Alex Postman is, by most measures, a newbie in book publishing. An executive editor at Rodale who spent the majority of her career in the magazine world—everywhere from Elle to Martha Stewart’s lifestyle-focused Whole Living—Postman came to the book side two-and-a-half years ago, joining Rodale during Dave Zinczenko’s brief tenure as head of the company’s book division. Sitting squarely in the lifestyle category, Postman, who’s edited, so far, Jessica Alba’s bestselling The Honest Life (March 2013) and Alicia Silverstone’s forthcoming The Kind Mama (April 15), among others, said her focus is on titles that tap into Rodale’s core mission of helping people maintain a “healthy body [and a] healthy planet.” More broadly, Postman said, these are books to “help people improve their lives.”
Senior director of communications for Rodale, Yelena Gitlin Nesbit, described Postman as someone who “truly embodies what Rodale is all about.” Although Rodale has undergone a number of recent changes in its executive ranks, Postman sees herself continuing the company’s longstanding tradition of publishing books about health and the environment, while bringing a slightly new perspective. Speaking to the latter, she said she is aiming to “reach a broader audience” with Rodale’s message. How does she intend to do that? One way, she said, is by finding “surprising messengers,” like Alba and Silverstone (who are best known as actresses, but are also entrepreneurs championing healthy lifestyles).
Not surprisingly, it was a connection to Zinczenko that landed Postman the job at Rodale. She knew him from magazine circles and, as she explained it, called him up in fall 2011, looking for a change. At the time she was a senior v-p and the editor-in-chief at Whole Living (as well as its ancillary website, Wholeliving.com) and, when she spoke to Zinczenko, she expressed a hunger to “take a deeper dive into projects” and “work with writers over a longer period of time.”
With all the shuffling then going on at Rodale, there were openings, and Postman was given a spot. Her lack of experience in books—aside from a brief stint, very early in her career, at what was then Harcourt Brace she had not worked in trade publishing—proved tricky at first. “It was a steep learning curve,” she acknowledged. “I was taking a magazine editor approach to things, so I would just ring people up and say, ‘I think you should write a book.’ ” While that approach did work—a couple of projects came together that way, including Alba’s book (which Postman ultimately won at auction, but which began germinating after she pitched the project to Alba’s business partner)—she quickly realized she needed to get to know agents in order to start working on projects the book industry way, i.e., receiving proposals.
Though Postman’s recent job titles are very much in line with someone you’d expect to be acquiring health and lifestyle books—before Elle and Whole Living, there were stints at Redbook, Conde Nast Sports for Women and Working Woman—she came out of college with a literary focus. At Amherst, where she got her B.A. in English, she focused on poetry and minored in classics. And good writing, along with a compelling narrative, is still what she seeks. She counts among her favorite authors Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill Bryson, “people who write about nature in a way that is so smart and entertaining.” Postman also has “a real soft spot” for Barbara Kingsolver, who shows “such a grace in her writing.”
Of course for Postman there is no denying that, in her category, having an author with a platform is paramount. Still, Postman said, she needs to be grabbed by the idea. And the writing. “If I’m not hooked in the first three or four pages,” she explained, referring to a manuscript, “I don’t generally feel [the need to keep reading].”
As for chasing trends, Postman feels there’s as much of that in the magazine business as in the book business. She said that she has always looked for what’s new and fresh. The trends “sort of come to you,” she noted, adding that manuscripts often crop up in multiples—“like suddenly you’ll get five books on gut health.” Now that she’s working with books, she finds herself looking to magazines and blogs to see what topics might be bubbling to the fore. When Postman was a magazine editor, she would look through publishers’ catalogues to see which books were coming out. “I actually feel like, without realizing it, we both look at each other over this wall to see what the other side is doing.”
Current title: Executive editor at Rodale Books
Almost became: A college professor (English lit)
Higher education: B.A., Amherst College
Favorite books: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen; The Great Bridge by David McCullough; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver