During his more than three decades in the publishing industry, Peter Ginna has held a range of editing positions. He’s worked with a small independent publishing firm and a venerable scholarly one as well as with large commercial houses. Most of his time has been spent in trade publishing, most recently as publisher and editorial director at Bloomsbury Press, an imprint he founded. For What Editors Do, Ginna gathered essays from more than two dozen contributors across the publishing field and wrote a couple of pieces himself. The articles take readers through every phase of book production—from acquisition to the editing process to publication and marketing. Later chapters provide case studies and a look at pursuing a career in publishing. The book comes at a time of significant and fast-paced change in the publishing business. As Ginna observes, the rise of Amazon, the advent of e-readers, and the growth of self-publishing all have contributed to shaking up the industry more in the past 15 years than in the previous 50.
On Writing is one of the best writing books I’ve ever read. Stephen King blends memoir with insights into the craft of writing to create a phenomenal guide on how to write fiction. In the first memoir section he shows where the personal and professional collide, while in the second section of the book he focuses on writing instruction. Writers and readers alike will enjoy this book.
“Readers are not supposed to notice the structure,” advises acclaimed New Yorker staff writer John McPhee in Draft No. 4 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $25), his collection of essays on craft. “It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” Counter-intuitively, perhaps, McPhee employs a variety of elaborate diagrams, charts, and in one case a doodle involving a turtle, a weasel, and a muskrat, to take a story from conception to a polished magazine piece that might run to as many as 80,000 words. So it comes as something of a relief to learn that this author of more than thirty books doesn’t always know what he is doing when he embarks on a new project. “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something —-anything —-as a first draft.” Or that he once found himself up against a deadline, sprawled on the floor “near tears in a catatonic swivit,” with but one sentence written. This slim, entertaining volume also offers reportage on reporting itself, including McPhee’s struggle to convince a reluctant Jackie Gleason to cooperate for a Time magazine profile in 1961, as well as “two highly germane anecdotes” involving food and the legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn. McPhee is surprisingly funny in a wonky, droll, practical, grammarian sort of way. Is the plural of attorney general “attorneys general” or “attorney generals?” And what do you do with a bunch of attorney(s) general(s) and the ensuing apostrophe(s) when they possess objects (in the plural), such as, for example, cars? Mr. McPhee will make you care about the answer, regardless of whether it will ever figure in any sentence you may one day write.