Arthur Zapel: Clean Communication Is Key in Book Publishing by Robert Lee Brewer

“I shouldn’t take all the credit, because it would be impossible for me to do it all,” says Arthur Zapel of his job as the executive editor at Meriwether Publishing. Sure, he has two associate editors who help him sift through over 1,500 manuscripts a year, but it is Zapel who makes all the final calls on what stays and what goes. So it would make sense for a writer to try to make his decisions easier for him by catering to his particular tastes, perhaps even creating a perfect match.

Zapel’s background is a perfect match with Meriwether, which publishes books on the theatrical arts that sell all over the world. Before founding Contemporary Drama Service, now a division of Meriwether, he wrote for documentaries and nationally televised commercials for such companies as Kraft, 7-Up, and Oscar Mayer. He was also an actor and narrator for radio. As a result, he knows the ins and outs of the theatrical scene.

If the ideas are specific to the theatrical arts, Zapel may be interested in them, whether the book-to-be is on how to light a stage or merely a well-developed collection of monologues. However, he is a stickler for the basic courtesy a writer should always show an editor, no matter what the subject matter. That is, he wants the query and manuscript to be well-written.

“A neat clean manuscript makes all the difference in the world,” proclaims Zapel. “We had a book that was written by a very accomplished actor. We published the book, but it was a headache. The manuscript was never neatly typed and a lot of things were handwritten. When the author wanted to do another book, we turned him down.”

Zapel acknowledges this lack of organization is not good for the editor, but it’s also not too good for the writer. “Being a writer is being a person who knows how to organize ideas. A great writer is always buttoned-up at every stage. When the editor ends up re-editing or almost rewriting the book, nobody is happy. The original author says, ‘This is not my book.’ The editors say, ‘We didn’t want to write it in the first place.’ It helps keep the writer’s integrity intact if we don’t have to edit their work.”

Anymore, writers can’t even have their manuscripts read, let alone considered for publication, unless they have a fine-tuned writing style. It doesn’t matter how good the idea is, Zapel won’t work with unprepared writers. When he does work with writers, he likes to work directly with them, not agents. “We take authors both ways, but things can get confused when working with an agent,” he says.

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