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Interview Fri Sep 21 2012
Laura Pearson took on the role as TimeOut Chicago's Books Editor about a month ago, and was kind enough to take a few minutes to tell us about the job and what she's learned since starting.
As former editor of CAR (Chicago Artist Resource), Pearson is familiar with working with artists, and as a freelancer herself, she gets the importance of an event listing or a book review in the life of a writer.
What was it like coming into this role for you? Do you already have plans for the future of the Books section?
I'm taking over for Jonathan Messinger who is now web editor of TimeOut Kids. He was actually the only book editor they ever had since starting in Chicago.
Jonathon did an amazing job with his coverage in general, and especially keeping on top of exciting Chicago literary news, authors, emerging publishers, reading series and all that. He's set up that legacy and I want to continue it. We want to shine the spotlight on Chicago.
I don't just want to focus on fiction, but am planning to work non fiction, poetry, comics and short stories into the mix, too. In the past it's been mostly fiction, partially because the bulk of my review copy is fiction. Soon I'll start to solicit other things.
What have you learned about the process of getting a book reviewed since you started?
I've learned so much about pitching, just noticing my own response to books I get in the mail.
Anyone can learn the basic format stuff: You stick your press release in the book and you have to have the release date printed prominently at the top, with the specific date, not just the month. Provide information about the author and blurbs never hurt.
A huge thing is making sure you get it to the editor with plenty of time, and that means months before the book is scheduled for release. A lot of things I'm getting right now are for February 2013. It definitely helps an editor plan ahead. Also, follow up with an email but keep it relatively informal and to the point.
How does it feel opening up envelopes with all these new titles on a daily basis?
It's super fun opening the mail. Actually, it's the hardest and most fun part of the job. The sheer volume of work coming in makes it hard, but it's so much fun to see the different things being written right now.
Have you learned about many new Chicago presses since you started?
There are some new Chicago presses. Fifth Star Press, for example, just released a new book by Susan Hahn called The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Hahn.
There's also Dorothy Press, which is edited by Danielle Dutton, who I just interviewed. They make really tightly curated, pretty books
They're holding a book release and reading at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery. And it's cool because the two books they're releasing are in conversation with each other but they're by two different authors.
I love that I've been discovering so many more of these literary ventures. But then, there's a weird dichotomy of working at a weekly--you find out about all these events but have less time to go to them.
Do you see the literary scene as being at all changed since the City introduced the new Cultural Plan? A part from the closure of ChicagoPublishes and CAR moving from city management to the Chicago Artist Coalition, do you see that anything has shifted?
I'm thrilled that CAR has a new home at CAC. It seems like its only going to expand and improve once the site redesign is complete.
Concerning the Cultural Plan itself, we have to wait and see. A lot of it sounds good on the page but we just have to carry on and see what happens. I want the literary culture here to be recognized, but things will continue on without the plan. It wasn't this big game changer.
I was bummed when ChicagoPublishes and the Publishers Gallery was discontinued because it's important to make our writing visible to tourists. I have hope that the city will recognize the literary scene again.
What's the weirdest literary job you've ever had?
I was a media escort at Midwest Media. Basically, you pick authors up and drive them around town to bookstores to do signings and to literary events. I met Etgar Keret, during story week. His plane was coming in late, and during in rush hour. Plus, it was in the middle of StoryWeek. Everyone was really good sports about it all, but it was little stressful. He was awesome, really nice and friendly.
In fact, when started the job I was warned that that there'd be authors I admired who would be difficult. I prepared myself but it never happened. No one was ever outwardly rude. People appreciate having someone show them the literary scene.
Contact Laura at Books@timeoutchicago.com