Copeland resigned from S&S
and now works as an editor at Hyperion. This is from a previous
new office at Atria Books provides a view of Manhattan's 48th
Street. "I just got a window office," she says. "I
publish self-help books and I've absorbed some of those positive-thinking
ideas. I told my friends when I got this job, In five years,
I want an office with a window. It's been five years almost
to the day."
"I'm the classic late-bloomer," Copeland laughs. "I
came to Simon & Schuster when I was 37! As an intern!"
"Typically, interns are 22! After S&S's human resources
department talked to me, I was interviewed by the legendary
Alice Mayhew. Even at 37, I was too dumb to be scared and
did not know I was talking with such an amazing powerhouse.
She was very kind; she gave me my first chance. I spent about
ten weeks in the editorial hard-cover division, helping editors,
and filling in for editorial assistants on vacation. It was
an amazing experience. People seemed to feel a responsibility
to teach me, explain things. Editors would say, 'Do this, and
here's why.' I was given manuscripts to read, and editors would
say to me, 'Have a look and tell me what you think.' What
I think? I was elated."
This editor's career hasn't had a path, so much as it's had
a personality, an energy, fueled by her immense interest in
- well, everything. She makes herself available at writer's
conferences, attending many around the country every year and
the categories which capture her attention are telling: she's
reading manuscripts and scheduling author appointments with
writers of literary fiction, mainstream fiction, memoirs, narrative
non-fiction (especially accessible science) and self-help concepts.
"We're a commercial trade house and I don't publish poetry,
but I love it! Billy Collins, Marge Piercy, Ted Hughes, Anne
Sexton - oh! And I've been reading a wonderful west coast poet,
not too well known, Mary Lou Sanelli. She writes about family
and food, real life, real women. Ted Hughes, of course - discovering
the careful, every-word-counts aspect of poetry. I call poetry
'low-fat language.' No unnecessary words, just like Strunk
and White told us. There should be monuments to those men
all over the continent. I think S&W needs to be read and
read again for the advice they have to offer. It's invaluable."
Brenda Copeland was born in Toronto and began her higher education,
at 17, at Glasgow University - "I wanted to do something
adventurous without going to the trouble of learning another
language!" After four years, and no degree, she was, she
says, "Asked to leave, but not for academic reasons."
Copeland eventually accepted the reality that you need a degree
to do most things, and she returned to Toronto - "knuckled
under" - and emerged with a degree in English Literature.
The University of Toronto, says Copeland, "is an amazing
institution. Best professors, best curriculum, wonderful campus.
But - it's in my hometown. I'd done Glasgow, London, and it
was clear to me that if I were going to go somewhere else, it
would have to be New York. One of the world's fabled places.
So I worked and saved my money, and went to NYU. I had visions
of wearing black turtlenecks, sitting around in a collegial
atmosphere, reading poetry and smoking unfiltered cigarettes.
Nothing of the sort happened. I hated NYU. I spent most of my
free time watching 'Matlock.' So here I am, a Canadian grad
student, and it's obvious: New York - books - publishing! I
wrote letters to every publisher in town and offered myself
as an unpaid summer intern."
Better than history, the rest is a good story. "I've learned
that all the seemingly unrelated jobs, ones which I had dismissed
during those years as irrelevant - well, you learn that nothing
is irrelevant. It's all business, and there are basic skills
you need to have in business: a good phone manner, strong communicator,
a person of good ideas and, and - what was I just saying? Was
I just saying you had to be a good communicator?"
An editor who has risen to her job on persistence and creativity
admires the same qualities in an author. Especially when it
comes to book promotion. As
an example, Copeland discusses a new book by Tom Koppel (Lost
World: Rewriting Prehistory, How New Science Is Tracing America's
Ice Age Mariners), and his focus on getting the word out about
is a fabulous writer who knows his subject and his audience,"
Copeland says. "He is targeting editors and specific newspapers.
For him, publicity is a labor of love. He has sent e-postcards,
the kind from Blue Mountain, with a shot of the cover of his
book, a brief description, and a hyperlink to Amazon. Tom has
assembled lists of small museums, clubs -- you can find amazing
resources if you troll the internet."
The division between literary and commercial fiction is unnecessary,
Copeland believes. "Commercial and quality can exists side
by side," she says.
"The word 'literary' simply means a certain standard and
treatment of the subject. A story must do many things: reflect
our lives, explore our lives, explore the joys and fears we
have about our lives. A story is a safe place for someone to
work through something. We, as readers, indulge ourselves in
a story. Through stories, we live so many lives, in our hearts
and our minds, an infinite number compared to our physical lives."
She notes a good example of the combination is Jennifer Weiner's
young, vibrant, commercial fiction (Good in Bed). Atria published
the trade paper of the novel and so far it's sold 400,000 copies.
Copeland is unapologetic about the need for a book to be commercial.
"A writer has to have enthusiasm and passion," she
says, "but also, a sense of reason, of reality. We have
six questions we ask at Atria, and I'll tell you the one we
ask at the inception. It's the first question our publisher,
Judith Curr, always asks in editorial meetings when a book is
proposed: 'How will we get the word out?' As publishers we have
certain expectations that have to be met. We want a book to
sell. That first question forces us to focus on the reality
of the market."
That focus has paid off. Atria Books, an imprint of Simon &
Schuster spun off from the company's Pocket Book division only
a year ago, can already boast eight titles on the New York
Times Best Seller List.
"We're very fortunate," says the 42-year-old Copeland.
"Atria has all the energy, enthusiasm, and imagination
of a start-up with the tradition and the muscle of Simon &
In an imprint that has an innovative mix of titles, from self-help
to narrative nonfiction, Copeland says, "It's all about
stories as far as I'm concerned. An editor needs to be imaginative,
mentions strategies which are a significant part of the company.
"Our guiding principle is: the treatment of the book has
to be appropriate for the subject and the audience." Illustrating
this principle, Copeland explains, is a book by Dayle Haddon
(Five Principles of Ageless Living) that recently gained recognition.
"The book is graceful, respectful of the audience. I showed
the cover to my Mum before it was published, and my Mum looked
at Dayle's photograph - Dayle is a very beautiful woman who
looks her age - and said, 'There's some mischief there.' Perfect."
the most wonderful job in the world and I love it all including
the blue pencil editing. Actually, I use a green pencil - blue
does not photocopy well. Then there is the thrill - the acquisition.
But to get to that stage, a writer has a responsibility to make
me as the reader want to be your reader.
have to indulge your reader. You can never indulge
yourself, because nobody has a responsibility to read your book
- so the question needs to be asked." As
she rushes through a quick sandwich while sitting at her desk
- the one with the view of a few million Manhattan urban workers
- she stops briefly to emphasize, "Whether it's fiction
or nonfiction, it's all about the story. Even self-help books,
business books, have good stories. We are who we are because
of our stories."