Editor Janet Byrne's idea of surveying economists, analysts, and writers on the Occupy movement went from concept to print in just six months. The Occupy Handbook features a dream team of 67 essayists--including Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Diamond and Paul Krugman; authors Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Gross, Matt Taibbi, and Rebecca Solnit; former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker--weighing in on the subject in layman's prose.
What was it like working on such a short timeline?
I asked writers for pieces before I had a contract, and I set a deadline for those early pieces--though everybody but Michael Lewis missed it. I sent gentle reminders, and I usually cited percentages--I would say how many contributors had gotten their pieces in relative to the number of contributors at that point. There's an incentive for even the biggest procrastinators to improve the percentages.
The tightest deadline was the one I set for myself. My editor at Little, Brown, Geoff Shandler, came up with tax day as a pub date. We both liked the grim humor of it, but when I did the math, I saw that the only way to make the date was by getting the manuscript to him by January 1. I met the deadline, but I only had one weekend to review the copyedited manuscript, which was 500-plus pages.
How were you able to keep all the writers on separate thematic paths?
To some extent, the contributors self-policed. I also kept them aware of who was writing about what, and I put them in touch with one another. I had them read each other's work, which helped to put a peer review system in place. The contributors understood that I represented some kind of end point--that I was their typical reader. I also had to anticipate that, after keeping everyone on separate paths, at the end I had to merge the tracks. The pieces had to cohere. Early on, Shandler had organized the book into three parts: how we got here, where we are now, and where we're headed. Still, I wondered if I should look for a narrative, so I polled a lot of people. Michael Lewis finally called me off that hunt. He told me that it would be wrong to look for rigid coherence: "The movement doesn't yet cohere, so it would be strange and unmimetic if the book didn't echo that." I did continue to obsess over the order of the pieces so that readers could easily navigate the book.
Which contributors surprised you the most?
Peter Diamond of MIT, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2010, and his co-author, Emmanuel Saez of UC–Berkeley, are two of the best technical economists in the country. Saez is the economist whose research, along with that of Thomas Piketty, led to the slogan "We are the 99%," which the anthropologist David Graeber (who also contributed) is widely credited with having coined. Diamond and Saez's piece is about raising the marginal tax rate on the highest earners. When it came in, I started to feel that the book's course was set. It addressed the issue of income inequality head-on by proposing a definite solution. Together, we worked through the piece several times so that it would be understandable even to me. My biggest surprise with regard to Diamond is that he's a superb editor. I learned this when I asked him to look over a draft of my introduction to the book--the part that deals with his and Saez's proposal. I had to screw up my courage to do that. Have you ever had your prose tweaked by an economist? It's like entering another dimension.
Has working on this book changed your opinion of the Occupy movement?
I went into the project with a respect for the organizers and an almost visceral identification with the movement's aims. Six months with the subject has deepened both feelings.