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Interview with Panio Gianopoulos, JT's friend and former editor

From the Editors @ Bloomsbury: Panio Gianopoulos
Seeking the "moment of surrender"
By Rachel Kramer Bussel - November 8, 2005

Name: Panio Gianopoulos
Age: 30
Title: Editor
How long have you been at Bloomsbury? 6 years
How long have you been in publishing? 8 years

Mediabistro: What kinds of books to do you work on/are you looking for?

Gianopoulos: There's a considerable mix. Literary fiction (Sarah; Ghost Town), pop-culture (How to Survive a Robot Uprising; Ipod, Therefore I Am), food and cooking (Kitchen Confidential; Don't Try This at Home), humor (Well Groomed; 50 Boyfriends Worse Than Yours), general nonfiction (Thieves of Baghdad; The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of America). Though I started with a focus on fiction, in the past few years I've veered increasingly toward non-fiction.

Mediabistro: Conversely, what kinds of books don't you want to see at all?

Gianopoulos: Romance. Most genre stuff really-detective novels, sci-fi, fantasy-unless there's something different and innovative going on.

Mediabistro: Is there a common theme or trait to the kinds of books you acquire, or is it all on a case-by-case basis?

Gianopoulos: The only consistency is that I won't acquire a book that I wouldn't purchase myself. Just like my parents, who owned a restaurant, would never serve anything that they wouldn't be proud to eat.

Mediabistro: How many manuscripts do you receive in a given week or month? Do you look at everything that gets sent to you?

Gianopoulos: The amount varies. Average is 12 per month, a good amount, because it means I can get to everything.

Mediabistro: Aside from manuscripts that are sent to you, do you find authors via other methods? (Internet, print publishing, radio, conventions/events, etc.)

Gianopoulos: Sometimes the Internet. Occasionally radio and magazines. A lot of submissions come to me via friends of friends, or through writers that I know.

Mediabistro: What are the qualities in a manuscript that immediately grab you and make you keep reading/want to work on a particular book?

Gianopoulos: A confident voice. A flair for storytelling. When the author is bold enough to implicate her/himself. Provocation, but minimal navel-gazing and self-indulgent pyrotechnics. When something is executed with real ability and honesty, I pay attention. I love that moment of surrender when as a reader, you can relax, sit back, and enjoy, confident in the writer's mastery.

Mediabistro: Do you prefer to work with first-time authors, authors you've worked with before, previously published authors, or is that irrelevant?

Gianopoulos: It's irrelevant. Though I've worked with a large number of first time authors and that can be incredibly rewarding.

Mediabistro: You mentioned that your publisher, Karen Rinaldi, had acquired JT Leroy's books Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and Tony Bourdain's books and you then edited them. How does that process work, and how many of your titles are ones you've acquired versus ones that have been assigned to you? Do you get a say in which you'll be working on?

Gianopoulos: Most of the time I've read the proposal/manuscript when it was on submission and expressed an interest in it; it's not a matter of an unknown manuscript just landing on my desk one morning. After I've read the draft, I'll have a conversation with Karen (or Colin Dickerman, Bloomsbury's editorial director) about it, and we'll trade ideas and impressions. Then I start on the line edit. It's a great arrangement, and I consider myself lucky: I have access to some remarkable books and authors. While I do edit more books than I acquire, I don't know the exact ratio. Three to one? Possibly more.

Mediabistro: Do you have a "wish list" of topics or ideas you'd like to see covered? How does your slush pile interact with that-are you looking for books to fill a niche you already have, or are you open to new ideas?

Gianopoulos: I'm open to new ideas, though lately I've become obsessed with science and technology, and wouldn't mind seeing more of that come to me. I do like to be surprised.

Mediabistro: Do you have any advice for authors and/or agents submitting work to you?

Gianopoulos: I think agents know what they're doing. All I would suggest (and this is more for authors) is save yourself some time and keep that cover letter short. Don't agonize over it. It's the book that matters.

Mediabistro: Can you describe and comment on any trends you've noticed recently in the publishing world lately? One that I've been talking to people about is books "like" another book, as in a book being billed as "the next The Lovely Bones," or in your case, "the next JT LeRoy."

Gianopoulos: Comparing titles is such persistent behavior that I don't think it can even be classified as a trend anymore-it's flat-out custom now. As for specific new trends, I am just amazed that anthologies seem to be hanging on! It's great to see, though. I love anthologies.

Mediabistro: How long do you generally work with a writer from the time you sign them until the manuscript is complete?

Gianopoulos: That varies. Anywhere from six months to, in some cases, three or four years.

Mediabistro: How hands-on of an editor are you? What can authors do (or shouldn't they do) during revisions to best coordinate with your editorial needs?

Gianopoulos: I am very hands-on. I spend a lot of time on the manuscript-I'm almost obsessive about the text. In my experience, authors seem to truly appreciate the participation. For years they've been working on this book, and finally they can discuss it at length with someone who is also deeply invested-all the choices made (or not made), tone switches, character inconsistencies, a line that has always bothered them, etc. I think it's a relief that they can stop boring their spouses with questions about the manuscript. As for coordinating with my editorial needs, it's a case-by-case situation.

Mediabistro: How involved are agents (or should agents be) during the revision process?

Gianopoulos: I appreciate input from agents; their comments can be extremely insightful and helpful. I do the line edits on my own, though, incorporating suggestions. I've never had a problem with too much or too little agent involvement.

Mediabistro: Are you involved in the marketing process? Is that a factor when you're reading manuscripts and signing authors?

Gianopoulos: Yes. Marketing is undoubtedly a factor when signing authors. After all, you have to sell the books. It's not enough just to publish them.

Mediabistro: How involved in the design process are you? Do you get involved in every step of the publication process or does it depend on the project?

Gianopoulos: I am involved throughout, including the design process. It's one of the (many) nice things about working at Bloomsbury; the manuscript doesn't just disappear into another department and then the next time you see it it's bound and jacketed. Editors are involved from acquisition to publication, every step of the way.

Mediabistro: What's your favorite part of your job?

Gianopoulos: There is nothing quite like discovering a wonderful new voice, a book that, if I were in a bookstore, I would rush to the counter and buy right then. But an equally gratifying part of the job is the line editing. It's a fascinating exercise. You have to be incredibly sensitive to the voice, to the music of the writing-listening for anything that deviates-and yet you also need to maintain enough distance that you can consider the greater architecture of the work, and decide if large structural changes are needed.

Mediabistro: What's your least favorite part of your job?

Gianopoulos: My least favorite part of the job is rejecting manuscripts. You'd think I'd be inured to it by now, but even if it's not my kind of book at all, it still breaks my heart to send that letter. Just knowing how much time the writer put into it. I try to mail all my rejections late Friday afternoons so that they arrive on Monday or Tuesday-I don't want to ruin anybody's weekend.

Mediabistro: What's the most exciting and/or unusual project you've worked on so far?

Gianopoulos: That's a tough one. Hmm. Editing a cookbook was definitely unusual (Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook). I had no idea how much work went into cookbooks! I salute cookbook editors.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is an editor, writer, and blogger.