AUTHORNOMICS Interview Series with Alan Rinzler

With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.

If you have questions for upcoming guests on the AUTHORNOMICS Interview Series, email them to

Interview with Editor Alan Rinzler

Alan Rinzler has edited and published such authors as Toni Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, Claude Brown, Oscar Acosta, Shirley MacLaine, Dee Brown, Robert Ludlum, Jerzy Kosinski, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Clive Cussler, and others.

He began as an acquisitions and development book editor in 1962 at Simon and Schuster and has since worked as Senior Editor at the Macmillan company, Senior Editor at Holt, Director of Trade

Book Publishing at Bantam Books, Associate Publisher and Vice President of Rolling Stone Magazine, and President of the Rolling Stone Book Division Straight Arrow Books. He was also West Coast Editor for the Grove Press, Editor of the Berkeley Monthly, and for 18 years was Executive Editor of Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons in San Francisco.

Rinzler was Academic Director of Trade Book Publishing for the annual Stanford Professional Publishing Courses at Stanford University. He was also a licensed psychotherapist for ten years on the Berkeley Police Department Mobile Crisis Team, which he says was excellent training for working with writers.

For information on his editorial services, visit

Only two weeks left to enter the AUTHORNOMICS End-of-Summer Contest, with prizes including a twenty-page manuscript edit by Andrea Hurst!

1. How did you first get started in the book business?

In 1962 I was 24 years old, just married and we were about to have a baby. My  tutor back at Harvard knew I was desperate for a job and told me to go see his friend Bob Gottlieb, who was then the Managing Editor at Simon and Schuster. After about two months of auditioning, interviewing, writing critiques, draft catalogue copy, engaging him as much as I could, hanging out in his office all day trying to sound smart and charming, he relented and hired me as his first ever assistant (he was only 31 himself)  at $80/week.

2. You have had a long and successful career in publishing. What are some of the books and authors that you have most enjoyed working with?

Tom Robbins was the most fun: always amusing, open, very sharp, on in his Tommy Rotten persona, and sharing our many mutual interests, including literature, art, relationships, parenting, travel, food, and unmentionables. Great writer, too, of course, a wild perfectionist. Hunter Thompson was the hardest, my friendly enemy, and fatally self-destructive. But what a great writer and smart political analyst. What wicked noir gonzo humor. He could have been the best but burned out early from bad habits. Toni Morrison was also a privilege to work with, especially when it was her first book so she wasn’t yet a Nobel winning diva.

3. You have worked in both book and magazine publishing. What major changes have you seen in both areas over the last few years, and how do you think they will affect publishing in general?

Rather a large question, don’t you think? To provide only the headlines: over the last few years, the book business has realized that they don’t know what they’re doing, technology has changed everything from the bottom up against their wishes, and they better start doing things differently or go under. During the same period, the magazine business has lost its print advertising and subscription base, so they too must reinvent themselves and find new niches in order to survive.

4. You work out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Many people feel the center of publishing is still in NY. Do you think it matters where an author, publisher or agent lives and works?

Yes, alas. Publishing is still primarily in NYC. If you want to be in the fast lane, that’s where to find the jobs, such as they are in this age of attrition. An author can live anywhere but if traditionally published needs to go to NYC regularly to maintain important relationships. Similarly, there are some very fine agents on the west coast and sprinkled elsewhere throughout the US, but most are still in NYC, and those who aren’t do need to visit regularly.

5. Currently you work as a freelance editor. Do you accept all manuscripts that are submitted to you, or is there a submissions process exclusively for that?

No, I don’t accept all manuscripts, since I receive two to four every day. I screen the daily emails, request the work-in-progress, read at no cost to see if I can be helpful, and only then suggest how I might work with the author and what would be the estimated cost.

6. What are the most common mistakes you see in fiction and nonfiction manuscripts submitted to you? How can writers best receive feedback from an editor?

Another question worthy of a 35,000-word answer, so back to headlines only: Most fiction manuscripts don’t have a good story, well-developed characters. Many don’t have a readable structure, with too many flashbacks within flashbacks or information dumps instead of action. Non-fiction manuscript are often poorly organized, unfocused, badly researched, and lacking originality.

How writers can best receive feedback is a separate and entirely different question: the short answer is let go of all prior assumptions and consider the feedback carefully. Be sure it’s coming from a reliable source – one with experience and prior success. Then follow your gut instincts and decide what advice to accept and what to reject.

