Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Silver Anniversary

James O. Born

A remarkable milestone occurred in publishing last month. A guy who means a lot to me celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary at Putnam. Neil Nyren, editor in chief, as well as all around good guy, stayed at one publisher longer than most people stay in marriages. To give you an idea of how everyone feels about him his fellow Putnam employees made a book cover, complete with jacket copy, that captures Neil's career pretty well.

I think the cover speaks for itself and needs little explanation. On a personal note, I will
say that few people have taught me more about writing than Mr. Nyren. He treats everyone the same, from the top of the publishing pyramid, to the guy that wanders up to him at a writer’s workshop. It's hard to find people like this in any profession.

Now is the chance for the writers out there to give a shout out to someone who means a lot to them in the publishing industry. It could be an editor, agent, proofreader or janitor.
Who has influenced you?


  1. What a thoughtful post. There are a lot of good people in the publishing industry, and without going into an Oscar-style acceptance speech, I'll pick just one, though the thing is I cannot remember his name. I worked in general book publishing for one year, when I was 23. It was at that time in Britain when the industry was still something of a "gentleman's" business, but the consumer marketing edge was well and truly taking hold. As a new employee, I had to attend the orientation program, three days of immersion into publishing where the head of every department, from editorial to production to distribution, came to lecture new recruits (and this was not a huge publisher at that time, though the company was eventually rolled into Random House). The finale was a presentation by the Managing Director (Charles somebody-or-other - one of those legendary names in British publishing, which is why I am embarrassed at my memory lapse). I remember at one point he held up a book and said, "The whole point is to produce not just a good book, but a great book, from the time the manuscript is accepted, to the time it's in the reader's hands ...." and then he summed up the whole process for us in a nutshell, peeling off the cover, drawing attention to the paper used, the construction of the book, the selection of font and point size, right down to the way the book feels in your hands. That image of him standing there clutching a book has remained with me. When I received the first copy of my first novel, I held it in my hands and wondered if it would pass muster with him, and I have thought the same about every book since.

  2. Great tribute to one of the highly respected editors of our time.

    Kate Miciak, at Bantam/Random House, discovered me while I was working in a sweatshop in Miami. (Okay, the sweatshop was a law firm, but still...)

    She bought my first Jake Lassiter novel in 1988 and guided me through the treacherous waters of publishing off and on ever since. Her ear for dialogue and notions of character are flawless. She "gets" everything I'm trying to do and understands intuitively whether it's working. Like a fine surgeon, her suggestions don't kill the patient to save a big toe.

    She EDITS, which believe it or not, many editors don't. I'm forever in her debt.

  3. Clever idea with the book cover. I've met many wonderful and supportive people in the publishing biz. People who find mentors in any field are very lucky ducks.

  4. James O. Born8/13/2009 11:10 AM

    I see that you each feel the same way about your first editor.

    To me, Neil will always be "the man".

    Jim B.

  5. Neil Nyren is a publishing rock star and an all around good guy. I met Neil at the Maui Writer's Conference, where I pitched an idea for what was to become my memoir, Falling into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl. Although far afield from his usual thriller genre (although in retrospect, perhaps not), he ended up buying my proposal and I set about writing my first book. I can't think of a better first time publishing experience than having Neil as my editor. He not only got me hooked on being an author, he also turned me on to "So You Think You Can Dance." Neil, you are forever the conductor of the hot tamale train of publishing in my book!!

  6. Neil was my first boss in publishing, and everything I did after that, both as editor and writer, was built on the foundation being his assistant gave me.

    I love seeing his tenure recognized and rewarded this way!

  7. Neil edited my book The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival. He worked with incredible insight, sharp instincts, and even speed. I cannot imagine how one man can accomplish so much great work so quickly.

  8. Neil has never been my editor, but I have had the privilege of knowing him and interacting with him through the years. I've never met a kinder, more courtly gentleman anywhere in the business. Even those of us who have nothing to sell to him love hanging out with him -- just because we adore him so much.

  9. Ann Rittenberg9/24/2009 3:38 PM

    Neil was my first boss in publishing, too, and by watching him work I learned how editors not only edit, they publish. In addition to the lightning-fast reading and the dead-on editorial comments, he's always on the move among the different departments who must team together to make a book work, always thinking of ways to get his books the attention they deserve and need to make it out there. He's the best, and I'm thrilled that after all these years, he'll be publishing one of my clients -- C.J. Box.