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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She would call at night, sometimes, when we were running low on money, and say with that whispery voice of hers, “Don't worry, Greg. I'm going to get you more money. Just don't tell anyone!”Skip to next paragraph
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That's the way she made you feel.
And her notes of praise: We would turn in our books one chapter at a time, and she would always write a note on her powder-blue stationary. And she had this beautiful calligraphy handwriting. And she would just make you feel like what you were doing was really important, might even be historically important.
I think that was her motivation over the years.... She loved the idea that these books were part of a cultural discourse. She was able to invest her ideas and her ideals that traced all the way back to Camelot days, and she was able to instill that in the books she edited, because she chose very carefully who the authors were going to be and what the subject was going to be.
With her, there was always a commitment to the author, it didn't matter if your first or second book was commercially successful, she was going to continue to work with this particular stable of authors that she had recruited.
2. Would that even be possible today?
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.
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.