On Publishers’ Catalogs

I love to make lists, cross things off methodically, and emerge at the end with a feeling of accomplishment and thoroughness. I find that this translates to my reading in the following way: when I like a publisher, I want to read through that publisher’s entire catalog.

I haven’t met a lot of people who read this way. Most people, if they’re inclined toward lists, will focus on authors (i.e. read everything Neil Gaiman ever wrote), or compilation lists (50 science fiction books that shaped the world of today). But a publisher’s list is often a lovely package of interesting titles, reflecting the tastes of particular editors.

I’ve loved fiction magazines for as long as I can recall, starting with copies of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I bought on the newsstand when I was a kid, and progressing from there. One of the things I love about them is that they also reflect an editor’s vision of which stories (based on length, subject matter, or any number of considerations) work together well. Editors think of the mix of stories in terms of a particular issue, as well as from the perspective of what other stories the magazine has published recently, and what other magazines are publishing. I love the moment when I know a magazine well enough to hear its voice, by which I mean, to get some understanding of how that magazine is steering itself through the sea of words out there.

I see a publisher’s catalog as the same phenomenon on a larger scale, and it recently occurred to me that others may not. I think one reason for this is that larger publishers don’t speak with as clear a voice as a smaller publisher. To get the same sense I’m describing from a larger publisher, you have to pay attention to imprints, or to the acquisitions made by a particular editor.

Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the role editors play. It probably stems from the fall editors’ note in Narrative Magazine, which got me thinking about the ways an editor’s presence can be felt. Of course, as a writer, I benefit from editors on a daily basis, but I’m interested in exploring how editors affect me as a reader.

So, I plan to do a series of indeterminate length on lines of books I love. The criteria will be subjective, but important: to qualify for the series, I have to want to read literally every book the publisher has printed. I have to look at it, and, based on some factor, decide that I trust the editors’ judgment so much that I’ll open my mind to any book they’ve acquired. There are catalogs that make me start calculating (how quickly can I read a book, how many are there, how many months would it take to read them all?). Those are the lines I’m going to talk about here.

I’m not coming to this as any kind of insider, and I’m not going to play to any particular genre or type of book. Just things that I like as a reader.

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2 responses to “On Publishers’ Catalogs

  1. Pingback: Hawthorne Books and Literary Arts « Words, Words, Words

  2. Pingback: Small Beer Press « Words, Words, Words

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