The following interview with Rob Kirkpatrick appeared in the the latest edition of the MEDIA CONNECT newsletter. To view our fall newsletter or to subscribe for future editions, click here.
Rob Kirkpatrick is Senior Editor with Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, where he focuses primarily in narrative nonfiction. He has been in the book publishing industry for sixteen years and has also held senior acquisition positions with Lyons Press and Greenwood Press. Rob’s titles have made numerous bestseller lists and year-end lists and won several awards. He is also the author of his own books, including 1969: The Year Everything Changed.
MEDIA CONNECT: What inspired you to want to become an editor?
Rob Kirkpatrick: I think I’ve wanted to be involved in publishing, in one way or another, ever since I was in elementary school. Back then, my dream job would have been to write Star Wars spinoffs like Alan Dean Foster and Brian Daley were doing at the time. I remember asking my fourth grade teacher if she knew the address to Random House.
MC: How has the editorial field changed during your career?
RK: The fall of Borders and the rise of ebooks have changed the industry greatly. And everything has changed since 2008, of course.
MC: As an acquiring editor do you look at the author’s work or platform first?
RK: Absolutely, especially as I acquire primarily nonfiction. I remember a proposal I received several years ago for a book from an author whose most recent book had sold quite modestly. I would have needed a way to position the author and his next book more effectively. The proposal neglected to mention what the author did for a living, so I inquired. The agent, an experienced one, asked me, “Why do you need to know?” That response floored me and still does. An author’s profession and platform are always relevant when trying to plan how to publish his or her book.
MC: What are some of the favorite books you’ve edited over the years?
RK: It’s hard to narrow your own list down, and of course a book can be among your favorites for different reasons. But several highlights include: SHRINKAGE by Bryan Bishop, THE WRECKING CREW by Kent Hartman, BIG HAIR AND PLASTIC GRASS by Dan Epstein, PRODIGAL FATHER, PAGAN SON by LT Menginie and Kerrie Droban, THE PEASANT PRINCE by Alex Storozynski, THE KENNEDY CHRONICLES by Kennedy, and STRANGE TRIBE by John Hemingway.
MC: What advice do you have for young writers today?
RK: Write because you are passionate about something and feel you have a compelling story to tell and a unique voice with which to tell it. That is all. If you want to become a writer because you think it sounds glamorous or because you’ve heard about the millions of copies this or that bestselling authors has sold, you will most likely be disappointed.
MC: How do you prefer literary agents approach you?
RK: I prefer email pitches, and the most helpful ones are the ones that clearly describe the project, its unique selling points, the author’s platform, and any ways in which I can quantify these things for my publisher so we can make an informed decision.
MC: What is your favorite place to meet an agent or new author?
RK: I have a couple of places these days. I like La Pizza Fresca and also Sagaponack here in the city.
MC: Is there a specific story line you’ve seen done too many times?
RK: Not necessarily, though as more and more books are published and more and more writers seek out their niches, I feel as if I see a growing number of proposals that attempt to position a small or “micro”-topic as one that has far-reaching import. You can even see a template begin to emerge in three-headed subtitles: This, That, and How It All Changed the World.
MC: If you could write your own book, what would it be?
RK: I have written my own book! I’ve done a few nonfiction titles, but if I were to write another book, it would probably be fiction.