And Now For Someone Completely Different
- 2007 Aug 03
Hi. I'm Lucas Smith. I promise I'm not a hippy serial killer.
Hey, John Shore Readers! I'm not, nor have ever been, John Shore (or Jack Bauer), but on those dark nights of the soul, I do comfort myself with the thought that perhaps I had a small something to do with a teeny-tiny piece of the big puzzle that brought John Shore to you all. My name's Lucas Smith, and the publication of John's first solo book, "Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do The Things I Do," by God (as told to John Shore) is pretty much my fault. I'm an editor at the book's publisher, Seabury Books. And when I first read Penguins, it hit me in much the same way the inspiration for it hit John: Powerfully and improbably.
In every publisher's office, large or small, there lives a monster. Usually on a corner of the desk of the lowest person on the editorial totem pole, piled high, are unsolicited manuscripts and proposals. Collectively, we call this "the slush pile," and that's not meant in a positive, 7-Eleven, yum-slush kind of way. Most of the books that get published come into the office as known quantities, either directly from an agent, which moves them to about the top of the list for review, or from authors we've worked with in the past or whom we have proactively approached about a book. Slush is all the other stuff--much of which is decidedly weird. (In my relatively few years in publishing--all of them as keeper of the slush pile--I've gotten books that purported to be from the Virgin Mary [who appeared before and dictated the text to a woman in Tampa, Florida]; William Blake-esque illuminated manuscripts of ... idiosyncratic poetry, sent from the good people in our federal penitentiary system; a health care horror story that I had to reject [which I felt awful about doing] that resulted in its author coming to our office and threatening to hit me with her purse; and others that make those look tame.)
Penguins was slush. Which is the only reason I saw it, actually, since at that time I was just a general editorial assistant in the office. The manuscript came in over email, bearing the title "By God!" and accompanied by a suspiciously friendly note from John. ("Suspiciously" being in the eye of the beholder--but we're located in New York, where anything more than an affirmative grunt feels like prelude to a long-con.) I read the book quickly, and loved it. Humor in print is notoriously difficult to do, and to also be as funny and true as this was, and to have such a powerfully alive sense of heart without once lapsing into the maudlin or treacly is ... well, it just doesn't happen.
With perhaps too much enthusiasm, like an old time newspaper boy with a hot headline, I stepped into the publisher's office and declared that we had something here. The manuscript got sent around to the various editors and brought up in our next editorial meeting, where it was met with a kind of generalized bewilderment, like I'd presented the book through an interpretive dance. "Who would buy this?" "The author's doing what, now?" "Is this heresy?" and "Huh?" were the kinds of questions that bounced around the room. By the end of the meeting the editors, darkly, wanted to hear from the marketing department, which is frequently a polite way of giving a project the kiss-off without hurting feelings in the room--marketing people being notoriously tough audiences and otherwise against everything good and pure. (I kid!)
Marketing loved it.
And I'm now the Acquisitions Editor for Seabury Books.
I'm still in charge of the slush pile, though. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
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