Expense accounts are treasured by employees across the globe, no more so than in Manhattan with its countless superb restaurants. In New York book publishing, literary agents regularly pitch projects to editors over delicious, publisher-comped meals. And for career authors, one of the industry’s most hallowed traditions is the Author-Editor lunch.
Meals and deals
This famed get-together may have several objectives. The publishing lunch could be a meet and greet, or the celebration of a done deal, or maybe a catch-up confab. Editors try to impress authors with their competence, affection and their company’s dedication. Writers want to display their smarts too—as well as professionalism and determination. Plus, after getting to know someone by email, phone, and on the manuscript page, it’s always interesting and usually fun to meet in person.
This bread-breaking tradition has evolved, and not just because today’s skinny New Yorkers are shaking their collective heads and saying no to the caloric bread basket. Lunches these days feature far fewer vodka gimlets as well, likely due to the corporatization of publishing companies. Efficiency experts abound—thus, just a bottle of the sparkling water, thank you. Editors at book publishing houses are now expected to produce actual labor following lunch, and not just take up their afternoons making boozy phone calls, once not uncommon.
Given the literary history of alcohol abuse, this abstemious change may be for the best in the cases of both editors and authors. After all, downtown is the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death.
A career author faces many challenges, and seeking straight answers to their publishing questions is often the major goal of meetings with their editor. I worked with a mystery writer for years, and we’d have lunch each spring when she stopped in New York, headed to Europe for book research. Over entrees, our conversation would be casual and light. We’d catch up on business over dessert and coffee. She invariably pulled from her bag a long list of questions about publication schedules, cover art, et cetera.
Nevertheless, she persisted
Even face to face, answering author questions at a publishing lunch can prove difficult for a variety of reasons. During one meal, as we consumed our main course in a chic midtown steakhouse, this writer shakily rose to her feet and gestured wildly: something was caught in her throat! With nary a server in sight, I leapt around the table and gave her the Heimlich Maneuver. An offending chunk of duck was ejected, which she deftly caught in her hand. Writers can be darned tough.
After the flying duck incident, the career author was nonplussed, and remained eager to get to her question list. The last thing I wanted to do was disrespect this dear writer but, over coffee and dessert, I was having terrible troubles editing my own blown-out adrenal system. Pinching my thigh under the table and screwing my manic, jumpy face into a fully attentive pose, I made best efforts to stammer out answers to the dogged questions about her next book’s publicity plans. Despite my near-hysteria, we managed to make it through her list.
Most publishing lunches are less traumatic, and are instead memorable because of the interesting people at the table.
Hear hear for tradition!
At a weekly editorial department meeting, our boss read aloud a memo from the business manager, castigating editors for overspending on their expense accounts and stating these numbers needed to be reduced. After finishing this dramatic recitation, our fearless leader won his staff’s hearts by raising his hand and declaring, “Of course, we will not be deterred!” Cheers!
Both on paper and in person, the writer-editor relationship is an intimate one. Even in degraded times, publishing lunches have retained their romance. What could be better than a literary meeting of the minds, with chocolate cake?
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