Monday, November 01, 2010

The publishing lunch

by Jane

One of the “legends” of book publishing is the publishing lunch. In fact, this has traditionally been a time for publishers and agents, or editors and agents, or editors and editors, or agents and their clients (or potential clients) get together and talk about ideas and industry gossip. It can be very productive and it can be fun. It can also be educational.

This week, I decided to go down memory lane and describe some of my more interesting publishing lunches (unfortunately for my readers, those with whom I broke bread will not be identified by name, to protect the innocent—and me).

Years ago, there were those editors who as part of their employment contracts had “accounts” at The Four Seasons restaurant, one of the most exclusive in New York. I remember being invited there a number of times by various editors who had such arrangements. Unfortunately because the “Grill Room” where we sat was so filled with celebrities, I was so busy gaping that I could rarely concentrate on business talk.

Then there was the lunch I had with one of the icons of the publishing industry. This happened many years ago and I was delighted that he had invited me after I had sold a novel to one of his editors for quite a large advance. But, I was so tongue tied and he was so unforthcoming that I wound up spending most of the lunch telling him how I had stopped smoking. (It didn’t help—despite numerous health problems, he still smokes to this day.)

There was a lunch I had early in my publishing career with the head of an imprint at a large publishing house where my host proceeded to have seven drinks. I was astounded, especially when he easily managed to exit the restaurant without passing out.

There was the bestselling restaurateur and cookbook author who begged me over lunch to introduce her to one of our hugely successful celebrity clients so the cookbook author could learn the secrets of the celebrity’s success (they had actually met several years earlier before the celebrity client was a celebrity but the restaurateur had not thought to pay attention to her at the time).

A week after my lunch with one of the top editors at a major publishing house, she called me to make a lunch date having completely forgotten that we had just had one. Nice!

There was the lunch I had with a good friend and wonderful editor at a major publishing house who told me ruefully that he could no longer take me (or anyone) to lunch as his t&e budget had been all but eliminated. (How silly, I thought, the lunch expenses have to be the least of a publisher’s worries.)

And then this past week when I lunched with one of the top executives of a major publishing firm who predicted the end of bookstores and publishing as we know it by this time next year (nice and cheery).

But hey, there are also hundreds of wonderful lunches where solid ideas are cooked up and good business is done It all goes into the mix of making our business so much fun.


  1. Reading about the glamorous life of an agent -- dining among celebrities at the Four Seasons, hobnobbing with "icons" -- is likely to be quite the motivation for the typical professional author, whom publishers compensate somewhere around the poverty level.

    "You're probably going to have to keep your 'day job' while you also work extra hard to market your own book ... oops, gotta run or I'll be late for my star-studded business lunch reservations at the Four Seasons!"

    Ah, well. At least we have the comfort of knowing that (as you seem to channel Cutler Beckett) "good business" is being done. Bon apetit!

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