Agents & Editors: A Q&A With Jonathan Galassi

Comments

mikerol says...
As a former quite small publisher [of Urizen Books http://isbndb.com/d/publisher/urizen_books.html ] who got his first steady job at Farrar, Straus, in 1966, and brought them Nelly Sachs, all the Hesse books, Hans Erich Nossack, Christa Wolf, and most importantly, Peter Handke, I would say that the now nearly venerable firm has much improved under Jonathan Gallassi's guidance. Jonathan's description of Roger Straus and his conduct of editorial meetings, brings to mind the founder's rather Runjonesque, which I must admit I appreciates, as I appreciate "characters" of all kinds. What is surprising, especially in this retrospect, is how many far nicer people were working there at the time, Hal Vussel, Mr. Henry Wohlforth, the treasurer, Ms. Nicholson, author of a manual on style, in rights and permissions, Ms. Miller, Roger's assistant. Overall though, I would have to agree with the decision by Robert Giroux, as quoted in Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's obituary - Christopher also wrote Rogers obit for the N. Y. Times - that thought of Roger was so distasteful as to keep him from writing a history of the firm. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/06giroux.html?scp=2&sq=robert%20giroux&st=cse Each sentence in those two obits is well weighed. Not that Roger was not serious, but he was not passionate about literature, he liked the social side, the hobknobbing at least as much, having no end of never enobling Nobel Prizes, and in that respect Roger does not compare either with his contemporary American [Alfred Knopf, Bennet Cerf, George Braziller, to mention just three of the many] or European equivalents such as Siegfried Unseld of Suhrkamp, Michel Krueger of Hanser Verlag, even a true hobknobber and delightfully social animal such as Ledig-Rowohlt of the Rowohlt Verlag could get down and translate and edit with the best of them and had languages and world wide interests; ditto for Jonathan Maschler of Cape, Mathew Evans the then editor of Faber, no end of great French, Italian and Spanish publishers. I want to tune this point with a very specific example, that of the publication history of the work of Peter Handke in this country, an author since he burst on the scene in 1966, of some 66+ books, who has developed and changed over the course of time to an author of the importance of the greatest in German literature in the past two hundred years. The fellow Handke translator Scott Abbot mentioning, a few weeks back, in a discussion on what is everybody's favorite Handke title at http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/ that Handke, while he and Handke were together in Yugoslavia, had shown him a letter from "Robert" Straus to Siegfried Unseld where Straus mentions that he's got a big problem called Handke, elicits these thoughts on Farrar, Straus has published Handke in this country: Farrar, Straus did 11 printings of KASPAR AND OTHER PLAYS. FS+G sold the first half a dozen Handke titles to various paperback publishers for reprinting, the Brit Methuen shared upfront costs, over and over, and so certainly did not lose any money. However, in all these years I have never seen an ad for a Handke book in this country. Even the diary-novel, as I think of it, Weight of the World did well, not that FS +G has had the good sense to publish it's successor Die Geschichte des Bleistifts which exists in the major Romance languages of course, to inform Handke's English language reading public, as this book does and can, how Handke's thinking on writing and his project is changing.[Little chance that the mostly idiot reviewers that the mostly idiot book review editors assign books to would take the trouble to give the matter of change any thought to as they so very obviously have not, baffled! I happen to have about each and every review, and there exists a single outstanding one, by Willim Gass in the L.A. Book Review when it was edited by Stever Wasserman]. First major mistake of Roger's was to fail to publish HISTORY OF THE PENCIL, the second and more serious one was to publish A SLOW HOMECOMING jointly in one volume together with LESSON OF SAINT VICTOIRE and A CHILD'S STORY [to save money and also on the individual presentation which these three very different books deserved. These failures in publishing finesse are compounded by failing to put books which had wide readerships in their paper editions with Avon and Collier Books into the FS+G quality paperback imprint Noonday Books to make for continuity [many have recently been reissued by New York Review of Books Books] and then in passing on Handke's greatest plays, WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES [Ariadne Books] and THE ART OF ASKING + THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER [Yale University Press] and many others not even translated yet. So what Roger is complaining to to Unseld is something that was easily remediable by him if he had been as good a publishers Handke's French and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, etc Publishers were. Handke, also, has had about ten different editors assigned to him since I left there in 1969. Some first rate, the first several, some not, but each of course incapable or unwilling to construct the history of publication, that is to be a real editor! Recently the excellent Annie Wedekind left and so far I haven't found out to which overworked novice Handke has been assigned. Imagine, you're a bright young thing and Goethe is assigned to you! Elizabeth Sifton had a wonderful piece in Slate some years ago about being assigned Saul Bellow when she was a very junior editor at Viking http://www.slate.com/id/2116502/ Evidently Ms. Sifton did not drown, but this indicates the amateurishness with which these matters can be handled. And the case of a foreign author is then far more serious, especially of the new editor who assumes that load does not know the original language. michael roloff http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html
Victoria Mixon says...

Every day in my work as a freelance editor I hear aspiring writers complain that authors are the only people in the publishing industry who care about the quality of the work, that everyone else is obsessed with the money. Thank you for bringing Jonathan Galassi to us in this wonderful interview, so those who hope to become a part of the industry can see what the industry to really is.

I'm very happy to have this article to mention in my blog on the craft of fiction.

best,
Victoria
http://victoriamixon.com

LitPark says...
What a beautiful interview - from Monte Cristo to the eagerness and heartbreak of young editors to Elizabeth Bishop. Loved all of it. And thank you.
lapidaire@netze... says...

Thank you, Mr. Galassi, for putting today's publishing woes in a hard nutshell. Yes, book reviews are overrated; I used to take out from the library the books rated favorably by The NY Times, The NY Book Review, et al, & sometimes brought them back half-read, impatient, because I found them wanting. But this is the truth of reading: It is subjective. One size does not fit all. & do not condemn book clubs, at least they spread the word(I don't belong to one)but less informed & less knowledgeable people could be reached (partic. young ones)through schools & libraries,esp.since you want to market directly.& please, interviewer, Ferrari-Adler(I do not know whether you are male or female), & Mr. Galassi-the accusative of WHO is WHOM,& the dative TO WHOM.As a European-American & a writer myself,it physically hurts me to hear people misuse the cases - both you & the interviewer should know better(worse still:they invited Harry & I).Keep the English language beautiful.Thank you, Ingrid Wild Kleckner

Jessica Keener says...
What a stupendous article. Honest and yearning. Thanks to you both—I also wanted to say to Jonathan how much I loved reading the Bishop-Lowell letters that FSG published. It came to me by way of a gift from my sister. I sank into their correspondence every night for about a month. After that, I ran into Bishop or Lowell in unexpected conversations, and unexpected places. The friendship and love these two great writers gave to each other over their lifetimes was inspiring and surprising. Thanks for publishing it. Jessica Keener, fiction editor at Agni magazine and writer.
jj1009 says...
I honestly believe that this is the best interview I've ever read. The questions were perfect, leading to very informative lessons about editing, publishing, and writing. Jonathan Galassi is amazingly in love with his business, which shines through in this well managed interview. Thank you Jofie Ferrari-Adler.
Rick Rofihe says...
Jonathan Galassi was my book editor for FATHER MUST, published by FSG. [ http://blog.fictionaut.com/2009/05/23/rediscovered-reading-father-must-by-rick-rofihe/ ] Besides being paid very well for this short story collection, I remember Jonathan suggesting that only one word be removed -- an "Oh" in the story "Helen Says". I agreed. It was published to all-positive reviews.