8 questions for Greg Lawrence, author of "Jackie as Editor"
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis spent longer working as an editor than she did married to either President Kennedy or millionaire Aristotle Onassis.
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Probably not. It's interesting. The world of publishing changed so much during her 19 years.... When Gelsey and I started in 1984 at Doubleday, it was Nelson Doubleday's company. … Even though it was a very large company, there was a familial atmosphere, a collegial atmosphere.Skip to next paragraph
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Just when our book, “Dancing on my Grave,” was published in 1986, the big German octopus Bertelsmann bought Doubleday out. Everything changed after that. It became much more focused on the bottom line. The marketing department sort of took over and the editors were sort of on the bottom rung. So that change in atmosphere was something that Jackie had to adjust to. And she still managed to get a lot of projects off the ground, but she was turned down a lot, too.
There were a number of projects during the last couple of years of her life –especially '93, '94 – where she just didn't have the ability to prevail on the powers that be at Doubleday. She even considered going to another house or starting her own imprint, and finally decided against it, probably because she realized it would be such a disruption in her life. I think she was also afraid of the publicity that would be generated if she left Doubleday in a stink.
She was in that tradition of editors from earlier in the century, like Maxwell Perkins, where they established a certain kind of relationship with their authors that went beyond the commerce. They developed lifelong friendships.
Jackie was always interested, not just in the book and the work that was under way, she was interested in what was going on in your life. There were a number of authors who went through crises in their lives – divorces and challenges like that -- and Jackie would spend hours on the phone with them, consoling them, advising them.
It was a different kind of relationship than, for instance, the relationships I've had with editors since. There is not that kind of rapport. And these are very good editors. I'm not complaining. I'm just pointing out that the world of publishing changed.
3. Now, you talk about her praise. But she made you cut that first book in half.
Right. That's what I mean. She knew how to lead you along. As we turned in each chapter, there was all of this praise. She would quibble with this and that, but it was all very positive.
By the time we had this 600-page manuscript, it came back to us and it was really cut almost in half. There were all these suggestions, and she emphasized that these were only suggestions.
I knew she was going to return a phone call after we had gone over all this and were traumatized. And I was all ready to argue with her, and say, “Oh no, we have to keep that scene in and that scene in!”
But when you heard that voice, it was so disarming. I just said, “Good, we'll do it your way, Jackie.”
One of her writers – he was also her step-cousin – Louis Auchincloss, when I told him that story, said, “Yes, we all learned very early that you don't argue with a former first lady.”
4. From Michael Jackson to Louis Auchincloss is quite a wide spectrum. Which books most interested her?
Her favorite projects were the very lavish illustrated books. They were very expensive. But she managed to do quite a few of them. She did five of those books with Tiffany's ... Peter Sis did a very elaborate illustrated children's book called “The Three Golden Keys,” that was enormously successful.
She did her share of novels. Some of them are quite noteworthy. After Naguib Mafouz won the Nobel Prize, she immediately got on the track of having him published in English.
She kept up with everything being published in France, because she spoke so fluently. That's how she found Edvard Radzinsky, “The Last Tsar.” That was in Russian, translated into French. That book became an enormous bestseller.
Michael Jackson, I think, was a project she undertook to please the people at Doubleday – even though a number of them didn't know who Michael Jackson was, including Sam Vaughan, who was editor-in-chief at the time. He said he was fortunate he wasn't fired.