Thursday, January 26, 2012

Part Two: Interview with Jeevan Sivasubramaniam

I am honored and delighted to have Jeevan Sivasubramaniam as my guest on the blog! I first "met" him on Twitter (follow him @EditorialHell) after becoming a fan of the informative and hilarious monthly newsletters he sends out for Berrett-Koehler Publishers. (Check out their website and subscribe to their newsletter here.) Berrett-Koehler is a publisher of nonfiction books and is a company dedicated to "creating a world that works for all." They are celebrating their 20th anniversary and also have a feature article in the latest issue of Publisher's Weekly:

Read on for an editor's insights on the writing and publishing process!

Some writers are anxious about today's publishing landscape-- the loss of many independent bookstores, the rise of ebooks. What are your thoughts about publishing today? Any advice for writers, particularly ones anxious about so much change?

The landscape is always changing in media and someone's always complaining. Back in the 1950s when there was a gradual shift to paperbacks, publishers said it was the end of the industry. I am old enough to remember when videotapes came on the market and everyone said that television was now dead because you could fast-forward through commercials so advertising would dry up. Traditional publishing is changing but I think there's a tremendous opportunity here if someone could just figure out the answer to the challenge. The challenge is this: people are reading more today than in any other time in history. They may not be reading books, but they are definitely reading -- mass quantities of it, in fact. Publishers are essentially generators of reading materials, and we are living in a time when people are reading more than ever before. Do you see how frustrating that is? Ideally, this should be our time to shine, not crash. So, writers, don't be anxious, but be innovative and don't restrict yourself to traditional mediums. Look what Amanda Hocking did by being innovative about how she created a market for her writing -- and sold over a million copies of her book (

For you as an editor, what makes a writer great to work with?

A genuine openness to guidance. I understand why writers are hesitant about letting someone get involved with their writing. Writing is the most personal thing we can create and we're inevitably going to be very protective and guarded about it. That said, you have to trust the editor because, quite honestly, you can't trust yourself. This is why surgeons don't operate on their own family -- a level of distance and objectivity is needed to really assess and edit a project and a writer's over-protectiveness is not going to help. Just as the even the best surgeon in the world will hand the scalpel over to a trusted colleague when it comes to operating on a family member, writers need to listen to their editors. Remember that an editor's job is to make the book the strongest it can be and so make the author look the best he or she can be. Editors' names do not appear anywhere on the book (unless they are specifically thanked in the acknowledgments) and no will ever know their role in creating a book, so authors should understand that editors are not in this business for personal gain or fame. They genuinely like what they do.

Do you have some favorite books that might be helpful for writers to read?
  • Elements of Style has always been the primer for any writer, I think.
  • On Writing Well by Zinser
  • And of course the instruction manual for language, The Chicago Manual of Style (though I hate that they keep revising it annually).
  • Also, my friend and author Mark Levy's book Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content.
Is there anything else you would like to add?

I was thinking of something clever to say here but I think that if I really wanted to help your readers, I would be better off saving the pithy remarks and instead saying I am happy to take any questions and will do my best to answer them. Just email them to me at and in the subject line, say "Question after reading Dallas' blog interview" so I'll know it's one of your folks.

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