After a tumultuous few weeks in publishing, Grand Central editor Ben Greenberg's outlook on the business of books is both old school and a little refreshing. Though Greenberg is a young editor at a publishing house that's doling out bonuses instead of pink slips this holiday season, his take on the industry is one that bears repeating: “As long as there are people who want to read, and people who want to write, we'll be fine.”
In some ways Greenberg's is the most standard of publishing career starter stories. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he wound up, mostly by chance, working at an advertising firm in Delaware. With little interest in the job or in staying in Delaware, he was contemplating a career in publishing or, possibly, a more creative position in advertising. “I didn't really know what I wanted to do,” he says over lunch at Metrazur, in the transit hub that his publishing house takes its name from. “I knew I wanted to do something with writing.”
As luck would have it, Greenberg's older brother, a lawyer, was on jury duty with Grand Central publisher Jamie Raab. Greenberg's brother, whom the younger sibling calls a “charmer,” got him an interview at what was then Warner Books. A few weeks later, Greenberg started as Raab's editorial assistant; that was in 2003. He calls Raab “the best mentor I've ever had,” and says she taught him how to do everything from editing to acquiring.
Having worked his way up the editorial ranks, Greenberg, who's only 27, is known for doing pop culture, humor, music and political books. Although he usually reads fiction—he majored in 20th-century literature at Penn—he says, “I kind of fell into nonfiction, but I enjoy editing it.” And despite his penchant for novels, Greenberg's lists are grounded in his interests—he's an avid music fan and devours political blogs.
While Greenberg has made a name for himself doing books with up-and-coming comics like Zack Galifianakis and David Cross, whose book, I Drink for a Reason, will be published in August 2009, the title that put him on the map was Ron Paul's TheRevolution: A Manifesto (Apr. 2008).
Paul's book, which Greenberg acquired in October 2007, was something of a coup. Greenberg said the advance was fairly low; Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, was then in the midst of what was generally seen to be a nonstarter bid for the presidential nomination. Paul, who's a political outsider—a libertarian with certain conservative views—nonetheless had fans. “I knew he had a following that truly believed to the core what he was saying. I knew they would come to the book, but I didn't know how many of them there were,” Greenberg recalls. It turned out there were quite a few of “them”; The Revolution hit No. 1 on the NYT nonfiction bestseller list.
Greenberg, who's also worked on books with the Clash, Vince Neil (of Mötley Crüe) and Clarence Clemons (of the E Street Band), is, despite his age, less interested in where the industry is headed than where it is right now. For him it's about finding the right books at the right time, the books “your house can do well.”
As for the current dreary landscape, Greenberg says confidently, “You can go there... but the industry will adapt. People are still buying books. You can still point to successes.”
To see a video of the interview with Ben Greenberg, go to www.publishersweekly.com