Algonquin is the publishing world’s Little Engine That Could.
Take best-selling authors Barbara Shapiro and Caroline Leavitt, who are among a growing list of Algonquin’s commercial and critical success stories.
“They took this book that no agent or publisher wanted and turned it into a New York Times bestseller. So after 25 years of writing, I’m an overnight success,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro, Leavitt and Algonquin marketing director Craig Popelars were at The Bookworm of Edwards on Tuesday evening to sing the praises of independent booksellers, as well as promote their books.
It was sort of a cross between a giant book club discussion, a human-be-in and sitting around the living room swapping stories with your favorite cousins. Popelars grinned from ear to ear as he stood in front a giggling Bookworm crowd and strapped a GoPro camera onto his head, declaring that Random House or Harper Collins wouldn’t Go Pro their events.
A writer writes
Getting published is like getting anything else, you know someone who knows someone and start working the network.
Leavitt had written 10 books, published a few, yet saw nothing but slamming doors.
“You’ve all heard the adage that you’re supposed to write what you know. This is my 11th book and I ran out of things I know about 10 and a half books ago. Now I write about things I want to know about,” Leavit said.
A writer friend said she’d send something to her editor at Algonquin; maybe they would like it.
Before long, Leavitt got a call from that Algonquin editor. “I like it. I want to publish it,” the editor said.
Shapiro had several written novels before “The Art Forger,” her New York Times bestseller with Algonquin.
“To say they were failures would be descriptive. They’d be out there a couple months and they’d disappear. That’s the way big publishers do things,” Shapiro said.
She even wrote a blockbuster novel based on … and she swears this is true - “How to Write a Blockbuster Novel.” Heroes and villains must be clearly defined and it’d help if world destruction or domination were at stake.
She and her agent started submitting it to every publisher they could think of.
“They said it didn’t fit into any genre,” Shapiro said.
“They said, ‘If you do this or that, we might be interested,’” Shapiro said.
Shapiro’s response was nothing if not succinct.
“I’m too old for this [stuff],” she said.
Turns out she’s not. She, Leavitt and several writers like them just needed a home.
“We almost sound like an orphanage,” Popelar said.
Muse and lose
“There’s not a muse, or if there is she doesn’t hang around me,” Leavitt said.
She has 40-page outlines before she ever writes the first chapter. She puts her books through 12 drafts herself, before she sends it to three friends who find something terribly wrong with it. After that it’s agents and editors and anyone else who thinks they have a better idea.
Waving an arm around the Bookworm she said, “There’s not a novel in here that hasn’t been rewritten 15 times.”
Shapiro teaches university writing classes and tells her students that if they don’t want to rewrite, they should drop her class right now.
Algonquin still accepts unsolicited manuscripts, so they were willing to roll the dice on “Water For Elephants” after several publishers rejected it.
Louis Rubin Jr. was an English professor at the University of North Carolina when he launched Algonquin to publish his talented students. It quickly grew beyond Rubin’s ability to manage it. His buddy, Peter Workman, owns Workman Publishing and wanted a fiction line, so he bought Algonquin.
William F. Buckley praised Algonquin’s “My Old Man and the Sea” on the front page of the New York Times Book Review and they were off.
“Peter Workman’s philosophy is that if you love it, sell it and sell it the best way you can,” Popelar said.
Algonquin is profitable. For a number of years they weren’t. Then they published “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and books like that carried them for a long time, Popelars said. Now, they sell enough other products to be in the black.