthead.”

What if “Title of this book edited by Stacy Boyd” appeared on the copyright page alongside the disclaimer? Would readers write me letters asking why I bought this book over another? Would they congratulate me on selecting a great story? Would they even care?

If editors of books were connected by name to the books they edited, how could one editor within a house create her own editorial voice? A book editor may work with dozens of authors, contribute to multiple imprints (each with its own “identity”), or inherit projects from editors who have left the company. And though an editor can be heavily involved in a project, the true creator of the work is the author. Under these conditions, it seems difficult to create a consistent list, one that a reader can trust will always lead them to books they will enjoy.

Authors have their own voices, magazine editors shape the voices of their magazines, but book editors must work with many voices: that of authors, genres and publisher brands/imprints.

Maybe a book editor’s platform could simply be made up of her own personal taste. Sharing her opinions and publication choices with readers might make an eclectic compilation of books feel cohesive. (Though I would worry about implied favoritism if I seemed more vocal about one book than another.)

LeCharles seems to think interaction with readers might be the key to creating book editor platforms:

Long before email, blogs and Twitter came along, magazine editors were connected to their readers via mastheads and Letters to the Editor sections…. As new channels became available and popular, many magazine editors have embraced the opportunity to more effectively, and more frequently, engage their readers.

*** Other than Twitter, where they mostly talk to each other, when and where do book editors connect to readers on a regular basis? How can they position themselves to be influential curators, someone readers can trust to help good books find them instead of always having to seek them out?

Right now it seems book editors don’t interact with readers much at all. The only way we know what readers like is to look at the data from research teams and the sales numbers. Even when prime opportunities present themselves, editors and publishers sometimes give up the chance to interact with their audience. (Richard Nash had a very interesting post a while back about the nixing of the idea to open a day of Book Expo America to the public, which would have encouraged readers to engage with publishers, editors and authors.)

Maybe publishers should consider sending editors, instead of PR staff, to the reader fairs (Brooklyn Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, RT convention, etc.). Maybe editors should think of their acquisition choices differently, as a way of establishing a curated collection of books they can personally promote (instead of as books they think the company sales force can sell.) At the very least, maybe book editors should try interacting with readers, instead of just amongst themselves, via social media.

So, readers of books, let’s try this: Friend me!


I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
my book shelf:
Stacy Boyd's book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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