Courtney Young carefully considers our question: whether it is enough for people to write a manuscript if the thought of doing so crosses their mind. Understandably so, the executive editor at Riverhead Books believes it is different for everyone; in other words (no pun intended), like many things in life, it depends.
“I will say writing a book is a lot of work, and you have to be, especially on the nonfiction side, prepared to go really deep on your subject and on working on the book,” she told So Booking Cool. “Be prepared for it to take years to get to the outcome. It’s not easy and the hardest thing is to commit to a book that your heart isn’t in.”
Young can relate to doing something that her heart wasn’t in. Prior to embarking on her 12-year career in book publishing, she pursued engineering. She was expected to follow in the footsteps of her father and brother. However, Young realized her true passion was in English, prompting her to take it on as her new major. She worried about disappointing her family (and to an extent she did), however, leave it up to a book to become the solution. Her father would later gift her The First Time I Got Paid for It: Writers’ Tales from The Hollywood Trenches by Peter Lefcourt (Editor), Laura J. Shapiro (Editor).
“ ’Well, I guess people can make a living if they’re not engineers, and I assume you’ll be okay,’ “she recalled her father saying. The Detroit native also had a stint working at NASA in California as a technical writer, where she edited proposals and journal articles. She was grateful for the opportunity, but, again, this wasn’t her ideal career. Her vision clear, she relocated to New York City and officially began her publishing career at Penguin Random House’s Portfolio Books, a business imprint. She has not looked back since.
Some of Young’s favorite titles she’s edited include the New York Times bestsellers What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe; Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North; Spineless by Juli Berwald, just to name a few. Young also discussed some of the forthcoming projects that she is excited about, such as Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (May 2019), who wrote the bestseller, The Sports Gene (she also worked with him previously).
“The Sports Gene is a really fascinating, wide-ranging book that a lot of people came to, and he found the thing that most people were interested in is this idea of early specialization,” Young said. “The idea that if you want to truly be great at something, especially sports, you have to start early and focus; be kind of like Tiger Woods, and just sort of get ahead of everybody else. And David was turning over all this research that said the opposite, that the people who are actually most successful aside from those few stories like Tiger, are generalists.” In his new book, Epstein presents information on why thinking broadly and having diverse experience and various interest will enable an individual to thrive.
Listen to the full interview to learn more about Young, her insight on what makes a strong editorial team, some of the proudest moments of her career, her insight on book reviews, and the other upcoming projects she looks forward to sharing with the world. Don’t be a stranger, visit Young on her official Twitter.