Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

How Long Does a Book Take?

I’m asked this often, and most people are very surprised that it takes such a long time. It’s understandable that people who are not in publishing are surprised by this; what I can’t figure out is why people who are in publishing are almost equally puzzled. I tell the people who come to work at The Reference Works, particularly the interns, to be prepared for them not being at the company when the book they work on is published—just as it is rare (and getting increasingly rarer) for an editor to be at the publishing company when a book he or she acquired and developed for that house is published. In some 60-plus books The Reference Works has produce over some twelve years, that number (the ESI—”Editorial Survival Index”) is well below .10—fewer than one-tenth of the editors who acquired the books we have packaged and produced were there at the publishing company when the book finally saw the light of day. I don’t know if there are statistics on this, but (like the stats in baseball that aren’t kept, but are still meaningful, like the runs a relief pitcher allows that are not credited to hie ERA). This is why I always insist that everyone who worked on a book be credited in it (on the copyright page), but some publishers simply brush that aside with impunity.

Now comes a book in the mail last week that was produced by The Reference Works that has a shot at a record: the book began its trek from conception to existence 38 years ago (!) and has now come off press (as the copy I received proves) and will be in book stores in November. The title is “Amazing…But False!” and it’s a compendium of many popular delusions that people harbor–things people think are true but aren’t.

Now the book was born when i was about 20 and a student at Yeshiva College. The phrase, “Amazing…But False!” became a kind of signature phrase that people associated with me. In the Seventies, I actually submitted a proposal to a publisher for such a book—not very different from what was eventually published. It was rejected—possibly because my cover letter was (oy vey!) handwritten. I tried to interest the various publishing companies where I worked in this title over the years. People liked the title and the concept, but the publishers I worked for were never in solid enough shape to take a flier on this.

When I created The Reference Works, I figured this was going to be a sure thing—it’s just the kind of book that packagers package. Still no go.

Then we were asked to submit a bunch of books for consideration by Sterling, then the newly acquired publishing arm of Barnes & Noble. So we tried it again, but this time, there was interest. It was necessary, however, to improve the package, so we added some clever cartoons by a gifted young artists, Nick Meola, and we recruited a veteran Reader’s Digest editor with the right combination of studiousness and whimsy, Dave Diefendorf. We even invited the mentalist and great debunker, James Randi, to contribute a Foreword. And so the book exists.

As an extra bonus, I included an Epilogue to this book under the title, “An Epilogue in 15 Dedications” that contained a capsule intellectual history of the book and its idea. It was supposed to have a subtitle, “If Only I Didn’t Know Now What I Knew Back Then,” but that was taken out. I had fun writing it; I hope you have fun reading it It’s attached as I originally wrote it, which is substantially how it appears in the book.

An Epilogue in 15 Dedications

I can’t honestly say whether this relationship with Sterling will work out, but I will say that, in spite of all the problems, there was a warm glow in the office the day that book came in. A long, long journey had come to an end, and that may be a good way to look at every book.


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