When I was at Simon & Schuster, they started this thing on diversity in publishing, and we were all supposed to go through diversity training. To my knowledge, I'm the only person who was not summoned to go through diversity training. I think it was because I wrote them such a scathing reply to their initial query of "How do you feel about diversity in publishing?" I said, "There is no diversity in publishing and we're not likely to get it as long as you just pay lip service to it." There are virtually no African Americans in this business, there are virtually no Hispanics, virtually no Asian Americans. It's because we don't pay competitive salaries, we don't make an effort to recruit them, and, frankly, if they came in and really had a sense of their area of publishing, the bosses wouldn't know what to do with them and probably wouldn't give them a chance to do anything anyway. They expect you to be white like all the rest of us. There's too much of the elitist school culture in New York. The only people who can afford to take jobs in publishing are those who come from enough money and whose parents will help support them. We don't encourage a diversity of people in the business. We don't. We just want more of the same because they're the ones who can afford to work in it.
Go back to this notion of working very closely with an author—with the reader in mind—to make something as commercial as possible. What are the nuts and bolts of that process? What does the page look like?
Physically, it's a mess. I write all over it. I'm not a shy editor. I edit in ink, and I just sit down as a reader. I start reading, and when I come to a word or whatever that makes me stop, then I think, "Okay, there's a problem." Because any time a reader stops—whether it's because they didn't understand something, or the word is an odd choice and it throws them off, or a character does something slightly out of character—then you have to stop and say, "This is a problem. How do we fix it?" Usually I will have a fix that I just go ahead and write in. I always tell the authors, of course, that my fixes are suggestions. I say, "You don't have to do it this way, but you've got to do something here. Whenever I find a problem, you've got to address it. You can't ignore it. You can find your own solution, but you have to do something."
I go through the whole manuscript that way. Sometimes I just write in the margins, sometimes I write pages of notes and type them up and send them to the author. Sometimes it's just a matter of cutting and connecting and writing little one- or two-word transitions. But it's always a matter of taking the reader with me. I want them to be able to follow everything that's going on and not have to stop and puzzle anything out."The."
We don't hear people talking much about "the voter" for, I would have thought, fairly obviously reasons; there are many voters, each with a range of interests which may or may not influence voting patterns ( Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, by Andrew Gelman et al., offers one example of the kind of analysis needed to get a handle on this). When an agent or editor talks about "the reader" I - well, I don't necessarily want to shoot myself, but I do think, as so often, how much happier I would be among statisticians. Readers are not clones. Plenty of readers, presumably, would have no problem with the crucial clue in Lee Child's first Jack Reacher book: a scrap of paper that read "e unum pluribus" meaning, allegedly, "out of one many". (Awwwww.) And plenty of readers (though, probably, a different subset) have no problem with a sample size of one.
Some of you may think that the disadvantage of a sample size of one would be immediately apparent if a sample size of two threw up two radically different opinions. Ha.
What's the most satisfying big edit you've ever done?
It was probably Kitty Dukakis's memoir. It was one of the first manuscripts I was given to edit at Simon & Schuster. It was an unusual situation: It had been bought jointly by Alice Mayhew and Michael Korda, who are two radically different editors. The manuscript was huge, about five hundred pages. Alice called me into her office and said, "Chuck, there's way too much in here about politics. People want to know the personal story. You need to cut out a lot of this political stuff." Michael called me into his office and said, "Chuck, there's way too much personal stuff in here. People want to know about the politics. You've got to get rid of a lot of this personal stuff."
Oh. Um, right.
Whole thing here.