Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Questions for Doubleday's Editor, Bill Thomas?

Bill Thomas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Doubleday, joins our group for this week only!

 

Please welcome him into our discussion and post your questions for him here!

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

Mr. Thomas,

thanks for being with us this week.

 I am half way through  the book.

  But, there are some things that make it not an easy read.

The flow seems a bit choppy and I dont understand all the lingo used.

I wondered if a glossary might help.

 

When you edit a book what are the main things that either attract you to that book or detract?

 

I really wanted this book to be good.  But I am feeling sad that so many of the books soon to be released are just not that great of a read.

I keep falling asleep.

A friend of mine read part of a Phillipa Gregory novel to me yesterday, and I was hooked. It was great!  Interesting and I totally understood it.

 

We readers want really good writing..not just passing work.

 

Sorry I couldnt say more positive.

 

D. 

Frequent Contributor
hoot
Posts: 33
Registered: ‎02-14-2009
0 Kudos

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

Welcome!

 

On occasion, I have found the wordiness of the book to be somewhat exhausting. I think that a lot of places are described a little bit too in depth. There seems to be too many references to the culture of the time period.

 

I thought the same thing about "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". Instead of one or two meaningful references or comparisons, it seems to be a run on list.

 

As an editor, how do you decide what is critical to the telling of the story, and what could be done without?

www.bellasnovella.com
Contributor
koren56
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling this way.
Scribe
DSaff
Posts: 2,048
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Thomas. I am always interested in discovering what draws people to publishing, so what drew you to the profession? And, what drew you to this book?

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
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

Dear Donna --

 

Thank you for joining in.  The answer to your first question is, I fear, long and boring, even to my family, so I'll just relate the heart of the matter:  I love books and I was lucky enough to find a job in a profession that allows me to indulge that love.

 

The answer to the second question is twofold:  Doubleday has happily published Colson's work since his first novel, which is a privilege and honor we take very seriously.  In the particular case of SAG HARBOR, what I think is special about this novel is how light it feels on the surface, yet how complex it truly is.   

 

Bill 


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Scribe
DSaff
Posts: 2,048
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

Thank you for your response. I totally agree that the book is complex, and at points, is not an easy read. It is, to say the least, very thought provoking!


Bill_Thomas wrote:

Dear Donna --

 

Thank you for joining in.  The answer to your first question is, I fear, long and boring, even to my family, so I'll just relate the heart of the matter:  I love books and I was lucky enough to find a job in a profession that allows me to indulge that love.

 

The answer to the second question is twofold:  Doubleday has happily published Colson's work since his first novel, which is a privilege and honor we take very seriously.  In the particular case of SAG HARBOR, what I think is special about this novel is how light it feels on the surface, yet how complex it truly is.   

 

Bill 


 

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
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009

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

Dear Hoot --

 

Well, every reader comes to every novel with different tastes and expectations, which is the glory of a diverse and vibrant literary culture.  I think of Colson and Junot Diaz as very, very different kinds of writers, but I have a particular sensibility.

 

As for the culture of the time period, that certainly is deliberate.  I tend to think if an author ISN'T grounding their setting in time and place in specificities, they're sort of cheating so I roundly thrash them for their sins of omission.

 

SAG HARBOR is, in part, about the culture of the 1980s, which, if you lived through it as I did, is a rich vein for comedy.  But like Joyce's Dublin or Cheever's Westchester County or Grace Paley's Upper West Side or any other finely delineated setting, the particular is to stand for the universal.  Part of the point is parsing the eternal teenage quest for identity, and for teens identity is primarily expressed through pop culture.

 

But I guess if you're too young to remember New Coke, the joke might be a little esoteric. 


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

I think if you just give it some time you may see some uncanny parallels between Sag Harbor in the 1980s and the court intrigue of Tudor England that Ms. Gregory writes so engagingly about.  Inheritance, romantic intrigue, losing the favor of the local aristrocracy...even a bit of gluttony that would do Henry VIII proud.

 


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

Mr. Thomas,

  when you are thinking of publishing a book, do you not look for material that will catch the reader and hook them till the end?

  Books that make you want to read them?

 Books you just can not put down?

  

I find this missing in some of the yet to be publised books I have read here recently.

 

Where is the heart and soul of this book?

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

I have another question about publishing and editing in general.

 I have read many authors that were NY Times best selling authors, but as they progress with more books, there are often times books published that are not their best works.

Does the quality some times diminish because of the pressure to get out more books?

 

How much work does the editor put into making the book ready for publication?

Do you do alot of the re-writing process or is that still done by the authors?

