When I started at Book, there were only four of us — the publisher Mark Gleason, editor-in-chief Jerome Kramer, marketing director Anne Gleason, and myself. And we all came with a love of books and literature, but as for myself, just about zero knowledge of the publishing industry. In 1998, I probably knew less about publishing than an intern in his or her first week at Publishers Weekly. My knowledge of New York publishing was limited to two comical but less-than-stellar experiences with literary agents who were unable to find homes for some of my previous, thankfully unpublished novels. We learned on the fly.
As far as being an author, working at Book for five years did somewhat demystify the world a bit. And it was a bit sobering. I had always naively assumed that once you’d had a novel published, you were pretty much done and your career was made. But viewing the world from the other side, I came to see how utterly disposable books can be — to publishers, critics, and the public. Every week, we’d get dozens of books, and we’d be making decisions about them in seconds — a glance at a press packet, a book jacket, some blurbs, the first couple of paragraphs, and we’d be deciding whether to feature the book or to toss it into what was unceremoniously referred to as “The Ass Box.” For someone who was considering persevering in the novel-writing racket, it was humbling and daunting. It was also frightening to realize how small a window there was for a book to make an impression. I think every writer, when they have their first novel published, enters this first-book-centric universe where they think everything revolves around their book — they get pissed that their publicists aren’t doing enough for them, that they weren’t chosen for this or that book club, that they haven’t gotten their starred Kirkus (which I always thought sounded like some sort of affliction), when, in fact, they’re one of hundreds. I used to write roundups of 20 New Writers to Watch, or something like that, and as Crossing California was being published, I realized that in a best-case scenario I might be one of those 20. Of course once the book came out, there was no chance for that, seeing as Book magazine no longer existed.