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Power's View: Missing Rocket Boys

exclusive interview :: :: John Wiley & Sons :: Stephen S. Power ::

Wiley Publishing Group's
Senior Editor

Stephen S. Power

By Tim Ljunggren

:: Power says it's the ready-made structure that plays such a crucial role in nonfiction writing, "If you're working on a chronicle of some sort there's a natural arc you can follow: time."

Stephen Power says that much of his personality was shaped by listening to the album The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters.

It shows.

Power's wit and intelligence are unmistakable.

As a senior editor at John Wiley & Sons, Power puts that wit and intelligence to work every day-and he never stops being an editor.

"When I read a book, I invariably think about what I would have suggested to the author that takes something in a different direction at some point. I can't look at a bookstore the way I used to, which is a shame. And everything is a potential book idea."

Power believes that nonfiction writing, which is his editorial forte, is a different animal from fiction writing. "Nonfiction is easier to structure because all the pieces are there to see and you can arrange them however you feel is most effective" says Power.

Power points out that it's the ready-made structure that plays such a crucial role in nonfiction writing. "If you're working on a chronicle of some sort there's a natural arc you can follow: time. It's easier to see where the holes in the story are and how they can be filled-hopefully-through research. And if you're stuck, some research in a new direction could help you out. Sure, fiction, whether literary or genre, relies on considerable research, experience and background material the reader never sees. But the writing relies so much more on nuance and carefully woven threads of plot that it's tougher to manipulate and easier to get lost going in wrong directions. Nonfiction is not easy, but fiction is tougher, I think."

In getting ideas to paper and books to print, Power relies on several role models to help him with his editorial decisions. "As an editor, my old boss Mike Greenstein gave me my best bit of negotiating advice, 'Always be ready to walk away from a deal.' George Gibson at Walker is another role model, because he does great books that look good and sell well. And my number-conscious sales rep friends who keep the idea-loving editor in me honest: a book can't just be well written, it can't just be a good idea. There have to be quantifiable reasons sales can use to sell it into bookstores."

At the same time, Power believes that a writer's finest impulses are marketable. "To generalize Art Buchwald's assessment of Gary Trudeau, an author doesn't have to sell out to sell well."

Power doesn't have many regrets so far in his career, other than "the ones that got away and worked as well as I thought they would." There was Tuesdays with Morrie, when he was under-bidden by a dime. There was also Flags of Our Fathers-in that instance, Power was under-bidden by a dime and a nickel. Then there was Rocket Boys: "got the manuscript on Monday afternoon, offered on Tuesday morning, got outbid by the end of the week." Power also opted on The Millionaire Next Door, and bid long before everyone else, but was eventually outbid again. "At least I lost that one by nearly a million dollars," he says.

And what's the worst piece of advice that Power ever gave to a writer?

"This isn't so much a piece of advice as an occupational hazard: I had a fun little book of wisdom and inspiration based on the life of Ben Franklin and I edited all the spirit out of it trying to make it read better. The read wasn't the point. The spirit was, and I messed it up," he says.

Historical note::: John Wiley & Sons :: Howell Book House Imprint ::
The company was founded in 1807, during the Jefferson presidency. In the early years, Wiley was best known for the works of Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and other 19th century American literary giants. By the turn of the century, Wiley was established as a leading publisher of scientific and technical information. The company went public in 1962 and was listed on the NYSE in 1995.

is a father, a husband, a son, an Episcopal priest, and a writer. He founded and publishes the e-zine insolent rudder, known for outstanding flash fiction. Tim believes in the power of creativity to change people's lives, and he believes in the importance of finding one's voice. He leads creativity seminars in order to encourage others to purse their creative dreams. Tim's ability to transcend linear space and time is legendary. This year, he is moving in a linear direction to Montana to teach and write.

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