 

 

thanks again,

  Doreen
 

Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

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

Hello Bill,

 

Thanks so very much for joining! I have to admit to my fantasy about what it is to be a literary editor: You come into your office,  pull an espresso,  settle into a stack of oversized manila envelopes from aspiring novelists and poets (mostly extraordinary, all unknown), and get lost in the stacks--a little overwhelmed because you just can't decide which piece is most wonderful--until you realize you've read through lunch, etc.  I hope you won't tell me otherwise.

 

Can you remember when you first read Colson's work? How did it come across your desk, and what was your initial reaction?  

 

 

Inspired Bibliophile
Vermontcozy
Posts: 5,279
Registered: ‎10-20-2008
0 Kudos

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

Thank you for the oppourtunity to preview Colsons "Sag Harbor"it has has stirred up memories of my own and its been bittersweet,and amazing...I believe for myself one must be open and embrace the culture of the 80's up until now......it transends race for me..Will he be touring with the book,hopefully at Barnes and Noble  Albany.,NY.I live in Vermont now,org.from New York,and the young adults here crave diversity,My Bookstore is Northshire Bookstore ManchesterCenter, Vermont, we always have great visiting authors,We haven't much to do here except read,ski, and pour our love into Vermont its  quite different here....I go to Barnes and Noble at least once a month to see my Daughter (Albany)and we go wild,At BN.Colsons savvy humor,couples with innocence,and  is very engrossing..You certainly have made a great choice.VtCozy
Kindness,I've discovered,is everything in life...Issac Bashevis Singer
Inspired Contributor
no4daughter
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-15-2007
0 Kudos

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

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Thomas.  We have been provided with a link to a map that Colson Whitehead drew of Sag Harbor.  I love the map and am wondering if you will include it in the book when it is published. 
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

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.


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

Dear Rachel:

 

I'm afraid, like most fantasies, the reality is considerably less exciting.  I do have to read through stacks and stacks of manuscripts and proposals, but it's more like diamond mining in a coal seam -- something may look shiny at first glance, but the odds are it isn't a gem.  The excitement when the book is a gem is wonderful and worth all the reading, but finding a book that (a) I love (not like, love) and (B) I know Doubleday can publish successfully is hard.  And most of my working day is going to meetings or various sorts and running the editorial department -- the reading gets done early in the day and late, and editing during working hours is impossible because of all the distractions (thank you, e-mail), so I tend to do that very early in the morning or on weekends.

 

I was not Colson's first editor -- a wonderful woman named Tina Pohlman was the editor of THE INTUITIONIST -- so my first encounter with Colson's writing was reading the hardcover edition of that book.  Tina went on to another company and that's when I was lucky enough to become his editor.


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

Yes, we are including the map --though I think the version posted is an earlier iteration, so the final one is even more spiffy.


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

Dear Pauline:

 

Thank you for your warm words.  I do believe that SAG HARBOR fosters memories of summer and youth, no matter where one spent his or her summers and in what community.

 

Colson is touring -- his New England dates are May 6th in Providence and May 7th in Cambridge.  He has all the details at www.colsonwhitehead.com.


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Contributor
Bill_Thomas
Posts: 16
Registered: ‎02-23-2009
0 Kudos

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

Dear Doreen:

 

I cannot argue with you that some bestselling authors write books of varying quality, especially if they are producing more than one book a year.  I would suggest you dip into writers who don't necessarily make the list, but who are well worth reading.  Have you ever read A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry, for example?  Or anything by Dawn Powell?

 

The editor's main job, or most important job as far as I'm concerned, is preparing the book for publication (we also do a lot of other things that are deeply boring.)  All the writing is done by the authors, of course -- but editing, which can involve everything from major structural changes (as in "Why don't you kill that character on page 5?") to subtle suggestions for changes in the text (known as line-editing) -- is still a craft in good stead.  Ultimately the editor is a servant of the author -- our job is to try to make the book as good as it can be, but the hard and imaginative work is the author's.


Learn more about Sag Harbor.

Discover all Colson Whitehead titles.
Correspondent
bud12
Posts: 52
Registered: ‎01-26-2009

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

Thanks for providing an editor's perspective.  As a psychotherapist who works with teens I have truly enjoyed following the story of these kids who are from such a different world than mine, and having the story lead me back to the universality of their psychological journey. It has been a pleasure to read this book!!

 My question for you has to with your instincts....how do you ascertain when you have a potential winner? When do you decide to take a risk on a book that you like? Do you decide these things by working with a team? Where do you get advice about what the market will bear? Is your self esteem determined by the commercial success of the book, or does literary acclaim count for something? What is the ratio of these two in determining how successful you feel?  Thanks  in advance for pondering these questions.

Jo