“So you don’t exactly have rules or a guidebook when you set out to become a fiction editor. You learn by just doing it. You start at the bottom and you teach yourself by reading, reading—reading the dead and the living. You read the dazzlingly good and the really stinkingly, hilariously bad stuff, and the stuff in between.  You make decisions about acquisitions and you comment on books by your authors and they correct you and help you—and they send back something that completely surprises and delights you and blows the hat right off your head.

You succeed and you fail in having books sell or not, win prizes or not, and you wonder what success & failure actually mean, including because the ultimate fate of the long, long-term readership of a work of fiction gets decided after you’re….dead.

Meanwhile, while you are alive, and if you are lucky enough to still have a job in book publishing, you also learn by observing the work of people whose work you admire.  And by this I mean not just the private, and hopefully invisible, work editors do with writers.


But you learn I think by observing what happens when all sorts of colleagues & competitors, all of whom soon enough become your friends, follow their passions. When they take risks & stick their necks out for something they love. When they are loyal to authors and put them first. When they talk and write and schmooze for and sometimes seem to even sing about the books they are working on with such brilliance and charm and insight that it makes your own ears feel hot.  When they help with books published by somebody else. When they express their character and who they are through books.”


Robin Desser, Vice President and Editorial Director at Knopf, recipient of the Maxwell E. Perkins Prize.