Publishing professionals of various ages gathered at New York City’s Solas Bar Thursday night for an evening with longstanding book editor, Chris Jackson. Latinx in Publishing and POC & Natives in Publishing teamed up and hosted the forum, kicking off each group’s first event of the New Year.
Jackson is known for successfully producing both non-fiction and fiction and working with everyone from Bryan Stevenson and Russell Simmons to Jay Z and more recently, The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. Noah’s debut memoir, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, released this past late November, topped the New York Times Bestsellers list. This is nothing new for Jackson, who has more than 10 bestsellers to his name.
As for what’s next, the Random House executive editor has been developing his own imprint for the publishing house, called One World, due this fall. Prominent Washington lawyer Eric Holder and rapper and civil activist Killer Mike are among the list of authors on the upcoming imprint.
When listening to Mr. Jackson, it becomes very clear that he is about letting marginalized voices be represented and has a wealth of wisdom on the book world. Here are eight of the highlights of the discussion Jackson had with Antonio Gonzalez (Senior Marketing Manager, Scholastic) and Steering Committee Member of Latinx in Publishing.
On the importance of diverse voices: “There are publishers all over town, who, after the election, were like ‘what have we done wrong by allowing this to happen, allowing all these other voices to suddenly assert themselves? We somehow have to retrench.’ They didn’t put it in this language, but that’s definitely some of the spirit that I think was going around.”
On the time he was ashamed of working in an imprint: “Ann Coulter was added to the list of titles for a conservative forum of the imprint, and when I would introduce myself to people, I’d say I was ashamed of the imprint I worked in. It got back to her that I was saying this and she called the president of the company and said, “Does he know how his salary gets paid?”
On another thing he is ashamed of: “One of my greatest shames is that I once published almost no women, at a previous imprint I worked at. It haunts me all the time.”
On the mistakes he sees young publishing professionals make: “There is an impulse towards conformity. So many editors that I’ve came up with fell into that crumb-snatching competition because they’re all thinking the same way or trying to think the same way. The real power you have is not thinking like everyone else, even though it can be difficult at times, maybe alienating at times, and lonely at times.”
On writers: “Writers are complete narcissists. They want someone who cares about their work like they care about it.”
On advice he has for young book professionals: “It sounds cheesy, but it’s important to know how to give an elevator pitch.” He adds, “I am trying to encourage other editors who are working with me to not spend all of our weekends and evenings editing. When I got into book publishing, I was told ‘you’re gonna have to edit on the weekends.’ That works for a while, but then, let’s say you have a child, and you have a life. You should have a life if you’re going to be a good person or editor. You have to have other things that interest you.”
On the industry: “The industry, who cares? It’s the writers you really want to spend time with because it’s the art and stories that matter.”
More on the industry and advice: “Be patient and resilient. It is a slow-moving industry, in some ways by necessity. This is a really important lesson about publishing: most books don’t work. But in your mind, as an editor, if a book doesn’t work, you can let it haunt you and start to weaken you. So many books are not going to work and that’s the game, but I’m not going to let it shake my confidence.”
For more information about Latinx in Publishing, check out their website http://www.latinosinpublishing.tumblr.com/ and contact Patrice Caldwell about POC & Natives in Publishing on Twitter at @whimsicallyours. To see a full list of Jackson’s titles, you can visit his tumbr http://www.cjaxone.tumblr.com/