(cartoon by David Sipress; presumably from The New Yorker)
There’s a pervasive myth about big New York City publishers, and it’s that they’re evil — or at the very least malicious. They’re out to break the hopes and dreams of authors everywhere, to be difficult to impossible for the regular person to get into contact with, to actively be preventing books from being published — and once they do manage to get published, preventing books from succeeding.
I’ve worked at a big publisher for almost a decade now. Macmillan, First Second’s parent company, is somewhere around the fifth largest trade publisher in the United States; we have multiple buildings and offices just in New York City. They’re a big company — big enough that even though I’ve been working here for almost a decade, I still don’t know everyone.
And guess what?
Everyone here loves books.
The secondary myth that goes along with this ‘publishing = evil’ deal is the second degree of separation. Once you get a book deal, once you know people in publishing, you’re like, ‘my editor/publicist/etc. isn’t evil — but those nameless, faceless executives who run the company are!’
We don’t really get a lot of evil people here in publishing. (It’s probably because the profit margins aren’t high enough to be tempting to them.)
Instead, we get a lot of people who love books, who love reading, who believe in literature and literacy, but who sometimes have to make hard decisions about what they feel can work successfully in today’s difficult to navigate book market. Sometimes the decisions they make turn out not to be the best for a particular book or author, but they’re always made in good faith — never with malicious intent.
It’s really easy to vilify ‘executives’ or ‘publishers’ — people working behind the scenes at big publishers who often have little to no contact with authors, and whose every day choices can have a large-scale impact on the way that all books at that company are produced. But all the ones I know are honest, earnest, hard-working people who spend their time doing things that are mostly invisible to authors, and to the general public, but that make the wheels in the book industry keep on turning for all of us readers.