Lord a Mercy! It’s a Big Responsibility to Be a New York Editor

Amazon bookmarks 3321163964_7f29a808ff_b

Editors and publishers can’t quite get their minds around the concept that Amazon serves customers, not publishing houses.  Publishers prefer dealing with rich Independent bookstore slavies, who truckle under to their ridiculous prices.

In a Jan. 8 article at Slate, Daniel Menaker, an author of very good fiction and memoirs and the former Editor-in-Chief at Random House, explains why he is not keen on Amazon. It is mostly about prices.  Naturally he was annoyed by Amazon’s feud with Hachette over e-book pricing.  (It was resolved in November.)

Menaker says publishers and editors have the education and experience to balance art and commerce.  He writes that “between 20 and 30 New York publishers and editors…are in fact the main curators of letters.”

And he thinks Jeff Bezos and some other entrepreneurs envy publishers and want a piece of that action.

 Well, they can’t have it. Like patrons of old and some of new, they can stand back and support it, sponsor it, admire it. They can give it parties at retreats in New Mexico. They can even sort of own it. But they can’t have it. Because they need to make a lot of money. And because they don’t have the background, wide experience, native zeal, eye for talent, editorial skill, intuition, and intermittent disregard for probable profit necessary to perform the role of literary concierge.

Lord a mercy!  It’s a Big Responsibility to be a New York Editor!  If the top 20 or 30 are part of the Ivy League cocktail crowd, aren’t they milling and  thronging with Bezos anyway, who graduated from Princeton?

Where do the writers come in?

Perhaps publishing was in better shape when Menaker was at Random House. There are some very bad books being published:  I can’t be bothered to finish, say, Michael Faber’s  mediocre novel, The Book of Strange New Things (whether the writer or editor botched it, I don’t know.). And, by the way, I keep finding Latin errors, even in A.S. Byatt’s masterpiece, The Children’s Book.

I do respect many modern writers: Jonathan Lethem, D. J. Taylor, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Gardam, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan, and Michelle Huneven, to name a few. But I have read brilliant writers who have published a few stories in literary magazines and then disappeared.  What happened?

Amazon sells new and used books to readers like me who do not have access to great bookstores or libraries.  I can obtain titles published  by Dalkey Archive, NYRB, Europa, and many of the less popular Penguin classics.  If you think I can get these at my local Barnes and  Noble, you are crazy.

The service at Amazon is superb.

Meanwhile, publishers have tantrums about Amazon.  They don’t like the selling of used “new” books, and they don’t like the low prices on e-books.    My personal opinion is:  why publish e-books at all? Why not throw out the e-readers and go back to the book?

Yes, that’s very prim of me, but that’s how I feel.

We used to hear that Borders and Barnes and Noble were about to seize control of the book industry:  everything from book covers to content.   Now it’s Amazon.

Please.  The end of civilization is more likely to be caused by climate change and fracking.

6 thoughts on “Lord a Mercy! It’s a Big Responsibility to Be a New York Editor

  1. Who endowed publishers with the power to manage what we read? Amazon provides a resource that the publishers themselves could have created if they had had the imagination to do so. If I want to know whether some book is available, Amazon is the first place I go. It’s not just price — they are providing a service which readers really appreciate.


  2. Oh, Nancy, I do so agree! Amazon IS a great resource. The only point of view I ever hear represented these days is anti-Amazon, and it is out-of-proportion. Let the editors do their work; let the booksellers do theirs.


  3. Me too, hear hear, etc. Amazon is the first place I look to inspect a book. The “Look Inside” feature is terrific; the recommendations are useless but the “Customers Also Bought…” feature is terrific; for the kinds of books I am looking at the reviews are usually good, too.

    Then I go get the books at the library.


    • Yes, the website is great! Even if they didn’t sell books, I’d go there. Before they perfected their algorithm recommendations, I did get excellent recommendations for Kathleen Hill’s books published by TriQuarterly Press. Sometimes the recommendations are good, sometimes not, but I completely agree with you about the “Customers Also Bought…” And the customer reviews are helpful if you’re looking at an out-of-print book without samples. But of course then there aren’t always customer reviews!


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