Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A Day in the Life of the Editorial Director of Vintage Classics.

Today I am so happy to welcome Laura Hassan, the Editorial Director at Vintage Classics to tell us about a typical day in the office. 
9am: I start the day by nosing in my pigeon hole – it is always a cheering way to kick things off because there is usually something a bit unexpected. Most of my submissions come in the form of actual books rather than the emailed manuscripts that my colleagues receive. This means I have a cracking collection of second hand editions with shockingly hammy artwork.  
(Pic 1: Hall of Shame…) 
The post bag always brings a mix of lovely and strange missives. We recently received a letter from an outraged reader urging us to cease representing Orlando as a classic, 'it is plain silly… if Woolf had not herself published Orlandono one would ever have done so'. Today brings some homemade Vintage Children’s Classics bunting from the creative people at Chicken and Frog bookshop. It gives my office a nice, jolly tea-party air: 
(Pic 2: Brilliant bunting from @chickenandfrog. Thank you! The first person to spot and name my office pin-up gets a classic book in the post @LauraIsReading) 
We caretake over 700 titles in Vintage Classics. Our authors tend not to be available for the usual round of festivals and interviews so a big part of my role is cheerleading on their behalf by speaking at events, pressing books into the hands of writerand finding literary champions.  Commission introductions from much-loved contemporary writers is part of this process and editing these introductions is a pleasure as they tend to be completely infectious and make me want to shut down my computer and get stuck into the book again immediately. This morning brings Geoff Dyer’s introduction to The Great Gatsby (Vintage Classics will publish a hardback edition in October). It is everything I’d hoped it would be and does that magical thing of putting into the best possible words just why Gatsby is so great. 
12pm On my desk I have a stack of Vintage Children's Classics proofs waiting for my attention. Excellent fact of the day, taken from the backstory material we've prepared for The Jungle Book: 
  
What is a mongoose and are they all as brave as Rikki-tikki-tavi 
A mongoose looks a lot like a weasel, with a long body and pointed face and little round ears. But in fact they are more closely related to hyenas, and nothing to do with geese at all.
So now you know. 
 12.30pm The proofs will have to wait as it is the Design meeting. This is the most nerve-wracking of our meetings because the jacket is always the most fiercely debated part of the publishing process. We have to think about whetherthe cover willl stop readers in their tracks, whether it communicates the personality the book, if the buyers will like it as much as we do and most importantly, whether the author will love it. Today is a good day – only 1 rejection. Here is a sneak preview of some artwork for Stella Gibbons’ The Matchmaker and Here be Dragons: 
(Pic 3: Coming to a bookshop near you) 
  2.00pm Marketing meeting. Great news from our Sales Manager about all the retailer support for the Vintage Children’s Classics launch – it is such a thrill to see this come together after working on the research and the books for the last two yearsClaire Wilshaw, our marketing manager, shows us the final stages of the glorious www.world of stories.co.uk. I fear for my productivity since the discovery of the top trumps game. There is much talk about the upcoming Vintage Children’s Classics family fete at Foyles – has the face painter been told which characters to focus on? Who is going to run the treasure hunt along the Southbank? What will we do if it rains? We should definitely bake some biscuits in the shape of a skull and cross bones shouldn’t we?  
 3.00pm Back to my desk to find tons of emailsThree stand out - one from Mr B's Bookshop with a recommendation for a children's classic that we should bring back into print (thank you Nic and his excellent team). The second is a note from a Sunday Times journalist who is enjoying the Joseph Mitchell collection I sent him. This is one of the books I’m most proud to be bringing back into print in this year (read William Fiennes’s splendid introduction  to see why http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/22/rereading-joseph-mitchell-up-old-hotel). 
The third is the exciting news from Rights Director at Random House Inc. The Vonnegut estate have accepted my offer and we will be publishing the first collected letters of Kurt Vonnegut. I'm thrilled. The collection has all the black humour and wisdom of his fiction and it’s a treat to be able to eavesdrop on his life through these letters. The book includes the letter he wrote home upon being freed from the German POW camp, letters to writers like Norman Mailer and G√ľnter Grass, as well as a sweet contractual letter to his wife promising to take out the rubbish and excellent advice to his kids like ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that smoking and boozing are bad for you. Here I am fifty-five years old, and I never felt better in my life’. The rest of the day is spent writing cover copy and a jacket brief as we’re going to rush this out in the Autumn.  
 So you can see, I get to be a reader, an ambassador, an editor, a copywriter and a baker. There isn’t much typical about my day and that’s exactly why I feel lucky to walk through Random House’s doors every morning.  

Thank you Laura for such a brilliant post. It sounds like you had a very busy day but an enjoyable one at that. 

5 comments:

  1. Great post, Viv. Laura, I have Orlando on my shelves (althougn not a Vintage edition) and the Kurt Vonnegut letters sound fantastic. Congratulations!

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  2. Lots of readers dream job. A great post Vivienne.

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  3. Fascinating insights into such a varied role. Thanks for this, Viv and Laura.

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  4. Great post - I love seeing insights into what happens behind the scenes :D

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  5. What a great post, showing some real insights. x

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