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Nov 24, 2020

So You Think Publishing is Glamorous

A NYTimes obituary for Daniel Menaker caught my eye a few weeks ago, because his wife’s name was one I recognized, Katherine Bouton, the colleague and friend of a good friend. I called my friend to share my sympathy for this loss, and she suggested loaning me My Mistake, the memoir Daniel Menaker had written in 2013.

With a cover quote by Steve Martin – “How can something written so accurately be so witty? Don’t you have to cheat a bit to wring humor out of life?” – I knew I was in for a good read. With a career in publishing that spanned decades at The New Yorker and Random House, Menaker shares anecdotes and profiles of legendary players like William Shawn, William Maxwell and Alice Munro that only make me want to delve deeper into their lives and writing.

But the laugh-out-loud truths of this mysterious world I’ve only tiptoed into are what I want to share with you. Here’s my favorite in a book filled with lots of runner-ups (I’m sure DM would have corrected my syntax or usage here):

“Rounding up is fun [as in number of books printed]. Rounding down is reality. Announced first printings of, say, a hundred thousand hardcovers often shrivel to under fifty thousand. Publicity announcements of an author tour of twelve cities shrink to New York, Washington, and Boston, and only if the writer agrees to use Bolt buses for transportation.”

I’ve had three books published and can attest to everything Menaker shared in his memoir. I’m relieved that I didn’t suffer more of the indignities he describes.

If only I could have met this kind and generous man! Getting to know him through his words was an extended visit I wish might have continued. May I please introduce you to him as well?


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