7. After building a successful blog yourself, what is the best advice you can give for a writer creating one?

Always be helpful, positive, but also honest and clear. Don’t write if you have nothing to say. Invite comments and respond. Focus on what you know best but also keep in mind what is the real purpose of your blog: selling books but without any explicit pitch.

8. Can you address how to use social media as a platform to market your book and yourself as an author?

I’m not an author, of course, but advise authors to join the community of everyone online remotely interested in their nonfiction topic or type of fiction. Take time to read, listen, comment, offer helpful advise, never hard sell, post sample work, welcome feedback and suggestions, make a three minute home-style video, tweet if you’re able, always have a web-site and blog that’s written at least once a week.

9. How has the balance of power shifted from publishers to authors in writing and getting published in today’s marketplace?

The book business has finally realized that authors are the best people to sell their own books. Readers want to have direct contact with authors, not publishers. They don’t really care who published the book, but look for reading advice from book bloggers, on-line reviewers, web-sites, blogs, tweets and facebook notes from people they know and trust. No one can sell your book as well as you can, whether you already have a big platform or not. This means that you can go the old route or do it yourself with self-publishing. It’s not easier. You still have to write a book that readers will buy. But it’s faster, you have more control, and you earn a greater share of the profits.

10. What is the best piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

Get help. The best and most successful writers around all seek editing – objective, trustworthy, experienced and constructive evaluation and specific constructive page-by-page revision. Luckily, many developmental editors are available these days. It’s not inexpensive but it’s worth it. And the earlier the better. A good editor can help in the planning stages to help avoid false starts, wrong turns, and a 400 pages manuscript that turns out to be a waste of time.

11. Do you have any upcoming seminars or conferences where authors can register and meet you?

I’m doing a major workshop at Boston’s Grub Street on October 14th, at the Boston Book Festival on October 15th, in New York City at the Self-Publishing Book Expo on October 22nd, at Book Passage’s San Francisco Ferry Building store on November 7, on Whidbey Island on January 7-9, at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference from February 24-27th, and in Squaw Valley, Tahoe, in August.

Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.

Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope and a reader for Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.



  1. Great interview. It gave me a lot to think about. Thank you, Alan.

  2. Michaelene McElroy

    I appreciated Mr. Rinzler’s concise, no nonsense approach, and his candor regarding the status of traditional book publishing. Thank you for the informative interview.

  3. Thanks for being blunt. I sure didn’t want to hear that authors are the best ones to promote their books, but what you said was logical. As a licensed psychotherapist, can you give some friendly advice to hermit writers to coax us out of our little shells?

  4. George

    You don’t have to get out of your pajamas to promote your book these 21st century days. Just go online and start blogging, tweeting, commenting on other posts, reaching out to book bloggers and other new and interesting techniques of social networking.

  5. Interesting that you say authors are the best people to sell their own books while another interviewee said agents are better since they have more connections and know the market. I think I’d opt for the agent route.

  6. Thank you for the reply and the advice. Twilight Zone music played for me because I am in my pajamas and it’s 12:30 PM. You’re good!

  7. Solid, actionable, concise advice. Thank you.

  8. I needed to hear about the importance of finding and editor. I’ve not been admitting to myself how a manuscript needs fresh, unrelenting eyes. Thanks.

  9. Thanks for pointing out that the best and most successful writers seek editing. I didn’t know that. Somehow I thought that was cheating. But it makes sense. It can save years of headache and missteps and help one’s manuscript stand out amongst the competition.

  10. This was a very helpful interview! I have writer friends edit my work but its just not the same. I was impressed by Mr. Rinzler’s knowledge and expertise. Many publishers/editors got their feathers ruffled when Amazon decided to try its hand as a publishing house. What are your opinions on their move? It seemed logical to me, and not necessarily a terrible, mainstream trash-producing book line as some have feared it will become. Thanks again for the advice on editing.

  11. It’s reassuring to hear a clear voice in the midst of the tornado of confusion around publishing. Thank you!

  12. Haha, I love his bit of advice for aspiring authors: GET HELP. LOL 😉 Gold, that’s just gold. I also like how honest the story of perseverance is; like he didn’t just wake up one morning and fall out of bed and get into publishing, but he worked really hard (and used a lot of charm!) and did his best…isn’t that like all successful publishing newbies? :)

  13. I always, always learn from Alan Rinzler. Thanks for the interview.

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