Q&A With Tim O' Connell

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Q&A With Tim O’ Connell

While I’ve mostly done Q&A’s with authors I have done Q&A’s with two literary agents and a publicist. Today’s Q&A is with The Editorial Director of Fiction at Simon & Schuster Tim O’ Connell. 


Q: I assume that editorial directors edit novels but I am not sure. Can you tell us what it is exactly that editorial directors do?

A: As the Editorial Director I sort of wear two hats. I acquire and edit fiction that I hope sets the tone and drives the list. And then in my larger role I also oversee the fiction program and a team of editors who build the list with me—this comes down to everything from acquisitions to covers to copy. My great hope is that my editors follow their passions and that we successfully publish a diverse and energetic list, that is as much in conversation with itself as it is with the world around us. You have to trust your instincts and you have to trust your editors, and you must always believe and support your authors, at the end of the day their visions are paramount. 


Q: What is it like working as an editorial director at Simon & Schuster? It sounds so impressive. 

A: That is a very generous thing to say. Thank you! I love every second of it and feel grateful every day. Simon & Schuster is a storied list, with a rich history—the publishing house of Catch-22, and Fahrenheit 451! These are iconic works of fiction that have entered the lexicon. To say nothing of all the remarkable editors and true champions of books that have once called S&S home. It’s humbling. 


Q: What advice do you give to anyone wanting to become an editor or editorial director at a major publishing house? Do you have to go to school for that?

A: You don’t need to go to school for it, but there are great publishing programs that exist, and I feel that many people in the industry have come up through them. NYU has one. S&S has a great Associates Program that allows participants to experience what it is like working at the different departments. Publishing is not all editorial and some people may like working in publicity or marketing more, and programs and internships like this really help. We also have summer internships, as do all the major publishers. PRH has a great program. I did an internship at FSG and to that—and to my first boss at Vintage and Anchor Books—I owe my career. I was a twenty-eight-year-old intern, so never think it is too late! I think the best advice I could give—and this applies to all departments—is to understand what you love and be able to communicate that passion to others. Successful books are built by a chain of infectious energy. It begins with the authors, but a line of champions helps get them into the hands of the right readers.


Q: How long have you been an editorial director? 

A: I have worked in publishing in editorial for over seventeen years. As editorial director, it’s now been nearly a year and a half in this role.  


Q: What do you like the best about being an editorial director? What do you like least about being an editorial director?


A: I love that every day, there is a chance to sit down at my desk, open a manuscript—be that from an author I have worked with for years, or someone I am encountering for the first time—and just be completely blown away by what is on the page. Every author is different. Every book is different. But the satisfaction and astonishment of experiencing a truly special piece of writing for the first time is both singular and deeply familiar, as if there is just this well of wonder beneath all of us and I was allowed a glimpse into it. It is such a special place to occupy, to get to be that early of a reader of something you know someone has put all their energy and love into and to be there with them as it finds its shape in the world. 

There is nothing I don’t love about being an editorial director. It is a dream position and the colleagues I have at S&S make it a rare and beautiful one at that. 


Q: Which authors books have you edited? 

A: I have been very lucky in the course of my career to edit some truly remarkable authors. I can’t list them all, but to name a few— Charles Yu, Vanessa Veselka, Ted Chiang, Jonah Mixon-Webster, Tiffany McDaniel, Clémence Michallon, and more recently Elizabeth Gonzalez James, Naomi Alderman, Jennine Capó Crucet, Ritu Mukerji, Chuck Palahniuk, Debbie Urbanski, Kyle Dillion Hertz, Pauls Toutonghi, and many others.