The Editor Behind a Slew of Best-Sellers

From a New York Times story by Elizabeth Egan headlined “Meet the Editor Behind a Slew of Best-Sellers”:

Do your eyes glaze over when you reach the acknowledgments page at the end of a book? If so, you’re missing a delightful window into the village that came together for the barn raising of its publication. Let’s say, for instance, that Amazon Prime’s rendition of “Daisy Jones & the Six” has inspired you to delve into the novel that inspired the show. Flip to Page 353 of the paperback and you’ll find Taylor Jenkins Reid’s homage to her squad, including her agent, book designer, publicists and marketing team.

“To my editor, Jennifer Hershey,” she writes. “From our first conversation I could tell that you would push me to be a better writer, and you have proven me right. I hope you understand the profound gratitude I have for how much more nuanced and honest this book is because of you.”

Let’s pause here (with a silent bow to Reid for thanking her nanny and in-laws for watching her daughter while she worked; this should happen more). Who is Jennifer Hershey and why should you care? She’s the publisher and editor in chief of Ballantine Books, who also happens to be the editor of another mega best seller: “Mad Honey,” by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, currently in its 24th week on the hardcover fiction list.

“Our remarkable editor, Jennifer Hershey, is currently being nominated for sainthood,” the authors write in their acknowledgments.

En route to canonization, Hershey earned a significant earthly distinction: the 2023 Editor’s Award from Poets & Writers, which is basically a lifetime achievement award for people who make sure the rest of us have something good to read. Indeed, Hershey has put her mark on many a book that managed to permeate the barrier between distraction and concentration, including ones by George R.R. Martin, Isabel Allende, Curtis Sittenfeld, Diana Gabaldon and Emily Giffin.

So what’s it like to find out that a book you’ve edited has made it to the stratosphere? In a phone interview, Hershey described the arrival of the weekly email containing the latest New York Times best-seller list: “It usually shows up around 5 o’clock on Wednesday and there’s always this nervous, excited anticipation in the hours before it lands. When you’re in the office, it’s kind of fun because even if you don’t have a book hitting the list, you’ll hear someone shrieking down the hallway.”

She went on, “Sometimes we gather as a whole team — the publicity person, the marketing person, the publisher, the editor, all the people who worked on the book — and we call the author together. There’s so much joy in that moment, and definitely a lot of tears. It’s not even so much the hitting the list but what it symbolizes: that an author’s work is reaching people, that their voice is being heard and that readers out in the world are connecting to their words.”

Elisabeth Egan is a Times editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

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