Mommy, where do paperbacks come from?
(Part 1 of an Interview with Don D'Auria, Acquisitions Editor for Leisure Books)
Lisa Hoffman & Charles Atkins
Published July 13, 2006
"It’s the strangest thing," I tell Lisa as we settle down to write, "I was on the Internet checking to see how my recent book is doing—something authors have been known to do a few hundred times a day--and on the bookseller’s web page it said that my hardcover was about to come out as a paperback."
"Really?" she asks. "Are you serious?"
"Absolutely, and at first I wasn’t certain if it was a mistake or not. So I clicked on the link for the paperback and saw that not only was there a whole web page for it, but that it was being produced by a publisher I’d never heard of, a company called Leisure Books."
"Wouldn’t your agent know about this?"
"One would think, so I called him up and he hadn’t heard. He did comment that if it was true, it was ‘quite the coup’ as most of St. Martin’s hardcovers never make it to paperback."
"That’s dePRESSing," Lisa says, making certain I capitalize her pun. "You’re getting paid for this, I hope."
"Of course, but I still hadn’t solved the mystery. So I called St. Martin’s Press and spoke with my editor’s assistant to see if she knew about it. She didn’t."
"So what did you do?" Lisa asks. "Did you hire a detective?"
"No, I looked up Leisure Books on the Internet and in Writer’s Marketplace, saw that they were indeed a company that produces many mass market paperbacks and called them up. I asked to speak with the contacts they’d listed in the book, and was told they’d both moved on to other jobs in other companies."
"I’ve noticed that about publishing," Lisa says. "People seem to change positions faster than Elizabeth Taylor goes through husbands."
"Very true," I say. "So I told the woman who’d answered the phone, that I was an author, I gave her my name and I said, ‘by any chance are you publishing one of my books?’ And before I could get the words out, she said one of the happiest sentences an author can ever hear, ‘why yes we are.’"
All of which brings Lisa and me to gaping holes in our understanding of the world of publishing—who selects the books, and how and why do they get picked for publication?
To help educate us, my new publicist—Brianna--at Leisure Books recommended we chat with one of the most important people in the world of book publishing, an Acquisitions Editor. She hooks us up with Executive Editor, Don D’Auria, the man who gave the green light, which will turn my last hardcover into a paperback.
With her tape recorder held inches from the speaker phone, Lisa starts the interview and gets the basic background from Don.
"I like what I do," he begins, and then tells us he’s been at Leisure Books for eleven years, which flies in the face of our earlier observation.
"How did you get into this?" she asks.
"I’ve been in publishing since 1986. I started out at Farrar Strauss Giroux (a literary publisher) as a sales rep. I worked there for a couple years and then I wanted to switch over to editorial. So I worked at a number of houses including Bantam and even Harlequin, editing romance novels. I think that’s how I came to the attention of Leisure Books, who has a romance line. They originally contacted me to edit Romance-Westerns. Once I started here, we beefed up our horror line, and I’ve edited virtually no romance novels, since. Then a couple years ago we started our thriller line and I edit those, as well."
"Are you actually involved in the selection of the books?" I ask.
"Yes, I’m the one who reads them and selects what we will publish."
Lisa and I look at each other, knowing that we’ve hit literary pay dirt. As authors, we’re aware that Don represents a kind of Holy Grail in the world of writing. He’s one of a small number of individuals who can give the thumbs up, which can turn a manuscript into a published mainstream book.
"What are you looking for?" I ask.
"The three genres I edit here are horror, thrillers and historic fiction (westerns)." With horror and thrillers in particular what I’m looking for is excitement and thrills. With horror, there needs to be fear. I want books that get my adrenalin going. It has to grab my attention and pull me along."
"So how does a book make it to your desk?" I ask, wondering how mine got there.
"A number of ways. Roughly half the manuscripts that come to me are agented [i.e. the author has a literary agent who sends it to him]. The other half are unagented, the author just sends them in on his own. Then, in addition to manuscripts there are hardcovers I look at for reprint. But most of the books I buy come from manuscripts, and we publish these as paperback originals. Roughly a quarter—like yours--are paperback editions of hardcovers."
As our interview progresses, Lisa and I both realize there’s no way we can do justice to Don, or the topic, in a single interview. So we’ll leave off here, with a bit of a teaser, because what follows next week is information that any would-be writers—or even established authors--would kill to get.
To read the second half of this interview click here.