Publishing by Gail Godwin

In a winning voice, novelist Gail Godwin shares her experiences in publishing, which are alternately humorous and moving.

publishing

Gail Godwin is the author of 14 novels, as well as story collections, nonfiction and memoir, now including Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, which she calls a “meditation on publishing.” In vaguely chronological fashion, she recounts her experiences with the industry; toward the end, she reflects upon earlier times.

Godwin begins with her years as an aspiring writer. Knowing well her mother’s progress from collegiate playwright to journalist to author of magazine romance stories, she is plagued by a hunger for publication and success (which presumably come together). She writes about failed marriages, fiction workshops and teachers who were encouraging and helpful (as well as those who weren’t), rejection and, finally, the book that sold: The Perfectionists, published in 1970. Several poignant chapters cover the “dance” between an author and an editor, with vignettes of each of Godwin’s dance partners over the years, several of whom she lost to unexpected deaths.

At points, her tone becomes elegiac, but Publishing is often funny and joyful as well. In a series of anecdotes, Godwin muses on book tours (the question of funding, author escorts, how long a reading modern audiences will tolerate, the new practice of hiring facilitators to help authors along in public appearances) and the value of bad book reviews. She profiles wonderful, helpful, joy-bringing people, and though she humorously describes the less-pleasant people she has encountered, she graciously avoids naming names. These entertaining, elegant, knowing recollections are accompanied by beautifully simple and appropriate black-and-white line drawings by Godwin’s friend Frances Halsband, which subtly add to the reader’s experience.

While her accounts of writing and publishing are fascinating and amusing, Godwin’s central strength is in her utterly charming personality: wise, occasionally self-deprecating and quietly playful. As promised, Publishing is not a history of the industry nor an instructive manual for the next generation of aspiring writers. It’s simply one woman’s well-told memories, peopled by appealing characters, sketched with wit. Stories about family, travel, love and life make this a book not only for fans of memoir, or dedicated readers, writers, editors and publishers, but for anyone who has pursued a dream or appreciates those who do.


This review originally ran in the January 8, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 funerals.

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