These are hard things to try to convey to most of the students I’ve taught, though I can say they are all enthusiastic, most want to work in literary publishing, which means they want to be editors sitting at a desk and buying works of great literature and stories and getting big New York Times book review and hanging out with other editors who wear to much black and go to trendy bars in Manhattan. This is what appeals to most of my students. It seems glamorous to them.
The real kicker is that this is how I began in publishing and as a writer. I started out at a high fashion publishing house - Conde Nast – and I was given so much opportunity to pursue a career there if I wanted to, yet at the time anyway, I did not want that. I found working on fashion shoots too dull, and working in fashion was necessary before you got to the editorial department, it seemed. Sort of like paying your dues. don’t get me wrong; I was then and remain now deeply honored that at fifteen, I was working at Vogue and hanging out with the likes of Avedon and the greatest editors and CEOs in publishing today and I will always be grateful to Steven (Florio) for helping me understand that I was “the real thing” as he once said and encouraging me and helping me along. I also had the honor of working for the best literary publishing houses in America and publishing award-winning authors, the best around in their day. I even started my own imprint, as I mentioned, called Lumen Editions and the books still sell to this day and every single one of the books that I published, every author under me, received a New York Times review and I am immensely proud of this for getting a Times review is incredibly hard. Getting one for a soft-cover book is even harder, yet I did every time. I made my mark, was interviewed by industry magazines and had my moment as a sort of enfant terrible because I was too young to be having so much success, it seemed, and if I weren’t’ me, I would have hated me too because I had all this and more and with Lumen Editions, so much of it appeared on the surface effortless, though I guarantee, ask my staff, it was hard work, long hours and life-consuming. What made Lumen work was the absolute lack of any hierarchical structure; the idea that this was “our” house, our publishing house and that was that. When it’s your baby, so to speak, you tend to work tens times harder and we suffered in the down times and moped around, and when I got Meningitis one year, everyone panicked and though I was dead because my mum, in her haste, sent a fax that spoke of my “demise”, which meant to her that I had become more ill, but the staff took the dictionary meaning and for days moped until one day, I rang and our graphic designer literally screamed as if I had been resurrected. Well, I suppose I had been. They had thought me dead, yet here I was asking about the Times reviews and if anyone had rang. Family is what made it work – and we were a great family and I miss it all too much.