It is not an overstatement to say that Random House’s David Ebershoff is a star editor. Not only has he edited authors such as Gary Shteyngart, but two of the books he edited won a Pulitzer Prize this year. We talked to him about life as an editor, as well as his other roles as an author and writing professor.
Do you mind describing a day at your job as an editor?
My day starts at home with my own writing. I get up at 5:30 AM and write before plunging into the day of editorial work. A typical day will be a mix of the following: calls, emails, lunch with an agent, meeting with a writer or a foreign publisher visiting New York, some kind of marketing meeting, a good deal of corresponding with the media and social media about the books I’ve edited, checking in with colleagues about books and writers we have on submission. In the evening, that’s when I read submissions and edit. A typical weekend is an editing binge-fest.
What’s feedback you find yourself giving to many of your writers?
Do your best.
You’re the writer of several bestselling novels. How does being a published author inform your editorial work, and vice versa?
I trust my editor, Kate Medina, completely. I am always trying to build that kind of trust between myself and the writers I edit. I know Kate wants the same thing out of me that I want–the best book. I want my writers to know that this is my role–to help them realize the best version of their vision.
We’ve been talking about “writing the past” on Book Country this week. Your most recent novel, THE 19TH WIFE, featuring two stories of polygamy and faith, bridges historical fiction and modern murder mystery. What was the most challenging part about navigating the different time periods?
Learning. I was not a specialist in 19th-century American history or the origins of the Mormon Church before I wrote this book. I was intimidated by how much I needed to learn and anxious about getting things wrong. All writing is about confronting a fear, or fears–and so I faced those fears and pressed ahead.
You also teach writing at Columbia. What can you tell us about the next generation of writers? What’s your message for them?
The next generation, perhaps, is less concerned with being “literary” and more concerned with good storytelling. And that’s my advice to them: Find a good story and tell it well. I ask them to remember what made them readers in the first place and write the kinds of books that their inner-geek would love to read.
About David Ebershoff:
David Ebershoff is the author of four books of fiction, including The Danish Girl, The Rose City, and Pasadena. His most recent novel is the international bestseller, The 19th Wife. He has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lambda Literary Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for excellence in gay and lesbian literature. Ebershoff has taught creative writing at New York University and Princeton and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He is an editor-at-large at Random House and lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEbershoff.