Saturday, December 20, 2008

Glenn Yeffeth - Editor with BenBella Books

  • How did you get your start as an editor? Why become an editor instead of say, a fighter pilot or computer engineer?

I'm really a publisher first, an editor second. Leah Wilson, our lead editor, is a brilliant editor, and does the heavy lifting, editorially. I became a publisher, very simply, because I love books, love ideas, and love reading. Plus I have a short attention span, so the fact that there is a continual flow of new projects is perfect for me. And, while publishing is a very old business, book promotion is continually changing and new. So it's a wonderful combination of old and new.

  • What are some of the exciting books you've acquired that you're most proud of?

 I'm still very proud of the first book we put together, Taking the Red Pill, which is a collection of essays by philosophers, scientists and other scholars on The Matrix. The Matrix is old news, but the essays are still brilliantly interesting, especially the essays by Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil. We recently put out a book called The Cure for Alcoholism, which presents a real, science-based solution to an age-old problem. This book will make a real difference for many people, and I'm very proud of it. Similarly, we have  book entitled Health at Every Size that reveals the myths about dieting and nutrition that have become part of our culture, but must be re-examined in light of the research.

  • When you receive a submission what about it really grabs you and excites you to the point that you'd like to acquire it? 

 I particularly like books that can make a difference for people, and are based on substantive science or research, like our book The China Study, which showed definitively the importance of a plant-based diet. I also like books that are particularly fun for fans, and I'm thinking in particular of our Smart Pop series of non-fiction essays on pop culture topics. A proposal should be (at least) as fun and easy to read as the book will be. If the proposal isn't an exciting read, it's unlikely the book will be.

  • What makes you decide to read a submission overnight compared to it rotting on the bottom of your slush pile?

Nothing rots on the bottom of our slush pile, I'm happy to say.  Since we focus on non-fiction, I can usually tell from a paragraph or two whether the general topic is one that interests me. If it does, then it's a matter of the strength of the materials and the credentials of the author. I usually get back to authors within a month and often much less.

  • What's the best way for a writer to contact you? Query letter?

 A short e-mail with the topic and author credentials is a fine.

  • Are you open to receiving submissions from self-published authors?

 Yes, but I'd rather see it before it was self-published. Once the book is published, unless it's a huge success, this diminishes my interest.

  • Are you open to receiving unagented submissions?


  • What are you personally doing in order to adapt to the changes in the marketplace? (Changes meaning: lower print runs, shrinking book review outlets, oversaturated market and chains stores being more selective about what books they put on their shelves)

[Glenn Yeffeth Replies] We're getting more creative and aggressive in Internet promotion. We're also looking for authors who are more willing and able to support creative promotion.

Book Publicity Departments are often overworked and overwhelmed, how do you personally make sure the books you acquire and shepherd get the attention they need?


  • What about the publicity and promotion departments in houses is not working and what suggestions do you have to make them work?

 In my view, most books that become big sellers do so on the basis of word of mouth. Ultimately, if the book gets in the right hands – the target audience– in sufficient quantity, then word of mouth will take off. Or it won't. This is the X-factor for every book, but if a book is unique, well-written, and meets a real need for its target audience, then it has a chance of taking off based on word of mouth recommendations. I think of word of mouth as the logs, and everything else we do – reviews, publicity, on-line marketing, advertising, etc. – as the kindling. The kindling needs to be lit, but if the logs don't ignite, all kindling in the world won't sell that many books.


So having said all that, the point of all our efforts is to get word about the book out to the target audience. I've found the most effective marketing we've done is focused, and this primarily means online marketing. Very few books truly are "news." When they are, it's important to go whole hog in obtaining publicity. But when they aren't, a lot of effort goes into finding and generating newsworthiness for books that really aren't really news in an effort to get general press coverage. We do this ourselves, but are focusing more and more on niche marketing, which can be incredibly effective. So I think less effort on trying to get general press for books that don't really merit it, and more emphasis on creative ways to find and get the word out to your target audience.

  • How much of a books decision has to do with the talent and how many books similar to it have sold great numbers?

 If by talent you mean the quality of the book, then this is by far more important. If the book is very good, and it clearly meets a need for an audience, I'd rather there were no similar books.

  • Is it becoming necessary for fiction writers to have their own platform too? If so, if not, why?


  • If a writer came to you with their own fanbase that they built online, or verbal agreements from a Quick Pick Committee to nominate the book, or significant letters of agreement from stores that they would purchase the book once it's out, is that pretty much a slam dunk for you to walk into an acquisition meeting and convince the team?

[Glenn Yeffeth Replies] These help a great deal, but I still have to like the book and think it has word of mouth potential as described above.