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vivico1
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Bill,

First of all, thank you very much for being here with us. As I began reading Sag Harbor, I did remember a lot of things about being in my late teens and early 20s in the early 80s. It was nice to take a trip down memory lane and have a laugh or two. I did ok with that working for me in this book, for awhile. But then it became for me, actually as Colson said he was trying to avoid on the thread for him (I hope he will cross over and read these threads too, but its your statements here that made me think of this), when he said, if he did it as a strictly autobiographical story, it would be boring and that most people's stories from that time would be. I found that after the first 50 pages, well actually, the first 80 pages, I just was bored with the boys and nothing really "grabbed" me. I know Doubleday loves his work, as many publishers have some favorite writers and love when they have a new book ready. But was there any worry for you that altho some of us may connect with that early quest in our lives for self identity, and during that period too, that just finding the familiar, would not be enough to keep the interest high enough to keep reading? Unfortunately after 80 pages, I just couldn't find a direction for the story and so it was like, well remember The Summer of 42? And those boys on their vacation and the hi jinks. Well, what made that story and movie work was, the woman. What the boy was with the woman, that was the story, everything else was the backdrop stories. This feels like all backdrop story and no woman. So I wonder, I have heard, if a book doesn't grab you in the first 50 pages, its not that it is a bad book but just one you ought to put aside, its not for you. Do you believe that? How far into a book will you read, as an editor and maybe also as just a reader, before you know, its just not holding your interest at all? Thanks so much.

 

 


Bill_Thomas wrote:

Dear Canterbear:

 

Yes, I put a high premium on a narrative that will draw readers in and pull them through the book.  Of course, different kinds of books do that in different ways.  A thriller should have intense pacing from page one, for instance, and leave the characters in peril chapter by chapter.

 

The suspense in SAG HARBOR on the surface is bound in the reader recognizing him or herself as a teen and identifying with Benji's quest for those things desperately want -- social acceptance, freedom, a girlfriend, etc.


 

 

Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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canterbear
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Mr. Thomas,

  I noticed the author said he did not write this for a certain readership.

So I am wondering, in what catagory will the publisher place this book?

 

thanks,

  Doreen
 

 

Contributor
Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Dear Jo:

 

These are all astute questions, but I fear answering them all in full would take up more space than B&N has server space for!

 

One way I think about the general gist of all your questions is:  I come to work each morning for the joys of working with wonderful writers; I get my paycheck each week if the books I've chosen for our list make money.  And that's a pretty fair deal.  The trick I think is keeping both aspects of my professional life in balance.  I learned very that acquiring a title I didn't really love because it seemed like a commercial sure bet is a very big mistake -- those are the books one really regrets publishing.  But it's also a mistake to acquire a book just because I loved it -- I have a fairly broad range of personal interests and some of my taste goes to books with a small audience.

 

As I said in an earlier reply, the key is to find books I love that I know how to publish.  Both factors are equally important.

 

And yes, we have a great team here and I do a lot of due diligence with publicity, sales, marketing colleagues before we acquire a book.  We have access to vastly more information now than when I started in the business, when instinct was 90% of a decision.  But that instinct is still the most important tool in an editor's kit.

 

As for self-esteem, well, I don't really think in those terms.  The question I ask myself, and of my staff, is whether we worked hard enough -- did we do all we possibly could to help a book succeed?  If a book succeeds -- critically, commercially, hopefully both -- properly, the author should get the credit and the satisfaction.   I will say that when a worthy book does not succeed, I feel a heartbreak that never goes away.


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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

There is a woman, I promise you.  (Well, a girl.)

 

Truthfully, the tension Colson creates -- beneath the humor and the nostalgia -- is subtly woven in, and there are many instances of foreshadowing of darker undercurrents that gather force as the book moves along.  But the book is cemented in a teenager's sensibility, so Benji avoids (as teenagers are wont to do.)

 

It is not an overt way of laying out a plot, and readers have different tastes and that's fine. 

 

But I guess I would say:  Pay attention to the barbecue scenes.


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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

An easy question!  Fiction.


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bud12
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Dear Bill, thanks for so sensitively answering my questions. It is clear that you find much satisfaction in your craft. I was touched by your statement that you feel a "heartbreak that never goes away" if a book that you believed in does not do well. Oh, how your authors must appreciate you, and you, they!!   You have really shed light on some of the many facets of your work , and the family kind of loyalty and caring that develops with your authors.  I now know that Colson Whitehead is indeed a lucky guy to be working with you.

 

PS I loved the novel that you mentioned, A Fine Balance, and now I'll look into books by the author you mentioned, Dawn Powell. 

 

 

Jo
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vivico1
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Well, I didn't mean an actual woman per say lol, its just in the example I gave, the story was about their relationship really. Its ok if there is not a "woman" in this one, but looking for a story line to grab onto instead of just feeling like a walk down the 80s memory lane, which as I said, is cool, for awhile, I guess I would better term it by using an old 80s phrase and say... Wheres the Beef!! lol :smileywink:

 

And I really am curious, since you are the editor and you also read for just enjoyment, do you believe there is something to the addage, if it doesn't grab you in the first 50 pages, you just need to try another book. Thanks.

 


Bill_Thomas wrote:

There is a woman, I promise you.  (Well, a girl.)

 

Truthfully, the tension Colson creates -- beneath the humor and the nostalgia -- is subtly woven in, and there are many instances of foreshadowing of darker undercurrents that gather force as the book moves along.  But the book is cemented in a teenager's sensibility, so Benji avoids (as teenagers are wont to do.)

 

It is not an overt way of laying out a plot, and readers have different tastes and that's fine. 

 

But I guess I would say:  Pay attention to the barbecue scenes.


 

 

Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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canterbear
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

I have finished the book and I agree with the post from Vivico1.  There does not seem to be anything that really keeps the story grounded or moving. (yawn)

 

Mr. Thomas, your answer to many of the questions about this book and what you see in this book, makes me wonder if we are all reading the same book.

 

I do appreciate the time you have taken to give us feedback and suggest other authors we might find of interest.

 I still think if Colson had done this based on his own experiences in first person, there would have been more depth to it.

He said he did not make it is own story for lack of excitement...well this lacks that too.

 

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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Yes, I do think being hooked in the first few pages is important.  I was hooked by the Roller Disco Bat Mitzvah scene in SAG HARBOR, myself. 

 

I fully understand that not every book is going to grab every reader.  That's why they call it taste.  I wouldn't wear a red fez, but it worked for Dizzy Gillespie.

 

There are many ways of telling a story.  If every writer employed the same techniques, it would be the literary equivalent of eating at McDonald's for every meal.

 

A different kind of writer could take the elements of SAG HARBOR and spin out the story very differently -- a young African-American boy, adrift and unsure of himself, with an abusive father, desperately tries to fit into the white world he inhabits during the school year and the black world he inhabits in the summer, but he can't find his place in either.  His friends face the same dilemma, and some will respond by drifting into the crack epidemic soon to ravage the black community; some will be subsumed by violence; all will be scarred.

 

Many writers would put all these elements into a big emotional scene-driven structure.  Colson works with hints and wit and allusion.  Personally, I dislike melodramatic novels because I find them cliched.  But, to paraphrase Voltaire, I will defend to the death other people's right to enjoy them.  Or, as my Dad would say, whatever floats your boat.

 

The responsibility of an editor, or one of them, is to publish books which add a little something different to the culture.  Someone on the forum asked me about instinct, and I think I underplayed its role.  One of the most commercially successful novels I ever edited was THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.  I can assure you, our financial staff did not leap to their feet in rapture when I presented a novel whose plot can be summed up as:  Boy with Asperger's destroys parents' marriage in run-down English suburb.  But, as with SAG HARBOR, the uniqueness of the voice and the subtle combination of wit and pathos attracted many readers.

 

Of course a lot of people put the book down in puzzlement or boredom, because they didn't like the style in which Mark Haddon wrote.  But I loved it, as I love SAG HARBOR, and while I'm sorry some people here aren't enjoying it, I'm both proud and humbled that I get to help bring it into the world.

 


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DSaff
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Mr. Thomas, I am thoroughly loving your responses to our varied questions. The passion you bring to your craft is obvious. Have you thought of writing a book of your own? You have a great way of making your point with your words. It is also a pleasure to read about the care and concern you have for book and author. Bravo!


Bill_Thomas wrote:

Yes, I do think being hooked in the first few pages is important.  I was hooked by the Roller Disco Bat Mitzvah scene in SAG HARBOR, myself. 

 

I fully understand that not every book is going to grab every reader.  That's why they call it taste.  I wouldn't wear a red fez, but it worked for Dizzy Gillespie.

 

There are many ways of telling a story.  If every writer employed the same techniques, it would be the literary equivalent of eating at McDonald's for every meal.

 

A different kind of writer could take the elements of SAG HARBOR and spin out the story very differently -- a young African-American boy, adrift and unsure of himself, with an abusive father, desperately tries to fit into the white world he inhabits during the school year and the black world he inhabits in the summer, but he can't find his place in either.  His friends face the same dilemma, and some will respond by drifting into the crack epidemic soon to ravage the black community; some will be subsumed by violence; all will be scarred.

 

Many writers would put all these elements into a big emotional scene-driven structure.  Colson works with hints and wit and allusion.  Personally, I dislike melodramatic novels because I find them cliched.  But, to paraphrase Voltaire, I will defend to the death other people's right to enjoy them.  Or, as my Dad would say, whatever floats your boat.

 

The responsibility of an editor, or one of them, is to publish books which add a little something different to the culture.  Someone on the forum asked me about instinct, and I think I underplayed its role.  One of the most commercially successful novels I ever edited was THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.  I can assure you, our financial staff did not leap to their feet in rapture when I presented a novel whose plot can be summed up as:  Boy with Asperger's destroys parents' marriage in run-down English suburb.  But, as with SAG HARBOR, the uniqueness of the voice and the subtle combination of wit and pathos attracted many readers.

 

Of course a lot of people put the book down in puzzlement or boredom, because they didn't like the style in which Mark Haddon wrote.  But I loved it, as I love SAG HARBOR, and while I'm sorry some people here aren't enjoying it, I'm both proud and humbled that I get to help bring it into the world.

 


 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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Rachel-K
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Bill,

 

Wonderful that you also edited Haddon. A universe away from the voice we're reading in Sag!  

 

What I love about Benji's voice in these pages is how he seems to use every once of wit he has (a pretty considerable amount) to turn away from feeling sorry for himself and toward appreciating some outlandish irony in the "big picture." 

 

I'm also glad to hear you champion instinct in the editorial process, especially in the selection of what to publish. I would hate to think editors were more eager to study marketing statistics than read lit.

 

Do you mind if I ask how much you got to read of Sag, or Apex, or John Henry--before a whole draft was due? Do you start with a few pages here and there, or get everything at once?

 

What else are you proud of publishing?  

 

Thanks,

 

Rachel

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Vermontcozy
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Dear Bill...After reading where Colson will be ,I didn"t see Vermont on his Tour List...Do you think that you can do some reasearch on the bookstore in my town.Northshire Bookstore.manchester Center Vt 05255..I wouldn't expect you to take my word for it,but I think you are missing an oppourtunity if you do not bring Colson here. Our population is about as open to "Sag Harbor" as any bookstore in NYc,Boston etc.Philip Roth was here,John Irving Lives down the road,and has appeared often,too many to post...Chris Morrow ,owner........Sincerely, VTC...Imagination,abstract thinking.. Sag harbor is all about that to really get the book,Colson requires the reader to have all of that(thats a good thing)...just my thoughts vtc
Kindness,I've discovered,is everything in life...Issac Bashevis Singer
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canterbear
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Mr. Thomas,

thank you for answering all my questions and replying to all my comments.
I appreciate the time you took to be here with us.


I agree with your last comments to my post about the other ways this book could have been presented. I do see your point.

And yes, I personally would have found the "other" version you described as a very interesting read.

 So it is a matter of choice of style for the reader.

 

For a time I worked in a book store and every few months books that were not selling were shipped back to the publishers.  Now, some of those were good books and I dont know why they did not sell. I figured any author would probably want to appeal to the greater readership.

So that is why I was a bit harsh.

I realize you cant make every reader happy.

 

Again, thank you.

 

 

 

 

  

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fifenhorn
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Mr. Thomas,

 

Thank you for being with us this week. I, like so many others who have commented, had a hard time getting into this book. But now, I've come to love the characters and am almost done, and can't wait to see the ending.

 

My question is more about proofreading, rather than editing.  I'm a bit anal-retentive when it comes to typos and misspellings (stems from failing a quarter of spelling in 7th grade due to a lost book!).  I've already spotted 3 typographical errors in the book. How does one go about reporting these finds in books? I know that if the book has already gone to press, it's unlikely to be corrected unless another printing is done, but it would be nice to know if the problems were caught before the mass printing was done.  I'd be interested in finding out how proofreading of a novel is done. I'm forever finding mistakes in books, newspapers, and magazines.

 

Linda

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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Dear Donna:  Thanks for your nice words.  I would make a lousy book writer -- I don't possess the willpower, the creativity or the discipline.  Editing is a craft; writing is an art, and I'm happy to be a craftsman.


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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Good question Rachel.

 

Like many novelists, Colson prefers to finish a complete first draft before I see it.  Some of the novelists I work with want feedback during the writing process, and nearly all nonfiction writers turn their books in in stages.  Whatever works best for the author is what works for me.

 

Bill


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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

It's a great store.  I'll pass the request on to our Publicity Director -- but we do have to bear in mind that Colson is a working Dad, so we can't fulfill all requests for appearances.


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Bill_Thomas
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Dear Linda:

 

Glad you're getting into the book.

 

Yes, the book will be proofread several times before publication.  What you guys are reading is called an "ARC" (advanced reading copy) which we produce for select books very early in the publishing process.  So what you're reading isn't even copyedited.

 

Regular bound galleys are produced from first pass pages, which are typeset from the copyedited manuscript, but not proofread.  First pass galley pages are proofread, then we produce second pass pages, which are proofread as well, then if there are more corrections than the norm third pass pages, then something called blues.

 

Typos drive me crazy too.


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Vermontcozy
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

I understand,wil keep his site and also on facebook,to keep up with his Schedule..Loving the book almost finished...  Vtc,Glad you know the Northshire bookstore..it keeps us alive here...and now with BN, I am a happy camper...
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canterbear
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Re: Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Does doubleday only accept books through an agent?

 

 

thanks