How I Got My Start: Grove Atlantic

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How I Got My Start is a new series where YPG talks to trailblazers in the industry, across houses and departments, about their career trajectories, what they’ve learned, where they see the industry going, and wisdom they’d like to share with those of us at the beginning of our careers.

If you had told Morgan Entrekin right after he graduated college that six months into his job at Delacorte he would accidentally edit Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. While at Stanford as an undergraduate, Entrekin only knew New York publishing through the eyes of the writers in Stanford’s MFA program. To them, New York publishing was considered quite mysterious. As someone who was interested in writing and reading, Entrekin decided the best course of action was to go to the Radcliffe Publishing Course (now the Columbia Publishing Course) to demystify publishing.

Entrekin, who went to college in the 70s, said that writers then were a lot less aware of the publishing process. “Now you all have the media and the internet. People weren’t knowledgeable about the mechanics of the process,” he said. Before the Radcliffe Publishing Course, Entrekin wasn’t exactly sure how imprints worked. The course was six weeks, much like it is now, and focused on book publishing for the first three weeks and then spent three weeks on magazine publishing. “It was the key,” Entrekin explained.

After the course, he moved to New York with his girlfriend and began to look for jobs. He believes the course helped him because it showed potential employers that he was committed to the industry. He got an interview with the editor in chief of Delacorte, who suggested he read three books on the Times list and then report back. Entrekin got the books secondhand and discussed them with the editor. He was hired as a reader for the day to test his skills.

The editor explained reader’s reports; he wanted a few short paragraphs of plot summary and then a yes, no, or maybe. Entrekin pithily asked, “What good is a maybe?” Entrekin developed his own reader’s report method, and believes that many people organically develop a similar method: a general summary of the book, general edits, and then more specific line edits.

On that first day, Entrekin read three books. “I read so much, I felt like my eyes were going to fall out,” he said with a laugh. He was hired as a full-time reader, and eventually moved over to assist an editor who had seen his reports. Six months after that, Seymour Lawrence asked Entrekin to read a Vonnegut book and write some general notes. He wrote a fifteen-page memo. A few months later, when he saw Lawrence again, Entrekin asked about the report. Lawrence had given it straight to Vonnegut and told him to implement the changes. “If I knew it was for Kurt’s eyes, I would have been intimidated,” Entrekin confessed.

As for advice, Entrekin says to read widely. “People don’t read widely enough; they get caught in their niche. Even if you just work with gardening books or military history, read broadly. Read books that are popular, read YA, memoir, historical fiction.” He commends young people’s passions for the areas they work in, but wants them to remember to avoid getting caught in their niche and forgetting about everything else.

Entrekin’s insistence on close reading his authors’ books has served him very well throughout his career. He recommends that everyone working with books takes the time to engage fully with text.

You can follow Grove Atlantic on Twitter @groveatlantic.

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